It took the Palestinian national movement and its representative organization the PLO (formed in 1964) 24 years to formally accept the existence of Israel and the two-state solution. Twenty-three years later, we are approaching the time when the Palestinian national movement and the PLO will abandon the idea of creating a Palestinian state next to Israel in favor of demanding full political rights within Israel.
Since 1937, when the Peel commission advocated the partition of Palestine-Eretz Yisrael into a Jewish state and an Arab/Palestinian state, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been defined as territorial. A territorial conflict is resolvable because you can divide the territory in question and allow each national movement to have a territorial expression. The main issues concern the delineation of borders, how to manage possible shared areas, border management, allocation, use and preservation of shared natural resources and the preserving and protecting of the environment, economic relations, security arrangements and the post-conflict issues of reconciliation.
If partition is no longer possible or desirable, the territorial conflict is transformed into what I call an identity conflict. An identity conflict is when two or more separate groups fight to determine which will be dominant in determining the nature and character of the territory. Territorial conflicts are easily resolvable.
Identity conflicts are not.
The best example from modern times is what happened in the former
Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia broke up, those areas which had a clear
territorial national identity could secede and form a nation-state –
Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Bosnia and Herzegovina, on
the other hand, were territories with mixed populations of Serbs, Croats
and Bosniac Muslims, and no territorial solution was available.
Bosnia became the classic national-ethnic identity conflict. A
national-ethnic identity conflict is almost impossible to resolve as
long as national-ethnic identity remains how people define themselves.
In this situation, violent conflict is almost unavoidable. In Bosnia it
rapidly became a matter of everyone against everyone for everything. In
four years, 150,000 were killed. It was a society that went insane. The
end result was a ceasefire whereby essentially parallel states have been
established over the territory. The situation remains extremely
fragile, to the extent that people are almost afraid to talk about the
conflict, knowing that even talk can easily lead to more violence.
We are close to losing the opportunity to divide Israel-Palestine into
two states. The Palestinian leadership says its decision to go to the UN
is its last attempt to save this solution. They see increased
settlement activity, construction of the separation barrier which takes
away more of their land, the Jordan valley being systematically closed
off to them, increasing voices from within the Israeli government which
say that no solution is possible. All this plus the failure of 18 years
of peace process are now withering away support within Palestine of what
was a majority in favor of the two-state solution. A growing number of
Palestinians are saying they no longer think it is possible to divide
the land. This call has been made by Palestinian intellectuals and
Palestinian leftist groups since at least the second intifada. Now you
will hear more and more people all around the West Bank who no longer
believe in this solution. They don’t clearly articulate what the
alternative is, but people are speaking loudly about what they call “the
When I discuss the issue with them, I say there is no such thing as a
one-state solution, if solution means the end of the conflict. The
one-state option, I say, is a recipe for continuing the conflict for at
least another generation. Neither Jews nor Palestinians are really
interested in sharing the same state, and neither side is willing to
compromise on its own identity.
My perception is that Israeli decision makers are not particularly
disturbed by this emerging reality. I think they believe we can perhaps
withdraw from territories that the PA controls today – some 38% of the
West Bank divided into pockets surrounded by Israeli settlements – and
allow them to have the kind of autonomy they enjoy today, perhaps with
voting rights in Jordan. Some perhaps believe they can even add some
communities of Palestinian citizens of Israel to that Palestinian
Autonomous zone (they can even call it PAZ in Hebrew to make it sound
nice). These Israeli leaders actually believe that the Palestinians, the
Arab world, Europe or even the US will accept this situation.
But they will not. A situation in which Israel controls the entire
territory between the Jordan River and the sea, and allows different
sets of rights to exist based on national-ethnic identity, will be
called under the best circumstances Israeli apartheid. Israel will lose
it moral right to exist as a nation. Israel will lose the ability to
claim it is a democracy. The Israeli and Palestinian people will suffer
beyond imagination once the situation devolves into the next round of
violence, when everyone is fighting everyone for everything. It will be
We are now living in an isolation which will only grow if we refuse to act in our own self-interest.
Unlike Masada, agreeing with those around us means working with the
international community and the Palestinian people to end our control
over them and create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and eventually
in Gaza. The Palestinians are providing the opportunity to achieve an
agreed-on formula for implementing a territorial solution to the
conflict through a UN Resolution that would be supported by the world.
We should grasp that opportunity and work with the international
community to draft the resolution and end the conflict. If we fail to
utilize this opportunity, we are likely to strike a death blow to the
two-state solution, and to our own right to live in a Jewish nation.
Gershon Baskin is founder and co-director of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information.
He hosts a weekly radio show in Hebrew on All for Peace radio, and is a voluntary columnist for
The Jerusalem Post.