Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Equality for Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine"


Many people have been claiming for a while now that "the two state solution" re Israel/Palestine is dead. Most of these people have been cheer-leaders for a "one state solution." Two recent articles would seem to confirm that "the two state solution" is indeed on life support: kept alive only by the lack of any alternative in most peoples eyes. But the same two articles do not hold out much hope for the "one state solution" either.

Bitter Lemons, perhaps the premier online "two state solution" site is closing down after 12 years of operation. The reason seems to be fatigue and despair (or perhaps its despair and fatigue) on the part of its editors, its contributors and its financial sponsors.

Part of the despair, of course, comes from the lack of progress towards a two state solution, whose promotion was a cornerstone of Bitter Lemons' mission. According to the sign-off message from co-founder Ghassan Khatib:
... the scenery around us grows ever more dark and uncertain. Two decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles [aka the Oslo Agreement] that many hoped would usher in the creation of a Palestinian state and independence, freedom and security, Palestinians and Israelis are barely conversational. The structures created by those agreements have atrophied, corrupted by an increasing imbalance in the Palestinian relationship with Israel. Every day, there is new word of land confiscations, arrests, demolitions, and legislative maneuvers to solidify Israel's control. Israel's political leaders are beholden to a tide of right-wing sentiment and Palestinian leaders are made to appear ever-smaller in their shrinking spheres of control.

We are now, it appears, at the lowest point in the arc of the pendulum, one that is swinging away from the two-state solution ...

But lest you think Khatib is now backing a one state solution, he continues:
... swinging away from the two-state solution into a known unknown: an apartheid Israel. How this new "one-state" option will be transformed into a solution that provides freedom and security for all remains to be seen.

And Khatib ends his note on a somewhat contradictory note, re-voicing his personal dream, just after he wrote that history was "swinging away" from it:
... I am sure of this-- ... Palestinians [will] achieve their freedom and self-determination by ending the Israeli occupation that started in 1967 and establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel, thereby realizing the international consensus over the two-state solution.

In Haaretz today, liberal columnist Carlo Strenger is less equivocal about the fate of the two state solution, though no less distraught:
Nachum Barnea is considered to be one of Israel’s most influential journalists, independent in his judgment, fair and balanced in his reporting and analysis. A few days ago he wrote an outspoken column in which he comes to the conclusion that the settlement project has reached its goal: the situation on the ground is irreversible, and the two-state solution is no longer possible.

The context of the column was Barnea’s visit to Migron, an outpost currently under the spotlight of Israeli media. The Palestinian owner of the land claims he never sold it, and Israel’s High Court ruled that it must be evacuated.

But Barnea is not impressed with this ruling. Around Migron there are many other settlements that no one touches, because they are not built on private land. Barnea claims that this turns the High Court into an accomplice of the settlement project:

“The original sin was committed by the High Court. In the second decade after the six-day war, when the settlement enterprise transformed from a marginal whim to the government's primary policy in the territories, the High Court was asked to present its stance by ruling on a series of petitions. Over the years the court's judges ignored the international law, which forbids the establishment of a settlement on conquered land, and instead focused on the issue of ownership: Jews are permitted to settle anywhere in the West Bank as long as the land is not Palestinian-owned.”

Barnea rarely expresses such outspoken views. He was interviewed [see below in Hebrew] ... concluding that “Everybody knows how this will end.” When asked what he means, he answers, “There will be a bi-national west of the Jordan… the two-state solution is no longer possible.”

This was, of course, a surprise: most center-left politicians and commentators have a standard line: “Everybody knows how the Israel-Palestine conflict will end.” It is generally taken as a matter of course that they imply the two-state solution as proposed by Clinton in 2000. Barnea assumes that this received wisdom is, at this point, devoid of any realistic foundation.

As of late summer 2012, I cannot see any coherent plan to deal with reality on the ground. Only Israel’s extreme right takes a clear stance: National religious Rabbis quite simply say that Palestinians will not have political rights in the Greater Land of Israel ...

Most leaders on Israel’s moderate right do not make clear statements. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former Likud minister Moshe Arens are laudable exceptions: they think that Israel should annex the West Bank and give Palestinians full political rights, while maintaining its Jewish character. The problem is that they base this on a theory .. that there are only 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. None of Israel’s professional demographers endorses this idea...

The situation is unpalatable to say the least: Israel’s extreme right argues for theocratic apartheid, and the moderate right builds its political program on demographic illusions... The center and the left are silent for the simple reason that they do not have a coherent position. ....

I came to the conclusion that the two-state solution was dead at the end of 2011... Ever since I published this assessment, friends and readers have asked what I suggest as an alternative. Some thought that I had finally moved to the extreme left’s endorsement of the one-state solution; others thought that I had moved to the right.

Neither is the case. There are moments when reality flies into your face, and in which you realize that your political program is no longer viable, even though you do not endorse any of the alternatives.... 
So there you have it. The "two state solution" appears dead, and a just "one state solution" seems equally unrealistic. What are people concerned with ethics and security in Israel/Palestine supposed to do?

Our slogan and goal must be simply this: "Equality for Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine".  This is a simple slogan and simple goal that focuses on rights and not solutions. There are a number of possible solutions that could affect this demand: one state, two states, a federation of states, a confederation, or scenarios not yet articulated.  It is also a goal that can be worked for - and at least partially achieved - in the absence of any long term agreed upon "solution." It is a goal that can be worked towards incrementally, without giving up its basic principle. It is a measure that can always be improved upon until it is fully realized. And it is yardstick that can be used to judge almost any policy or strategy or tactic proposed by any of the actors in Israel/Palestine.

When all else fails, it is wise to go back to first principles. What do we really want in Israel/Palestine? A chance for both Jews and Palestinians to have material well being, happiness, peace, security, and collective cultural autonomy as well as personal liberty; all in the land that both peoples both regard as home. If we can clearly and bravely articulate our goals, the implementation details will follow. And if they don't - for a while - at least we will be striving for something worthwhile in the interim.

Below: Nachum Barnea Interview

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