It’s easy to understand why so many people are giving up on negotiations and a two-state solution, and instead are looking for “creative alternatives.” Israeli-Palestinian talks are at an impasse. The two sides haven’t seemed this far apart since the second intifada. The number of settlers and settlements continues to baloon relentlessly. Israel’s government appears united behind recalcitrant policies, while the Palestinians appear hopelessly divided.
But any purported “creative alternatives” to a negotiated two-state solution need to be subjected to a simple litmus test before they can be taken seriously. They have to be plausibly acceptable to all parties that would need to agree in order for them to be realized. If any such “alternatives” are by definition unacceptable to any of the parties, then they’re not serious ideas. In most cases, they quickly reveal themselves to be thinly disguised versions of long-standing maximalist fantasies.
Take, for instance, the perennial fantasy on the pro-Israeli right that “Jordan is Palestine” or that Egypt can somehow be induced to take responsibility for Gaza. Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians all categorically reject any such idea, so it can’t happen.
Similarly, in pro-Palestinian circles the idea of a South Africa-style “one-state” solution of a single entity for all Israelis and Palestinians, including refugees, based on “one-person one-vote,” is a total nonstarter for the overwhelming majority of Israelis. So that, too, simply won’t happen.
Some of the most dangerous “creative alternatives” are being increasingly floated on the pro-Israeli right, especially the idea of a greater Israel including the occupied territories but without full or equal citizenship, or voting rights, for its Palestinian population. In other words, formalized, permanent apartheid.
Recent articles advocating or describing some version of such an approach have been published by MK Danny Danon, Rep. Joe Walsh, Jay Bushinsky, and Caroline Glick, among many others. This is also the clear implication of resolutions adopted by several US state legislatures and, apparently, the Republican National Committee.
There seems to be a real willingness on the pro-Israeli right to sacrifice Israel’s “democracy” in order to retain the West Bank, and reduce its “Jewish character” to despotic minority rule and unapologetic, discriminatory, ethnocracy.
Of course any effort to impose such a system would simply be to formalize what already exists, and has since 1967. It can’t possibly be anything but a recipe for further, intensified and unrelenting conflict since it deprives millions of Palestinians of their most basic human and political rights on a permanent basis.
Others have tried to elaborate alternative approaches that present themselves as more constructive and grounded in the understanding that nothing that is categorically rejected by one of the key parties can offer a conflict-ending solution.
Ami Ayalon, Orni Petruschka and Gilead Sher, writing in the New York Times, proposed another form of unilateralism, essentially proposing that Israel create provisional borders based on the West Bank separation barrier, end all settlement activity beyond those territories and in Arab parts of occupied East Jerusalem, and create a plan to relocate 100,000 settlers behind the wall. Palestinians would be tempted to see the imposition of this unilaterally-created “temporary” border as being, in effect, permanent, but the authors insist Israel should remain open to negotiating final status issues in the future.
A similar “alternative idea” has been floated in the past by the new Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. He suggested creating “an independent, disarmed Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza” with “temporary borders” and negotiations on all final status issues as a first phase, to be followed by the implementation of agreements as a second phase.
Whatever the intentions behind such ideas, perceptions on the other side will be very difficult to manage. When the 2000 Camp David summit failed, my father asked me what I thought the Israelis would do. My response was immediate: over time, and carefully, they will seek to impose by force the borders Palestinians have rejected at the negotiating table. The creation of the separation barrier has added to widespread Arab concerns that Israel intends, and welcomes the opportunity for rationalizing, a unilaterally imposed “solution.”
But if they cannot be accepted, either immediately or over the long run, by the other side, none of these “creative alternatives” offer what a negotiated two state agreement does: a conflict-ending solution in which both sides have an equal and inescapable national imperative to uphold.
As Israel’s experiences in Gaza and southern Lebanon demonstrate, when there isn’t a party on the other side with a vested interest in making an arrangement work, unilateralism in this conflict provides no solutions whatsoever. By contrast, Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt have been maintained by all sides, because they all have a stake in making them work.
Whatever “creative alternatives” might seem appealing during the current interregnum, remember all roads ultimately lead back to the negotiating table.