Caelum Moffatt
Miftah (Analysis)
December 17, 2007 - 1:26pm

Following the summit in Annapolis, Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud opposition party in Israel declared in reference to the Israeli / Palestinian peace process, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Although his statement may attract complete bemusement from Palestinian sympathizes who wonder how one so influential in politics could be so audacious in denying such blatant illegal actions and atrocities inflicted daily on the Palestinians as a result of Israeli occupation, his comments don’t seem to have attracted one vicious rebuttal or even fazed anyone on the domestic front.

The Likud leader is the overwhelming favorite to resume his old post as Israeli Prime Minister. As it stands, Netanyahu [34%] leads Defense Minister Ehud Barak [17%] and current Prime Minster Ehud Olmert [14%]. Therefore, his words are not unsubstantiated rants but should be taken seriously, as he reflects the popular public opinion in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams meet to discuss final status and the establishment of a viable two-state solution while excitement is circulating with the upcoming Paris donors’ conference, marked in the diaries for December 17. At this conference the Palestinians, supported by the International Monetary Fund [IMF], are set to receive almost $5.6 billion in aid over the next three years. However, in Israel the facts on the ground remain unchanged.

Prime Minister Olmert is proceeding with peace discussions against the will of his own people. Polls conducted by Ha’aretz and Yedioth Ahronoth indicate that over half the Israeli people viewed Annapolis as a failure. In addition, as highlighted in Jeff Halper’s article on “Israel’s Strategy for Permanent Occupation”, no more than 10% of Israelis support a withdrawal from the occupied territories. With regard to Jerusalem, Olmert’s bargaining capability on the holy city has been rescinded by the Knesset and while the prime minister states that “Israel will be part of an international mechanism that will assist in finding a solution to this problem [right of return for Palestinian refugees]”, it is clear that the Israelis don’t want them to return to their original homes even if it involved a land swap deal for Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Lastly, President Bush in a letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004 stressed that it was too impractical and unrealistic for refugees to return to their pre-1948 homes. Their future, he said, lies in a Palestinian state.

If one analyses the immediate stage regarding obligations towards the roadmap, the ultimate obstacle to a two-state solution is evident. In Annapolis, Olmert agreed to cease settlement expansion. However on December 5, the Israeli government announced that 307 new housing units at the 4,000 populated Har Homa settlement [called Jebel Abu Gneim by Palestinians] in southeast Jerusalem were to be put up for tenders. While Palestinian officials expressed their outrage, the expansion was deemed legitimate by Israeli governmental spokesperson, Mark Regev, who stated that the construction is occurring in Jerusalem, “the implementation of the roadmap does not apply to Jerusalem” and that Olmert “never made a commitment to limit our sovereignty in Jerusalem”.

In a further insult to the Annapolis agreement, which was not ratified by a UN resolution, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Civil Housing Administration announced that hundreds, even thousands of planned housing units have been allocated building permits in the West Bank and no longer require government approval. Furthermore, Defense Minister Barak proposed a solution to the settlement issue which offered compensation to all the 60,000 Israeli settlers east of the separation wall. Although a seemingly good start in the quest for a two-state solution, according to the Israeli Maariv newspaper, only 17% of those would be willing to move, even when presented with a monetary incentive. Olmert also opposed the measure.

It is these areas of dispute and contention which has raised the question over what Israel really wants – peace, or as Halper puts it, to sustain their “permanent occupation”. Can these ambiguous Israeli responses be perceived as adopting a policy of appeasement, representing themselves to the international community as conveyers of peace while secretly narrowing the possibilities of peace on the ground? Do they treat every meeting as a formality, buying their time until they have to answer to the next US president, by which stage [mid-2009] the situation will be almost irreversible, therefore diminishing what will be available to the Palestinians?

An example of this policy of stalling can be seen in Israel’s sudden demand before Annapolis that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state. This is a condition that the Palestinians vehemently refuse and one that Israel adamantly insists upon. Under a “Jewish” state, the 20% of Israeli Arabs would be relegated to second class citizens [President Bush may have insinuated at Annapolis that Israel become the state for the Jews but he also called President Mahmoud Abbas “Mohammed”]. Further evidence in support of this methodology is the existence of the Arab League Initiative of 2002 which stipulates normalization with, and recognition of Israel for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. If Israel wanted peace and security, why have they not used this initiative as the blueprint for peace?

Alternatively Israel may be attempting to force a two-state solution for fear of what the ramifications would be if no deal is made by the beginning of 2008. After Annapolis, Olmert warned that “if the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights…the State of Israel (as an exclusively Jewish state) is finished…they [US Jewish organizations] cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents”.

