Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have resumed – but over time it will, once
again, become clear that a full resolution to the conflict, including
Palestinian statehood, is not in the cards. The reasons are plentiful and
self-evident; not only is the very concept of separate Palestinian nationhood,
(as historians of the Palestinian national movement themselves have admitted)
largely contrived and recent Palestinian Arabs are a fundamentally tribal and
clannish society whose separate parts often have closer ties with Arab societies
and families in other countries than with their supposed compatriots.
has the record since the Oslo agreements 20 years ago relating to Palestinian
governance been very encouraging. To be fair, the Palestinian Authority has
faced numerous, not easily surmountable obstacles – both from the outside and
self-made – but on the whole, it is hard to be very sanguine about the chances
of such an artificial, demographically challenged, economically, politically and
territorially constrained entity to become anything but another failed Middle
East state (especially if it will have to absorb hundreds of thousands of
These, of course, are only some of the reasons for
skepticism. On top of the persistent quandary with regard to the “core issues,”
i.e. the so-called “right of return,” Jerusalem (twice: once as to its political
status, and then again with regards to the control of the Temple Mount/Haram
al-Sharif), and the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as the state of
the Jewish people.
All the cited negatives should, however, not be
construed to mean that the socalled “one-state solution” is a
On the contrary, it would probably be affected by all of the
above drawbacks, and then some.
The statement that “one state” would be
incompatible with Israel being either democratic or Zionist or even Jewish may
have become an over-used truism – but it happens to be correct. When Zeev
Jabotinsky, many years before the Holocaust, envisaged the future Jewish state
to include a sizable but patriotic (“patriotic” in terms of the Jewish state,
that is) or at least pliable Arab minority, he counted on a massive Jewish
majority, nor could he have been aware of how the Middle East and the Arab world
in particular would look in the future.
His concept of the “iron wall”
was correct, namely that only Jewish military superiority would convince the
Arabs to accept a Jewish state and eventually live in peace with it – and this
concept was shared, and practiced, by David Ben- Gurion (though not using this
term). It is valid today no less than it was in Jabotinsky’s and Ben-Gurion’s
days, but it is not applicable, in the long term, to the reality of an Arab
majority, or even large minority, inside a de facto Jewish- Arab
Another factor speaking against “one statism” is that it would
inevitably create a chasm between Israel and the Jewish world which would find
it increasingly difficult to empathize with what in fact had become a binational
So, are all bets off? Does this mean the status quo should, or
could, be perpetuated? Though those who have said for the past 46 years that it
was “unsustainable” have so far been wrong, the basic fact is that the Arabs in
the “territories” don’t want their lives to be run by Israel and, no less
importantly, most Israelis do not want this either.
As the present
bilateral talks (really trilateral, which may not be a wholly positive
precedent) go on, approaching the end of the nine-month timeline the US has
allocated for them it will transpire that investment in the effort to reach a
permanent solution, including Palestinian statehood, will show increasingly
Sooner or later, the US and Israel, each for its own
reasons (though some of those will be shared) – although not the Palestinians
whose strategic aim is deadlock and tactic is raising conditions or employing
violence or both, in order to return to the UN – will start looking for a magic
formula so as not to admit failure.
But perhaps they won’t have to look
too far; on September 17, 1978, almost 35 years ago to the day, at Camp David, a
“framework for peace in the Middle East to establish an autonomous
self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza and to fully implement
Security Council resolution 242” was concluded (in light of recent events,
identifying overall peace in the Middle East with the Palestinian issue looks
ironic, not to say disingenuous).
The “framework” further stated that the
planned arrangements “should give due consideration both to the principle of
self-government by the inhabitants (of the “territories”) and to the legitimate
security concerns of the parties concerned,” spelling out, among other things,
that Israeli forces would stay in “specified security locations,” which Moshe
Dayan pointed out at the time must be reinforced by a civilian infrastructure,
The Palestinians, true to their habit of never missing
an opportunity to miss an opportunity, rejected the autonomy concept out of
hand. What followed was Madrid and Oslo, which the Palestinians undermined by
resorting to either violence or procrastination, or both.
things have changed since then (though not Palestinian rejectionism and
intransigence), some have not.
Israel is still mainly concerned with
security – even more so today, given Iran’s aggressive designs, Hamas,
Hezbollah, al- Qaida, etc. – and it won’t allow the Palestinians to play open
house to any of the above; demilitarization and preventing military alliances
aimed at Israel are focal principles in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
acceptance of any formula for a settlement, which must also include Israel’s
right to maintain security (perhaps in conjunction with Jordan) along the Jordan
The Palestinians, though not fully sovereign in the traditional
and largely outdated sense, would, as stated at the time (in a US 1993 draft
proposal), have “real control over decisions that affect their lives and fate,”
and this could conceivably include non-security related foreign relations and
One may assume similar ideas were also in the mind of George W.
Bush in making the “settlement-bloc” proposals, as well as at least partly in
the proposed “Road Map.”
Begin’s ideas for the Palestinian Autonomy back
in 1978 were probably too narrow, but in view of developments since they could
be expanded and adapted without infringing on their central precepts or on
Israel’s basic objectives and rights.
Anything agreed upon by the parties
could be either permanent or provisional.
True to form, the Palestinians
will probably continue to say no to anything which would oblige them to agree to
compromise on any of the important issues, but this should not discourage Israel
from making proposals of its own.
Agreement with the Palestinians is, of
course, the preferable option, but the possibility of unilateral Israeli steps
should not be ruled out altogether, either. According to the French, one always
returns to one’s first love – Palestinian Autonomy is not necessarily anybody’s
first or lasting love, but it may still have its day.
The author is a
former ambassador to the US.