5 December 2012
Dead, Dead, Dead: The Middle East “Peace Process”
By Gwynne Dyer
It’s as if the world’s leaders were earnestly warning us that global warming will cause the extinction of the dinosaurs. They’ve actually been dead for a long time already. So has the Middle East “peace process”.
As soon as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will build 3,000 homes on “East One” (E-1), the last piece of land connecting East Jerusalem with the West Bank that is not already covered with Jewish settlements, the ritual condemnations started to flow. Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” and others went a lot further.
The British minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, warned that “the settlements plan…has the potential to alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two-state solution.” France called in the Israeli ambassador and told him that “settlements are illegal under international law…and constitute an obstacle to a fair peace based on a two-state solution.”
Even the Australian government summoned the Israeli ambassador and told him that Israeli plans to build on the land in question “threaten the viability of a two-state solution.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the plan would be “an almost fatal blow” to the two-state solution, as if it were still alive. And Netanyahu, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t actually do anything, just stone-walled and smiled.
In almost all the media coverage, the Israeli announcement is explained as an angry response for the United Nations General Assembly’s vote last month to grant the Palestinian Authority permanent observer status at the UN, which is tantamount to recognising Palestine as an independent state. As if Netanyahu were an impulsive man who had just lost his temper, not a wily strategist who thinks long-term.
Building in the “E-1” area, which covers most of the space between the Jewish settlements that ring East Jerusalem and the huge Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the Palestinian West Bank, is definitely a game-changer. It effectively separates the West Bank from East Jerusalem, the city that the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. It also almost cuts the West Bank in two. But it’s not a new idea.
The Israeli government declared its intention to build on this land fourteen years ago, when Netanyahu was prime minister for the first time. The plan was frozen in response to outraged protests from practically all of Israel’s allies, who had invested a great deal of political capital in the two-state solution. But it was never abandoned.
Successive US Presidents were assured by various Israeli governments that construction would not proceed there, but most of those governments went on preparing for the day when a pretext to break the freeze would present itself. The land is still deserted today, but there are street lights, electric cables and water mains.
Now a pretext has arisen, even if the UN General Assembly’s recognition of a Palestinian state makes little practical difference. Netanyahu has seized the opportunity, as he undoubtedly always planned to. And you can’t kill the “two-state solution.” To Netanyahu’s considerable satisfaction, it is already dead.
Creating two independent states, Israeli and Palestinian, separated by the “green line” that was Israel’s border until it conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, was the goal of the 1993 Oslo Accords. That’s what the “peace process” was all about, but it was really doomed when Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister signed the Oslo deal, was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish fanatic in 1995.
Netanyahu was elected prime minister after Rabin’s death, and spent the next three years stalling on the transfers of land and political authority to the Palestinian Authority that were required under the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, he supported a vastly expanded programme of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, although it was obvious that this would ultimately make a Palestinian state impossible.
After a two-year interval when the Labour Party under Ehud Barak formed a government and seriously pursued a final peace settlement with the Palestinians, the Israeli right recovered power in 2001 and has relentlessly pursued project of settling Jews on Palestinian territory ever since.
The number of Jews living in the West Bank has doubled in the past twelve years, and they now account for one-fifth of the population there. Jewish settlements, roads reserved for Jewish settlers, and Israeli military bases and reservations now cover 40 percent of the West Bank’s territory. But to retain US support, Netanyahu still has to pretend that he is really interested in a two-state solution.
That’s why he had to wait for the right excuse before building on “E-1” and sealing East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. But he always intended to kill off the “peace process,” and in practice he succeeded long ago.
Why do his Western allies in the United States and elsewhere put up with this fraud? Because they cannot think of anything else to do.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 7 and 12. (“Even…smiled”; “Successive…mains”; and “After…since”)
5 November 2012
The One-State Solution
By Gwynne Dyer
“Everybody knows how this will end,” wrote Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s best-known journalists, in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot recently. “There will be a bi-national (state).” The “two-state solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead; long live the “one-state solution.”
The two-state solution, promised by the Oslo Accords of 1993, was the goal of the “peace process” of the past twenty years. It envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state in the one-fifth of the former colony of Palestine that did not end up under Israeli rule after the war of 1948. That Palestinian mini-state, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would live alongside Israel in peace, and the long, bitter struggle over Palestine would end happily.
That Palestinian state is no longer a viable possibility, mainly because there are now half a million Jewish settlers living amongst the two million Palestinians in the West Bank and former East Jerusalem. “I do not give up on the two-state solution on ideological grounds,” wrote Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger in September. “I give up on it because it will not happen.”
The greatest triumph of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, has been to make the two-state solution impossible. Both men pretended to accept the Oslo Accords in order to ward off foreign pressure on Israel, but both worked hard and successfully to sabotage them by more than tripling the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank in only twenty years.
Now the job is done, and it is not only Israelis who can read the writing on the wall. Moderate Palestinians, never all that enthralled with the prospect of a tiny “independent” country completely surrounded by the Israeli army, are also giving up on the two-state idea. As Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords, wrote recently: “We must seriously think about closing the book on the two-state solution.”
