Why the two-state illusion refuses to die
September was a month of sad Palestinian anniversaries. Each marked a discrete event, but all bore the same message: that Israel, imposed on the Palestinian people against their will, has always been an entity ruthlessly in pursuit of its own ends and stopping at nothing to attain them. It never had any interest in cooperation or coexistence with them or the Arab world.
It is as if those who talk about two states never look at a West Bank map, or see the breakup of Jerusalem into shrinking Arab islands amid an expansion of Israeli settlements
On 17 September 1948, UN mediator Folke Bernadotte, sent to mediate the Arab-Israeli war that had started months earlier, was assassinated in Jerusalem. Bernadotte was a distinguished diplomat, an aristocrat and grandson of the Swedish king, and his death was a huge loss for his country and the diplomatic community. It was also a loss for the 700,000 Palestinians displaced from their homes by Israel’s establishment.
Having seen their plight, Bernadotte was determined to override Israel’s objections and work towards their repatriation. For that, he had to be removed. His killers were members of Lehi, a Jewish terrorist organisation also known as the Stern Gang. Far from being punished, their most prominent member, Yitzhak Shamir, went on to serve two terms as Israel’s prime minister, in 1983 and 1986.
Thirty-four years after Bernadotte’s killing came the massacre at Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. Between 16 and 18 September 1982, anti-Palestinian Lebanese Phalangist militias murdered some 1,300 refugees in cold blood. The massacre could not have happened without Israel’s connivance, its army illuminating the camps for the killers and preventing anyone from fleeing.
The Phalangists, who were intent on ending the Palestinian refugee presence in Lebanon for good, found ready allies in Israel. Not content with expelling the refugees in 1948, Israel has been intent on hounding them out of existence ever since.
Seduced by these distractions, the occupied population was pacified for years with an interminable peace process and a futile hunt for the Holy Grail of a Palestinian state
The September event with the most far-reaching consequences for Palestinians, however, was the signing of the Oslo agreement on 13 September 1993. Its sole offering was Israeli recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in return for which Palestinians were tied up in a trap of territorial segmentation, continuous loss of land, massive Judaisation, and limited economic growth and development.
At the same time, the Oslo Accords implicitly encouraged the belief among Palestinians that their own state would eventually emerge, which many Western agencies irresponsibly sustained through a variety of pseudo “state-building” activities in the occupied territories after 1993.
Seduced by these distractions, the occupied population was pacified for years with an interminable peace process and a futile hunt for the Holy Grail of a Palestinian state.
In 2013, a Gallup poll found that 70 percent of West Bank Palestinians still supported the two-state solution, despite the lack of progress towards an independent state, increasing loss of land and stagnant economy - eloquent testimony to Oslo’s enduring appeal as the imagined gateway to a better future, however illusory.
The Oslo illusion persists
Twenty-five years after Oslo, the illusion persists. Attaining the two-state solution remains the only strategy of the Palestinian leadership and the international community alike.
The underlying theme of discussion concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the 73rd UN General Assembly meeting in New York last month was the two-state solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated the well-known formula of “a Palestinian state based on the 1967 armistice lines, with negotiated land swaps, a shared Jerusalem, and a just resolution of the refugee problem”, whatever that means.
Likewise, British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at the Labour Party conference on 26 September, said: “We support a two-state solution to the conflict with a secure Israel and a viable and secure Palestinian state.”
The same position is held by the European Union, the League of Arab States and the UN General Assembly, where 137 out of 193 member states and two non-member states have now recognised the Palestinian state. The US president also recently joined in, saying: “I like a two-state solution. That’s what I think works best.”
Given the evidence on the ground, the disconnect between rhetoric and reality could not be greater. It is as if those who talk about two states never look at a West Bank map, or see the breakup of Jerusalem into shrinking Arab islands amid an expansion of Israeli settlements, or have any idea about the siege of Gaza, or know anything of Israel’s nation-state law, which regards the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as exclusively Jewish land.
No Palestinian state, even a sliver on 22 percent of historic Palestine, can arise in such a framework unless Israel pulls out its settlements, ends the Gaza siege and rescinds its nation-state law. It is inconceivable for Israel to do any of this, or for any agency to compel Israel to comply.
It should, therefore, be clear that the two-state solution is not realisable on the ground, a conclusion reached by many observers. In 2012, an authoritative EU Heads of Mission report, using restrained diplomatic language, pointed out that Israeli settlement-building was making the two-state solution less likely, a sentiment echoed more strongly by many others since then.
Ending the Zionist project
So, why does the international community persist in promoting it? The alternative is surely obvious: an equal rights movement arising in the occupied territories that aims to grant all persons under Israeli rule equal citizenship in historic Palestine, eventually paving the way for a refugee return.
The international community’s obdurate adherence to the two-state solution in the face of this logic can only be explained, on the one hand, by a fear of antagonising Israel and its US sponsor, since an equal-rights solution would inevitably erode the Jewish majority in the country and end the Zionist project.
And on the other hand, perhaps more pertinently, it can be explained by an unwillingness on the part of Western states to admit that to have created Israel in 1948 and sustained it ever since was a cardinal error, whose only remedy is to reverse the operation and end support for Zionism.
A prospect so alarming needs conviction and resolve. No wonder Western states have baulked at it and opted to bury all such inconvenient truths beneath a futile quest for a two-state solution that no one believes will ever succeed.
- Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian doctor, academic and author.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: People visit the Dome of the Rock in al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on 27 March 2018 (AFP)