The recent attempts by Jordan’s King Abdullah to restart the peace process do
bring to mind several lingering questions: Is the peace process dead, as some
people maintain, and if so, who killed it? If the answer to the first question
is yes (never mind about the second one), a third immediately comes to mind:
What do we do now?
If there was anything that both Israeli and Palestinian
pundits and experts seemed to agree on at the end of 2011 it was that there is
no longer a peace process. Imprisoned Palestinian Fatah commander Marwan
Barghouti emphatically declared from prison that peace talks with Israel were
finished, adding: “there is no point in making desperate attempts to breathe
life into a dead body.”
Similarly, pundits all over the Israeli press
lamented that 2011 was the year when the peace process was killed. The final
proof was delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when he
quipped, after his unsuccessful UN bid, that it was now perhaps time to
dismantle the PA, whose purpose it had been to implement and carry out the
letter of the Oslo Agreement.
However, while both sides blamed one
another for the frozen process (the Palestinians blame settlements and the
Israelis blame Palestinian intransigence and continued violence), what had
slipped away and died was not so much the process itself (after all, anyone can
talk, even bitter enemies – if they have something to talk about), but rather
the formula by which the talks were supposed to be conducted.
for negotiations to be successful, there needs to be a formula that contains
basic guidelines to frame what the parties are jointly trying to achieve. In
other words, it was this formula, not the process itself, which had died and
gone to negotiation heaven. As Carlo Strenger rightly pointed out in Haaretz
a recent op-ed, it is the two-state solution that is finally dead.
moment of reckoning came when he realized that Israel had cleverly pre-empted
his efforts to force a two-state solution on Israel through the UN. Not only did
he finally realize that Israel was not ready for a two-state solution at this
particular moment in time, but he finally became convinced (despite Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s assurances to the contrary) that Israel would
never be ready for a two-state solution.
THIS MOMENT, then, presents
itself as both a challenge and an opportunity. For the first time Palestinians –
as they come to grips with this new reality – will go through a period not
knowing what they want, since they have realized that what they want is truly
unattainable. In other words, they are without a Plan B.
In some ways,
Israelis and Palestinians now find themselves in the same boat: torn between
factions within their own societies that have absolutely opposite goals.
Israelis are not new to this phenomenon, as they are eternally stuck in a
situation where they cannot have what they want so they are unable to choose
between the unacceptables. How can they possibly agree about what to do about
the Palestinians, whom they do not want, when they are living on the land that
they do want?
Thus, despite openly declaring support for a two-state solution in
2009, the Netanyahu government has continued its settlement policies (which for
all intents and purposes implement a one-state solution) unabated. Forget
Netanyahu’s assurance to the UN that settlements are a product of the conflict
rather than its core; no one can deny that such activities make the two-state
solution more difficult – if even just a teeny bit since settlements happen to
be located on land that Palestinians want for their state. Thus, logically,
Palestinians and the world are left to believe that Israel does not want a
This is where the golden opportunity comes in: Israel
is in a position to tell the world (and the Palestinians) about new, creative
plans that outline Israel’s wishes while also giving meaningful concessions to
the Palestinians (after all, that’s what negotiations are about). If it does not
want a two-state solution, then what does it want?
For over 40 years, Israel has
engaged, abandoned and re-engaged in various efforts to reach peace with the
Palestinians. However, for all those efforts, the world is still more familiar
with what Israel does not want than what it wants. If Israel wants to annex the
West Bank, then what is its preferred solution for its Palestinian inhabitants?
Mind you, like an intransigent child whose piece of cake was just eaten by a
sibling, Israelis need to accept that the cake is unfortunately no longer a
choice but that instead a decision needs to be made between a range of different
healthy crackers. Only Israel can put the two-state solution back on the table,
or re-formulate it into something new. Only Israel can define its new priorities
regarding the future of the West Bank, and only Israel can overcome the widening
gap in Israeli public opinion about that future.
Sari Nusseibeh cleverly presents the idea that Palestinians should accept
Israeli citizenship without voting rights or ability to shape the government.
This, he claims, would at least grant them the status of second-class citizens,
which is better than their current situation.
That Palestinians should
accept such an idea is extremely unlikely, but it at least provides them with a
new scenario that becomes an acceptable part of the Palestinian debate.
Obviously, a democratic Israel would not easily reconcile itself with such an
idea, and neither would future generations of stateless Palestinians, an almost
certain recipe for a future nightmare for Israel.
The final question to
determine whether the patient is really dead is thus the following hypothetical
scenario: Assume for a moment that the PA would agree to all Israeli conditions
regarding refugees, Jerusalem and settlement blocs, giving a green-light to the
creation of a two-state solution. Would Israel be able, as it was in Gaza, to
carry out the evacuation of thousands of settlers necessary for the plan to be
carried out? If the answer is no, then the two-state is truly dead and it is
time to think of new alternatives.The writer is a fellow in the TAPIR
Program at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris.