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When will time run out for a two-state solution?
By Yousef Munayyer
27 April 2010
Among those involved in the Middle East peace process industry there is much talk about `time running out` for a two-state solution.
Recently, the same sentiments were echoed by the US state department, reflecting a shift in the way the Obama administration is publicly talking about the conflict.
On more than one occasion, the state department and other Obama administration figures have said that `the status quo is unsustainable`. Notice again the element of time.
Time has been running out for a two-state solution since the beginning of Israel`s colonial enterprise in occupied Palestinian territory in 1967. Yet despite this reality, analyses of the situation continue to repeat this now-meaningless cliche year after year, decade after decade. It seems that, to many, time in the Middle East can be magically be suspended. Gravity, in this war-torn region, ceases to affect the inverted hourglass.
The idea that time is running out presupposes some actual threshold beyond which time will actually have run out – a midnight hour when the Cinderella-style fantasy of a two-state solution wakes up to the embarrassing reality of facts on the ground.
However, we never hear analysts specify where the threshold lies – at what point Israeli actions of settlement construction and expansion are considered to have finally tipped it over the edge. Without this, the two-state solution becomes the consummate zombie, very much alive in the policy discussion despite being long dead in reality.
The reluctance to draw a line is founded in fears that the line may have already been crossed. Recognition that it has been crossed would, in fact, render the two-state discussion dead and force the policy discussion into an arena that is very much taboo in Washington. This is a discussion that involves three outcomes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: continued apartheid, ethnic cleansing, or a bi-national state. The first two are unconscionable; the last is not palatable in a staunchly pro-Israel city like Washington.
However, the consequences of not drawing a line at all are far more severe. They result in a climate where Israel feels that its continued colonisation of the West Bank will not have consequences, and the facade of a two-state discussion can continue ad infinitum.
Some argue that facts on the ground do not jeopardise a two-state solution, and that all that is needed to keep the zombie walking is to have enough people on both sides – especially the Palestinian side – who believe in it. As long as there exists a Palestinian partner who will carry the two-state mantra, this argument assumes, it doesn`t matter how small or disconnected the territory left for the Palestinian state will be.
Sadly, this also does little to curtail Israel`s colonial ambitions and only encourages the Israelis to constantly leverage their bargaining position, since the minimum Palestinian demands can continue to shrink as long as there is a belief among some Palestinians that the two-state possibility lives.
Recent polling of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza indicates that this belief is quickly dwindling. More than ever before, Palestinians in the occupied territories are embracing the one-state outcome. Certainly, other Palestinian communities who are stakeholders in the outcome of the resolution of conflict, like those residing in Israel and those in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, would likely be more amenable a one-state outcome as well.
Regardless of one`s belief about what the preferred outcome is, there is no denying that time does march forward, even in the Middle East. With every tick of the clock, every new settlement home, wall and segregated road, we`ve marched towards the threshold – or past it.
A line must be drawn. The political dynamics are such that policymakers in Washington fear issuing an ultimatum to the Israelis, and would rather rewrite the fairytale so that Cinderella never has to go home and the clock will never strike midnight.
It falls, then, on the Palestinians to draw the line. While the US and Israel perpetuate the two-state dream talk, it is the Palestinians that live in the apartheid nightmare. As long as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is willing to participate in the two-state discussion while little American pressure is put on Israel to comply with international law, the mystical perception of the Middle East as a land without time will continue.
However, the PA could declare a date by which the Israeli occupation had to end and settlements be dismantled. If this deadline is not met, the PA should dissolve the authority and convert the disjointed national movement into a broad civil rights movement seeking equal rights in a bi-national state. They would surely make many in Washington and Tel Aviv take notice.
Of course, the PA`s entrenched interests and intuitions may make it incapable of doing this, but the Palestinian public is moving in this direction anyway.
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