Saturday, June 25, 2011

One-State, Two-State and the American Task Force on Palestine

Until recently, we had never heard of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). After some research on the subject of the One-State vs the Two-State solution, we discovered a long Study published by the ATFP in 2009 entitled “What’s Wrong With The One-State Agenda“. It made for interesting reading and shed some light on the people behind the ATFP which claim “to promote an end to the conflict in the Middle East through a negotiated agreement that provides for two states – Israel and Palestine – living side by side in peace and security”.

This document (the ATFP calls it a Study) was originally drafted by Dr Hussein Ibish (who is a Senior Fellow at the ATFP) at the time Israel was launching its criminal ‘Operation Cast Lead’ on Gaza in December 2008. That onslaught left 1400 Gazans dead and most of the Gaza Strip in ruins. One would have thought that ‘Operation Cast Lead’ would provide the ATFP with the clearest example yet of Zionism’s consistent policy of using force to attain total colonial stranglehold in all of historic Palestine. Events of the last 62 years would also provide a clear evidence of this policy.

A good reading of ATFP’s Study raised many questions some of which we put in writing to Dr Ibish, the author, via the ATFP website. An automated confirmation was received promising a reply which never came.

Overall, the Study attempts to demolish the whole basis on which the One-State solution is being promoted by its advocates including this writer.

It is surely high time that all politicians, historians, writers and academics who still believe in and support the idea of a Two-State solution to the Israel-Palestine tragedy to come forward and submit, once and for all, a clear and transparent statement outlining exactly what they really mean by the Two-State solution. They have had 62 years to advance this idea and they have failed.

This ATFP Study, whilst calling for an end to the Israeli occupation through negotiations, does not take into account the failed UN Resolutions, the endless summits and the numerous peace conferences which have dotted the Middle East political and diplomatic landscape since 1947. After 62 years, we are no closer to resolving this tragedy than we were when it started in 1948 with the Palestinian Nakba and the creation of the state of Israel. Over the years, Israel, through its huge military machine and the ‘eternal’ support of the United States, has managed to reinforce its illegal occupation of Palestinian land not only since 1967, but since 1947 when an illegal Partition Plan was forced upon the Palestinian people. The occupation continues unchecked, the illegal settlement construction is in full force and moves forward unabated, the destruction of Palestinian homes and farmland has become a daily occurance and the flagrant Israeli defiance of International Law is a routine phenomenon as the international community looks on.

Throughout all of historic Palestine, this picture of unrelenting colonisation by Israel is a very well documented one. It is probably the most documented conflict of modern times. The colonial picture has not changed but the Palestinian landscape has. Israel’s occupation of all Palestine is pretty much complete and in line with the first Zionist declaration in 1897 which called for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine within 50 years. The Zionists finally managed it in 1948 – missing their target date by only 1 year.

The force of this near total occupation can only be maintained via a huge military machine and through an outdated Apartheid political system which will surely fail. The network of physical obstructions built throughout the Palestinian landscape offer us a clear system of control unseen since WWII: from exclusive roads for Jews only, to the massive number of illegal settlements, to the prison Wall wrapping around Palestinian villages along and out of the Green Line, to the checkpoints and watch towers reminiscent of a Nazi regime and finally, to a judicial and political racist system which favours the occupier and dehumanises the occupied. This is a picture of a solid iron grip over a whole indigenous people. Not just in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, but also a grip over the 1.5 million Palestinians inside Israel, otherwise called ‘the others’.
It is through this window that a One-State vs a Two-State debate must take place. The writer advocated a One-State solution back in 1968 as the dust settled on the 1967 war between Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It was another wake-up call to focus on that Zionist declaration of 1897. Total occupation of historic Palestine was set in motion after the six-day war ended. If that was not enough to convince the world that Israel was determined to continue the course set for it 70 years earlier, then it must take a second look over the last 62 years since the Nakba of 1948. It would be nothing short of ignorance to bury one’s head in the sand and cast a blind eye to all that Israel is doing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. What is happening there is nothing short of total occupation: physically, militarily, ethnically, and politically.

Which brings us to the ATFP Study: ”What’s Wrong With The One-State Agenda“.

It is truly farcical, despite the above facts, that anyone should be calling for a Two-State Solution. It begs the question of what has been learnt by the American Task Force on Palestine (or any other Task Force or Think Tank for that matter), from the last 62 years which have seen millions of Palestinian refugees linger in their miserable camps and millions more suffocate under the longest and most cruel occupation in modern times.

In true fashion, the ATFP Study goes on the attack from the word go, against the authors of such publications as “The One State Solution” by Professor Virginia Tilley, “One Country” by the founder of the Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah, and against the authors of the “One State Declaration” issued in London and Madrid in 2007 on the 60th anniversary of UN Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan).

The ATFP believes that because Israel ‘withdrew‘ from Gaza (my italics) and from some small illegal outposts in the north of the West Bank, the logical conclusion would be that the Zionist leadership would not be adverse to the transfer of “sovereignty over a sufficient number of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements to accommodate a viable and acceptable Palestinian state…”. The key word here is, crucially, ‘accommodate’. Israel accommodates and a Palestinian state becomes magically viable. The ATFP author, Dr Ibish, must be blind to all the facts on the ground and fails to explain Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements about the ‘natural growth’ of his illegal settlements. If anything, ‘natural growth’ is what we call an illegal and one-sided ‘accommodation’.

The Study goes on to tackle the Right of Return for the Palestinian refugees to their homeland, which is a main demand by those advocating a One-State solution. The Study submits that “some form of limited ‘return’ to the new Palestinian state would be an integral part of conflict agreement”. Another key statement here is: ‘some form of limited return’. In other words, no one should expect the ‘sovereign state of Israel’, to “open its borders to large numbers of Palestinian refugees to return to live in Israel under any conceivable circumstances”. What are we to understand by ‘limited return’ and from which miserable camp will the refugees be ‘returning’. Does any one of the millions of Palestinian refugees have any say in this? The ATFP does not volunteer an answer.

One of the most sensitive issues this Study tackles is ethnic and national identities of the Palestinians and ‘Israeli Jews’. It states that “one of the greatest strengths of the Two-State solution is that it does not require Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile their national [and ethnic] narratives” when each people have a state of their own. But the reality on the ground shows that only one narrative is allowed to develop to the detriment of the other narrative, and that is the Jewish/Zionist narrative. The erasure of memory, the uprooting of the foundations of the Palestinian society, and the ethnic cleansing of a whole nation and its people, are daily occurrences in the OPT today. They remain solid proof of how one narrative claims sole right over the other under occupation. By promoting a Two-State solution (if at all possible now) on the basis that two peoples have had a bitter history of conflict, bloodshed and distrust, Dr Ibish conveniently forgets the lessons history teaches us. The most recent of these are Northern Ireland and South Africa, where truth and reconciliation forged the basis of a miracle of unity. Palestinians, throughout their history had no conflict with the indigenous Jewish and other ethnic groups in Palestine. Various communities, including recent arrivals after WWI, contributed to a colourful array of lifestyles and customs based on a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect. Many examples of that harmony can be heard in oral testimonies of living descendants of villages like, for example, Lifta west of Jerusalem (where Abunima’s family lived). Surely, the aim of a political solution cannot be the segregation of ethnic groups, as suggested by the ATFP Study, simply because they had a history of conflict, but rather to integrate and unite them in a single democratic, multi cultural, free state for all its inhabitants. Israel, as it stands today, cannot claim to hold that honour.

In Part III of the Study, Dr Ibish argues that “the creation of a single Palestinian-Israeli state is not possible given the existing international and regional power equations”. He writes that “Israel is not going to agree to dismantle itself simply because it has lost a moral argument or an academic debate”. That is probably true.

