Thursday, 24 January 2013

Is a two state solution an ambition that is fading away?

Updated 21/01/2013 following Binyamin Netanyahu's comments

Just weeks away from the Israeli elections, a resolution to the Israel Palestine conflict appears more remote than ever. On my visit to Israel it became apparent, particularly when talking to the Western and Israeli media, that the notion of a two-state solution is dying with Israel’s ongoing expansionist policies in the West Bank.

This election comes in the wake of Israel’s controversial announcement that it will build settlements in the E1 district cutting Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. Israel’s basis for the controversial developments was retaliatory in the wake of the decision of the UN General Assembly to give the Palestinian Authority Observer State status.


This election has also seen the rise of the fundamentalist Jewish Home party. In the Guardian, their leader recently described the conflict as ‘insoluble’, said that most Israelis “don’t care” about the issue, adding that “I want the world to understand that a Palestinian state means no Israeli state. That’s the equation.” It remains to be seen as to whether the popular support the Jewish Home Party will give them seats in Government following this election (though it is regarded as likely), however the realistic likelihood that will happen raises the spectre that the new Government may even less likely to offer concessions that are necessary for a peaceful, mutually acceptable two state solution.

Perhaps keen to capitalise on the hardline sentiment, Binyamin Netanyahu stated that he would reject the creation of a Palestinian State on 1967 borders. Reported in the Guardian this weekend, Netanyahu said "When they say, 'Go back to the 67 lines,' I stand against. When they say, 'Don't build in Jerusalem,' I stand against."

He went on to say "It's very easy to capitulate. I could go back to the impossible-to-defend 67 lines, and divide Jerusalem, and we would get Hamas 400 metres from my home"

This is obviously a particularly worrying, backwards step in the pursuit of a resolution to the conflict. Made all the more worrying because it comes from the mouth of the Prime Minister.

The scale of illegal Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and the omnipresence of the oppressive Israeli Defence Forces to protect the 500,000 settlers that live in the occupied West Bank creates a further, physical impasse to a two state solution.

And there have even been realisations of this new reality on the other side of the dividing wall. Ahmed Qurei, the former PM of the Palestinian Authorities and one of the drafters of the original Oslo Accords has publicly stated that there needs to be an internal public dialogue amongst Palestinians about a one state solution. He said that Israel has ‘buried’ the two-state solution, believing that it is worthwhile to at least consider the reality of a one-state solution.

The evidence seems to point to an Israel less willing to compromise, inclined towards a passive policy abroad, a possessive policy of land grabbing at home. The reality is there are very few reasons now why Israel should seek meaningful steps towards a two-state solution. The barrier provides an answer to Israel’s security issues and the settlements extend that security and influence over Palestine.

A one state solution would need to be representative, a secular state where Palestinians are treated equally. A failure to address the requirements of democracy would leave the state of Israel in a legitimacy crisis, a de jure apartheid.

There is clearly currently only a small amount of support amongst Palestinian people for a one state solution – and that is entirely understandable. I would hazard a guess that even those Arabs who take Israeli citizenship would prefer to be citizens of their own state. However, at the beginning of 2013, this looks more distant than ever – even if it has never really been that close.

Palestinians and Israeli’s have long lived together within a singular state, Israel. Before this election, around 10% of members of the Israeli Knesset were Arab-Israelis. Of the 8 million citizens of Israel, around 20% are Arabs. There is no talk of these Palestinians leaving Israel and joining a separate Palestinian state.

It is quite possible that two states are becoming politically unachievable inside Israel. Wider opinion would perhaps feel slightly more reassured by those with a ‘no surrender’ attitude, if this stance was accompanied by a talk of an inclusive one-state solution where Palestinians are equal citizens; but it is not in any meaningful way.

It has always been Israeli policy to keep the two-state solution on the table, but the reality is they have surreptitiously kept it just out of distance; in the long term they have simply taken more of the land and extended their geographical, political and military jurisdiction over occupied territory. Even foreign supporters of Israel rarely go into any detail about what settlement they want, and the result is a continued justification of an unacceptable status quo.

Israel will find it increasingly difficult to maintain the pretence that it wants a two state solution. It will also find it very difficult to put the whole blame onto the Palestinians for the failure of any meaningful steps to a settlement.

At some point the one state solution is going to put on the table. A debate that would be problematic for the right in Israel. For now a one state solution is just coffee table chat but it won’t be long before there is a wider public debate on the issue.

Just weeks away from the Israeli elections, a resolution to the Israel Palestine conflict appears more remote than ever. On my visit to Israel it became apparent, particularly when talking to the Western and Israeli media, that the notion of a two-state solution is dying with Israel’s ongoing expansionist policies in the West Bank. This election comes in the wake of Israel’s controversial announcement that it will build settlements in the E1 district cutting Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. Israel’s basis for the controversial developments was retaliatory in the wake of the decision of the UN General Assembly to give the Palestinian Authority Observer State status.

