Discredited, without workable alternative
The two-state solution was never intended as utopian fulfillment of an idealistic dream. It was conceived as a compromise, taking into account the irreconcilable dreams of the two sides, and forging a reconciliation, nevertheless.
It wasn`t an easy thing — one side, arising as a phoenix from the Holocaust ashes, unwilling to give up what had caused it so much euphoria to get hold of; the other side insisting on its rights which it had not been able to defend militarily. The lack of belief that this conflict could be solved was what caused distrust and animosity to turn into hatred.
To break down the hatred and to find a somehow fair middle way, a formulation that would satisfy at least the basic needs of both sides, was what the two-state solution was about.
Such a solution, to have a chance at all, had to take into account the difference in power, while at the same time leaving intact the dignity of the weaker side. Following the Six Day War when the IDF occupied the part of Mandatory Palestine which had remained Arabic in 1948, the idea came up in more than one mind: the new situation opened a way to compromise. The Palestinians would give up the claim to what they lost in 1948, against the Israelis giving up what they `conquered` in 1967.
Then, in 1974, PLO leader Yasser Arafat was invited to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, and he spoke of `the rifle in the one hand and the olive branch in the other.` In the same period the PLO adopted the policy `to set up a Palestinian state on any part of Palestine that had been liberated.`
At that time there were already contacts with some `righteous Israelis` — initially only with anti-Zionists. These first anti-Zionists were the bridge for a meeting with more mainstream Israelis. That was when the ICIPP was founded — the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, as whose newsletter The Other Israel started.
Uri Avnery, then Knesset Member, may already not have been a very convinced Zionist at the time; it was some years after his book `Israel without Zionists` had come out. But both, retired Six Day War General Matti Peled, and Dr Yakov Arnon, who had long served the Labour Party as Director General of the Finance Ministry, definitely went to meet with the PLO as Zionists.
It was the intention that they, as Zionists, would pave the way for the PLO to consider negotiations with the Zionist government of Israel. The Prime Minister at that time was Rabin and he was personally briefed about the ICIPP`s meetings with the PLO — a fact that was from the start known to the PLO leadership.
These were also the years that the settlement movement (`Gush Emunim`) built itself up into creating facts on the occupied Palestinian ground, and on the other hand Palestinians added the hijacking of planes to their repertoire of military struggle...
Still, in the midst of all this took place the first indirect Rabin-Arafat contact. We all know how many decades, wars and many more obstacles it took before these two leaders came to the point of actually shaking hands. But meanwhile, both are dead and we look back to those hopeful years in the early 1990s as towards a shattered illusion.
The Oslo process, which in 1993 had aroused such expectations on both sides, deteriorated because of the overcautiousness of Rabin. His great merit was that he built relations of trust with the Palestinians — but whenever it came to implementation of what was agreed upon he dragged his feet; the expression `there are no holy dates` was his. We will never know, though, how it would have ended had he not been assassinated.
In 2000, as a result of the failed negotiations of Ehud Barak, the search for peace and dialogue was severely discredited, at least on the Israeli side.
One cannot be sure that it was premeditated, but Barak`s haste after Camp David to declare that the talks `have failed` — instead of `are not yet fully concluded` — was a sure way of bringing about the renewed war, a war which started with stones against rifles, but which escalated into an extremely cruel confrontation.
This was the atmosphere enabling Sharon`s comeback. Blocked during two decades from being Defence Minister because of Sabra and Shatila, he now got hold of the prime ministership.
For years, he had a free hand for cruel oppression: besieging of Palestinian towns and villages, with starvation an openly discussed way of breaking their will; the erosion of scruples also manifested at checkpoints, in nightly raids and daily killings.
Only incidentally did these facts succeed in shocking the world: the pictures of blindfolded naked men with numbers on their arm; the Palestinian who was made to play the violin at a checkpoint. (It apparently shocks especially when it reminds of the Jewish holocaust stories....) However, all this did not yet really discredit among Palestinians, who had been for it, the idea of a two-state solution.
