The Two-State Solution, Dead or Alive?
Talking points from my presentation at the first meeting of “The Israel Forum.” KOH Library and Cultural Center, Sacramento, California, September 11, 2013
1. As I’m sure you are well aware, the topic of our discussion this evening is “Two-State Solution, Dead or Alive?” Now, in my presentation, I will make the argument that that formula for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more dead than alive. I will do so even though I’m a supporter of that solution for as long as I can remember, and even though the resumption of direct negotiations between the two sides since July does give one hope for a miracle. Because for Israel, I believe, and for the entire Jewish People, it is the best solution possible. When we will move on to the discussion phase of our evening, I will look forward to hear your opinions, and gladly listen also to those of you who will be able to prove me wrong, and make the case that, in fact, that formula is more alive than dead.
2. Now to date, the majority of Israelis and Jewish Americans, as well the current and previous American administrations, and the vast majority of nations in the United Nations, are in cohesion that the “Two-State Solution” – one for Israel and one for Palestine – is the only viable, accepted formula that can solve the long, historic, difficult conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. It is based on the November 29, 1947, the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which called for the termination of the British Mandate and the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states, with Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. This resolution was actually based on other such resolutions, all the way back to 1937 and the Peel Commission Report.
3. I’m not a historian, let me make that clear right from the outset. Still, I would call myself an ardent student of History. And while I was only one-year-old when that momentous vote took place at the UN, growing up in a kibbutz in Israel, my father’s stories of that day, classes at school and old B&W film footage of the vote kept coming up constantly. More even than the Declaration of Independence, for the Jewish population of the future state of Israel, this was a moment of unequaled celebration. Indeed, people in Tel Aviv and elsewhere streamed spontaneously into the streets and began dancing the Hora and singing the Tikvah.
4. So here we are this evening, almost 66 years later, and still there is no solution to that resolution, just facts on the ground. And I’ll be back later to talk about this most topical and crucial of Israeli phrases and policies, “facts on the ground.” But the facts of the matter are that had the Arab population of Palestine of that day, and the Arab states surrounding it, accepted that UN Resolution 181, they would’ve had much more then, by way of portion of the land, continuation of their state, and Jerusalem partly within their territory, than what they could possibly hope to have today; even by the most favorable solution to their claim of an independent Palestinian state. No wonder their current leader, Mahmoud Abbas, had stated in 2011 that the Arab rejection of the UN partition plan was a mistake he hoped to rectify. And indeed, he has taken some steps, as currently evident, in order to rectify that predicament. And yet that wish, that dream of a solution based on that resolution from 47, is fading fast before our very eyes.
5. How come. Let’s see: the war that ensued, “Milchemet Ha’atzmaut,” Israeli’s War of Independence, and for the Palestinians the Nakba (catastrophe), brought about the declaration and establishment of the state of Israel on May 14 of 48, on borders far wider, comparatively speaking, than the original partition plan had mandated, and the western part of a divided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A green line on the map signified the temporary borders between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, where most Arab refugees who fled, or pushed out as a result of the war, had settled. Gaza was under Egyptian rule and the West bank was under Jordanian rule. A status quo of sorts existed, with the Sinai war of 56 in between, and some minor scrimmages and armed operations to go along with it. This relatively quiet before the storm came to an end with the 67 war in June 6th.
6. That war had changed everything, including the fact that yours truly was a young soldier already who participated in that war, so he can now offer some personal observations, rather than lessons in history. Here’s what I must tell you: From my point of view back then, and I can still remember vividly my feelings, anxieties and expectations before that war, and including in that are those of my parents, soldier buddies and the whole country’s reaction, that was a war of survival par excellence! No matter the arguments that had followed thereafter, and the revelations revealed, for us it was live or die. Fortunately, we lived to tell about it. So Israel won a major victory, and in six days decimated the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. And, in the process had captured Eastern Jerusalem and the entire West bank. A euphoria, understandably yet in hindsight very regrettable, had captured Israel, and even more so the Jewish World here in America. Which, to my mind, carries no less a responsibility to the state of affairs that we find ourselves in today, than the leaders and citizens of Israel.
7. Because here’s what happened thereafter: Two citizenry camps had been born in Israel, unrelated at the outset to the political arena and political forces: The Peace Camp and the Settlement Camp. At the same time, the Palestinian People and movement, yearning and fighting for an independent state, began to take shape and prominence. Now in Israel, the Peace Camp—to which I was proudly, and actively belonged—saw some successes at first. It was very instrumental ten years later with the birth of the “Peace Now” movement, which nagged Begin and his government towards the historic peace deal with Sadat and Egypt in 79; it played a role in the movement and forces that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and played some role in the pulling of our army out of Lebanon in 2000. But that’s it. Ultimately, as things currently stand in Israel, if not dead or dying, the peace camp is, unfortunately, inconsequential and powerless.
