Ibish, what is this Palestinian state you are talking about anyway?

Thank goodness a reader has written in with the following excellent question, which comes as a breath of the freshest of air after the last few days of unrelenting absurdity which I foolishly allowed myself to be drawn into in the social media: “I think the Two State Solution time has passed. Just what meaningful state do you see?”

This is a most relevant, serious and reasonable question indeed. Those of us who continue to support an end to the occupation and a two-state peace agreement have an obligation to explain what precisely we have in mind, why we think it is still achievable in spite of undeniable and major obstacles, and how precisely we think it can be accomplished. I will not be breaking any new ground here, but it bears restating time and again, so here goes.

Two-state advocates believe that the occupation and the status quo are completely untenable for both Israel and the Palestinians, and that there is no military solution available to either party. Needless to say, we also don’t believe that boycotts, divestment and sanctions can work where violence has not, partly because they have all been in place to some extent during the entire period of the conflict on both sides to almost no effect, and because we doubt both the achievability and the effectiveness of boycotts and sanctions as the primary instrument of a national political struggle. That they can cause pain and discomfort, there is no doubt. That when specifically targeting the occupation they can be very useful, again I don’t think there’s much of a question. That they can sometimes be useful in raising the right kind of public awareness is also beyond question, although I think it’s also obvious that they, when badly handled, can also send a counterproductive message that has a negative political impact.

In short, we believe that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are going anywhere and that neither has the ability to destroy the national project or will of the other through any practical, meaningful measures at their disposal. As a consequence, we believe that only a negotiated agreement that allows for two states to live side-by-side in peace and security can end the conflict and end the occupation.

It’s also clear, and I strongly support this position, that the Palestinian people and leadership will not accept a rump state, bantustan, or state in name only, and will only agree to an end of conflict arrangement that provides for a sovereign, independent Palestinian state with all the sovereign rights and prerogatives of the other member states of the United Nations.

If such an agreement were to be reached, this state would have to encompass almost all of the occupied Palestinian territories and have its capital in East Jerusalem. It would probably, however, necessitate a land swap involving between 3-4% of the occupied territories to be retained by Israel in exchange for land contiguous (probably next to the West Bank) to a Palestinian state. Most of East Jerusalem was and remains an Arab, Palestinian city, and the bulk of it will serve as the capital of Palestine, although certain Jewish areas will probably be retained by Israel and some kind of creative solution will have to be found regarding the holy places in the old city with which Jewish Israelis have an undoubted interest. I also don’t think that Jerusalem needs to be or can be physically re-divided through walls, checkpoints and barbed wire fences. I think as a practical matter, the city is going to have to serve as a capital of two states with divided but cooperatively administered sovereignty in much of it.

I think it’s an obvious corollary, and this has long been accepted by most serious Israeli interlocutors, that a safe-passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip will have to be part of the land swap, that is to say a corridor of Palestinian sovereignty through southern Israel and the Negev Desert that can allow for unhindered transportation between the two non-contiguous parts of Palestine. Just as in the case of Jerusalem, there are many ways of conceptualizing and realizing this principle in practice. Where there’s a will, and more precisely an unavoidable national necessity, there is most certainly a way.

While the Palestinian state will certainly have the normal sovereign prerogatives of a UN member state, I do think that some arrangements on Israeli security are going to be required, at least in some early stages of the limitation of the agreement. I’m thinking here in terms of things like electronic early warning stations regarding serious conventional attacks from beyond the Palestinian state and so forth. But I think these concessions have to be limited both in scope and in time and would hardly be unprecedented between neighbors entering into a difficult arrangement that both had a stake in ensuring succeeds. Obviously, Palestine would have full sovereignty over all of its water resources, airspace, electromagnetic spectrum and so forth.

On the military issue, the Israelis often make a big deal about the potential demilitarization, or other more precisely non-militarization (since there is no extent Palestinian military as such), of a Palestinian state. Well-informed Israelis know that when they are demanding this, they are demanding what is, in fact, a present intention of the Palestinian leadership. It’s also something that my colleagues and I at the American Task Force on Palestine have recommended, along with suggestions that the Palestinian state be democratic, pluralistic and neutral in armed conflicts (I am presently writing from a small country in a volatile and heavily-armed region beset by wars, Costa Rica, that has made precisely this formula work with deeply impressive results). But ultimately all of these questions must be decided by the Palestinians themselves, and cannot be deal-breakers for Israel. As I said, in reality neither state will have an interest in destroying an agreement they have crafted that is essential to their national security and indeed their national survival.

As for the settlements and the settlers, I think it’s clear that those that are not retained by Israel as part of this land swap will have to be evacuated. This is not so much because the Palestinians will insist on this. A number of Palestinian leaders including the current Prime Minister have stated that Palestinians have no objection in principle to Jewish Israelis being residents or even citizens of a Palestinian state. Rather, it is almost certain that any Israeli government that entered into such an arrangement would not seriously consider leaving its citizens behind the lines of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state. If any of these individuals or groups came into conflict with their neighbors or any harm befell them, which is readily imaginable given their ideology and temperament, the entire arrangement could be thrown into immediate question by the political pressure on any Israeli government to intervene in their behalf. It would be an untenable circumstance for an Israeli government to endure, and therefore I think the imperative for a full evacuation of all the settlements excluding those involved in land swap will come mainly from the Israeli and not the Palestinian side, and that this evacuation will, in fact, take place if an agreement is reached.

I think this is a pretty good rough sketch of what two-state advocates imagine, and have always imagined, the implementation of UNSCR 242 and the land for peace formula it initiated in 1967 would look like in practice. There is, of course, a plethora of reasons for believing, as the reader does, that time has passed this aspiration by and such an agreement is no longer feasible. Many one-state advocates also believe that it was never desirable and is insufficient, but we will leave that to one side in this instance.

The main objection to the feasibility of achieving such a two-state agreement in practice is, of course, the Israeli settlements and ongoing settlement activity. This is an extremely reasonable objection. It would, and hopefully will be, a not entirely but almost unprecedented step for a state to move many thousands of its citizens, often against their desires, outside of the context of an ongoing major conventional war. So the obvious question is: what on earth makes us think that this can possibly be accomplished, especially when one looks at maps of settlement expansion in the occupied territories?

The answer goes back to the first principle. It is because there is no other way out of the present situation. We strongly believe that Israel has an overwhelming national interest in securing its future and its self-identity as a “Jewish and democratic” state, and that this can only be achieved by ending the occupation. The occupation involves ruling over and subjugating in a most cruel and unjust manner almost 5 million Palestinians who are not Jewish and who are not citizens of Israel or any other state. This arrangement already does and increasingly will make this Israeli self-definition untenable and even absurd.

Perhaps more importantly, there is no chance that these Palestinians will endure unending occupation and colonization with no hope of a peaceful settlement in quiet and with equanimity. One thing the Palestinian people have proven beyond doubt over the past century is that not only are they not going anywhere, they are ready, willing and able to fight for their rights and for their national aspirations. This was expressed in sectarian conflict throughout the 30s and 40s, the civil war of 1947-48, in many ways in the various Arab-Israeli wars, and most clearly in the two intifadas. That there will be future uprisings if the occupation does not end and shows no signs of ending is really beyond any question.

There is also almost no reason to doubt that these uprisings will follow the examples of the relationship of the end of the first intifada to its beginning, and of the second intifada to the first: that is to say, increasing militarization, increasing violence and increasingly religious fervor on both sides of the equation. Beyond the question of its self-identity, Israel faces this fundamental existential problem: it can either have the occupation or can have peace. It cannot have both. Continued occupation means war, conflict and ever-escalating violence, hatred and bloodshed. It is a literally untenable, unmanageable situation.

It would be marvelous to think that Palestinians would eschew armed struggle in favor of nonviolent resistance as the primary tools in future uprisings, but in reality there is no basis for believing this. There is almost no question that the large, heavily armed and ideological political parties that became entrenched in the occupied territories by the end of the first intifada and seized control of the uprising its latter stages, and then entirely dominated the militarized and disastrous second intifada, would immediately seize hold of any momentum created by large-scale nonviolent resistance movement, especially since that resistance would almost certainly be met with the utmost brutality by occupation forces.

