In new book, Ben White argues that the half-century search for a two-state solution has provided an alibi for Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank
William Hague made one, and only one, memorable statement during his time as one of Britain’s more mediocre and gutless British foreign secretaries. It concerned Middle East peace.
“If progress on negotiations is not made next year,” Hague said, “then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.”
This remark was made on 28 November 2012 during a Commons statement on Palestinian statehood. Former US President Barack Obama was about to launch his attempt to negotiate a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, but that initiative swiftly floundered.
Two-state solution is dead
To this day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu persists with his illegal policy of building settlements in the occupied West Bank. US President Donald Trump has mocked international law by moving the US embassy to occupied East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Israel appears poised to evict Palestinians from the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar.
So, Hague’s prediction has come true. The two-state solution, which has formed the basis of recent Western efforts to build Middle East peace, can and should be forgotten. It cannot and will never happen. The presence of around half a million Israeli settlers in the West Bank makes it impossible. What comes next?
White maintains that the situation in the West Bank would not be sustainable - certainly not for Israel, whose legitimacy is partly based on a claim that it shares Western values - but for its allegedly temporary status
This is the subject of Ben White’s hugely important book, Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel. White, a regular contributor to Middle East Eye, has written the clearest guide I have ever read to the tragic divide between Israelis and Palestinians.
There are no flights of rhetoric, and no stirring personal anecdotes. Instead, White argues with authority and deep learning, drawing on a rich range of sources expertly deployed. He does not duck away from difficult and controversial judgments.
The author starts with an analysis of the legal structure of the Israeli occupation. He establishes that all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are in breach of international law, since the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring citizens into territory it occupies.
Life under occupation
He then goes on to show that the occupied territories have - in reality, though not in law - become part of Israel itself. To illustrate this point he quotes Israeli journalist Uri Misgav, who wrote last year that if aliens landed on the West Bank, they would not believe that it was not part of Israel.
“Two Supreme Court justices live there [the West Bank], as well as cabinet ministers, the Knesset speaker and other Knesset members, as well as a host of government officials,” Misgav writes. “The Electric Corporation provides electricity, the Mekorot national water company supplies water, the National Roads Company looks after roads and the National Lottery erects and manages public buildings.
"Factories, businesses and services operate there without limits, including schools and a university that are under the Ministry of Education's supervision. State-funded cultural institutions are compelled to perform in every settlement.”
Israeli forces aim towards Palestinian protesters at Hawara checkpoint on 8 December 2017 (AFP)
Meanwhile, Palestinians in these occupied areas also live under Israeli law. However in their case we are talking about army law with military courts and arbitrary rule. The United Nations recently counted more than 700 physical obstacles to Palestinian movement in the West Bank - and that is before one comes to demolitions, the forced transfer of people, and the appropriation of natural resources, above all water.
This parallel system has been manifesting itself for half a century, growing all the time in intensity. By 2007 the Financial Times had presented a map of the West Bank that showed a territory in which 2.5 million Palestinians were confined to dozens of enclaves separated by Israeli roads, settlements, fences and military zones.
Israel’s illegal takeover
According to the former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Anthony Lerman: “It has not been formally proclaimed. It has no legal status. No one wants to acknowledge it. But it’s hard to see Israeli control of the area of the pre-1967 state, the West Bank and Gaza, as constituting anything other than one de facto state.”
White maintains that the situation in the West Bank would not be sustainable - certainly not for Israel, whose legitimacy is partly based on a claim that it shares Western values - but for its alleged temporary status. He argues that the half-century search for a two-state solution has provided an alibi for the de facto annexation of the West Bank by Israel.
White quotes numerous warnings from Western and Israeli politicians alike that the failure to secure a two-state solution would lead to an invidious choice between a one-state solution and the abandonment of the idea of a Jewish democracy, or a non-democratic state with Palestinians as second-class citizens.
He notes that “this picture painted of a single political entity in which millions of Palestinians cannot vote describes the status quo (of some time now), not a future scenario”.
This is the crucial point. The politics of the peace process, White argues, have enabled the illegal Israeli takeover of the occupied territories. To put it another way, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is only possible because Western politicians continue to entertain the proposition that the two-state solution is viable, when that is plainly no longer the case.
Oslo’s disastrous legacy
White shows that the Oslo Accords, agreed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, have had disastrous consequences for Palestinians, creating a catch-22 situation.
In Area C, which accounts for the majority of the West Bank, Palestinian dwellings are demolished time and again on the grounds that they are illegal - but they are illegal because building permits are almost impossible to come by, with Israel approving less than two percent of requests from Palestinians.
White ends this tightly argued tract with a call for a single state, with Jews and Palestinians 'as equal citizens of a shared home'
White’s book should be read by everybody with an interest in understanding the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, regardless of which side of the argument they are on. I disagree with some of White’s arguments; I don’t think it is useful to use the term apartheid, which applies to a different system set up in post-World War Two South Africa.
White ends this tightly argued tract with a call for a single state, with Jews and Palestinians “as equal citizens of a shared home”.
- Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Israeli bulldozers work on the separation wall in 2004 (AFP)