But, an examination of Zionism, shows that it was precisely its power of persuasion and the tireless efforts of its leaders in convincing the powers of the time, albeit backed by a lot of financial clout, that swayed opinions and shifted positions in an alliance which finally bore fruit in the notorious Balfour Declaration. Lobbying and arm-twisting were never far behind in this process to assist Zionism in realising their dream first declared in that onerous year of 1897. The core issue here is that the Palestinian struggle, though helped by academic debates, moral arguments and international boycotts, is fundamentally about self-determination, justice and freedom from occupation. It is not simply about scoring points in academic debates. Dr Ibish continues to argue that advocates of the One-State solution cannot ask an entire people [the Israelis] to simply abandon their national goals and strategies, even though the aim of these national goals and strategies is to ethnically cleanse and colonise an entire people. The call to abandon such goals and strategies must not only come from advocates of the One-State solution, but also from the ATFP and the international community at large.
In a desperate attempt to give credence to its Two-State logic, the author of this ATFP Study tries to have his cake and eat it. He concurs that there is no international support for Israel’s settlement activities or its illegal occupation. Major powers, including the United States, have called on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. This has made Israel’s legal position untenable in the eyes of the international community. But the Study uses this fact to forward a naive argument which is that the One-State agenda effectively “lets Israel off the hook” because the settlements, the occupation, the Wall and all resulting injustices become, in the one state, matters to be resolved “through the political and legal processes of that state, rather than [being considered] abuses committed by an occupying power…bound by the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international instruments”. This argument defies logic as it falsely assumes that a crime by a state within its borders is unlikely to be punished under International Law because such a crime would be considered, according to Dr Ibish, “one of civil rights within a given country…[and] the rights and interests of the international community in cases of domestic discrimination are not equivalent to those attached to territories considered by the UN Security Council to be under foreign military occupation”.

So, we are to conclude that the rule of the jungle within a state is to be tolerated because it is inherently a civic matter within that state and not answerable under International Law. Have we forgotten the Nuremberg Trials? Shall we dismantle the International Criminal Court? Have we forgotten Ruwanda? Or better yet: shall we tear up the Fourth Geneva Convention?
It is a fundamental error of judgment for this Study and its author to assume that the state envisaged by advocates of the One-State solution remains the same as the Zionist Apartheid State called Israel.

By Antoine Raffoul

Antoine Raffoul is a Palestinian architect living and practising in London. He was born in Nazareth and was expelled with his family from Haifa in April 1948. He is the Founder and Co-ordinator of 1948: Lest.We.Forget. a campaign group for truth about Palestine. He can be reached at


Time Running Out for Two-State Solution

Time is of the essence if the implementation of a two-state solution to end the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to succeed. Changing demographics both within Israeli and Palestinian society could render this impossible, with a one-state solution the only feasible outcome.

An eventual one-state solution, however, would lead to two possible scenarios. Either Israel would extend the franchise to all Palestinians in the occupied territories, which would lead to the end of Israel’s Jewish character, or Palestinians would be denied the vote and Israel would be officially pronounced an apartheid state.

Following recent talks in Washington between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, analysts and political pundits are warning that with the establishment of facts on the ground the two-state solution is under growing threat.

"Israel could be the Titanic heading towards the iceberg," says Gershon Baskin, the Israeli co-CEO of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI).

"The two-state solution is still possible despite the physical realities on the ground. The settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem can be dismantled or evacuated and handed over to the Palestinians similar to what happened to the settlements in Gaza during Israel’s withdrawal from there in 2005," Baskin told IPS.

"Furthermore, an agreement can still be reached with the current Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership. They will continue to cooperate with the international community and with Israel if the latter shows flexibility.

"But if no agreement is reached with the Israeli government then the next generation of Palestinian leaders will give up entirely on the two-state solution and will ask for the vote to be extended to the Palestinian territories. Due to the Palestinians’ higher birth rate this will lead to one-state and the end of Israel’s higher Jewish demography."

Baskin travels regularly to the West Bank and films non-violent protests against the continued expropriation of Palestinian land and the expulsion of Palestinian civilians from their homes to make way for illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

"The young Palestinians I speak to who have no political affiliation say that the current Palestinian leadership is the most moderate the Israelis will ever have. They argue that they have given Israel the most generous offer ever. The Palestinians are prepared to settle for a homeland on just 22 percent of historical Palestine and will accept the Israelis keeping the remaining 78 percent."

Palestinians were the indigenous majority before hundreds of thousands either fled or were expelled by Israeli forces during the state’s establishment in 1948.

The last chance for the two-state solution may come in September when the PA takes its case for independence to the UN. The General Assembly will recognise the fledgling state and then the Palestinians will have the moral victory of recognition even if the Security Council doesn’t back the establishment.

The matter can then be taken to international bodies such as The International Court of Justice amongst others. This could lead to international sanctions against Israel as an illegal occupier of another country.

Dr Samir Awad from Birzeit University near Ramallah agrees that the time for a two-state solution is running out.

"It is becoming more problematic. The plans presented to the Palestinians by the Israeli leadership are designed for rejection. They want to present a state without East Jerusalem, without the Jordan valley, no right of return for refugees, the continuation of many settlements, and maintaining border and air space control," Awad told IPS.

"The situation could be resolved if the Americans would pressure the Israelis but they won’t. But the realities of history can’t be ignored, and history will ultimately be on the side of the oppressed and those denied historical justice. People should remember this."

In the meantime the demographics of Israel’s population have changed dramatically in the last few decades with Haredi or orthodox Jews heading to become a quarter of Israel’s population in the future, with their high birth rate.

Extremely right-wing Haredi political parties such as Shas are powerful coalition factors in the make-up of Israeli governments, dictating a fair amount of policy. The Haredi population has little education and high rates of unemployment, leading to a drain on Israel’s economy as well as its secular and more politically compromising demographic.

Furthermore, Russian immigrants to Israel now comprise approximately a fifth of the population. Coming from former totalitarian regimes many of them are also little inclined to accept the Palestinians as equals.

And within Israel itself the birth rate of Israel’s Palestinian minority outstrips that of the Jewish majority. Combined with the "demographic threat" in the Palestinian territories, this is another "time bomb" the Israelis fear.

This is the reason that some of Israeli’s Knesset members are arguing that Israel’s survival may well depend on the successful implementation of the two-state solution.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said in 2007, "if the two-state solution fails, Israel will face a South African style struggle for political rights." And "once that happens," he warned, "the state of Israel is finished." 

By Mel Frykberg  -  From IPSNews - June 2, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Steps to create an Israel-Palestine

For a while, it seemed that a two-state solution might actually be achievable and that a sovereign Palestinian state would be created in the West Bank and Gaza, allowing Jews and Palestinians at last to go their separate ways. But these days, that looks less and less likely.

With Israel in total control of the territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and unwilling to relinquish a significant part of the land, it's time to consider the possibility that the current situation — one state, in effect — will continue. And although Jewish Israelis may control it now, birthrates suggest that, sooner or later, Jews will again be a minority in the territory.

What happens at that point is unclear, but unless continued military occupation and all-out apartheid is the desired path, now may be the time for Israelis to start putting in place the kinds of legal and constitutional safeguards that will protect all minorities, now and in the future, in a single democratic state of Israel-Palestine. This is both the right thing and the smart thing to do.

In recent years the idea of a one-state solution has been anathema to Israelis and their supporters worldwide. This has been fueled by the fear of the "demographic threat" posed by the high Palestinian birthrate. Indeed, many Israeli supporters of a two-state solution came to that position out of fear of this demographic threat rather than sympathy with Palestinian national aspirations.

At the root of their fear was the belief that despite Israel's best efforts to push Palestinians from land and property and to import Jewish settlers in their stead, the Arab population would keep climbing. And that, when the Arabs reached the 51% mark, the state of Israel would collapse, its Jewish character would disappear and its population would dwindle into obscurity.

Yet that scenario is not necessarily the inevitable result of either demography or democracy. Religious and ethnic minorities have successfully thrived in many countries and managed to retain their distinctive culture and identity, and succeeded in being effective and sometimes even dominant influences in those countries. Those who believe in coexistence must begin to seriously think of the legal and constitutional mechanisms needed to safeguard the rights of a Jewish minority in Israel-Palestine.

It is true that the experience of Israel with its Palestinian minority does not offer a comforting prospect. The behavior of the Jewish majority toward the Palestinian citizens of Israel has not been magnanimous or tolerant. Where ethnic cleansing was insufficient, military rule, land confiscation and systemic discrimination have all been employed. The relationship was not helped by the actions of Palestinians outside Israel who resented losing their homeland or by the behavior of some Arab countries, neither of which accepted the imposed Jewish character of Israel.

