The appointment of H.E. Ambassador Nayef Al Sudairi, the current Saudi ambassador to Jordan as the non-resident ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the State of Palestine is a flashing red light to those in Israel who believe that normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is around the corner. There is a price tag for Israel to pay for normalization with the kingdom and it is not one that the current government of Israel is prepared to pay. Prime Minister Netanyahu was never a partner for peace on a two-state solution, and even more so today with his current government. The two-state solution remains as the international mantra as well for a large part of Israeli society. Any person with any first-hand knowledge of the reality in the West Bank has to seriously question the viability of a two-state solution.
The loss of a majority support for this solution in Israel and Palestine is not just shifting political winds, it is a sign of the changing reality on the ground. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis control the overwhelming majority of the territory and resources in the West Bank with the entire Palestinian population under the boots of a police state type military rule and a failing Palestinian leadership. Many Israelis and Palestinians share the view that the chance of peace has faced a dead-end road.
Why the Two-State Solution?
I admit that, until about two years ago, I was a strong advocate of the two-state solution. I penned my first Op-ed in 1976 in the Jewish Radical out of Berkeley California calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories that Israel conquered in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital. My position then was primarily based on seeing myself as a Zionist (I no longer call myself a Zionist). In my view, if the conflict was between two peoples willing to fight, to die, and to kill for a territorial expression of their identity and both sides claimed that they give their identity to the land and they take their identity from the land, then the best solution would be partition where they could find a win-win scenario. The idea that there could be a peaceful binational state seemed as far-fetched then as it does now. When the Oslo agreement Declaration of Principles was first uncovered in the end of August 1993, I was happy to learn from one of its architects, my friend and colleague, the late Ron Pundak, that the conceptualization of the Oslo process was two states with relatively open borders and deep cooperation between both states in every area of life. The “Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” from September 28, 1995 actually created 26 joint Israeli-Palestinian cooperation bodies to materialize the concept of cross border cooperation. After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the election of Netanyahu the process began to derail. Some joint committees became an enactment of Israel’s veto power over Palestinian needs, such as in the Joint Water Committee. The Joint Economic Committee became the place where Israel could withhold its signature on the transference of custom duties and VAT collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. When the second intifada erupted, all of the joint committees ceased to work and they have not reconvened in the initial intended way since then.
The second intifada solidified the concept of “us here and them there” and the walls and fences which cemented separation were the nails in the coffin of a two-state solution based on cross border cooperation. The leading advocates of the new bastardized version of two-state solution were primarily senior military retirees who cannot stop speaking about separation and divorce. They have helped to solidify public opinion in Israel and in Palestine that peace is no longer an option and that the best we can hope for is some kind of non-violent arrangement with continued ongoing Israeli policing. They even advocate one-sided Israeli withdrawals, despite the total failure of that move in Gaza. This is a failed strategy, a self-fulfilling prophecy which is also self-defeating for anyone who still believes in the idea of a Jewish and democratic state living in peace with a Palestinian state as its neighbor. This approach has no ability to capture the support of the majority of the Israeli public, because it essentially offers no hope whatsoever.
The right wing has succeeded in burying the two-state solution, for the time being, with the enormous expansion of Israeli control throughout the West Bank and the horrific violence of the army and the settlers that Palestinians face every day. Netanyahu’s strategy of de-legitimizing the Palestinian Authority but ensuring that the international community will keep it in place, while also ensuring that the weakened Hamas controls Gaza has eliminated any real pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians. The dysfunctional nature of the Palestinian Authority has played right into the hands of those Israelis who work overtime to ensure that an independent State of Palestine will never exist.
Those who are interested in trying to preserve the viability of the two-state solution need to begin to change the discourse on how it is perceived and conceptualized. The Saudi move is a step in the right direction. The United States and the countries of the European Union need to follow suit and recognize the State of Palestine and appoint ambassadors. Australia recently announced that they would return to referring to the West Bank as Occupied Palestinian Territories which is the official way that the UK also refers to that area. These countries all officially support the two-state solution but do nothing to keep it viable. Recognition and the appointment of Ambassadors could put it back up front and in center. The Israeli supporters of the two-state solution need to cease talking about separation and divorce and need to talk about cooperation across the borders. Yes, there must be political separation, but the concept of walls and fences is one that needs to be defined as a temporary evil that will be removed as soon as possible.
Those Palestinians who still support the two-state solution believe that Palestine must have the right to self-determination and must be able to set a course for itself with control over the lives of destiny of the Palestinian people. They too must begin to talk about cooperation with their Israeli neighbors and speak positively about normalization once Israel is no longer in full control over their land and lives. Palestinians should speak about the reality of a possible Jewish minority within their state. They would do well by us all if they would put it in terms that former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said to me: We will treat our Jewish minority exactly as Israel treats its Palestinian minority. A brilliant statement! Palestinians can say that Jews can be residents in Palestine or even citizens, but they will not live in exclusively Jewish enclaves where Palestinians are forbidden to live. Jews citizens of Palestine will be able to study in schools where Hebrew is the main language. The Palestinian Authority, or the Government of the State of Palestine, as it calls itself, should already institute mandatory Hebrew study from the first grade on the same level with English. They should do this even if Israel does not do the same with Arabic, and it should immediately do this.
We all should be thinking about additional options for peace which include various forms of federated states or a confederation which could also include Jordan. Looking towards the future where full normalization with the entire region may be possible, we should understand that future negotiations which include the neighborhood, first those states with peace with Israel, will enhance the possibilities for resolving some of the more difficult and sensitive issues. Bilateralism in Israeli Palestinian peacemaking limits those possibilities and we should all be thinking about the wider regional picture.