This election has also seen the rise of the fundamentalist Jewish Home party. In the Guardian, their leader recently described the conflict as ‘insoluble’, said that most Israelis “don’t care” about the issue, adding that “I want the world to understand that a Palestinian state means no Israeli state. That’s the equation.” It remains to be seen as to whether the popular support the Jewish Home Party will give them seats in Government following this election (though it is regarded as likely), however the realistic likelihood that will happen raises the spectre that the new Government may even less likely to offer concessions that are necessary for a peaceful, mutually acceptable two state solution.

The scale of illegal Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and the omnipresence of the oppressive Israeli Defence Forces to protect the 500,000 settlers that live in the occupied West Bank creates a further, physical impasse to a two state solution.

And there have even been realisations of this new reality on the other side of the dividing wall. Ahmed Qurei, the former PM of the Palestinian Authorities and one of the drafters of the original Oslo Accords has publicly stated that there needs to be an internal public dialogue amongst Palestinians about a one state solution. He said that Israel has ‘buried’ the two-state solution, believing that it is worthwhile to at least consider the reality of a one-state solution.

The evidence seems to point to an Israel less willing to compromise, inclined towards a passive policy abroad, a possessive policy of land grabbing at home. The reality is there are very few reasons now why Israel should seek meaningful steps towards a two-state solution. The barrier provides an answer to Israel’s security issues and the settlements extend that security and influence over Palestine.

A one state solution would need to be representative, a secular state where Palestinians are treated equally. A failure to address the requirements of democracy would leave the state of Israel in a legitimacy crisis, a de jure apartheid.

There is clearly currently only a small amount of support amongst Palestinian people for a one state solution – and that is entirely understandable. I would hazard a guess that even those Arabs who take Israeli citizenship would prefer to be citizens of their own state. However, at the beginning of 2013, this looks more distant than ever – even if it has never really been that close.

Palestinians and Israeli’s have long lived together within a singular state, Israel. Before this election, around 10% of members of the Israeli Knesset were Arab-Israelis. Of the 8 million citizens of Israel, around 20% are Arabs. There is no talk of these Palestinians leaving Israel and joining a separate Palestinian state.

It is quite possible that two states are becoming politically unachievable inside Israel. Wider opinion would perhaps feel slightly more reassured by those with a ‘no surrender’ attitude, if this stance was accompanied by a talk of an inclusive one-state solution where Palestinians are equal citizens; but it is not in any meaningful way.

It has always been Israeli policy to keep the two-state solution on the table, but the reality is they have surreptitiously kept it just out of distance; in the long term they have simply taken more of the land and extended their geographical, political and military jurisdiction over occupied territory. Even foreign supporters of Israel rarely go into any detail about what settlement they want, and the result is a continued justification of an unacceptable status quo.

Israel will find it increasingly difficult to maintain the pretence that it wants a two state solution. It will also find it very difficult to put the whole blame onto the Palestinians for the failure of any meaningful steps to a settlement.

At some point the one state solution is going to put on the table. A debate that would be problematic for the right in Israel. For now a one state solution is just coffee table chat but it won’t be long before there is a wider public debate on the issue.

Having juts written the above article this email arrived in my inbox...



Palestine briefing

January 2013


Israeli threat to annex most of West Bank

FCO questions to be tabled by 12.30 pm on Wednesday Jan 16th
FCO question time 11.30 am on Tuesday January 22nd

Netanyahu to jettison two-state solution?


The idea of annexing Area C - 60% of the West Bank - has gone from being an idea advanced by the extreme right-wing fringe to being a policy supported by mainstream figures in Likud-Beitenu, the coalition expected to win the Israeli election, and the main policy plank of Jewish Home, the party that has made the biggest advances during the election campaign.

The Oslo accords designated the less populated areas of the West Bank as Area C, the main cities as Area A and the larger towns and villages as Area B. Israel was to retain civil and military control in Area C until 1999, when it was due to be handed over to the Palestinians.  

Ignoring Oslo, Israel has retained control of Area C which includes nearly all of the countryside so that most towns and cities are surrounded by Area C. If Area C is annexed by Israel, it will mean that Palestine, instead of being a single contiguous state, would become 90+ separate islands in an Israeli sea.

If Likud-Beitenu are the largest party after the Israeli election on January 22, as expected, and if Jewish Home is the third party, as currently predicted, their price for joining a coalition could be the annexation of Area C - and it could all be over before you could say "two-state solution".   

Netanyahu has always claimed to be in favour of the two-state solution. However, he is now under strong pressure to abandon it. Many Likud ministers have spoken in favour of annexation. Internal Likud elections have promoted the faction of Moshe Feiglin, who wants to move all Palestinians out of the West Bank.

He made his view of Palestinians clear in a TV interview when he said: “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers.”  He was banned from entry into the UK in 2008 because of his racist views. Feiglin is now 23rd on the party list of Likud-Beitenu which is forecast to win 34 seats.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home, is even worse.  He recently told a Palestinian MP: “When you were still climbing trees, we had a Jewish state here.¹” His party is forecast to win 18 seats.

