Talks expire but Two-State Process is still Undead
It’s official. The talks are dead. They died NOT because of the direct talks format, but because there isn’t the will in Israel for an end-of-conflict agreement based on two states, in any shape or form. If the White House couldn’t cajole or bribe them into a 3-month building freeze, what chance of them giving up the West Bank and keeping their hands off Gaza?
The ending of talks was agreed between Clinton and Netanyahu. It wasn’t a falling-out, we were assured, more of a “gentleman’s agreement”: but just which of these gentlemen was wearing the trousers?
Dead as the Talks are, the two state “process” seems to be Undead, ghoulishly grinding on in its coffin. Washington wasn’t about to bury it. They say they will pursue other means to get a deal on borders and security, as if that’s somehow a different and easier matter. We should have known they were not going to let their plan hang on the slim chance of the Shas party voting for a settlement freeze, or on Netanyahu’s dubious skills in coalition-building. So just what is up their sleeve? (And where is Wikileaks when you need it?)
As the two-state lobby J-Street has urged, Washington will ’simply’ re-draw the map for them to keep most of the settlers within Israel’s sovereignty, with the Palestinian “state” getting land elsewhere to compensate.
If this isn’t bad enough, the Jerusalem Post has reported that the White House has another bright idea: Israel would cede some large or sensitive tracts of land (such as the Jordan valley) to the Palestinians, who would then have to lease them back to Israel for a limited period. Reports vary on the length of these leases that “the Americans are offering”.
Netanyahu is said to agree in principle as long as the leases are long enough, which by his count is around 99 years: at least he wouldn’t be up for re-election when the time came to dismantle the cities, road, airports, military bases and other facts established by then. He and Obama, apparently, are still “negotiating” over the tenure details.
Maybe they think if Abbas simply rents it to the Israelis he won’t be accused of selling Palestine’s heritage.
All these schemes assume that the land is actually divisible, regardless of either complex topographic practicalities like water, productivity and access; intense emotional and traditional attachments; the grossly unequal political and power relationships both before and after the proposed separation; and the fact that the whole process drives an express train through international law that says no country can lawfully acquire land by military conquest.
There is little to choose between the different ways to effect division and separation against everybody’s wishes: unequal direct talks, shuttle diplomacy, financial and military carrots and sticks, or cartographic wizardry. By all rights Israel should just leave, and pay compensation for the damage it has done and the deaths and injuries it has caused. But even then, it would leave a Palestine with 22% of its original country.
So what comes next?
After the collapse of the Washington talks, there are now three possible ways to go. What do they mean for the One State vision?
1. More of the same proposed carve-up of the remaining 22% of Palestine, manipulated by the White House in separate meetings, using a more pro-active agenda. This will face all the hurdles of the previous sessions and offer no justice, no unity, no return of refugees and no sovereign Palestinian state. This will continue to hold centre stage, sidelining the struggle for one democratic state.
2. The “Sovereign State of Ramallah”, or Son of the Undead could cause some feverish heat and drama in diplomatic circles and at the UN. And it strikes an emotional chord.
But there’s a blurring of the difference between the symbolic recognition of a theoretical State already declared in 1988 and supported by 100 or so countries (who then resumed business as usual with Israel) on the one hand, and on the other, the new plan to declare a real state and claim full sovereign rights for it. Would this mean claiming the right to make its own law, to control land transactions and issue building permits, or to control the roads and natural resources, to prevent destruction of olive trees, to prevent uniformed foreign nationals kidnapping children from their homes, or to decide what hours its police may work and what vehicles they can use, and the thousand and one other orders that the present Palestine Authority is bound by.
Those who plan to declare a state based on the 4th June 1967 lands are no doubt banking on doing something quite different: getting money and help to build services, institutions, industrial estates, maybe an airport, to give an aura of solid foundations. But without an Israeli withdrawal, a self-declared Palestinian state even in the tiny Area A would be just posturing unless it created a real, physical and material showdown with the illegal occupiers.
If they could succeed in taking a convoy along a Jewish-only road, or bringing a mass demonstration to demand entry to Jerusalem, or if they could call forth a mass of small actions that doubled or trebled Israel’s policing and paperwork, or in other ways make the occupation unworkably expensive for Israel in time, effort and PR, this state may be worthy of respect.
Otherwise, the main effect will be to keep the current unelected, unimaginative and ineffectual leadership in place and give them the appearance of a political role.
A Palestinian “state” recognised by a number of nations may help to isolate Israel, help to promote BDS, and help to support the legal right to resist and fight back. It can certainly raise the cost for Israel of holding onto its ill-gotten gains. But these results could as easily be won by a civil rights struggle, by the clear demise and burial of the Oslo accords, and the dismantling of the PA.
In fact, the scenario of a state with international support seems less likely when you look at the personnel. There is little agreement on it between Abbas and Fayyad, let alone between either of them and Hamas. None of them has a popular mandate to declare a state on a small portion of Palestine.
If it did happen, it would almost certainly entail armed struggle to back up increasingly confrontational civil resistance. There could be huge violence and bloodshed, and Palestinians would be up against the settlers as well as the IDF (as they were at Bil’in last Friday), who will probably create their own provocation as cover and proceed to re-draw the map to cut the declared Palestinian state into ribbons. The militarist far-right would set the pace, and we could see a re-run of the 1948 and ‘67 mass expulsions: the Lieberman gang would not let domestic or international political fall-out tie their hands.
3. A struggle for equal civil rights within the whole of Palestine. Though this doesn’t seem to stir the blood in the same way as a Palestinian state, it would deliver far, far more. We have rehearsed the arguments and the benefits throughout this site: a decent life for all, a return to a whole land fairly shared, and an end to the increasingly deranged and threatening regime that has perverted neighbourly human relationships for the past six decades.
The Undead Two State Solution solved nothing, the road to it is fraught with chaos, violence and the sowing of ever-more destructive hatred, and the stinking mess that’s left threatens to be as much of an obstacle to peace as when it was alive and kicking.
« Christmas Trees banned at Nazareth
2011: a game-changing year »