Yet it is possible, especially during this period when Jews are still the majority in power in Israel, to begin to envision the type of guarantees they may require in the future. Other countries have wrestled with this problem, and while each situation is different, the problem is by no means unprecedented.

Zionism will ultimately need to redefine its goals and aspirations, this time without ignoring or seeking to dispossess the indigenous Palestinian population. Palestinians will also have to deal with this reality, and accept — even enthusiastically endorse — the elements required to make Jews truly feel at peace in the single new state that will be the home of both people.

Strong, institutionalized mechanisms will be needed to prevent the "tyranny of 51%." A bicameral legislature, for example, should be installed, in which the lower house is elected by proportional representation but the upper house has a composition that safeguards both peoples equally, regardless of their numbers in the population. A rotating presidency may be preferable to designating certain positions for each minority (as in Lebanon). And constitutional provisions that safeguard the rights of minorities should be enshrined in a constitution that can only be amended or altered by both houses of parliament with a large (80%) majority.

Both Hebrew and Arabic will be designated as official languages, and governmental offices will be closed for Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays. New laws will be enacted that strengthen the secular civil courts in personal status matters, while leaving some leeway for all religious communities to have a say in lawmaking, including Reform and Conservative Jews who currently chafe under the Orthodox monopoly over Jewish personal status matters in Israel. Educational systems that honor and cater to the different communities will give each a measure of control over the education of its children within a national system that maintains professional standards for all publicly-funded schools. Strong constitutional provisions will be enacted to prohibit discrimination in all spheres of life, while independent courts will be enabled to enforce such provisions.

Many on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, will reject this line of thinking, and in all cases, it is clear that a lot of goodwill and much careful thinking is necessary. But as the options keep narrowing for all participants, we need to start thinking of how we can live together, rather than insist on dying apart.

By Jonathan Kuttab - A Palestinian attorney and human rights activist. Co-founder of Al Haq and the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners.

Peres warns: Israel in danger of ceasing to exist as Jewish state

peres - Tomer Appelbaum - June 17 2011

President says that Israel 'doomed' unless negotiations with the Palestinians leading to a peace agreement begin in the immediate future.

President Shimon Peres is concerned that Israel might become a binational state, in which case, he warned, it would cease to exist as a Jewish state.

"I'm concerned about the continued freeze [in the peace talks]," Peres said to people who visited him this week. "I'm concerned that Israel will become a binational state. What is happening now is total foot-dragging. We're about to crash into the wall. We're galloping at full speed toward a situation where Israel will cease to exist as a Jewish state."

Peres celebrated four years as president this week. He has three years to go until he decides on his next career move. But people who met him this week found the president's mood far from festive. He prophesied that Israel would be doomed unless negotiations with the Palestinians leading to a peace agreement began in the immediate future.

"Whoever accepts the basic principle of the 1967 lines will receive international support from the world," Peres said. "Whoever rejects it will lose the world." He was referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vehement objection to starting peace talks on the basis of the 1967 lines, which he called "indefensible" in both the Knesset and the U.S. Congress.

But Peres continues to reject the advice of friends and various political figures that he come out openly against Netanyahu's positions. "I'm not the head of the opposition, I'm the state president," he repeatedly tells them.

Peres also voiced fear that Israel might be subjected to economic boycotts and sanctions. There's no need for boycotts," he said. "It would suffice for ports in Europe or Canada to stop unloading Israeli merchandise. It's already beginning.

"September is only a date," he added, referring to Palestinian plans to seek UN recognition as a state then. "The question is what will happen before and after."

By Yossi Verter  - From (06.17.2011)

Still hoping for the best

Shimon Peres (Tess Scheflan)


Finishing four years in the President's Residence is a reason for Shimon Peres to celebrate. Or not.

This week Shimon Peres is celebrating four years in the President's Residence. He has served as president for 48 months, 26 of them alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and has three years to go until he decides what his next career move will be.

People who met Peres this week, when he was celebrating, heard prophecies of doom from him the likes of which have never been uttered before. Here are some of them:

"In the end we'll reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the question is whether we will suffer some sort of blow beforehand, or not. In the end, whoever accepts the basic principle of the 1967 lines will receive international support from the world. Whoever rejects it will lose the world. Economic boycotts against Israel are taking place before our eyes. There's no need for boycotts - suffice it if ports in Europe or Canada stop unloading Israeli merchandise. It's already beginning. September is only a date. The question is what will happen before and after."

"I'm concerned about the continued deadlock. I'm concerned that Israel will become a binational state. What is happening now is sheer foot-dragging. We're about to crash into the wall. We're galloping at full speed toward a situation where we will lose the State of Israel as a Jewish state."

Peres seems to be struggling with himself about whether to go publi and shout these things. He respects the institution that he heads. He is neither leader nor deputy leader of the opposition - although during meetings such as the one he had with Tzipi Livni this week, she urges him to stand by her side. He also understands that he is not the prime minister.
What good would it do Peres to quarrel with Netanyahu? The left would applaud him, but he would once again be considered "subversive" and would lose much of the public's affection in an instant.

About two years ago, shortly after Netanyahu came into office, Peres spoke at the AIPAC conference in Washington and informed the audience that the premier was about to make history. He really believed that. He hoped that Netanyahu would take advantage of his second term to propel Israel toward the end of the conflict, or at least make significant progress in that direction.

Two years later, Peres is no longer saying such things. He still harbors hopes regarding Netanyahu's declarations about a Palestinian state, settlement blocs and a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. He will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to run all over the globe to spread the news about the Israeli economy (and, in secret, to sit through another brainstorming session with one Palestinian leader or another ), and hope that one day it will happen. As he prepares to celebrate his 88th birthday (on August 2 ), what is there left for Peres to do except to hope for the best?

Bonding experience
Netanyahu's coalition has never had a better week. Last weekend, its members shared a "bonding" experience at a Safed hotel. New recruits who are drafted into elite army units also undergo such bonding, usually comprised of an exhausting series of training exercises, in order to examine their suitability and their ability to work together as a team. But there is no coalition team with more solidarity than Netanyahu's.

The ministers had barely unpacked their suitcases with the soaps from the Rimonim Hotel, and nine of them, together with the prime minister and his wife, took off for a day and a half in Rome. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who was in both Safed and Rome, said: "The trip to Rome is only a continuation of bonding in another way." On Tuesday morning Netanyahu and his ministers returned from Italy. Soon the prime minister will be flying to Poland.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Livni found time to clash this week in the Knesset plenum, during a special meeting, requested by at least 40 MKs, that requires the prime minister to remain glued to his seat. This ritual repeats itself once a month and receives almost no media coverage: She asks the same questions, he gives the same answers. A few hours after that session, I told Livni that for the past two years she has been giving the same speech. "That's true," she admitted. "This week I recalled the film 'Titanic.' There is a scene there in which Leonardo DiCaprio is standing on the deck, embracing his girlfriend and shouting into the wind, 'I'm king of the world!' while in the dining room and the ballroom the chandeliers on the ceiling begin to shake. That's Netanyahu: Since his return from Washington he's been on a high, celebrating, declaring he's king of the world, his ministers are dancing at a ball - and any minute there's going to be a collision with the iceberg."
And who is he embracing on the deck?

Livni: "Let's say that it's [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak."
You must admit that the five or six principles that he presented in his Knesset speech last month, which he mentioned once again this week, are acceptable to Kadima. And when he asks which of these principles you object to, you have no answer.
"He's got himself a real gimmick, with those principles of his. It's true that he mentioned them in the Knesset, but he didn't submit them for approval to his cabinet or his party. We conducted negotiations over those principles: the refugees, the end of the conflict, Jerusalem, a demilitarized state. I said everything in the negotiating room and I argued about everything and I stuck to those principles, while outside they accused me of selling state assets. And he only gives speeches. He didn't even submit the Bar-Ilan speech to the cabinet for its approval."

Don't you get discouraged sometimes?
"No. As long as I'm around, I'll keep saying things in every possible way, in every possible forum and in front of every possible audience. We're in a very problematic position. He's sending the State of Israel to Masada. And not to see an opera."

Nablus sojourn
On Tuesday, eight MKs from right-wing parties entered Nablus, and under the heavy guard of Palestinian policemen and Israeli soldiers, they arrived at Joseph's Tomb, prayed there, and hastened to issue reports to the press about how moved they were by this historic occasion: It was the first time in 11 years, since the outbreak of the second intifada, that such a visit was made in broad daylight and not under the cover of darkness.

