Palestinian leaders meeting the Israelis in Annapolis, Maryland, today will be offered nothing. Instead, they will be asked to sacrifice the right of Palestinian refugees to return, to abandon Palestinians living inside Israel’s 1948 borders and to forget about the aspirations of the Palestinians living in Jerusalem and Gaza. Failed preliminary talks over many weeks mean that all those attending the US-sponsored conference know in advance that no genuine gains can be made.
What is not on offer is a Palestinian state. Where are its borders? Who will control its borders with other countries? Where is its capital? Who has the right to live in it? By consistently postponing the solution of these crucial questions, the Zionist state of Israel has been able to continue to create “realities on the ground” that make any viable Palestinian state impossible. The West Bank and Gaza are two separate prisons. Gaza is a hell on earth for those who live there. On the West Bank, Palestinians continue to be deprived of their land and their right to education and work.
West Bank-based Palestinian leaders have been drawn so deeply into the so-called two-state solution, that they are in danger of sacrificing their own legitimacy to try and achieve it. But 14 years on from the signing of the Oslo Accords, the peace process has become a trap from which the Palestinians must find an exit. Tony Blair’s announcement last week of a handful of meaningless economic initiatives underlined the fact that the only people to benefit from the two-state process so far are a handful of well-off Palestinian businessmen, and the group who are involved in administering and policing the enclave.
Jewish settlements continue to expand into substantial towns, sucking in resources of land and water. The borders between Gaza and the West Bank and neighbouring countries have been cleared of housing and the Israeli army has seized strips of land so that it can control access in perpetuity. The Israeli government has no intention of removing its illegal wall, and further plans include Israeli-only roads. The conditions of most Palestinians have worsened since 1993 and the conflict has claimed more than 4,000 Palestinian lives and more than 1,000 Israeli lives.
A far more significant conference than the one in Annapolis took place in London recently. Organised by the London One State Group - Palestinian and Jewish students who work together - it attracted more than 300 academics, activists and students from all over the world to discuss an alternative way forward that challenges the right of Zionism to rule over a state based on religious exclusivity.
The conference heard from many speakers that the Palestine national cause – made up of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, those living as refugees in other countries and those living as second-class citizens within the borders established in 1948 – has become more and more divided as a result of the doomed two-state process.
At the same time Israeli Jews are more and more sceptical both about the possibility of a peaceful settlement of the conflict, and – after the defeat of the Israeli army in Lebanon – the chance of a military solution. The conference concluded that the time is absolutely right to revive and bring up to date the proposition that the only way forward for Palestinians and Jews is the establishment of a single, democratic, secular state from the Sea to the Jordan River, where all the people of the region can live together with equal rights.