The wars of 1948 and 1967 left the Palestinians with only 22% of the British mandate territory of Palestine. The annexation of Area C would reduce their territory to 8% of historic Palestine (even though their population is 4 million compared with Israel’s 8 million).
The next FCO Questions are on the day of the Israeli election: January 22.
The UK government could play a vital role in the days following the election in forging an international consensus to stop an Israeli annexation of Area C.  After the UK’s “double-abstention” on the issue of Palestinian statehood at the UN, it would be a chance to re-establish the UK in a leadership role in the international community.

If you can table a question about Area C, it could help to focus the Government’s mind on the importance of an immediate and robust response to any moves towards annexation. 

Questions about possible annexation of Area C
  1. What measures he will take if the new Israeli government makes further annexations in the West Bank
  2. What measures he will take to persuade the new Israeli government not to go ahead with proposals to annex Area C of the West Bank
  3. What evaluation he has made of possible responses to Israeli annexation of Area C of the West Bank
  4. Whether he considers Israeli annexation of Area C to be compatible with the two-state solution
  5. What assessment he has made of the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine
Questions about new settlement building as reprisals for the UN vote 
  1. What action he has taken in response to proposals announced in December 2012 for thousands of new houses in the Jerusalem area
  2. What representations has he made to the announcement of 3,500 homes in planning area E1
  3. Whether he considers settlement building in planning area E1 compatible with the two-state solution
  4. What assessment has he made of the announcement that 1,242 houses will be built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Gilo
  5. What assessment he has made of the announcement that more than 2,600 houses will be built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Givat Hamatos
  6. What assessment he has made of the announcement that 1,600 houses will be built between Jerusalem and Ramallah in Ramat Shlomo
Questions about Gaza
  1. What representations he has made to the Israeli government about civilian casualties in Gaza
  2. What estimate he has made of the number of civilian casualties in the recent outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Gaza
  3. What measures he will take to encourage Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza
  4. What efforts he is making to open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian supplies
  5. Whether he will review arms export licences in view of recent operations

Questions about Action, not Words
  1. What measures he will take to encourage Israel to end settlement building
  2. What steps he is taking to encourage Israel to return Palestinian land to its owners
  3. What measures he will take to encourage Israel to move the separation barrier back to the Green Line
  4. What measures he will take to encourage Israel to stop detention of Palestinian prisoners inside Israel
Questions about house demolitions and the separation barrier 
  1. What steps he is taking to persuade Israel to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes
  2. What representations he has made to the Israeli authorities over the demolition of the Beit Arabiya house in Anata in the West Bank for the sixth time
  3. What measures he will take to stop house demolitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank
  4. What discussions he has had with the Israeli government about compensation for houses demolished in Gaza
  5. What estimate he has made of the number of houses demolished in the occupied West Bank since 1967
  6. What representations he has made about the construction of a wall around the village of Al Walaja
  7. What measures he will take in response to demolitions in Silwan in East Jerusalem 
Questions about Settlement Goods

Middle East minister Alastair Burt has confirmed that "the issue of settlement produce and financing is under active consideration in London and in Brussels" (Westminster Hall, 04-07-12).

International law states it is illegal for an occupying power to settle its own population on occupied land. Settlements are therefore illegal. They are also built on confiscated land. To knowingly trade with settlements in the West Bank is to undermine international law, to reward illegality, to condone the confiscation of land and natural resources and arguably to trade in stolen goods.

The last government introduced labelling for settlement goods in 2009 but UK scheme is voluntary and applies only to fresh produce. Other European countries are now introducing similar schemes. This is to give consumers more information so they can choose whether to buy settlement goods or not. This is not as important as the issue of whether it is legal to trade with settlements at all.
  1. Will he commission research on the legality of importing settlement produce to the UK
  2. Whether UK missions in Israel and the West Bank purchase settlement goods
  3. What representations he has made to the Israeli authorities about incorrect origin declarations for goods imported under the EU-Israel Agreement
  4. What steps he will take to limit the territorial competence of EU trade agreements to Israel’s 1967 borders
  5. What steps will he take to make it easier for consumers to identify settlement goods
Questions about prisoners
  1. What action he will take against UK directors of G4S over illegal transfer of Palestinian prisoners to Israeli persons (The minister said in reply to an earlier question that this was a contractual matter between the company and the Israeli government, but recent legal advice is that it is a breach of international law and directors could be taken to court)
  2. What recent discussions he has had with the Israeli authorities about night-time arrests of children
  3. If he will make a statement on the suspension of family visits to Gazan prisoners held in Israeli jails (Family visits to Gazan prisoners were reinstated under the Shalit agreement but have now been withdrawn again)
  4. What discussions he has had with the Israeli authorities about recording of police interviews with children
  5. What action he has taken on the recommendation that Palestinian children should not be blindfolded or hooded on arrest
Footnote¹: Palestinians claim descent from Philistines and Canaanites. Canaanites have lived in the area since long before the Bible and invented the alphabet.  'Philisteen' is the Hebrew and Arabic spelling of Palestine.  

NB: A further Palestine briefing will be sent to you on Thursday January 17th with briefings and possible supplementaries on any questions that have been printed on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

NB: Further information is available on the Palestine Briefing website (see below) including a section on rebuttals of common Israeli myths.

Martin Linton
Palestine Briefing