The argument therefore is that there is still reason to believe that a two-state agreement is possible because it is the only way out for both parties, and both parties have an existential need to find a way out of what will otherwise almost certainly prove a calamity for both. I agree that it’s going be difficult, and I would even agree that it is a long shot, but I can’t think of any other plausible scenario that could be achieved that would end the conflict and the occupation.

As numerous people have observed, states, like individuals, generally do what is necessary, no matter how unpalatable, once they have exhausted all other options. My very strong belief is that until the prospect of a viable, negotiated peace agreement is irrevocably foreclosed, all responsible parties should do their utmost of finding a way to make it work in spite of the undoubted difficulties and obstacles.

In my book, “What’s Wrong with the One-State Agenda?,” I argued that one-state advocates and others are wrong in thinking that the topographical, administrative and demographic changes wrought in the occupied territories by the settlement project have definitively rendered Palestinian statehood untenable, precisely because it is an existential necessity, not only for the Palestinians, but for Israel itself. What is established by political will can be reversed by political will, if the necessity is strong enough.

In the book I suggested that a more politically precise and accurate yardstick for gauging the viability of a potential two-state agreement is the extent to which a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis believe it is necessary for their interests. By all measures, they both continue to believe this. When and if they don’t, and that is sustained for some period of time, it will be necessary, of course, to seriously examine all the other options, although I really don’t know what realistically they’re going to look like beyond the most atrocious, escalating and religiously informed armed conflict. But because Israel needs this agreement as much as the Palestinians do, and because the Israeli majority should be able to overcome the resistance of a fanatical minority due to existential national imperatives, I think it is definitely premature to speak in terms of the “death of the peace process” and the idea that the time for a two state agreement is definitively past.

There is every possibility, and every reason to fear, that such an agreement will not be reached. My argument is that given the plausible alternatives that can realistically be imagined in the absence of such an agreement, and especially in the absence of a constituency on both sides pushing for such an agreement, it is irresponsible to the point of nihilism to throw up one’s hands, give up and walk away. Palestinians who labor under the illusion that boycotts and sanctions can force Israel to abandon its national project in favor of living on equal terms in a single state with an increasing Palestinian majority, and Israelis kid themselves that Egypt and Jordan can somehow be maneuvered to accept responsibility for the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank that Israel does not want to retain respectively, are both deeply deluded in my view. Neither of these “solutions” qualifies as anything of the sort, because they will not be minimally acceptable to the other parties involved. In my view anything that promotes itself as a “solution” has to be plausibly acceptable to the parties who are supposed to accept it, and if it isn’t, then not only is it not a “solution,” it’s essentially an excuse for not having any real ideas or any real strategy to end the ongoing evil of the occupation and avoid a looming disaster.

I have been saying for some time now that while there is no such thing as a “one-state solution” there may be a one-state outcome. That is to say, a single, unified state could be the result of an imaginable set of circumstances, but these really would only in practice be unprecedented and almost unimaginable levels of violence, warfare and bloodshed over many decades at the very least. 100 years of confrontation and 60 years of armed conflict (boycotts, sanctions and the rest) have done nothing to dent the national wills and agendas of either the Israelis or the Palestinians. I think anyone who embraces the prospect of the one-state outcome needs to be honest about the process that will be required to produce it. In my view, such a process would be much more likely lead to many less palatable (to say the least) outcomes than a one-state reality that is just, fair and equitable. More importantly, the kind of mutual depletion, exhaustion and perhaps even decimation that would be required simply doesn’t bear thinking about at the human level.

In my view, anyone who embraces the one-state outcome in the full knowledge of the bloodbath that would undoubtedly be required to produce it has not only given up on peace, they’ve given up on humanity as well. I respect the ethical fervor and moral impulse of those who want the Israelis and Palestinians to voluntarily agree to live in a single, democratic, post-national state that is fair and equitable. If I thought it were remotely possible, I would be agitating for it as well. But I think I’ve been able to explain why I don’t think it is achievable as a solution and why it’s extremely undesirable, because of its necessary process (which is unlikely to produce this result anyway), as an outcome.

All of this is what leads me to continue to work for the only viable way out of the present untenable, unacceptable, evil and outrageous circumstance and for peace based on ending the occupation by creating a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel.