Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled write in a guest column for Informed Comment
The Way Forward in the Middle East
Reversing a bi-partisan US policy in effect for the last two decades, the Republican National Committee recently endorsed the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resolving that “peace can be afforded the [Middle east] region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.” In all likelihood, this was an unintended consequence of the Republican party’s election-year pro-Israel frenzy. But, intentional or not, the RNC statement is correct. The Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” that aims at the establishment of two independent states, Israel and Palestine, bounded, more or less, by the 1967 borders, is totally bankrupt. If any evidence is needed, just look at the seventeen futile initiatives meant to revive Oslo process since its demise in 2000.
What makes the two-state solution unachievable is the fact that since 1967 Israel has settled close to three quarters of a million Jews in the territories it captured from Jordan in 1967. About one-third of those are in the area Israel defined as Jerusalem and annexed in 1967, declaring it to be non-negotiable. Of the remaining five hundred thousand, the lowest estimate of the number that would have to be removed in order for a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state to be set up in the West Bank is one hundred thousand. This is a task that no Israeli government, committed as it may be to the two-state solution, would be able to carry out, politically. To this day no Israeli government has removed even one of the West Bank “outposts” that are illegal by Israeli law (all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal by international law), despite promises to the US and several decisions by Israel’s own High Court of Justice.
The declared purpose of the settlement drive in the West Bank (as in the other occupied territories) was to change demographic realities in order to make Israel’s withdrawal from those territories impossible. This purpose has been achieved. Not only are the settlers, their family members and their supporters an electoral power block that cannot be ignored, settlers and their supporters now make up a significant proportion of the command structure of Israel’s security forces, the same forces that would have to carry out a decision to remove the settlers.
To counter this argument, critics may point to the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005. That example, however, actually supports our argument. In order to remove 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza, an easily isolated region of no religious significance to Jews, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a military hero idolized by both the settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had to deploy the entire man and woman power of all of Israel’s security forces. Moreover, the Gaza withdrawal was not done in agreement with the Palestinians, or in order to facilitate peace with them. It was done unilaterally, in order to make Israel’s control of Gaza more efficient. Judging by this example, removing 100,000 settlers from the West Bank, in order to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state, would be an impossible task.
Instead of pursuing the mirage of a two-state solution, would-be peace makers should recognize the fact that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in fact constitute one state that has been in existence for nearly forty-five years, the longest lasting political formation in these territories since the Ottoman Empire. (The British Mandate for Palestine lasted thirty years; Israel in its pre-1967 borders lasted only nineteen years). The problem with that state, from a democratic, humanistic perspective, is that forty percent of its residents, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, are non-citizens deprived of all civil and political rights. The solution to this problem is simple, although deeply controversial: establishing one secular, non-ethnic, democratic state with equal citizenship rights to all in the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
Supporters of the two-state solution have always used the prospect of one state as a threat, and still do. If a two-state solution is not implemented, world leaders from President Obama on down have warned, Israel will have to face the reality of being a state that could be either Jewish or democratic, but not both. But instead of a threat this could be seen as an opportunity. The Arab Spring has, for the first time, opened up the possibility of true democratization in several Middle Eastern and North African countries. Instead of viewing this development with alarm, as it has been doing, Israel could join this process and democratize the entire territory under its effective control.
The stability of the future secular, democratic Israeli-Palestinian state would depend not only on it being truly democratic, but also on the strictest constitutional separation between state and religion. This should not mean forced secularization or placing restrictions on the free exercise of religion, but it does mean that the state will neither sanction nor subsidize religious activities and institutions, nor will it tolerate religious practices that are discriminatory towards women. In the present state of affairs this idea sounds utterly utopian, because both Israeli and Palestinian societies are becoming more and more religious and suspicious of each other. But as the young activists of Tahrir Square and elsewhere have shown, powerful liberal, democratic, emancipatory undercurrents exist underneath the placid façade of many Middle Eastern societies. These forces, we are convinced, exist in Israel and Palestine too and, given the opportunity, could transform the political reality and bring an end to the hundred-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yoav Peled (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches political science at Tel Aviv University.
Horit Herman Peled (email@example.com) teaches art at Oranim College.