Israel’s bloody military campaign in Rafah in May was but the latest blow to the infrastructure of Palestinian society in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the fall of 2000. It has been clear for some time that these assaults, coupled with the contemporaneous expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands and construction of the “separation barrier” in the West Bank, are aimed only secondarily (if at all) at achieving “security” for Israeli civilians. Primarily, Israel intends its tank incursions and aerial assassinations to break Palestinian resistance, armed and unarmed, to whatever “solution” to the conflict the Israeli government of the moment desires to dictate.
If Israel is intransigent and the Palestinians are outmatched, the Bush administration is the enabler of both conditions. In June 2002, George W. Bush’s words rang hollow when he delivered the first-ever explicit US endorsement of a Palestinian state even as Israeli tanks rolled into Ramallah for yet another time. In June 2003, Bush officially unfurled his “road map” to that state even as Israeli bulldozers plowed up Palestinian farmland to erect a concrete wall where the state is supposed to be. In April 2004, Bush told the world it owed a debt of gratitude to Ariel Sharon for his plan to “disengage” from Gaza, even as he slid the Israeli premier a promissory note for large swathes of the West Bank. At this sad, incendiary historical juncture, it is reasonable to ask whether a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains viable or represents a realistic extrapolation from the existing balance of regional and international forces.
When this magazine was founded in 1971, the editors favored a secular democratic state for Muslims, Christians and Jews in all of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. At the time, Middle East Report embraced this “one-state” solution as part of its support for not only the Palestinian struggle, but also the national liberation struggles of the “Third World,” as harbingers of revolutionary social change. In the early 1980s, the editors began to move toward qualified support for a “two-state” solution, based on the arguments that both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews deserved the right to national self-determination and that recognizing the national rights of both peoples would remove obstacles to the pursuit of greater social justice in the region.
As a global consensus formed behind the idea of a two-state solution, this magazine retained a healthy skepticism. Two-staters seemed more and more willing to ignore the right of Palestinians made refugees in 1948 to return to their homes, another right which Bush promised Sharon Israel need not respect. A self-determined Zionist state in Israel would, by its nature, be discriminatory against its non-Jewish citizens. Through the settlement project, Israel was laying claim to lands outside its internationally recognized boundaries. Was not the very framework of the state innately limiting? In keeping with the zeitgeist of the 1990s, Middle East Report criticized the two-state solution implied by the failed Oslo agreements because those accords circumvented UN resolutions and cast Palestinian rights — inalienable human rights — as matters up for negotiation.
The US and Israel were the last holdouts opposing a two-state solution. The Israeli Labor Party endorsed it only in 1996 — three years after the Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed — and Sharon, but not the majority of the Likud, did not break the right-wing taboo on uttering the words “Palestinian state” until the last two years. Yet the “two-state solution” to which Bush and Sharon refer is one to be imposed upon the Palestinians as a defeat. The “state” Sharon speaks of would be little more than a handful of cantons with limited sovereignty. Meanwhile, in the discourse of the Israeli right and left, the two-state idea is marketed with appeals to racist fears of losing the Jewish majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. This is no basis for a lasting peace.
No matter how many states may eventually be established in Israel-Palestine, the futures of both peoples are inextricably intertwined. There can be no just solution based on “separation” or one-sided Israeli military domination of the Palestinians in the name of a self-defeating concept of security. At the same time, there can be no security for either people without justice. The massive Israeli invasion of Gaza, still underway at press time, underscores the fact that the primary task of progressives is to expose Israeli sabotage of the prospects for any kind of peace, as well as US complicity in the havoc being wrought upon the Palestinians. Moreover, it is useful to recall that the UN resolutions calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 have a relevance that transcends their usual association with a particular kind of two-state solution. In fact, only after Israel withdraws will it be possible to reopen seriously — on something approaching an equal footing — the debate over the political future in Israel-Palestine.