This past week, Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process gave a lecture at Tel Aviv University proclaiming that the possibility for a two-state solution would die in a matter of months, Ben Birnbaum wrote a riveting and influential essay about the end of the two-state solution and at a Herzliya conference panel on the peace process, almost everyone except Tzipi Livni spoke as if a two-state solution is presently untenable. In response to this I say yes, the two-state solution (as we know it) is dead, but this is a positive, not negative step towards peace.
Before a phoenix can rise from the ashes, it has to burn. The concept of a negotiated solution based on the Clinton parameters is a pipe-dream that has never been that close to actually happening. This “pipe-dream” in my opinion is presently the biggest obstacle to peace. When the only tool one has is a hammer, everything looks like a nail; in this case, the only tool people are using to try and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a negotiated two-state solution based loosely on the Clinton parameters. By looking beyond this framework, I think more suitable tools to solve the conflict will present themselves and peace, like a phoenix, will be able to rise from the ashes.
The reason why a negotiated two-state solution has not worked has not been for a lack of effort or negotiations, but because both sides cannot live with the other parties’ demands. Negotiations are not educational campaigns to sway the public’s view, and so long as the majority of people on both sides cannot live with the proposed offers, nothing will be achieved. A great example of this can be seen with the Geneva Initiative, a peace proposal that roughly falls in the middle of both parties’ demands (concessions that both parties would likely never acquiesce to); present the Geneva Initiative as a referendum to both publics and it will get rejected.
The PLO is not a democracy so in theory, its possible that they could reach an agreement that is unsatisfactory to its people, however not only is this unlikely, but the fact that the PLO is not a democracy makes it even harder for them to reach an agreement because without vast public support, they will be politically and/or physically overruled. A demonstration of this can be seen with the Yossi Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement, an agreement that would actually be acceptable to much of the Israeli public. After the agreement was leaked and Abu Mazen became accountable for his work, he claimed that he never supported it and would not allow it to be referenced during the Camp David negotiations.
Since Netanyahu’s second term as Prime Minister started, there have been two official sets of discussions held between Israeli and Palestinians, and a series of unofficial correspondence. Many people fallaciously point to the lack of negotiations as the greatest hurdle for peace. The first official discussions in 2010 consisted of Abu Mazen coming to the table 9 months into a 10-month settlement freeze and leaving after the freeze expired while the Palestinian leadership failed to show up to second attempt in 2012 held in Amman.
It has been stated regarding the private correspondence and is obvious to outside observers that Abu Mazen does not want to engage in negotiations. This is for two reasons; the first is that he knows that the negotiations will be futile. Abu Mazen turned down Ehud Olmert’s extremely generous offer and he knows that Netanyahu would never offer anything close to that. The second is that if Abu Mazen enters negotiations and leaves with nothing, he would lose support, something that could easily lead to his demise.
In 1978, Prime Minister Meacham Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan flew to Washington to meet with President Jimmy Carter and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. They spoke at length about the future situation of the Palestinians and while many interesting things were discussed, there is one quote by Begin that stands out in specific: “In our self-rule plan, we give the Palestinian Arabs the option of [Israeli] citizenship after five years. They can even choose to vote for our Knesset”. Whether it was due to a wish for greater security or the belief that Jews living in Judea and Samaria was integral to the state of Israel, Begin thought it was more important to retain control of Judea and Samaria than it was to have a “Jewish” state. This is the issue that must be dealt with today.
78% of Israelis are against a bi-national state according to a poll conducted by Blue White Future; it is obvious to the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens and Jews in the diaspora that Begin’s view is unacceptable, untenable and unsuitable. The ideal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differs depending on the individual; some want Israel to withdraw to the 49 Armistice lines, the Geneva initiative, the Clinton Parameters, to annex area C, swap the Israeli triangle for the settlement blocs, a three state solution with Jordan, to pay the Palestinians to leave etc. Aside from the fringe groups, there is near unanimous consensus (a rarity in Jewish culture) to keep Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
What I think is most likely to happen and most suitable is a partial unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. Ehud Barak planned for it, Ariel Sharon did it, Ehud Olmert campaigned on it, Avigdor Lieberman proposed it and it is rumoured that Benjamin Netanyahu has seriously considered it. As of now, 45% of the Israeli public supports a partial unilateral withdrawal. Although the goal would be to have a Palestinian state on provisional borders as discussed in the Quartet’s 2002 Road Map For Peace as recently advocated by Yossi Beilin, it is unlikely that the Palestinians will accept anything that is provisional.
In order for unilateral withdrawal to be successful without Palestinian concessions, Israel must remain in possession of key bargaining chips, such as the presence of the IDF in Judea and Samaria, compensation for refugees, Arab neighbourhoods in or adjacent to Jerusalem etc to ensure that there are still incentives left for the Palestinians. 80% of Israelis support keeping the IDF in the West Bank in light of unilateral disengagement; throughout this procedure, security cannot be overlooked.
As the next government is still being formed, one should not expect such acts to take place immediately. However, after the contentious legislation being drawn up now has been passed and settled in, I would be not be surprised if Netanyahu starts taking unilateral actions. In such a situation, it is likely that Habayit Hayehudi would leave the coalition and as earlier promised by Shelly Yachimovich, Labor would join the coalition. The specifics of such a move are unpredictable. It is unlikely that Netanyahu would go as far as Olmert’s proposed realignment plan and evacuate settlements outside of the security barrier and annex the remaining land. Netanyahu could issue a settlement freeze east of the security barrier while progressively evacuating smaller, isolated settlements while issues like housing shortages are addressed.
The intention of unilateral withdrawal is to change the parameters and dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and failing that, for Israel to create their own acceptable future. Indefinite occupation is unsustainable and the two-state solution is presently untenable; Israel must change the status on the ground to secure its future as a defensible Jewish and democratic state.