The visit was preceded by a long saga, involving numerous discussions and threats between the office of the Knesset Speaker and the defense establishment. It began after the murder of Bratslav Hasid Ben Yosef Livnat, who together with friends snuck into the tomb in April, in the dead of night, without coordinating with the army, and was shot to death by a Palestinian policeman.

Representatives of the right-wing parties asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to arrange for Knesset sponsorship and approval of the visit. Rivlin approached the Defense Ministry and the Shin Bet security service, who objected, claiming the act was a provocation, and that it would lead to a conflagration.

"You're saying no in order to see how we will react," said Rivlin. "What provocation is there here? After all, the Oslo Accords state that any Israeli is permitted to go to the tomb, providing the visit is coordinated. We're interested in coordinating the visit."

The heads of the defense establishment withdrew their objection, and it was agreed that a few days later the visit would take place, at 10 A.M. The night before, at midnight, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called Rivlin. Also on the line were Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen and the regional army commander. Netanyahu was in Washington at the time, between the meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and the speech in Congress; he knew about the plans but didn't intervene.

Although the security people told Rivlin they could guarantee that the MKs would not suffer a scratch during the visit, they were concerned about any rioting that could ensue as a result. Specifically, there was a fear that a number of Palestinians would be harmed by Israel Defense Forces fire, which would cast a shadow over Netanyahu's visit to the U.S.
At the end of the nighttime talks, Rivlin ordered the Knesset officer to contact the MKs and tell them that the trip had been postponed by a week. He decided with Barak and Cohen that the visit would take place the following week.

When the time came, Rivlin informed the defense established that the visit was about to get under way.
"No," he was told, "this week isn't good. There are problems, issues. Next week will be all right."
"Is that final?" asked Rivlin.
"Of course," they told him.

Once again he informed the MKs that the visit would be postponed by a week - to this past week. At the same time, he asked the defense establishment to send him a letter approving the visit. The following day he received the response, and saw that two words had been added to the word approval: "in principle."

At the beginning of this week Rivlin informed the Defense Ministry and the Shin Bet that the visit was about to take place. Look, they told him, there's a fear there will be riots. Maybe we'll postpone it? "No problem," said Rivlin, "if you don't want the MKs to go, I'll go. I don't need your approval. I'll activate Unit 730 [the Shin Bet force responsible for VIP security] and they'll take care of me. I won't agree to be the tool for deceiving the MKs."

That day Defense Minister Barak was in China, and tried to reach Rivlin several times by phone. Rivlin was busy. Barak got the message and approved the visit from China. The MKs went and came back, on Tuesday, and no riots broke out.
From Nablus the MKs returned to the beginning of the Knesset plenary session, the part devoted to one-minute speeches. One after another they approached the microphones in the corners of the hall and reported on their experiences.
"You see," Rivlin told them, "you're lucky you had a chance to fulfill the Oslo Accords."

'Something unusual'
In the presence of the prime minister, Likud MK Ophir Akunis stood on the Knesset dais on Wednesday afternoon and quarreled with members of the opposition.

"I would like to say something that is unusual in political life in Israel," he said toward the end of his speech. The Knesset fell silent in anticipation.

"I would like to say thank you," said Akunis. "Thank you for helping many Israelis to stand proud. Thank you for refreshing the world's memory that Israel is in Judea and Samaria by right, and not as a favor. Thank you."
Akunis was Netanyahu's spokesman. He is considered the MK closest to Netanyahu. He speaks with him regularly, and spreads his messages in the media.

The MKs in the plenum broke out in loud laughter. Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi, who was moderating the session, called out to them: "Don't interrupt him. He is trying to say something unusual in politics and you're disturbing him."

By Yossi Verter  - From (06.17.2011)

A Shared Homeland

I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having a state that is exclusively “our own.”  For the good of both nations, the Separation Wall must come down, the Israeli control over the lives of Palestinians must be defied so that a secular democracy where all Israelis and Palestinians live as equals be established in our shared homeland. 

By Miko Peled - General Matti Peled's son

A binational Israel-Palestine

We can ask, "Who killed the road map for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?" Or we can start thinking through the implications of the fact that it is dead. Either way, the Palestinian bombing Saturday that killed 19 people in Haifa, Israel, followed by the Israeli bombing of a site in Syria, indicates that the road map cannot now be salvaged.

The road map's declared goal was the establishment of a Palestinian state of undefined powers and uncertain borders alongside Israel, in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Israel's ruling Likud Party never liked that idea, and it hedged its very qualified "acceptance" of the road map with a list of 14 formal reservations.

The Palestinian leadership - including Yasser Arafat, who was voted president of Palestine in a US-sponsored election in 1996, and two successive Palestinian prime ministers - expressed unqualified acceptance of the road map.

All that is now history. The road map, which never had much real momentum, is dead.
Its death marks not just the latest in a long series of debacles in Washington's attempts at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

It could also mark the end of the long-pursued concept of a two-state solution. For if a two-state solution were to provide the stability and security that both peoples so desperately crave, the resulting Palestinian state would have to be just as viable as the Israeli state with whose fate it would always be so closely entwined.
But continued implantation of Israeli settlers and all their supporting infrastructure into the West Bank has brought about a situation in which the establishment of a viable Palestinian state looks impossible.

Over the years, Israel has planted more than 400,000 settlers into the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. All that land - like Gaza, like Syria's Golan - has the status in international law of being "occupied territory," and the 4th Geneva Convention expressly states that it is illegal for the occupying power (Israel) to transfer any of its citizens into these occupied lands. (It would be as if the US, now running an occupation in Iraq, should decide to move hundreds of thousands of US citizens into Iraq in an attempt to control the resource base and the government there forever.)

But now, most of the 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank want to stay in the luxurious communities that hefty government subsidies have provided. Politically, it would now be almost impossible for any Israeli government to suggest that they move back to Israel - or to leave them where they are under a Palestinian ruler. But if they stay where they are, and under Israeli sovereignty, then the land left for the Palestinians can never provide the basis for a viable Palestinian state. As with the "Bantustans" created by the old apartheid regime in South Africa, the Palestinian-ruled area would be resource-starved and totally under the control of the stronger power. No recipe there for long-term stability - for white South Africans, or for Israelis.

This lesson in history does, however, suggest an approach to peacemaking that might work if, indeed, there is no hope for a two-state solution.

In South Africa, once supporters of apartheid figured out that no amount of repressing or fencing off blacks and no amount of punishing military raids against the country's neighbors could bring them peace, they finally settled for that good old standby of democracies: a one-person-one-vote system within a unitary state.

That wasn't an easy decision for white - or black - South Africans. On both sides there were centuries of hostility and harm to overcome before they could accept the "other" kind of folk as fellow-citizens. But by 1990, the situation had become intolerable - for white as well as black South Africans. The country's transformation to democracy was difficult for some, and, as in all democracies, problems remain. But in general, it was overwhelmingly successful and deeply inspiring.

So why not in Israel/Palestine? If Israeli settlers want to stay in the West Bank - let them stay! But if they want to stay there and be part of a community built on long-term peace, then they cannot refuse to give equal rights within the whole of an expanded state of Israel/Palestine to all Palestinians who want to be a part of it.

The end of the dream of a monocultural "Jewish state"? Yes. But in the Holy Land, as in South Africa, it could be the start of a hopeful new chapter in human history. For Jewish Israelis, as for Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking South Africans, they could still be living in a multicultural state in which their language, their culture, and their religion would be fully embraced.

The idea of a binational (Arab/Hebrew) state in historic Palestine was first proposed in the 1930s by Jewish thinkers like Martin Buber and Judah Magness. Now, increasing numbers of intellectuals on both sides are discussing it anew.

At a time of so much despair in the Middle East, this idea - based on the deepest concepts of human equality and respect among peoples - might give us all fresh hope.

Author of five books on international issues

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Return of the One-State Solution? A Realist's Utopia

July 17, 2011 "Counterpunch" --  This month marks the 44th anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and the bordering states of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.  It was this conflict in June of 1967 which has shaped Arab-Israeli relations ever since, primarily because of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  Indeed, the whole basis for the perennially stalled peace process between the Palestinian people and the Jewish state centers upon what portion of these occupied territories will become the new, sovereign state of Palestine.

However, a simple return to “1967 borders” has always been something which the Israelis have publically rejected.  Ostensibly, this is because these borders are deemed geographically indefensible should another armed conflict arise.  So when last month President Obama became the first American commander in chief to publically set the 1967 borders as the starting point for peace negotiations, all hell broke loose.  It was not much longer than Benjamin Netanyahu, the hard-line, Likud prime minister of Israel, hopped on a plane to personally tongue-lash the president and then deliver a scheduled speech in front of a joint meeting of congress – to thunderous applause.

So there we had it; this was a Manichean war of words between two irreconcilable worldviews.  President Obama was the liberal universalist, naively enthusiastic about emerging democracies promised by the so-called “Arab Spring.”  Besides, to the conservative imagination, Barack Hussein Obama did not exude the same intuitive love for the Jewish state which could otherwise be expected of any patriotic American, let alone the president himself.  Netanyahu was the experience-hardened, Israeli realist.  He knew the proper limits of such idealistic enthusiasm, and he knew the real price for Israeli security.  An emerging, sovereign, Palestinian democracy could not be trusted to be friendly toward Israel.  The establishment of such as state on the supposedly indefensible borders of 1967 would, therefore, be out of the question.  American pundits weighed in on either side of the melee with articles and op-eds.  Characteristic of the tone was the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and his oft-quoted piece, “Dear Mr. Netanyahu, Please Don't Speak to My President That Way.”

Not so radical after all

Of course, obscured by the rancor was the plain fact that none of this was at all new.  Some variant of the “Two State Solution” has been a part of the mainstream discourse since Israel’s inception in 1948.  In fact, the suggested demarcation of the border was much more generous to the Palestinians during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950’s than it is today.  The last Bush administration publically affirmed a Two State Solution which, de facto, would have to be drawn largely along the 1967 border; though, crucially, this language was never used in any high profile speeches.  (Instead, in a 2005 press conference, President Bush employed the term “1949 armistice lines” which, in fact, amounts to basically the same thing.)  Even Netanyahu himself has acknowledged in June 2009 the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state within the territories of the West Bank and Gaza (where else?) with certain land swaps so as to ensure the Israeli retention of the large, Jewish settlement blocks.  True, emotionally and politically charged issues remain – first among these is the future of east Jerusalem, a point on which Netanyahu has never shown any flexibility.  Nonetheless, at its core, this supposedly polarizing debate is mostly a semantic one after all, at best a protracted political dance where each participant jockeys to win an edge at the bargaining table where the final lines will be drawn.  No one, though, really thinks that this table can ultimately be avoided.

Two states - A consensus of dunces           

Unfortunately this “hidden consensus” is totally disengaged from reality.  Two basic facts preclude the Two State Solution as being a truly viable option.  The first can largely be placed under the heading of “geography.”  The basic premise behind any Two State Solution is, first, the recognition of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state, and second, the recognition of a sovereign and independent Palestine alongside.  Yet within the very heart of the West Bank exists very large Jewish settlement blocks.  Even the most dovish Israeli politicians acknowledge that these enclosed settlements, which now truly amount to mid-sized towns and cities, must be retained within Israel proper if and when a Palestinian state is declared.  The problem is that these enclaves will have to be connected with one another and to the rest of Israel via secure roads, manned by Israeli police and military officials.

This means that, not only will Palestine continue to be divided geographically between the West Bank and Gaza; The West Bank itself will necessarily be completely fragmented  to the point where Palestinians, in order to travel between one West Bank town to another, will have to pass through Israeli checkpoints.  How this amounts to a sovereign Palestinian state, I cannot fathom.  (All of this is aside from the very real interdependence of Israeli capital and Palestinian labor which, itself, necessitates a porous yet highly militarized border.)

In the words of the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, “The geopolitical condition that’s been created in '67 is irreversible. It cannot be changed. You cannot unscramble that egg," (60 Minutes interview, January 25th 2009)

It is also the case that, largely because of these same geographic concerns, any future Palestinian state will be a demilitarized one.  This was, incidentally, also a feature of Obama’s high profile speech.  Not to valorize militarism for its own sake, but it is far from clear what politicians really mean when they claim to support a Two State Solution.  What does it mean to support a “sovereign” Palestine which is totally disarmed and geographically divided by a hostile Jewish state brimming with military might?

The second obstacle for any Two State Solution is far more intractable.  This is basic demographics. Leaving aside the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, we can shortly expect a demographic tipping of the scales within Israel itself.  As it stands, Arab Israeli passport holders make up about 20% of the total population, and the percentage of Israeli Jews has shrunk, by proportion, by about 1-2% each year since 1949.  This means that, within one to two generations, it is possible that Jews will be the minority within the Jewish State.

Between 2020 and 2030, the population of Israeli Jews is expected to increase by less than 15%.  This is compared to the Arab and non-Jewish populations which are expected to increase, in this same decade, by just over 26%.  (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010)  Again, these figures pertain to “Israel proper” and would not be significantly affected by Israel ceding the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

Counterbalancing the “tipping point” with the Orthodox birthrate

The kicker is that the one plausible way for Israel to avoid this “tipping point” scenario is by relying upon the high birthrates of the ultra-Orthodox and Haredi Jewish communities.  Secular Zionists are, therefore, between a rock and a hard place.  Over the next 20-40 years Israel will become increasingly Arab and, simultaneously, increasingly Orthodox Jewish.  Therefore, even if Arabs and non-Jews do not make up 51% of the population within 50 years, it will nonetheless be the case that secular-minded Jews (traditionally the bedrock of Israeli, Jewish democracy) will find themselves to be the absolute minority far sooner than anyone has imagined.  The prospects for Israel retaining its fragile “secular,” “Jewish,” and “democratic” identity in the long run are therefore negligible.

What must be understood is that these demographic shifts are not necessarily fatal for any given democracy; they are detrimental specifically to that chimerical creation that is a religio-ethnic democracy.  A state which tries to maintain popular sovereignty, secular government, and equal representation under the law alongside a specifically determined ethnic and religious character intrinsically brings upon itself these tensions which, given the right circumstances, will tear it apart from the inside.  Truly modern, secular states which disavow any predetermined ethnic identity are able to absorb diverse and even undemocratic populations, and then go on to secularize and democratize these very same groups.

“Progressive assimilation” is the order of the day. 

However a country which is always staking its very existence upon certain demographic ratios necessarily cannot employ such a strategy.  It will have to cast its lot with the most closed, culturally entrenched sectors of its own ruling, ethnic population.  In doing so, it may for a while offset countervailing demographic pressures, but it ultimately cuts itself off from any sustainable model of secularization, growth, internal unity, and progress.  In the end, it cannot even remain democratic.

That hard-liners and liberals continue to pitch mock battles with one another over the minutia and semantics of a Two State Solution is therefore the height of irresponsibility.  For the very idea of “two states” is predicated, in the first place, upon the unworkable and premodern idea of “identitarian” government.  In many ways the “Two State Solution” is, therefore, an oxymoron; for it solves nothing.  It only conceals and maintains the basic contradictions a form of government which is, right now, propelling two peoples towards a very real and bloody conflict.

A Realist’s Utopia

What is needed now is a rational assessment of the situation in light of the given facts.  When this is carried through, all signs point to a One State Solution.  What was once the utopian dream of Jewish intellectuals like Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, and Albert Einstein, has now become the banner of hard-nosed realists.
Just last year, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (a member of the conservative Likud party) came out against any partition of the land of Israel, and instead proposed a bi-national solution to the current crisis.  Speaking on the de facto inseparability of the Palestinian people from Israel, Rivlin commented, “It is a group with a highly defined shared national identity, and which will forever be, as a collective, an important and integral part of Israeli society."  (Haaretz, “Israel official: Accepting Palestinians into Israel better than two states,” April 29th, 2009)

True, heads of state and diplomats rarely discuss this taboo option, at least in public.  However, like all timely ideas, the One State Solution is gaining broad consensus just below the surface.  A sure sign of this fact is that Israelis themselves have begun to see the inevitability of one state on both ends of the political spectrum.  A recent poll showed a relatively equal level of support for a bi-national state amongst self-described “right-wing” and “left-wing” Israelis, 15% and 18% respectively.  (March 2010 poll, The Israel Democracy Institute of the Guttman Center)

For an idea which is constantly derided as being the fantasy of only the most deluded, anarchic radicals, these are truly shocking numbers.  They show that one-third of Israelis, broadly distributed across the political landscape, support a single, bi-national state with equal rights for all its citizens.