So the one-state solution is creeping back onto the agenda, if only tentatively. The current Israeli government will have nothing to do with it, since endless, futile talk about an independent Palestinian state serves Netanyahu’s purposes so well. But one day there will be a different government in Israel, and the Palestinians will still be there. What are the odds that the one-state solution might then get real traction?
In a sense, the single state already exists: Israel has controlled the West Bank militarily since the conquest of 1967, and until recently it occupied the Gaza Strip as well. Almost 40 percent of Israelis already support a solution that would simply incorporate the West Bank into Israel permanently.
But what would Israel do with those two million extra Palestinians who would then live within the country’s expanded borders? Combine them with the million and a half Palestinians in Israel, the descendants of those who were not driven out in 1948, and there would be 3.5 million Palestinians in a one-state Israel that included almost all the land west of the Jordan River.
Add the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who will number another 2 million in five years time, and there would be 5.5 million Palestinians in Israel. That would mean there were almost as many Palestinians in Israel as there are Jews.
That unwelcome prospect is probably why Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew all Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and sealed the border in 2005: if there were ever a one-state solution, he didn’t want those extra two million Palestinians to be part of it. He did want to keep the West Bank, on the other hand – but even without the Gaza Strip, the one-state solution would produce an Israel whose population was more than one-third Palestinian.
This is precisely why an increasing number of Palestinians favour the one-state solution. They have tried guerilla war to get their lands and their political rights back, to no avail. They have tried terrorism, which didn’t work either. They tried negotiation for twenty years, and that didn’t work. So maybe the best tactic would be to change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an international problem to a civil rights problem.
So the Palestinians should just accept the permanent annexation of the West Bank by Israel, argue the one-staters. Indeed, they should actively seek it. They are already Israeli subjects, by every objective measure of their condition. If they become Israeli citizens instead, then the question of their status becomes a civil rights issue, to be pursued non-violently – and perhaps with a greater chance of success.
That is the logic of the pro-one-state argument among the Palestinians, and it is flawless if you assume that Palestinians would enjoy full rights of citizenship once the West Bank was legally part of Israel. But that is rather unlikely, as the status of Israel’s existing Palestinian citizens already demonstrates. They are much poorer and less influential politically than their Jewish fellow-citizens.
A new public opinion poll in Israel by the Dialog polling group reveals that almost 70 percent of Israeli Jews would object to giving West Bank Palestinians the vote even if Israel annexed the territory they live in. The only alternative is an apartheid-style state where only the Jewish residents have rights, but most Israelis seem quite relaxed about that. The Palestinians are probably heading up another blind alley.
But then, all the alleys are blind.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6, 10 and 11. (“So…traction”; and “Add…Palestinian”)
1 May 2012
After the “Peace Process”
By Gwynne Dyer
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, were supposed to lead, through a “peace process”, to the final solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two sovereign states living side by side in peace. It would have been a sulky, grumpy peace, and the Palestinians would only have got a tiny, overcrowded, impoverished and completely demilitarised country, but at least they would have had a state at last.
The “peace process”, alas, actually died some time ago. It has been almost a decade since insiders really believed that it was going to end up in the “two-state solution” that was envisaged at Oslo. Now that the corpse has finally stopped twitching, it’s time to consider what other roads to a permanent peace settlement remain open. If any.
Yossi Beilin, then Israel’s deputy foreign minister, initiated the secret negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords 20 years ago, but now he has lost almost all hope. Last month he wrote an open letter to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, the interim body that was supposed to morph into the government of the Palestinian state once all the details had been settled. He urged Abbas to dissolve the PA.
“No one thought the PA would be there for 20 years,” he wrote. “It should have ended. So I find myself in the bizarre situation in which I am actually asking to put an end to it. But the bottom line is that, paradoxically, all those who cursed Oslo are now cherishing it.”
What Beilin means is that the Oslo agreement, which was originally “a tremendous victory for the peace camps on both sides,” has actually become a means by which those who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state can spin out the negotiations endlessly. It is now only “a device that has allowed the parties to block a two-state solution.” And who is the main culprit on the Israeli side, in his view? Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Yuval Diskin, the recently retired head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, is even blunter in condemning Netanyahu. “Forget all the stories they’re selling you in the media about how we want to talk but (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) doesn’t. We’re not talking with the Palestinians because this government has no interest in talking to the Palestinians.”
The reason, Diskin says, is because Netanyahu fears that “even the smallest step forward on this issue (of a Palestinian state)” would cause the coalition he leads to collapse. Removing at least most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a precondition for a Palestinian state, but several of the parties in Netanyahu’s coalition would immediately pull out if he agreed to do that.
“Yuval Diskin is a thug,” wrote columnist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth. “Only one thing can be said to his credit: he is telling the truth.” Moreover, it is a truth that extends beyond Netanyahu’s current government. It is almost impossible to construct a coalition in Israel that does not include some of those pro-settler parties, so not even a leader who actually favoured a Palestinian state could do what is necessary to achieve one.
That is the main reason why the two-state solution envisaged in the Oslo Accords is dead. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good alternatives.
Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords, recently wrote: “We must seriously think about closing the book on the two-state solution and turning over a new leaf.” But the only alternative is the one-state solution, and that poses equally big problems for both sides.
The single state would contain all the Jews and Palestinians who now live in the lands between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. All this land has been under Israeli control since the 1967 war, when Israel conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but almost half of the residents are Palestinians – and they have a higher birth rate than Israeli Jews.
So a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would involve either permanent Israeli military rule over a large and rapidly growing Palestinian minority, or a binational state where everybody, Jewish or Palestinian, has equal rights, including the vote. But since there are going to be more Palestinians than Jews on this land within ten years, the single state with universal suffrage would no longer be a Jewish state.
A one-state solution that does not give Palestinians equal rights, said Beilin, “means a Jewish minority dominating a Palestinian majority in a few years from now, and that is something that neither Israelis nor the world would accept.” But he adds: “Is it possible to have one state in which a Palestinian will be the prime minister or president? No, Israelis will not accept that.”
There are only three options: the two-state solution, permanent Israeli military rule over a Palestinian majority, or a single state that, although democratic, is no longer exclusively Jewish in character. Of the three, the least objectionable to all the people involved would be the two-state solution. Which is already dead in terms of Israeli domestic politics.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 13. (“Yuval..one”; and “A one-state…that”)
20 May 2011
Obama’s Fine Words
By Gwynne Dyer
Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East lasted for forty minutes, but did it say anything new? Not exactly, although it did reinstate an old rule that had been abandoned. Two years after the American president’s much-ballyhooed speech in Cairo promised a new relationship with the Muslim world, not much has changed in American policy – but a great deal has changed in the Arab world.
Obama angered Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by calling for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement consisting of two states “with permanent borders based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps (of territory).” It was a return to what was the long-standing American position until former US president George W. Bush changed it in 2004. Netanyahu’s office immediately issued a furious response.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US commitments made to Israel in 2004….Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centres in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.”
By “Judea and Samaria” Netanyahu meant the West Bank, i.e. 90 percent of the land that the Palestinians still clung to after the 1948 war. The West Bank has been occupied by the Israeli army since the 1967 war, and Israel has built so many “settlements” on it that almost 20 percent of the population of the West Bank is now Jewish.
Bush said in 2004 that the settlements could stay, even though that made the concept of a Palestinian state completely infeasible. (The settlements control more than a third of the land in the West Bank.) But US policy on the issue is now back to what it was before Bush.
Some settlements might be allowed to stay, but only if the Palestinian state were compensated with land of equivalent value by Israel. (That’s what the “mutually agreed swaps” referred to.) Moreover, the “1967 lines” mean that the United States will not back Israel’s insistence that its army remains in the Jordan valley, along the border between the promised Palestinian state and Jordan.
Netanyahu’s coalition government would instantly collapse if he agreed to any of this, so he wouldn’t agree even if Obama twisted his arm very hard. In any case, there was no hint in the speech that Obama was going to bring serious pressure on Israel to change its position.
So there has been a rhetorical return to long-standing US policy after the Bush aberration, but no evidence that Obama will push the “peace process” forward. As far as the democratic revolutions of the “Arab spring” are concerned, he gave them warm verbal support – but only so long as they don’t damage American interests. There was, for example, not a single mention of Saudi Arabia in his speech.
And for all of Obama’s rhetoric about how wonderful the revolutions are, it was clear that he had little idea how big the transformation in the Middle East actually is. Particularly with regard to the Israeli -Palestinian dispute, the future will not be like the past.
We had a foretaste of that a week ago, when thousands of Palestinian demonstrators commemorating the anniversary of the “nakba” (disaster), the expulsion of their people in 1948 from what is now Israel, surged up against Israel’s borders, and in one place actually breached them. About a dozen of them were killed, although they were mostly non-violent, but this was something new – and we will be seeing a lot more of it.
The issue of the Palestinian “refugees” of 1948 has been on a back burner for a long time, with Israel adamant that the vast majority of them must never return as that would dilute Israel’s Jewishness. Besides, says the Israeli government, they fled voluntarily.
That was always a bad argument. Israeli historians long ago discredited the idea that the flight of the Palestinian population was voluntary, and in any case it doesn’t matter. Under international law, if people flee their homes during a war, they are legally entitled to return to those homes when the fighting ends.
For fifty years, Israel has successfully kept the refugees (and their descendants) out, and by and large the international community has accepted it. But now the Palestinians, emboldened by the non-violent spread of popular rule elsewhere in the Arab world, are not just saying they have the right to return. They are acting on it.
Israel will never consent to this, but if Palestinians go on trying to cross the border, despite the fact that some will get killed each time, then Arab opinion will be firmly on their side. So will the newly democratic governments of the Arab world – and other Arab regimes that are just trying to stay ahead of public anger. Israel will also find itself increasingly isolated in the wider world, especially if it continues to use violence.
This is just one example of how much has changed in the Middle East in the past few months, and American policy has not even begun to take account of it. Obama is trying, but he will have to run much faster to keep up.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 8, 11 and 12. (“So…speech”; and “The issue…ends”)
Gwynne Dyer’s latest book, “Climate Wars”, is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.