Two-state proponents must find the answer to the following question…

As the fighting rages in Gaza, the international community is making a renewed push for the two-state solution.

In my view, the general principles are correct – the Palestinians should have a state of their own, and Israel is well-served by ending its occupation of the Palestinian people.

I believe the vast majority of Jewish Israelis are ready for peace, not only with Arab and Islamic countries but also with the Palestinians. Jews are a peace-loving people.

The devil, as always, is in the detail.

Arguably, there is a more creative ‘two-state solution’ to be negotiated than simply dividing a small piece of land in two.

This creative solution would more holistically fulfil the religious and national imperatives of the different parties to the conflict, making it more likely to succeed.

But leaving that aside for now, the entire premise of the two-state solution is that it would bring an end to the conflict. How can we know whether this premise is correct?

It may seem strange to say, but underlying the entire 100-year edifice of this conflict is one root cause, relatively easy to address, that once done will quickly lead to peace. All the other issues – return, borders, settlements, Jerusalem – will melt away.

This root cause is most concisely articulated in Article 20 of the Palestinian National Charter: “Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”

Article 20 was one of many clauses supposed to have been amended or nullified during the Oslo process in the 1990s.

However, significant doubts have been raised whether such amendment or nullification ever took legal effect. Some have argued there was an elaborate fudge.

The simple fact is, as long as the sentiment of Article 20 remains the worldview – official or unofficial – of Palestinians, and the Arab and Islamic world more broadly, Israelis will not trust any kind of two-state solution and will not hold out any hope for peace.

This is a key reason why PM Netanyahu remains so popular in Israel to the puzzlement of many. He is Israel’s great defender against a bad peace. Only a man with truly herculean levels of stubbornness, only a man with machiavellian levels of cunning could have enabled Israel to resist the otherwise overwhelming international pressure for so long.

You may say there is a parallel requirement from the Israeli side to accept the legitimacy of Palestinian nationhood and their right to a state, and that is valid. But the fact is, Israel has made many offers of peace which have offered exactly that, so the ball on this one is in the court, so to speak, of the Palestinians and the wider Arab and Islamic world.

Therefore, two-state proponents must find a definitive answer to the following question…

Does the Palestinian people, and its representatives and factions, and the wider Arab and Islamic world, accept or reject the sentiments expressed in Article 20?

If Article 20 no longer reflects the worldview – official and unofficial – of the Palestinian people and its representatives and factions, and the wider Arab and Islamic world, then it gives grounds to believe there is a chance that two states could coexist peacefully, in whatever form or structure they ultimately take and interact.

However, if Article 20 still reflects the worldview, official or unofficial, of the Palestinian people and its representatives and factions, and the wider Arab and Islamic world, then a two-state solution of any kind would likely only serve to ratchet up the violence to a new, more bloody phase of inter-state conflict – precisely the opposite outcome of what the international community hopes to achieve.

Any peace outcome in which one party fundamentally denies the legitimacy of the other will not hold.

The motives for entering into that peace arrangement will always be suspect. Implementation will be subverted, fudged or reversed, likely on the flimsiest of pretexts.

There is a high risk ‘the day after’ could involve the State of Palestine allying with an Iranian and Islamist anti-Israel axis leading to a massive arms build-up across the new state.

Even if formally demilitarised, Israel knows it will be a losing battle to enforce demilitarisation on a State of Palestine, just as Hezbollah has blatantly violated the disarmament requirements of UNSCR 1701 for nearly 20 years with apparent impunity.

This is what PM Netanyahu knows that Israelis know. This is why, despite domestic corruption charges, despite likely international arrest warrants, despite polarising the nation with reckless words and divisive policies, despite presiding over Israel’s worst civilian and military calamities, despite scathing criticism of his handling of the war and the failure to return the hostages one way or another, despite Iran being on the verge of nuclear weapons and launching its first direct attack on Israel, despite the collapse in bipartisan US support for Israel, despite growing international isolation and pariah status, despite the surge in global antisemitism, PM Netanyahu will almost certainly maintain his grip on power. When push comes to shove, many Israelis wouldn’t trust any other leader on this existential question.

Under Oslo, the peace process was premised on asking the Palestinians the wrong questions: ‘do you recognise the State of Israel?’, ‘do you recognise the State of Israel’s right to exist’? ‘will the two-state peace bring an end to the conflict?’

Some have argued, from the failures at Camp David and Taba, that the Palestinian ‘yes’ to these questions was contingent on a full right of return and an emergent Palestinian majority in this ‘State of Israel’ that they would recognise.

Rather, learning lessons from Oslo, a key necessary condition for achieving peace becomes clear: the full and formal recognition, by the Palestinians and the wider Arab and Islamic world, that the Jews are a nation with historical and religious ties to the Land, which does indeed represent the true conception of what constitutes statehood.

How can this recognition be achieved?

By the Palestinians producing a suitably revised version of the Charter, and by incorporating a declaration to this effect into the Arab Peace Plan, to be unanimously adopted by the Arab League, and unanimously endorsed by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

If these conditions are accepted, Israel should commit in good faith to enter into negotiations towards a two-state solution. This is the ‘credible pathway to a Palestinian state’ the Saudis are demanding and, as a result, Israel can take its place in the wider regional security architecture the Americans are building, backed by concrete US security guarantees.

Peace and security would be a double win, offering a bright future for Palestinians and Israelis alike, G-d willing.

For all the stubbornness and cunning of PM Netanyahu, Israelis support him because they assume bad faith on the part of the Palestinians. All the PM’s manoeuvrings – including the calamitous decision to boost Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, and the refusal to plan for ‘the day after’ the conflict in Gaza – have been taken to defer the two-state solution as long as possible. The costs for Israel to continue this approach are getting higher.

By contrast, if Israel can set out this credible pathway to peace, it puts the ball back into the Palestinians’ court, places the onus on the wider Arab and Islamic world, and relieves some of the pressure that Israel now faces.

This brings a win either way for Israel.

If these conditions are rejected, Israel wins by avoiding the bad peace that would otherwise have been foisted on it, enabling a switch in international focus to the search for responsible Palestinian leadership.

But if these conditions are accepted, Israel can win by going on to negotiate a true and sustainable peace.

PM Netanyahu’s way doesn’t even leave room for the former. This way would leave room for both.

Enough of blood and tears.

About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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