Omar Rahman
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
April 13, 2011 - 12:00am

Just over one week after the ninth anniversary of the Arab Peace Initiative, some leaders within the Israeli business and security community have found the need to address this monumental peace proposal with a "partner declaration" of their own.

The latest initiative, launched on April 6, admittedly stems from fears that Israel is being diplomatically isolated on the international stage, that the region around it is changing dramatically, and that time is no longer on Israel's side. Hence, it is imperative that the Israeli public put pressure on its leaders to save the two-state solution before it is too late.

The desire to engage with the Arab Peace Initiative, although belated, is well-founded. The political environment in the region is changing rapidly and there is no guarantee that the outcome will be favorable for Israel. However, even more fundamental than this is the transformation currently taking place within Palestinian society, and what may follow.

As Thomas Friedman wrote in a December 2010 column, the Americans cannot want peace more than the parties involved; likewise, Palestinians believe they should not want the two-state solution more than Israel. The feeling in Palestine is that while Palestinians have been working to negotiate two states for the last 20 years, Israel has been making that solution an impossibility by altering the situation on the ground.

And in reality, the two-state compromise only exists as long as Palestinians believe it is the best way forward, or at least a possibility. As soon as that impression is gone--and the world starts to agree--then the impetus for the fulfillment of Palestinian national rights becomes a push for equal rights in a single state.

At the moment, Palestinians are not far from reaching this conclusion. The younger generation of Palestinians, which is now beginning to take to the streets like their Arab counterparts, has no attachment to the two-state compromise, which was born out of the older generation of leaders' inability to liberate the whole of their country. All they know is the situation, as it exists today, and the record of injustice against Palestinians that they read in their history books.

Concurrently, the Palestinians in power are coming to terms with a peace process that has been unable to produce statehood, and may never will. The current Israeli government inspires no confidence among Palestinian leaders, and the steady shift of the Israeli public to the right does little to generate hope that future Israeli statesman will be able to conclude a just solution.

These two things taken together could produce a reassessment of the Palestinian liberation struggle and its ultimate goals. The Palestinians accepted the two-state compromise, not because building a state on 22 percent of historic Palestine was a just solution, but because years of struggle forced certain elements inside the PLO into realizing that it was probably the best they would get. However, those leaders are now either gone or on their way out.

The new generation looks around and does not even see the possibility of two-states because Israeli settlements have gobbled up the remaining land on the 22 percent. If by September the United Nations recognizes the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders and Israel refuses to end its occupation, then it becomes much easier to convince the world that it is Israel that is making the two-state compromise impossible. At that point, the push for a single state becomes a realizable goal.

Thus, today there are some voices from within Israel calling for their country to be part of the group recognizing the state of Palestine at the UN in September. There are those who have sponsored the Israeli Peace Initiative, which provides a framework for peace more similar to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's peace proposals in 2008, than those included in the Arab Peace Initiative. And there are many leaders from Israel's political left and right, including Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, and perhaps even Binyamin Netanyahu and many others, that have come to terms with the necessity of a Palestinian state in order to prevent the emergence of a one-state movement.

Yet these leaders fail to understand that what is needed is a just solution, not one that tries to garner the best possible deal for Israel. The Palestinians already believe that two states is a major concession of their rights, but one they are willing to live with. However, if the contours of the Palestinian state continue to be chipped away at, and the settlements in and around Jerusalem are allowed to remain, then the prospect of a separate Palestinian state no longer seems appealing, and the most attractive alternative may be the long struggle for equal rights in one state.

If Israel accepts the precepts of the Arab Peace Initiative--full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a just settlement to the refugee problem based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194--without caveats, then it may save us all from a protracted conflict that is sure to ruin the lives of another generation of Palestinians and Israelis, instead of fulfilling the promise of peace, security and prosperity that a mutually acceptable agreement entails


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017