Crossing the point of no return

It could be that we have already missed the two-state option.

How many settlers in the West Bank create an irreversible new reality? (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER / FLASH 90)
How many settlers in the West Bank create an irreversible new reality?
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER / FLASH 90)
“A BIG problem in a small place.” That’s how an exasperated British statesman once characterized the Palestine question during the Mandatory period.
Since then the place has not grown any bigger nor the problem any smaller. The American failure to put together an agreement on the parameters of a permanent settlement underlines just how big the problem still is.
The current deadlock poses a challenge to all the key players. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finds himself without an agenda after putting all his eggs in the American basket. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the PA does not have a realistic Plan B. It has not been laying the groundwork for organized non-violent protest. Moreover, because of the inevitable American veto, it does not have the option of gaining recognition for a Palestinian state through the UN Security Council.
Worse: The political community in the West Bank is disintegrating.
The regime does not have wide-based legitimacy or functioning democratic institutions. There is bitter public protest over the abuse of force by government security agencies and the corruption of senior members of the PA.
Abbas himself is not immune. Indeed, criticism of the rais comes not only from his rival Mohammed Dahlan or Hamas, but from within his own inner circle. The public frustration at this state of affairs has already led to increased attacks by individuals against Israeli soldiers and settlers, triggering strong IDF retaliation and an escalating cycle of violence.
Israel also faces a bleak future. Since the second intifada (2000- 2005), Israeli society has shifted to the right. Large segments of the public no longer believe in the prospect of a negotiated settlement any time soon. Moreover, the Netanyahu government is expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank in unprecedented fashion, thereby creating a new reality on the ground.
Indeed, in Area C, which incorporates about 60 percent of the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem, there is already demographic parity between settlers and native Palestinians, if not a small numerical advantage in favor of the settlers. This lends added weight to the Israeli right’s demand for sovereignty there.
The key point is this: To all intents and purposes, 21st century Israel has deleted the Green Line of June 1967, exacerbating Jewish-Arab ethnic tensions in the West Bank and importing them into Israel proper. National Religious Jewish settlers have been moving into mixed cities, like Jaffa, Lod, Ramle and Acre, with the declared aim of “Judaizing” them.
Tensions between Jews and Arabs within the now virtually defunct 1967 lines have grown over the past few years and will only get worse.
In the past, Israeli governments hid behind the National Religious Gush Emunim settler movement.
Now expanding the settlements is declared government policy. European governments and public opinion are aware of the nexus between expanding the settlements, de facto annexation of Area C and the machinery of government.
Western European governments have been shifting the focus of their criticism from the settlers to the state itself, and are considering steps to dissociate themselves politically and economically from what is now increasingly perceived as government policy.
Indeed, Israel is laying itself open to strictures it never dreamt were possible. And it is not anti-Semitism that is driving the Europeans; rather, it is their own colonial past from which they have distanced themselves and their reluctance to be seen to be aiding and abetting anything of the kind.
Peace activists often tend to declare that this is “the last chance” or that “time is running out” for the two-state solution. But behind every last chance they always manage to identify one more and their peace clocks keep on ticking. They never define the point of no return.
For example, how many housing units in Jerusalem and Area C or how many settlers in the West Bank create an irreversible new reality? It is very possible that we have already crossed the red line and that we need to revise our basic working assumptions and our political plans. After almost half a century, the term “occupation” is somewhat anachronistic and does not reflect reality on the ground.
It could be that we have already missed the two-state option as commonly understood. It is time to update both the diagnosis and the cure.  Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, is a leading member of the 2003 Geneva Initiative for a two-state solution