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The two-state mirage: A fake promise that gives cover to Israel’s land grab

From John Kerry to Israel’s liberal Zionists, the two-state solution is a misleading mantra that legitimises the seizing of Palestinian land

There is a growing consensus that the status quo in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is fatal to the possibility of an independent Palestinian state.

This was the take-home message of a recent, high-profile speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and, as pointed out recently by Yousef Munayyer, the diplomat himself warned four years ago that the window for the "two-state solution" would definitively close in two years.

Even the low-end figures for settler evacuation under a two-state deal seem highly improbable given an Israeli political climate that shows no sign of heading towards moderation

Versions of this warning, that Israel's colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank is becoming irreversible, have been issued by Palestinians, Israelis and international diplomats and commentators for decades.

But as more and more people wake up to the fact that Israel has created a de-facto, single apartheid state out of territory held before and after 1967, a group of Israelis are insistent that the two-state solution is still possible.

Sounds good, right? These Israelis certainly position themselves as strident opponents of the ultra-right nationalist camp embodied by the likes of Naftali Bennett. But what kind of a two-state solution do they envisage, and what motivates them?

A perfect example of this approach is Shaul Arieli, a former Israeli army colonel and co-founder with Yossi Beilin of the Geneva Initiative. Arieli basically rewrites the same op-ed for liberal Israeli paper Haaretz once or twice a year, the most recent of which appeared on 31 December.

The essence of Arieli's message is straightforward: the West Bank has not, in fact, been successfully colonised by Israeli settlers, and that an Israeli withdrawal from the vast majority of the occupied territory is entirely feasible. The two-state solution, in other words, is still possible.

According to Arieli, 15 settlements constitute the so-called "settlement blocs," which "together with East Jerusalem" cover "only" 4 percent of the West Bank and include 80 percent of settlers. These territories are thus "candidates for annexation to Israel in the framework of land swaps".

Removing just 9,000 settlers from Gaza cost Israeli authorities around $3 billion and required the deployment of 10,000 Israeli soldiers and police. But according to Arieli, the two-state solution requires the relocation of up to 200,000 settlers

However, using his own data, that still leaves 142,000 settlers to evacuate from 111 settlements, and in a presentation on "The Feasibility of the Two-State Solution" the scenario of a 2 percent annexation/land swap leaves some 200,000 settlers to be relocated.

Arieli is persistent, and repetitious. In November 2015, he wrote a piece in Haaretz headlined "The Settlement Enterprise Has Failed". In June 2016, he published another op-ed in the same newspaper with almost the same title: "Look at the Figures: Israel’s Settlement Enterprise Has Failed".

So, what's the problem here? Well, first note the framing. When squaring the settlements circle is the focus, you're not taking into account Palestinian natural resources, topography, environment, land ownership, links between communities, cultural heritage, or quality of land (to be swapped).

Furthermore, you're subordinating all these factors to the protection and rubber-stamping of grave violations of international law and land theft. Thus, as often needs repeating, the exact amount of land that Israel could annex in a future deal is not the point; it is about location and contours, as much as it is about percentages.

In addition, even the low-end figures for numbers of settlers to be evacuated seem highly improbable given an Israeli political climate that shows no sign of heading towards moderation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the annual memorial ceremony for David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, in the southern Israeli kibbutz of Sde Boker on 20 November 2012. (AFP)

Keeping Ben Gurion's dream alive

Remember – removing just 9,000 settlers from Gaza cost Israeli authorities around $3 billion and required the deployment of some 10,000 Israeli soldiers and police officers. But according to Arieli, the "feasibility" of the two-state solution is based on the relocation of 150-200,000 settlers.

Does that seem likely, any time soon? Then throw into the mix the rise in prominence of national-religious soldiers and army officers, and the intense political dogfight over the relocation (not even removal from the West Bank) of settlers from the Amona outpost (not even an official settlement).

In other words, the two-state solution is unfeasible not because of "logistics," but because of politics – or ideology.

Which brings us neatly back to Arieli, and those like him. Their desperation to preserve the legitimacy of the two-state solution in practical terms (i.e. settlements are removable, land swaps are possible etc) is, in fact, driven by their own ideological motivations.

For Arieli, "the vision of the democratic Jewish state ... is the basis for the two-state solution". The former colonel has declared that his Zionism is "the Zionism of [Theodor] Herzl, [David] Ben Gurion, [Vladimir] Jabotinsky, [Chaim] Weizmann and Moshe Sharett".

Arieli believes that "the validity of the Zionist claim ... justif[ied] the non-application to Palestine of the principle of self-determination [pre-1948] despite its Arab majority". Thus for so-called liberal Zionists, their bitter attacks on today's ascendant, Israeli right, which they accuse of prioritising ideology above morality or realism, is a classic case of those who doth protest too much.

- Ben White is the author of  Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy. He is a writer for Middle East Monitor and his articles have been published by Al Jazeera, al-Araby, Huffington Post, The Electronic Intifada, The Guardian's Comment is Free and more. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A picture taken on 5 January 2017 shows part of the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP).

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