Today, the support for a trulysecular, bi-national state is no longer motivated by sheer idealism alone.  This “utopian” solution is now the most realistic one as well.  Speaking on the abovementioned poll, Dr. Ya’akov Shamir of the Israel Democracy Institute confirmed, “In Israel there is a group that believes that a bi-national state is inevitable because with Jewish and Palestinian communities so entangled in the West Bank, it will be almost impossible to divide them.”  (The Jerusalem Post, “Palestinians increasingly back 1-state,” March 22nd, 2010)  We may only add that this “indivisibility” is rapidly becoming the new reality on both sides of the 1967 line.

By Landon Frim - An instructor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and the chair of the Faith and Socialism Commission of the Socialist Party, USA

'We are running out of time for a two-state solution

At the end of my conversation with Sari Nusseibeh at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, the highly respected president of Al-Quds University - and cosignatory of "The People's Choice," a peace plan that he formulated with former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon - told me he wouldn't be surprised if one of the Palestinian residents of the city ran for mayor in the municipal elections in November. The candidate would not run as a representative of Jerusalem per se, Nusseibeh stressed. Rather, he would be running on behalf of all Palestinians in the occupied territories.

"Why don't you do it?" I blurt out. The 59-year-old son of Anwar Nusseibeh, a Jordanian government minister, does not smile. "It's possible," says the professor of Islamic philosophy, who briefly replaced Faisal Husseini a few years ago as the top Palestinian official in East Jerusalem. "Anything is possible," he adds without batting an eyelid.

Nusseibeh's previous contention that the Oslo "house of cards" had begun to collapse was further confirmed by this week's report in Haaretz regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's latest peace offering (Israel would annex 7 percent of the West Bank and compensate the Palestinians with territory in the Negev, which would be equivalent to 5.5 percent of West Bank land; an agreement on the future of Jerusalem would be postponed to a later date; there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel; and the entire plan would be implemented after Hamas is removed from power in the Gaza Strip).

Nusseibeh says he knows full well what happens during negotiations - or, to be more specific, at does not happen. For over 20 years the Palestinian leadership has been trying to persuade their people to agree to a state along the June 4, 1967, lines, while Israel has been destroying that option, Nusseibeh explains, adding: "You cannot negotiate anything about final status if you don't talk about Jerusalem. Final status consists primarily, I believe, of Jerusalem and refugees. If you want to postpone Jerusalem, you postpone refugees. Really, you are not dealing with the problem. You have to discuss these issues, and that is exactly where the trade-off has to be made."

Is Sari Nusseibeh, the secular Palestinian, the symbol of moderation, Ayalon's guy, burying the two-state solution?

"I still favor a two-state solution and will continue to do so, but to the extent that you discover it's not practical anymore or that it's not going to happen, you start to think about what the alternatives are. I think that the feeling is there are two courses taking place that are opposed to one another. On one hand, there is what people are saying and thinking, on both sides. There is the sense that we are running out of time, that if we want a two-state solution, we need to implement it quickly.

"But on the other hand, if we are looking at what is happening on the ground, in Israel and the occupied territories, you see things happening in the opposite direction, as if they are not connected to reality. Thought is running in one direction, reality in the other."

Nusseibeh says the struggle for a one-state solution could take a form similar to some of the nonviolent struggles waged by oppressed ethnic groups in other places.

"We can fight for equal rights, rights of existence, return and equality, and we could take it slowly over the years and there could be a peaceful movement - like in South Africa," he notes. "I think one should maybe begin on the Palestinian side, to begin a debate, to reengage in the idea of one state."

'Jerusalem is out'

"We have failed in the last 15 years," Nusseibeh continues, "to create the world we wanted to create. We were supposed to be very clever; we convinced ourselves that we were going to be very democratic and clean, a model for the rest of the Arab world. And Jerusalem was supposed to be our capital. That's what we believed. But then it turned out that all of this was total rubbish. Jerusalem is out, all we have is Ramallah. And we lost Gaza. There is corruption and inefficiency. This is not what we vouched for when we sat back in the early 1980s and ideologized the two-state solution.

"It so happens that Fatah, in particular, the mainstream party and the only viable alternative to extremes on the left or on the right, now needs a strategy, an ideology. Because the ideology that Fatah has adopted over the last 15 years - a two-state solution - seems to be faltering, and with it, Fatah is faltering. So it is time maybe to rethink, to bring Fatah around to a new idea, the old-new idea, of one state. "

The recent "bulldozer terrorism" in Jerusalem did not highlight the difficulties inherent in a binational state model?

"These are isolated incidents, but they do reflect a major sickness in our Jerusalem Arab society. A sickness that has resulted in pressure, schizophrenia, the fact that these people speak Hebrew, and listen to Hebrew songs, go out with Israeli girlfriends while at the same time they live in Arab neighborhoods and under the influence of Muslim culture. There are contradictory forces pulling at them.

"What is the driving force behind a two-state solution? The fact that it seems more acceptable to a majority of people on both sides and therefore more applicable. The primary motivation is to minimize human suffering. This is what we should all be looking at. If there will be a one-state solution, it will not come today or tomorrow. It's a long, protracted thing, not the ideal solution. Unless, in an ideal world, people really want to be together, then it is the ideal solution. The best solution, the one that causes the least pain and that can actually be instrumental to a one-state solution, is to have peace now, and acceptance of one another on the basis of two states."

Is this an ultimatum?

"That's an ultimatum. Unless a major breakthrough happens by the end of this year, in my opinion we should start trying to strive for equality. Back in the 1980s, before the first intifada, I was saying there was schizophrenia in the body politic of the Palestinian people. It was like the head was going in one direction, which was the direction of seeking independence, national identity - but the body was slowly immersed in the Israeli system, and I said it can't last because it looks like it will snap. Either the body will join the head so that there will be a civil disobedience campaign, or the head will have to join the body, so that there will be a civil rights campaign, to become part of the Israeli system.

"Fifty, 100, 200 years down the road there will be some kind of conclusion. Sometime in the future - however far away this future is - I believe we'll be living at peace with one another, in some way or another. I am not sure how, whether in one state or two states, or in a confederation of states, but people finally will come to live at peace. In the meantime, we will simply cause pain to one another. It's tragic. It is very tragic, because we know we can do it now. That today it is possible with some guts, leadership, vision, we can make it happen today, we can reach a peaceful solution today. [The Arab Peace Initiative proposed in 2002] is a fantastic chance. The Palestinians have adopted it, they'll go with it all the way. It is a perfect chance. It doesn't even mention right of return. It is even better than the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan, but I am willing to accept it."

'Dead money'

Asked why he - who realizes so well how complicated it will be to reach a fair and logical solution regarding Jerusalem - is opposed to Olmert's idea of postponing discussion on that issue, Nusseibeh says he hopes that the prime minister is not repeating the same mistake made by Ehud Barak at Camp David, and that the idea of postponement was broached strictly for public relations purposes.

"Because for Israel, however important Jerusalem may be, the primary factor is the Jewish character [of the state]. And however important the refugees might be, what is more important for the Palestinians and Muslims is Jerusalem. It is the issue over which the most extremist of refugees will be willing to make a sacrifice. Let's hope this is not where [Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] are disagreeing. If that is what they're disagreeing about, then there's no hope. We have to do everything now, we have to put everything on the table.

"The facts on the ground are making [the situation] irreversible," Nusseibeh warns. "Take the Clinton parameters - Palestinian neighborhoods are Palestinian sovereignty, Jewish neighborhoods are Jewish sovereignty. They are acceptable in principle, but with realities on the ground, like the expulsion of Arab families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the inhabitation of those areas by Jewish settlers, it's going to be unacceptable on a practical level. That's why we don't have time."

You ruffled some feathers among the Palestinian leadership when you recently asked the Europeans to halt financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. Someone even wondered whether you would be willing to give up the aid provided for Al-Quds University.

