Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Two-State Dissolution

The last round of negotiations in 2010. State Department Photo by Michael Gross
An entrenched stalemate persists between Israelis and Palestinians concerning a just and comprehensive two-state solution. The Intifadas, Oslo Accords and their shortfalls, Jewish and Palestinian terrorism, and domestic exhaustion place a potential agreement in uncertain waters. Recent developments in Israel and Palestine* suggest that the parties are not even close to reaching conditions for meaningful negotiations. Yet although the prospects of a two-state solution are slim at the moment, the case for a settlement is stronger than ever. Precarious as the situation is, both sides need to take bold steps to find middle ground before the floor disappears beneath their feet.

Israeli election results earlier this year suggest that Israel’s political arena is moving closer to the center, especially with the ascent of Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has visited the leaderships in Jerusalem and Ramallah to jump-start talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently voiced a realist’s case for long-term agreement. Despite these developments, there are still major flaws on the Israeli side of the negotiating table. Settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank forges ahead unimpeded. Especially concerning are the settlements in East Jerusalem, which is the desired capital of a future Palestinian state. There remains widespread sentiment—echoed recently by Finance Minister Naftali Bennett—that the peace process is an illusion and a waste of time. A growing number of Israelis see the territories of Palestine as part of the Holy Land and therefore should not be sacrificed, reflecting the extent to which religious claims over the territories permeate domestic discourse. And of course there’s the problem of illegal outposts in the West Bank that encroach on Palestinian land, as well as Israel’s ‘hilltop youth’ terrorists** that Jerusalem seems wary to address. Overall, it seems as though the Israeli political leadership and a large share of Israelis just want to move on. Palestinian terrorism is down, the separation wall is up: what’s there to lose with no settlement?

There remain significant deficits on the Palestinian side as well that diminish the prospects of a settlement. Firstly, there’s the question of what a Palestinian state would look like since Gaza is still controlled by Hamas and settlements continue in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian leadership remains deeply divided, with reconciliation efforts floundering time and time again. This is concerning for a number of reasons, but chief among them is because Israel’s willingness to negotiate is in large part dependent on a united Palestinian leadership. Even within the PA there is political disarray. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah recently announced his resignation just two weeks after he was appointed to office, stoking an already growing belief amongst Palestinians that the PA is corrupt, inept and losing legitimacy. The Israeli claim that they need an actual negotiating partner rings truer than ever following Hamdallah's resignation.

The irony of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today is that although both sides are nowhere near a just and comprehensive settlement, and while they cautiously approach the negotiating table, a solution is needed more than ever. It is no secret that Palestinians have higher birthrates consistent with people facing comparable economic hardship. Some projections suggest that their birthrates outpace those of the ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalists. If East Jerusalem fails to become a viable capital for Palestine, if settlement construction in the West Bank expands to an unalterable degree, and if the Palestinian political leadership continues to flail uselessly, there will be no two-state solution. Instead, and as many U.S. officials and analysts have constantly stated, Israel will face a tradeoff: either it will be a Jewish state or a democracy - it cannot be both. A 'one-state solution' would absorb Palestinians into Greater Israel, a population that is likely to gain a demographic majority in the decades to come. That is, if they are granted citizenship and the security apparatuses in the West Bank dissolve. On the other hand, if the Palestinians are not given equal voting (and other) rights in a one-state scenario, cries of apartheid will be louder and more legitimate than ever. A system of second-class citizenry (if you can even call it citizenry) will result, and the last thing Israel wants is to have comparisons to apartheid South Africa, at least for its international standing. 

For these reasons I believe there should be a concerted effort amongst all parties, including the United States and Hamas, to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. The leaderships in Jerusalem and Ramallah should also understand the consequences that an absence of agreement will have: Israel's aforementioned trade-off and the dissolution of the PA. The next ephemeral opportunity for negotiation needs to be seen as an opportunity rather than a nuisance. 

What would Abraham and Muhammad do?

*Although the strongest case for statehood occurs when the ‘parent’ country recognizes the new nation (i.e. South Sudan), recognition by a majority of the international community matters. The UN General Assembly’s resolution recognizing Palestine only made formal what the majority of the world already understands: the need for a Palestinian state. The UN vote was procedural and has no legal standing, yet it remains a strong symbol of the international community’s exhaustion of the stalemated peace process and its stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

**Just Google that phrase. Enough said.


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