Borderline Views: Thinking beyond the two-state box

Given the opposition to a binational state and the inability to implement two states, there are alternatives that provide a new range of opportunities.

February 15, 2011 01:24
4 minute read.
Soldier patrols in Hebron

Soldier patrols in Hebron 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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What has not been written or said about future borders with a Palestinian state? The demarcation of the border, using the Green Line as a default, with deviations to allow for major settlement blocs, with the possibility of territorial exchanges as compensation for the land taken by the settlements. This has been discussed and mapped ad nauseam for the past decade. From Oslo through Geneva and through countless Track II and other informal negotiations, the parameters are fairly similar.

Given the fact that, as in most negotiations of this type, the final 10 percent is always left to just hours before the formal signing of the document, as each side plays its last one-upmanship cards, there are not a great number of new ideas concerning the borders – or, for that matter, concerning many of the other issues on the agenda – which can be put forward at this stage.

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But even speaking of the actual delineation of a border assumes that it will still be possible, at some stage, to implement a two-state solution, and this is by no means a certainty.

WHEN A two-state solution was still possible, Israel was not prepared to sign on. By the time two states became a consensus position (largely due to a fear of future demographic trends rather than any real desire to give up the occupied territories or recognize the basic right of the Palestinians to statehood), it has become almost impossible to implement.

The rapid growth of the settlement infrastructure in areas far from the border, and which would thus have to be forcefully evacuated, has made it exceedingly difficult for any government to contemplate a withdrawal to the Green Line or thereabouts. Moreover, neither side today has a leadership which is able to carry their domestic constituencies with them, even if they showed the faintest desire to do so.

Moving forward on the peace front therefore requires thinking outside the box.

ONE ATTEMPT in this direction was the recently completed project of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at Hebrew University, published last week. Headed by Prof. Shlomo Hasson, a political geographer and planner, and composed of a small group of academics, lawyers, economists and ex-security personnel, the group attempted to rethink its way through the two-state morass. It compared the implications of alternative scenarios ranging from “no solution” and continuation of occupation, to a two-state solution with recognized boundaries or even a “one-state” binational alternative.

The latter is no longer seen as the domain of the ideological Left, but an undesired outcome of the failure to implement some two-state solution.

In addition to these three scenarios – only one of which (the two-state solution) requires the demarcation of borders – two alternative interim scenarios were discussed. The first is a situation of temporary borders, enabling territorial contiguity for the Palestinian entity/state. It moves the attempts at conflict resolution one step forward while recognizing the practical difficulties involved in implementing the final political and territorial solution.

The Palestinian state within the temporary borders would have full sovereignty and would be recognized internationally, while some of the key issues, such as the permanent boundaries and the status of Jerusalem, would remain unresolved.

The second alternative is a situation of “double” borders, in which Israel would undertake a unilateral withdrawal. For purposes of administration, law and order and even sovereignty, the Palestinian state would be autonomous, but because of the inability to reach an agreement, Israel would continue to insist on a second border along the Jordan Valley, arguing that this is essential for its security, and that these latter issues can only be resolved as part of a full political agreement.

Although we are experiencing a period of relative stability, with few incidents of terrorism or violence, this could implode at any moment. Israel must not let itself again be deluded into a false sense of security, as though it can continue to manage the present situation.

This has always been a weakness – rather than using periods of stability and strength to force the peace process forward, it prefers the “do nothing” option until the next crisis, such as a new intifada, breaks out. By that time, the solutions which the country’s leaders were prepared to put on the table will no longer be relevant, whereas they may have been acceptable a few years previously.

IN THE international realm, Israel is perceived as the main reason for the non-implementation of Palestinian independence. The international condemnation will only become stronger if the present impasse is allowed to continue.

It is therefore for Israel to begin to implement one of these two alternatives as an indication that it really does desire to reach a full peace even if, as it argues, the political situation on the ground makes that impossible in the short term.

The Sasha Center study examined the legal implications of each of the five scenarios, as well as the expected international reactions. Given the widespread opposition to a single binational state and the present inability to implement two states, here are alternatives which, while far from perfect, provide a new range of opportunities to move forward. Our recent history has demonstrated that sitting back and waiting has always been detrimental, so the two sides would be well advised to think out of the box of traditional solutions if they want to move forward.

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics. The views expressed are his alone.

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