"Ramallah's reaction was a bit worried. They called me a few times, a bit worried."

Nusseibeh adds that the PA is still dogged by corruption - different from the corruption of which Olmert is accused - whereby donor states subsidize thousands of salaried employees at nonprofit organizations. This creates what he sees as an unhealthy dependency on foreign entities.

"We have a terrible situation. Our political bible, our platform, our moral values - we need to be brought together again. If not for creating a state, then for our own sanity and for own values as a people. Apart from in Ramallah, everybody is living under very bad conditions. The occupation is terrible. The siege is everywhere. Pressure. As it is, the Europeans are financing the occupation. And the Europeans are happy, because they feel they're doing something, it cleans their conscience. And the Israelis are happy because they're not paying for it. And the Palestinians are happy because they are getting their wages paid. It keeps the economy going, and people are getting complacent about it. It's dead money [going] after dead money."

Nusseibeh mentions the recent meeting he had with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the British consulate in Jerusalem, together with four other Palestinians, during which the premier stated he would like to assume a role in the peace process more central than that of a cash register. "I said, I want to tell you what you can do to transform yourself from a payer into a player: Make your money payments conditional on tangible progress in the peace process."

Not long ago, the professor continues, "I was in Brussels. I gave a talk and I said to the Europeans: If you want to pass on money, do it only on the condition we build a state, in which case it makes sense for you to spend money to build us an international airport. But if in the end there isn't going to be an independent Palestinian state, why waste your money? Waste your money, if you need to, on integrating us into Israeli society. Makes more sense. Pay the money for us to become part of Israel, to have equal rights. Raise our level of education, bring our standards of living up. But to have the PA taking all this money, creating all this debt, makes no sense. Maybe the Europeans should link the aid they are giving us to real progress in peace talks, so that both the Israelis and the Palestinians will be shocked out of their complacency, or lack of commitment."

What do you make of the growing support among Palestinians for the dismantlement of the PA?

"The PA has no use. If we fail to reach a peace agreement by the end of this year, I believe it would be best to go back to the period when we were living happily under occupation. We had a small civil administration, they were paying back some $20 million a year to the Israeli treasury, so they were making money off us. Today, we are creating, year after year, bigger deficits. We are spending billions, we have 160,000 employees, half of them are security personnel, who give us no security whatsoever, we are spending masses of money on guns, which we only use against each other and which provide us no security. The whole thing is a mess."

Nusseibeh says that to this day, the Palestinians have opposed taking part in the Jerusalem municipal elections because they feared doing so would sever the link between Jerusalem's Arabs and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Now, given the diminishing likelihood of a two-state solution, perhaps it is time for the Palestinians to reconsider.

"People in Jerusalem - why should they attach themselves to the Muqata, to Ramallah? There is no reason. There's nothing. The municipal election in Jerusalem [could serve as a launching point for seeking equal rights in a binational state]. We begin with Jerusalem, not as a separate part, but as a spearhead of the entire Palestinian body. Why not? Why not turn the weakness into a strength?

Are you disappointed by the Israeli peace camp? Did your partner, Ami Ayalon, who joined the same government you now accuse of distancing itself from your proposal, betray you?

"I respect Ami Ayalon. He is a very honest person, that is something that has always attracted me to him. It is not a betrayal of me personally. I look upon it as the ultimate submission by the individual to the wheels of history. You reach the point where you feel no longer able to do what you want, to steer the wheels in the direction you want them to go. And you submit, and become a part of the machine. So it's not really a betrayal. It's rather an expression of weakness. I am sad more than surprised. I recognize it as part of human weakness.

"I was still hoping because, before he went to the Labor Party, he came and spoke to me. I like this about him. I knew what he was doing. People were pushing him for a long time, trying to get him into the system, and he resisted. But then at one stage, I think he made up his mind: 'Maybe I can lead the Labor Party, and then this is the best place for me to be.' I said, fine, do it. I was unhappy that ... he became marginalized as minister without portfolio."

Nusseibeh says he lost touch with Ayalon since the latter became a minister.

Asked if Abbas would be able to muster Palestinian support for an agreement like "The People's Choice," Nusseibeh says both the Palestinian president and Olmert need to courageously take on their respective opposition camps. For instance, if Abbas "would come to the Palestinian people and say, 'I initialed such a document. I want to dissolve the legislative council and run for election and this is going to be my political platform. Not only for me as a president, but also as leader of Fatah.' Let us assume that he does this and then he creates a debate in our society. It will be a very far-reaching, democratic debate, in which he will be looked upon as presenting his project. [This would] mark the beginning of a process, of a struggle.

"I believe that on Israeli side, Olmert could do the same. We don't know whether both leaders will be reelected, but it's worth doing, even if they're not, because at least we know we've given this peace agreement a chance."

Ami Ayalon says, in response: "I agree with Sari Nusseibeh that time is running out for the two-state solution. He voices the frustration and desperation of the Palestinians, and we have to consider that. If a man like him, a son of a Palestinian refugee who relinquished his right of return and was bodily attacked because of it, comes to the conclusion that the two-state solution is no longer an option, it means that the whole pragmatic Palestinian approach is crumbling.

"I share his view that Olmert missed a chance to get an agreement due to efforts to insure his own political survival. The Labor Party will not succeed in getting back in power by attacking the other parties, but only by raising the common banner of security and political agreements." 

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent - 08.16.2008

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Founding a binational State

When U.S. President George W. Bush indulged in references about an historic event as he defined the separation plan, he wasn't exaggerating, even if it is not clear that he grasped the implications of his words regarding the future of the Jewish state. Nor did the Palestinians err when they compared his declaration to the Balfour Declaration, even if they perhaps failed to grasp that the statement is liable to have implications yet more grave than the 1917 pledge, and will compel a substantive strategic change in their struggle. And Ariel Sharon - crowned by victory and convinced that he has unveiled a daring new initiative which will foil all schemes - will be surprised to discover that in Washington he was pushed into embracing an accelerated process of founding the State of Israel as a binational state based on Apartheid.

What's the connection between, on the one hand, the end of the conquest in the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of settlements, and the establishment of a binational state, on the other hand? After all, the goal of disengagement is to improve the demographic situation by removing a million and a half Palestinians from Israeli control and thereby reducing the danger that the country will cease to be a Jewish state. The surprising fact is that this "conceptual transfer" is accepted by the Israeli left, which continues to believe in anachronistic slogans about the "end of the conquest" and the "dismantling of settlements."

The report about a tacit agreement being reached between Peace Now and Sharon's aides - Peace Now will suspend the "evacuate settlements, choose life" campaign so as not to harm public relations efforts for Sharon's separation plan - illustrates the profoundly confused state of public discourse. As the left sees it, the confinement of one and a half million persons in a huge holding pen fulfills the ideal of putting an end to the occupation, and furnishes some relief about how "we are not responsible."

Similarly, when, in South Africa, a failed attempt was made to solve demographic problems by creating "homelands for the blacks," liberals originally supported the idea, and even a portion of the international community viewed the measure as a step toward "decolonization." But after a short time it became clear that the ploy was designed to confer legitimacy to the expulsion of blacks, and their uprooting. The Bantustans collapsed, demands for civil equality intensified, and the world mobilized for the defeat of Apartheid.

The Bantustan model for Gaza, as depicted in the disengagement plan, is a model that Sharon plans to copy on the West Bank. His announcement that he will not start to disengage before construction on the fence is completed along a route that will include all settlement blocs (in keeping with Benjamin Netanyahu's demand), underscores the continuity of the Bantustan concept. The fence creates three Bantustans on the West Bank: first, Jenin-Nablus; second, Bethlehem-Hebron; and third, Ramallah. This is the real link between the Gaza and West Bank plans - the link is not what those politicians who will provide a "security net" for Sharon in a Knesset no confidence votes call "the precedent of the dismantling of settlements."

And thus, with breathtaking daring, Sharon submits a plan which appears to promise the existence of a "Jewish democratic state" via "separation," "the end of the conquest," the "dismantling of settlements" - and also the imprisonment of some three million Palestinians in Bantustans. This is an "interim plan" which is meant to last forever. The plan will last, however, only as long as the illusion that "separation" is a means to end the dispute is sustained.

