For both Israel and Palestine the conflict between them has once again become existential. In the past this meant “us or them.” The peace process transformed the conflict into “us and them,” with the question being how. But there has been no peace process for at least four years and today the conflict has once again become existential, but now it is now much more each side facing itself.
Israel can only exist as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, and Palestine as the nation-state of the Palestinian people, if they find a way to implement the two-state solution. For all of the perhaps enticing logic of a democratic one-state solution of “one person, one vote” for all of the people living between the River and the Sea, no such solution exists in any reality that takes into account the basic reason why Jews and Arabs have been willing to fight, die and kill for more than 100 years: the demand to have a territorial expression of their identity.
There is no possibility of creating the United States of Israel-Palestine as long as each side is determined to raise their national flag over their own territory and assert their sovereignty and identity on that territory.
This conflict is not solely about real estate. It is the connection of that real estate to matters of identity.
Both sides claim that they take their identity from the territory and give their identity to the territory. They both claim first historic rights and add to that religious connections with divine intervention.
For 27 years, since the Madrid Conference of 1991, Israel and Palestine have failed to reach a permanent status agreement that will determine the issues of sovereignty over the land and especially the future of the city that they both claim: Jerusalem.
The failure of this very long peace-seeking process has not changed what is being fought over, or, in reality, the basic parameters of a possible solution. What has changed is the growing belief among the majority of people on both sides that there is no partner for peace on the other side. In today’s reality that is an intelligent conclusion to reach. Both sides have sufficient evidence to fully justify the claim.
In the face of this failure and the loss of hope for a reasonable two-state solution, a growing number of Palestinians are coming out in favor of the “one-state solution” (perhaps a growing number of Israelis, too). The Palestinian one-staters believe that supporting anti-Israel boycotts, giving the keys of the Palestinian Authority back to Israel and forcing Israel to take full responsibility for the lives of millions of Palestinians will speed up the process of forcing Israel to accept a one-person, one-vote democracy that will put an end to Zionism and the will of the Jewish people to have a territorial expression of their identity in the form of a Jewish nation-state.
Occupation is intolerable and life, particularly for young people in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, is very hard. The failed Palestinian leadership and the sense that the democratic space in Palestinian areas is shrinking contributes to the rise in opposition to continually trying to negotiate a two-state solution. Most Palestinians believe Israel has made the choice not to accept a Palestinian state and now it has to live with the consequences of the decision to not give up 22% of the homeland for a Palestinian state.
The 50-year one-state bi-national reality has led many Palestinians, particularly young Palestinians, to believe that there is a way to force Israel to grant full citizenship to all Palestinians, after which they will democratically undo Zionism and the Jewish national identity.
This scenario has little validity or chance of success.
First, it does not end the 100-plus years conflict because it fails to address the root cause of what we have all been fighting, dying and willing to kill for. Secondly, I fail to understand the logic behind the idea that because we failed to separate into two states we can now live happily ever after in one. That just doesn’t make sense.
For the Palestinian young people, living under occupation, it may seem like the closest approximation of justice, but it is devoid of any logic and pragmatism.
This solution also denies the Palestinians the territorial expression of their identity in the form of a Palestinian nation-state. The disappointment they express in the PA’s failings has led them to accept a new false prophet, called the one-state solution.
Israel, for its part, has continued to ensure the builtin weakness of the PA, and since the exit of Salam Fayyad from the Palestinian political stage, Palestinians have failed to appreciate the achievements that have been made through great struggle to create the basis of statehood and independence. In 2008, most of the international community embraced the idea that Palestinians had built the institutions of statehood and that they were prepared to assume the full responsibilities of sovereignty within the framework of the international community of nations. Those achievements are not insignificant.
In the absence of any chance at this time to reach a negotiated two-state solution, the Palestinian national movement is correct in now seeking full recognition of their statehood from the international community, including east Jerusalem as their capital. If the sides were reversed, Israel would be doing the exact same thing. The Palestinians are also correct in sticking to their strategic decision of 1988 to call for recognition of Palestine in the 1967 borders and naming east Jerusalem as their capital – not all of Jerusalem. Nor have the Palestinians returned to a call to establish their state on all of the land between the river and the sea.
For Israel, the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders is still the most rational and I would claim Zionist position, and remains the surest way to preserve the Jewish people’s territorial expression on their national identity.
The author is the founder and Co-Chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. www.ipcri.org His new book ‘In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine’ has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.