Their support for the `67 border compromise came, however, under severe pressure with the building of the Security Barrier / Separation Fence or whatever one calls it: 8-meter high Walls around, sometimes through, cities and hundreds of kilometers of double electronic fences with a patrol route in between and surrounded by much, much barbed wire. It was however the route which angered most, cutting away a thick slice with a special preference for the West Bank`s aquifers.
Even, if such a barrier would have been built on the Israeli side of the Green Line (`67-border), one could have wondered whether this huge investment in walls and fences is really the best way to prepare for the post-occupation period, which could be expected to bring peace and a start of good neighborly relations. And as an immediate remedy against suicide bombers, not even the highest Wall helps as long as it is not complete — a fact that Israelis found out the hard way. The assaults on people roaming around in city streets became a near daily threat, with Jerusalem`s center paralyzed, and tourism brought to a total halt.
The idea of the Wall originated from the Labour Party, a partner in Sharon`s governments. They may or may not have understood that in the cynical Sharon era a Wall could only become another excuse for another huge land grab.
After we got to see on TV how the army broke its way from Palestinian house to the next house through the walls, and how one tonne bombs were thrown on a residential block in Gaza, there started also some counter-movement.
In 2003 there was the Geneva Initiative and, not less important, growing dissent among the army ranks — first the wave of draft refusers, but then also infecting fighting units from which more and more reservists refused to serve in the occupied territories, culminating in the collective refusal of 27 pilots. Sharon said it more than once: this was what made him understand that he had to come up with something — the something being the Gaza Disengagement.
And now we are in the situation that extreme hostility to the Palestinians is mixed with partial giving up of land occupied in 1967, including even the dramatic, probably purposefully mediagenic evacuation of settlers and dismantling of the smaller settlements. And, while never willing to talk to even the most moderate Palestinian leaders, Sharon did take up the concept of `Palestinian state`, but what he had in mind was not more than a few scattered enclaves.
Since the two-state solution was insincerely taken up by the government, more and more of its former supporters start feeling disgusted with the concept. This becomes clear in discussions among Israeli peace activists but also in exchanges with international friends of the cause. More and more people turn to the dream of One State, taking South Africa and the overcoming of Apartheid as their model.
It brings to mind the words of a personal friend, the late South African anti-Apartheid activist Esther Levitan. It was during the years that Apartheid seemed very immovable and Mandela still lingered in prison. She said: in South Africa the problem can be solved; the Whites are only a few percent of the population and the Blacks will win, but in Israel I don`t see such an easy solution.
At that time it seemed odd that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was considered by her the less solvable. But after so many years, her words start making sense. In South Africa the military inequality was counterbalanced by other factors. But, compared with the Whites of South Africa, the Jewish Israelis have a much stronger position: not only do they have relatively greater numerical strength; they also aren`t (any more) dependent on cheap Palestinian labour; furthermore they have a very strong weapon against international criticism — the accusation of anti-Semitism.
The fact is that when it imposed a total boycott, including the freezing of assets, on the already extremely impoverished Palestinian people that it occupies, Israel was rewarded by the support of the Western leaders. The most heavy economic sanctions for no more reason than that the Palestinians had voted in too big numbers for one of the accepted contenders in the democratic and internationally-monitored elections.
At the same time grassroots efforts to start no more than a cultural boycott against Israel as long as it continues the occupation were foiled at their very inception.
This is the situation, and this is why one still can only hope for an end to the occupation to which the Jewish Israelis can be brought without having to give up the Jewish majority state.
As much pressure as can be produced will be needed to enable the Palestinians to indeed get all the territories occupied in 1967 to call their state, and that any deviation from the `67-border will be agreed upon in direct talks between the sides and compensated by mutually acceptable land swaps.
The Palestinians living right now in dire circumstances, in besieged Gaza and under heavy-handed Israeli military rule in the West Bank, should not have to wait for their liberation until the Israeli Jews have been transformed into angels.
The `two-state` concept may have become pale and stained, but without it we stand barehanded. Let`s do this first. Later the two states can decide, as equals, to become one.
The Other Israel, POB 2542, Holon 58125, Israel.