I was recently asked (for perhaps the thousandth time) if I am a “one stater” or a “two stater,” ie., do I support a one-state solution or a two-solution as the preferred resolution to the ongoing catastrophe in Israel/Palestine. Not only does this imply that there is a desired outcome, but that we should all be working towards that outcome. So let’s examine a bit of history here.
When I started learning about the complex history and politics of Israel/Palestine in the 1990s, the idea of a two state solution, a Jewish and an Arab state, was considered a radical concept. This all changed with the Oslo Accords in 1993 which was ostensibly an interim “land for peace” deal with a commitment to solve the more challenging issues within five years. The PLO was accepted as the official Palestinian negotiating partner and the West Bank was divided into Area A (18% of the West Bank, primarily Palestinian cities) under Palestinian Authority control, Area B (22% of the West Bank) under PA civil control and Israeli military control, and Area C (60% of the West Bank) under Israeli civil and military control, although the entire region remained ultimately under military occupation. Many Israelis in the “peace camp” optimistically felt their work was completed with the Oslo Accords and Diaspora Palestinians flocked home, eager to build their new nation.
But this was not to be. Since the 1967 War and the capture of East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli government has annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and occupied the West Bank and Gaza. East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been the site of an aggressive settlement and Judaization project and there are now 650,000 Jewish settlers living in what was supposed to be the future Palestinian state and its capital. In addition, the West Bank has been compartmentalized into Jewish and Palestinian areas through bypass rounds, checkpoints and a vigorous permitting system that limits the movement of Palestinians and cripples the economy. The Israelis have also claimed the Jordan Valley as a closed military zone, isolating the few remaining Palestinian communities. Gaza has been subjected to repeated devastating military attacks and is withering under a severe military and economic siege, 1.9 million people without hope or a future.
In response to the obvious ongoing injustices, the violence of the Israeli military machine and the Israeli military court system, and the lack of a real movement towards liberation and peace, there has been an ongoing Palestinian resistance movement, mostly non-violent but sometimes violent in nature. Palestinians also demand a resolution of the refugee crisis created in 1948 and 1967 and a just resolution to their right of return. The Jewish Israeli populace, some frightened by Palestinian resistance and some imbued with a toxic mix of religious entitlement and Islamophobia, has moved to the right and successive governments have become more racist and less willing to negotiate.
In what is often referred to as Israel ’48, 20% of the population is Palestinian and they live in mostly segregated areas and attend a largely segregated school system. There are over 50 laws that disadvantage Palestinian citizens over Jewish citizens and there is a well-documented policy of institutional racism towards non-Jewish inhabitants.
All of these realities lead many analysts including myself, to declare that the two state solution, if it was ever possible, was destroyed by Israeli policies, especially the massive Israeli settlement project and takeover of Jordan Valley as a closed military zone. The metaphor has always been: endless negotiations over how to divide the pizza while Israeli negotiators are busily eating that same pizza. Realistically and honestly, a one state exists now, from the river to the sea, grounded in injustice and control of the Palestinian population by a powerful Israeli Jewish government and military that has no intention of treating Palestinians in Israel ’48 or the occupied territories as equal human beings with rights, aspirations, mistakes, traumas, and a history that needs to be honored.
I have been asked, but what about all the generous offers and percentages that Israeli negotiators have proffered? First, given the realities on the ground, generous is quite a euphemism while Israeli forces continue under every Israeli administration to forcefully grab land and water and to aggressively Judaize East Jerusalem. Refusing to acknowledge the refugee crisis, now in its third generation, also ignores the rights and realities of some 6.5 million people whose fates were sealed with the creation of the Jewish state. Not only is this a grave injustice but this creates a source of tremendous humanitarian and political instability that ultimately has to be addressed for a viable peace to ensue.
The various percentages that negotiators have cited are always deceptive. Even if Palestinians were to have control over a significant percentage of the occupied territories, (ie all the rooms in the prison), the Israelis will maintain control of all the hallways, doorways, gates…ie ultimately everything. There is also growing evidence that Israel wants permanent control of all of Area C (60% of the West Bank and the location of Jewish settlements), frequent talk of outright annex, and the Israeli military has always claimed the need to control all the borders (such as the Jordan Valley). This is not the prescription for a viable, cohesive Palestinian state. In addition, there is an economic component to occupation. Not only is the West Bank a captive market for Israeli products, but Israel looks to fertile areas like the Jordan Valley for economic benefit. Settlements also all come with infrastructure (military, roads) and expansion areas that are a much larger footprint than they initially appear. There are massive industrial parks in settlements and internationally funded industrial zones that allow Israeli industries (supported by global corporations) to treat the Palestinian population which is desperate for work as a pool of third world labor, poorly paid and unprotected.
Interestingly, even the liberal Jewish Zionist establishment is starting to recognize and admit these realities. Thomas Friedman in a recent column in The New York Times, boldly proclaimed that the two state solution is over, the peace process is dead. While he puts some of the blame on Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas, he puts a larger share of the blame on the Israel Lobby (AIPAC and the Christian right), the cowering US Congress, right wing Jewish billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban (funder of Hillary), the Israeli settler movement, and Netanyahu (and his right wing coalition’s) racist megalomania.
What this all means to me is that this is no longer a struggle for one or two states, (or perhaps three given that Gazans have been virtually cut off from their cousins in the West Bank- the “bad, non-compliant” Palestinians versus the “good compliant” Palestinians). This is now a struggle for human and civil rights for all of the people between the river and the sea. Admittedly this is a messy, historically charged, traumatized place dominated by outside interests and surrounded by various levels of discord, Shia/Sunni conflicts, ISIL, civil wars, and dictators that all use Israel/Palestine to inflame the passions of their respective populations.
All the more reason to press forward with a principled and universalist approach. The first step is always grappling honestly with the realities on the ground rather than living in an endearing but dangerous fantasy, whether it be the benign intentions of a Jewish state or the previous successes of the US and its buddies bombing people into democracy. We and a collection of colonial powers are responsible for much of this disaster. It also seems evident to me that a host of UN Resolutions, International Court decisions, wars, suicide attacks, and “peace processes” and politicians from all sides have failed miserably and it is time for a new strategy to pressure the Israeli government and to support nonviolent resistance in Palestine.
This is why I find the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement begun by Palestinian civil society activists a source of inspiration and hope. With active campaigns against egregious companies like Veolia, G4S and Caterpillar, and consumer, cultural, and academic boycotts, many more people locally and internationally are engaging in a struggle to change the conversation and to build a human rights based movement. This is not a battle over religion or history or opposing cultures, it is a difficult, painful struggle for Jews and Palestinians to share the bounty of historic Palestine as equals with full respect for the legacies of trauma, loss, victories, and hopes that each brings to this overflowing table. They need our full support.