8. At the same time, the Settlement Camp grew from strength to strength, and ultimately won the day. Now, it never easy to admit defeat, particularly on such an important issue, and yet that’s how I see the situation in Israel today. I do remember the first illegal settlements, or outposts, Gush Emunim as it was called then—i.e. the Faithful Block—was trying to establish; I believe I was still in the army. The army would come and dismantle them at first, then take them away, but of course, they always came back, with increased force and determination. The Israeli government at the time, had asked its legal experts and consolers for a legal opinion on the matter, and the verdict was—as indeed is the opinion and agreeable position of the International community and its various legal bodies since then—that these settlements are illegal. So the government came up with the idea to call them “army outposts”. And with that permission to proceed, the Settlement Camp took off running and never looked back.
9. Since then every Israeli PM and government, to a greater or lesser degree, has gone along with that movement, not only following its lead, but facilitating and encouraging the large scale settlement endeavor, in the process depriving the local Palestinian population of their legitimate rights. Yes, there were setbacks to that movement, yes, there were some defeats, and yes, there were the Oslo Accords and pulling them out of this little hill and that small outpost, but the bottom line is: There are now over 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank now, including the surrounding areas of East Jerusalem. There are small towns and one major city, Ariel, and a vibrant population that staying put and going nowhere, even if it means death to Herzl’s Zionist dream of a democratic, humanistic, secular Jewish State.
10. This brings me to the present time, and to some analysis regarding whether the Two-State solution is dead or alive. But first, here are two quotes: Benny Katzover, one of the leaders of the Settlers Movement, said this last year: “The main role of Israeli democracy now is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its role, and it must disassemble and give way to Judaism”. Here the second quote, from President Obama, who when visiting Jerusalem earlier this year said this: “The only path to security – the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish democratic state is through the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state.” Now, as we speak, the winning side is not the majority of Israelis; not the majority of American Jews; Not President Obama and Secretary Kerry who engineered the present direct-talks, and not even the majority of nations on this planet. The winning side is, still, Benny Katzover and the settlers’ movement.
11. How come? First: because of “Facts on the Ground,” which I alluded to earlier. In other words: all the existing settlement and all the settlers in them. Second, because there are now over 500,000 settlers sitting pretty in the West Bank. And while the whole world, from 37 to 47 to 67 to today, keep talking about the Two-State Solution, no significant move forward has been taken place since the failed Oslo Accords in 1993 on this front. At the same time, more and more settlers are moving in, and more settlements and building units are being built in what the world call the West Bank, and the settlers call Judah and Samaria. I simply don’t see a viable solution, and I know there are some being mentioned, of reversing the present situation.
12. Third: On August 5th, after the resumption of negotiations, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the government has approved new incentives for Israeli citizens moving into settlements, most not within the ones surrounding Jerusalem. More unit buildings in settlements were approved thereafter. This is not only endangering the fragile negotiations, but a clear sign as to how the Israeli government sees the situation and the chances of success for these negotiations. It should be noted here that most government ministers, most members of Mr. Netanyahu’s own party in the Knesset, are opposed to these negotiations and to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Case in point, as reported by The Times of Israel, Sunday September 6th: “In a remarkably candid speech in which he ridiculed the notion of democracy in the Middle East, and denounced efforts toward Palestinian statehood, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon voiced outright surprise that, despite all the upheaval in the Arab world, there was still a movement to push for the founding of a Palestinian state.” And that from the right hand of PM Netanyahu, a possible next Israeli Prime Minister.
13. Fourth: There is no force exists today in Israel, the way I know and read the situation, that can peacefully, legally, and maybe even forcefully, evacuate the settlers from their homes. The days of Begin, Rabin and Sharon are gone. This current government is more right-wing leaning than even the previous government. The make-up of the army has changed. Where once it was dominated, in battle unit and in officers, by kibbutzniks and moshavniks, it is now dominated by religious, kipa-wearing soldiers and officers, many of them from these aforementioned settlements. If we had difficulties and semi-revolts in the army during the evacuation of Northern Sinai and Gaza, it’s nothing compare to what would happen in the West bank. And it might well escalate into a form of civil war in Israel.
14. Fifth: Even if a formula of solving the settlement issue is agreed upon; i.e. the large segment surrounding Jerusalem, with Gush Etzion and so on remains in Israel’s hands, leaving only about 180,000 settlers to evacuate, and some agreeable swaps of lands between the sides, I don’t see the problem of Jerusalem, on the Israeli side, and the split between the Fatah/PLO and Hamas, on the Palestinian side — among others serious problems, though of lesser degree — being resolved. Not to mention all the problems in the Arab world, surrounding Israel, that like dry tinder can be ignited into a fire any moment and put an end to these negotiations.
15. Sixth: I can even see a scenario, unlikely as it may seem, that an agreement has been reached; Israel government and the Knesset approve of it (again, very unlikely) – but in a referendum, according with the resolution lately adopted by the Israeli Government and Knesset, the majority of Israeli citizens rejecting it. Remember, it was mainly by the demand of the political forces from the right that the referendum was signed into law.
16. For all these reasons, it is with sadness and even resignation that I—a longtime supporter of the two-state solution—admit that if not a dead corpse already, than it’s certainly on its dying bed. Only a miracle can resurrect it now, and I don’t see it coming anytime soon. However, in spite of this gloom assessment, all is not lost, and we can take some encouragement and hope from the fact that talks are continuing between the two sides. And with that, and before we move on to an open discussion, if there are any direct questions to me, regarding my presentation, please do so now.