But the day will come when believers in this illusion will realize that "separation" is a means to oppress and dominate, and then they will mobilize to dismantle the Apartheid apparatus. The last ones who will consent to abandon the ideal of "separation" and uphold rights will be the Palestinians; but, to some extent, Sharon's separation plan, and Bush's declaration, will provoke them.

In this way, Sharon's rhetorical victory is sown with the seeds of its own destruction. The Bantustan plan is now in swing; and the scenario which Sharon so badly wanted to avoid will unfold.

By Meron Benvenisti

Israel: The Alternative

The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the "road map." The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist's dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: "It's all Arafat's fault." Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?
At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe's subject peoples dreamed of forming "nation-states," territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, "ethnic" majority—defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three—at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.
But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades and a second world war. And thus it was only in 1948 that a Jewish nation-state was established in formerly Ottoman Palestine. But the founders of the Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel's ethno-religious self-definition, and its discrimination against internal "foreigners," has always had more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than either party might care to acknowledge.
The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European "enclave" in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a "Jewish state"—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded— is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.
Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy "Samaria," "Judea," and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.
Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah.
Anyone who supposes that this third option is unthinkable above all for a Jewish state has not been watching the steady accretion of settlements and land seizures in the West Bank over the past quarter-century, or listening to generals and politicians on the Israeli right, some of them currently in government. The middle ground of Israeli politics today is occupied by the Likud. Its major component is the late Menachem Begin's Herut Party. Herut is the successor to Vladimir Jabotinsky's interwar Revisionist Zionists, whose uncompromising indifference to legal and territorial niceties once attracted from left-leaning Zionists the epithet "fascist." When one hears Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, proudly insist that his country has not excluded the option of assassinating the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, it is clear that the label fits better than ever. Political murder is what fascists do.

The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons. There are indeed Arab radicals who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean, but they represent no strategic threat to Israel, and the Israeli military knows it. What sensible Israelis fear much more than Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade is the steady emergence of an Arab majority in "Greater Israel," and above all the erosion of the political culture and civic morale of their society. As the prominent Labor politician Avraham Burg recently wrote, "After two thousand years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality."  Unless something changes, Israel in half a decade will be neither Jewish nor democratic.
This is where the US enters the picture. Israel's behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy. With American support, Jerusalem has consistently and blatantly flouted UN resolutions requiring it to withdraw from land seized and occupied in war. Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. Washington's unconditional support for Israel even in spite of (silent) misgivings is the main reason why most of the rest of the world no longer credits our good faith.
It is now tacitly conceded by those in a position to know that America's reasons for going to war in Iraq were not necessarily those advertised at the time. For many in the current US administration, a major strategic consideration was the need to destabilize and then reconfigure the Middle East in a manner thought favorable to Israel. This story continues. We are now making belligerent noises toward Syria because Israeli intelligence has assured us that Iraqi weapons have been moved there—a claim for which there is no corroborating evidence from any other source. Syria backs Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad: sworn foes of Israel, to be sure, but hardly a significant international threat. However, Damascus has hitherto been providing the US with critical data on al-Qaeda. Like Iran, another longstanding target of Israeli wrath whom we are actively alienating, Syria is more use to the United States as a friend than an enemy. Which war are we fighting?
On September 16, 2003, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution asking Israel to desist from its threat to deport Yasser Arafat. Even American officials themselves recognize, off the record, that the resolution was reasonable and prudent, and that the increasingly wild pronouncements of Israel's present leadership, by restoring Arafat's standing in the Arab world, are a major impediment to peace. But the US blocked the resolution all the same, further undermining our credibility as an honest broker in the region. America's friends and allies around the world are no longer surprised at such actions, but they are saddened and disappointed all the same.
Israeli politicians have been actively contributing to their own difficulties for many years; why do we continue to aid and abet them in their mistakes? The US has tentatively sought in the past to pressure Israel by threatening to withhold from its annual aid package some of the money that goes to subsidizing West Bank settlers. But the last time this was attempted, during the Clinton administration, Jerusalem got around it by taking the money as "security expenditure." Washington went along with the subterfuge, and of $10 billion of American aid over four years, between 1993 and 1997, less than $775 million was kept back. The settlement program went ahead unimpeded. Now we don't even try to stop it.
This reluctance to speak or act does no one any favors. It has also corroded American domestic debate. Rather than think straight about the Middle East, American politicians and pundits slander our European allies when they dissent, speak glibly and irresponsibly of resurgent anti-Semitism when Israel is criticized, and censoriously rebuke any public figure at home who tries to break from the consensus.

But the crisis in the Middle East won't go away. President Bush will probably be conspicuous by his absence from the fray for the coming year, having said just enough about the "road map" in June to placate Tony Blair. But sooner or later an American statesman is going to have to tell the truth to an Israeli prime minister and find a way to make him listen. Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.
But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the "road map" says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen. Many of those settlers will die—and kill— rather than move. The last Israeli politician to shoot Jews in pursuit of state policy was David Ben-Gurion, who forcibly disarmed Begin's illegal Irgun militia in 1948 and integrated it into the new Israel Defense Forces. Ariel Sharon is not Ben-Gurion.
The time has come to think the unthinkable. The two-state solution— the core of the Oslo process and the present "road map"—is probably already doomed. With every passing year we are postponing an inevitable, harder choice that only the far right and far left have so far acknowledged, each for its own reasons. The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. That is indeed how the hard-liners in Sharon's cabinet see the choice; and that is why they anticipate the removal of the Arabs as the ineluctable condition for the survival of a Jewish state.
But what if there were no place in the world today for a "Jewish state"? What if the binational solution was not just increasingly likely, but actually a desirable outcome? It is not such a very odd thought. Most of the readers of this essay live in pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural. "Christian Europe," pace M. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, is a dead letter; Western civilization today is a patchwork of colors and religions and languages, of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Indians, and many others—as any visitor to London or Paris or Geneva will know.
Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethnoreligious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not—as its more paranoid supporters assert—because it is a Jewish state and no one wants the Jews to have a state; but because it is a Jewish state in which one community—Jews —is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.

For many years, Israel had a special meaning for the Jewish people. After 1948 it took in hundreds of thousands of helpless survivors who had nowhere else to go; without Israel their condition would have been desperate in the extreme. Israel needed Jews, and Jews needed Israel. The circumstances of its birth have thus bound Israel's identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe. As a result, all criticism of Israel is drawn ineluctably back to the memory of that project, something that Israel's American apologists are shamefully quick to exploit. To find fault with the Jewish state is to think ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide.
In the years after World War II, those many millions of Jews who did not live in Israel were often reassured by its very existence—whether they thought of it as an insurance policy against renascent anti-Semitism or simply a reminder to the world that Jews could and would fight back. Before there was a Jewish state, Jewish minorities in Christian societies would peer anxiously over their shoulders and keep a low profile; since 1948, they could walk tall. But in recent years, the situation has tragically reversed.
Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn't do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions. Diaspora Jews cannot influence Israeli policies, but they are implicitly identified with them, not least by Israel's own insistent claims upon their allegiance. The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel. The depressing truth is that Israel's current behavior is not just bad for America, though it surely is. It is not even just bad for Israel itself, as many Israelis silently acknowledge. The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews.
In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one. In today's "clash of cultures" between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.
To convert Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one would not be easy, though not quite as impossible as it sounds: the process has already begun de facto. But it would cause far less disruption to most Jews and Arabs than its religious and nationalist foes will claim. In any case, no one I know of has a better idea: anyone who genuinely supposes that the controversial electronic fence now being built will resolve matters has missed the last fifty years of history. The "fence"—actually an armored zone of ditches, fences, sensors, dirt roads (for tracking footprints), and a wall up to twenty-eight feet tall in places—occupies, divides, and steals Arab farmland; it will destroy villages, livelihoods, and whatever remains of Arab-Jewish community. It costs approximately $1 million per mile and will bring nothing but humiliation and discomfort to both sides. Like the Berlin Wall, it confirms the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect.
A binational state in the Middle East would require a brave and relentlessly engaged American leadership. The security of Jews and Arabs alike would need to be guaranteed by international force—though a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border. A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.

By Tony Judt - From the New York Review of Books   — September 25, 2003