Taufiq Rahim
The National (Opinion)
September 22, 2011 - 12:00am

In the fall of 2002, Prof Sari Nusseibeh, now the president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, argued that Palestinians needed to adjust to practical realities on the ground, and should avoid living in the dream of a greater Palestine. It was a comment that went to the heart of the right of return for Palestinians to modern-day Israel, which continues to be a contentious point.

At that discussion at Princeton University, which I had helped to convene, Dr Nusseibeh was risking controversy particularly because at the time he was serving as the Palestine Liberation Organisation's Commissioner for Jerusalem Affairs.

Nine years later, we see that it is the Israeli leadership that refuses to let go of the concept of "Eretz Israel", or Greater Israel.

It is a common refrain of critics that the Palestinians "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Today, however, it is Israel that is presented with an opportunity it cannot afford to pass up - and yet it is doing everything it can to avoid a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict.

For the past 23 years, the PLO has operated under the formula of seeking a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue. Since the initial PLO declaration of 1988 we have had the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Accords, the Taba negotiations, the Arab Peace Initiative, the Road Map and the non-directed Obama process, all in the service of creating two states.

This vision of course is of two countries living side by side with one another. Nevertheless, the Palestinians would have only 22 per cent of the original mandate of British Palestine, essentially consisting of the West Bank and Gaza Strip along with a presence in East Jerusalem.

It has not been an easy proposition for Palestinians and their leadership to accept a prospect predicated on inequality, one that in effect would necessitate the negation of the return of many refugees to their original homes. Yet that is what has been accepted by the mainstream Palestinian leadership, and supported by countless polls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

What has been the Israeli response? For many years the assertion was that the so-called Six Day War of 1967, during which Israel seized the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, would lead to eventual peace.

While the Sinai was in fact part of a land-for-peace deal with Egypt, Israel continues not only to occupy but also to populate and further entrench its presence in the Golan Heights and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

In fact there are now nearly 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the vast majority of this population growth has come since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Rather than move closer to a solution, the current Israeli government, led by the Likud Party's Benjamin Netanyahu and influenced by right-wing populist Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, has shown utter contempt for any modicum of reconciliation. This reality was most vividly demonstrated last spring, when Israel announced a plan for the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem during the visit of the US vice president Joseph Biden.

Tomorrow, when the Palestinians led by President Mahmoud Abbas present to the United Nations their proposal for full recognition of Palestine within the 1967 borders, they will in effect be giving one last breath to the two-state solution and to recognition of Israel.

In years past Israel may have eschewed any recognition of a Palestinian state, but today that policy has become untenable.

The world around Israel has fundamentally changed. Economically Israel is no longer the superior force in the region. Politically, its influence is waning worldwide, and long-standing regional allies such as Egypt and Turkey are now far from its side.

Demographically, Israel faces the stark choice between peace and apartheid. If Israel in these crucial stages turns its back on recognition of Palestine, it might well be turning its back on the prospect of a two-state solution.

A significant portion of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories, and certainly in the diaspora, would be more than willing to pursue a one-state solution - practical or not - as in South Africa.

Yet all signs point to Israel continuing to read from the same old playbook, using the same language and making the same accusations against the Palestinians as in years past.

It seems that Israel once again appears to be ready to miss an opportunity. This time, however, it may also be missing its last chance at the two-state solution and the last chance for its own statehood.


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