It is a generally agreed upon principle that the two-state solution is dead:
The rift between Israel and the Palestinian leadership on issues such as Jerusalem and the Right of Return seems unbridgeable. Neither side’s leaders seem particularly interested in negotiations. Israeli’s are still traumatized by the Second Intifada; they’re afraid that renewed negotiations would mean the renewed danger of them and their families getting blown up on the way to work, or at a restaurant. Many of Mahmoud Abbas’s recent statements, such as his assertion that Jews defile the Temple Mount with their filthy feet, are not only anti-Semitic, but arguably, also serve to incite Palestinian violence. It’s understandable that Israelis don’t trust him as a viable peace partner. Additionally, even if an agreement were signed tomorrow, it’s unclear that Abbas would have the legitimacy that is necessary to implement such an agreement, because he is highly unpopular among the Palestinian public.
The problem is, that the longer the status quo continues, the more it becomes untenable: As each side grows increasingly accustomed to seeing the Other as the enemy, hatred becomes stronger, thereby lessening the possibility of peace negotiations in the future -and increasing the possibility of violence.
So what can Israel do?*
It can take some steps to show that although it feels unable to end the Occupation today, it is serious about ending the Occupation at some point in the future. Examples include:
- A complete settlement freeze, accompanied by automatic and immediate dismantling of any illegal outposts as soon as the army becomes aware of them
- Bolstering the Palestinian economy
- Expanding the parts of the West Bank under Palestinian autonomy (this would be done according to a map designed by the army and security experts; the Palestinian autonomous zones would not include any settlements)
Instead, Israel seems to be doing the opposite:
- Expanding settlements, and being reluctant to dismantle illegal outposts; passing a Regulation Law (later challenged in the Supreme Court) that retroactively authorized settlement homes built illegally on private Palestinian land
- Withholding funding from the Palestinian Authority and preventing Palestinians from exporting agricultural products through Jordan, severely impeding the Palestinian economy
- Talking seriously about annexing parts of the West Bank, while refusing to pay even cursory lip-service to the possibility of a theoretical Palestinian state sometime in the future
In other words, Israel is sending the message that it does not plan on ending the Occupation anytime soon -if at all.
This undermines Israel’s claim to the world, that the Occupation is a temporary security measure that Israel will impose ONLY as long as it’s necessary. This claim is a way of evading responsibility from any immoral aspects of the Occupation, because Israel “has no choice” but to occupy. It also diminishes any moral objections, by presenting that Occupation as a temporary situation that will cease the moment that credible Palestinian leadership appears.
Israel’s actions also send a message to Palestinians, that Israel has no intentions of eventually granting them a state. It’s not hard to imagine that message increasing hatred among Palestinians. The Right often points to a Palestinian culture of anti-Israel incitement; Palestinian terrorists are hailed as “martyrs” and Palestinian peace activists are killed as “collaborators”. All of this is true. However, the Right then goes on to say that because of the incitement, it makes no difference what Israel does: Palestinians will always hate it. However, this claim ignores that Palestinians are human beings, who are influenced not only by the culture they are raised in, but also, by the reality they observe around them. To think that Israel’s actions have no impact on Palestinians’ feelings towards it is ridiculous, and ignores Palestinians’ basic humanity.
Lastly, it sends a message to Israelis, that we have no intention of ever giving up any territory in exchange for a Palestinian state. It tells us to give up hope of the possibility of a peace deal. In doing so, it goes against David Ben-Gurion’s famous quote, that, “In order to be a realist, you have to be an optimist”. This principle has been the guiding ethos of Zionism, which started out as an unrealistic pipe-dream of a disenfranchised minority group.
But that message only works on us if we let it. Now is not the time to give up hope, because there is never a good time to give up. There are many legitimate fears Israel might have with regards to immediate negotiations with the contemporary Palestinian leadership or regarding immediate withdrawal from the West Bank. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any steps that we can take now to change the status quo: By empowering ourselves to change the geopolitical reality, in the hopes of a peaceful tomorrow, in order to live as a nation free from fear in our land, while remaining true to the values of human dignity and liberty, we would be carrying forward the Zionist vision, laid out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: to “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants… based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”.
*My thinking on these issues has been generally influenced by Micha Goodman’s Book, “Catch-67”.