Olmert appears to demonstrate genuine concern over a potential backlash against Israel in support of Palestine, if the latter appeals to the international community for a “right to equality” rather than grieving explicitly against “occupation”. A vast myriad of recent developments may have caused Olmert to question the future actions of Israel. The premier may feel weary over Jewish public opinion toward Israel in the US [the American Jewish Committee 2007 Annual Survey showed that the percentage of US Jews who believe caring for Israel is an important part of being a Jew has dropped from 79%-69% in just two years]; the increased secularism and reluctance of prospective conscripts to commit to the Israeli army; there is a possibility Olmert fears that with the US Military Intelligence report ostensibly proving that Iran is not proliferating its nuclear arsenal, Israel may become relegated to a second tier priority for the US; Olmert may also be aware of the recommendations of the Aix Group [the organization tasked with solving the refugee problem] who state that if steps are not taken to resolve this issue, the one-state option based on joint citizenship and equality before law will ensue; or Olmert is worried that with Annapolis attracting worldwide attention, the Palestinians, by adopting the South African paradigm as John Whitbeck comments, may compel the international community to draw comparisons between South African apartheid and Israeli occupation.

This is the reason for the resurgence of the binational, one-state solution after a long political absence, overshadowed by the promised feasibility of the two-state solution which was fully endorsed by the PLO in 1988. Just last week on November 29, marking the 60th anniversary of the UN partition, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals paraded with a “one-state declaration” calling for a democratic solution that will offer a just solution and enduring peace in a single state.

The one-state solution, while potentially possessing the remedy for many areas of contention, is the complete antithesis to Israel’s quest to establish a homeland for the Jews. The other consequence would be that Jews would eventually become the minority in the one-state framework with the Palestinian birth rate far outgrowing that of Israel. This theory of looming Israeli minority post-occupation was first recognized in 1980 when Friedlander and Goldscheider discovered that, despite the influx of Jews into Israel, the occupying power would be outnumbered by 2010. On hearing this information, Labor ministers suggested that Israel consolidate the land they intended to keep whereas Sharon, the father of settlement expansion, and Begin, the imminent Prime Minister, discarded this research and swore to extend their sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza [all post-1967 Palestinian territories].

The result has been mass settlement projects in the West Bank which has ironically become the main impediment to salvaging a two-state solution.

Highly respected scholars such as Ilan Pappe, Tony Judt and Edward Said before them, advocate the one-state solution deeming the two-state solution impossible with the existence of settlements. On the surface, the one-state solution would automatically answer the problems of refugees, borders, Jerusalem, settlements and would even partly resolve the security issue. What is the reason for armed resistance to occupation when occupation no longer exists? The idea of installing a democratic state practicing equal rights is an ideology very much supported by the EU and US and it would also avoid the certain moral and legal dilemmas, such as offering Palestinian refugees compensation rather than their legal right, under international law, to restitution.

However, like all aspects of this conflict, there are obvious limitations to this proposal. Former Knesset member Uri Avnery states that the binational state will signal the end of the Israeli state and would create a wedge between “church and state” prohibiting the government from imposing Jewish law and therefore undermining their living ethos. In addition, Uri Avnery explains how the economic divide is too wide for such close assimilation. The Palestinians would invariably become subordinate to the Israelis [the minority] which could lead to resentment, discontent and even violence.

Further problems can be seen concerning integration with the racist element still abundant between Palestinians and Israelis. Additionally, ensuring the safety of the Palestinian and Israeli people from extreme factions on each side would also be a Herculean and complex task. Not to mention, there would have to be a thorough and meticulous plan for establishing an equal and representative governing system to guarantee communication and cooperation amongst such disparate parties.

In any event, both models are a long way off. Both solutions lack detail, riddled with disputed subjects and uncertainty. There have been no advancements with the two-state solution and facts on the ground reduce the likelihood of anything materializing in the foreseeable future. In our eagerness to form comparisons, even if they might not be applicable, accurate or constructive, one always looks to apartheid South Africa for answers to the Israeli / Palestinian issue. Although binationalism is still in its embryonic stage, the whites still enjoy considerable influence, even as the minority post-apartheid.

In 2004, the late Yasser Arafat said that “time is running out for the two-state solution”. In the current climate, one would be pressed to find a reason not to concur with the former Palestinian President. However, is the one-state solution any more viable than the two-state model or is the situation on the ground so desperate that onlookers are forced to clutch tightly to the only other alternative and convince themselves that it is the answer?


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