Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday became the sixth Israeli prime minister to utter the words “Palestinian state” – and yet the Palestinians are no nearer their goal after his speech. The conditions set out by the right-wing Israeli leader are so draconian that they effectively rule out self-determination for the Palestinians as the outcome of any negotiations before they have even started.
Netanyahu simply ignored pressure from President Obama, who had called for an immediate end to settlement building on the West Bank, making no mention of these. He shut down options about the future status of Jerusalem and blocked any prospects of a return to the area by five million exiled Palestinians by insisting on recognition of Israel as an exclusively “Jewish state”.
And to top it all, Netanyahu insisted that any future Palestinian state would have to be “demilitarised” – having no control over its borders or air space. No wonder Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti said Netanyahu had “endorsed a ghetto" and a “a state that would be subject to Israeli control”.
The fact is that even before Netanyahu’s Zionist vision of a Greater Israel to the exclusion of all other people in the area, a two-state “solution” like the one favoured by the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is simply unworkable and ought to be abandoned. You don’t have to look hard to see why.
Nearly 500,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem – 280,000 in the West Bank and a further 190,000 in East Jerusalem. There are a further 102 unauthorised outposts in the West Bank which are not officially recognised by Israel but which the authorities turn a blind eye to. Over 40% of the West Bank is taken up with Israeli infrastructure.
The settlements are illegal under international law, but Israeli governments don’t give a damn about this. The United Nations and the United States have declined to act for more than 40 years, giving the Israelis confidence to go on with their carving up of Palestinian territory. In addition to the settlements, there is the geographical fact that the West Bank and Gaza are not contiguous areas, making it extremely difficult to conceive of them as part of a viable Palestinian state. In any case, Gaza is surrounded and under siege, entirely cut off from the West Bank.
So if two states can’t and won’t work, what about having just one? As Israel’s rulers have no intention of allowing Palestinians to form a viable state, their bluff should be called. As writer and noted academic Joel Kovel has argued, it is urgent to “envision Israel beyond Zionism”. The Zionists fear a movement for a one-state solution beyond anything Hamas can throw at it. Former prime minister Yehud Olmert once admitted: “We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: ‘There is no place for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want now is the right to vote’. The day they get it we will lose everything.”
Israeli Jews have more to gain than to lose from a one secular state solution. Today they live in a militarised, divided society which is far from the co-operative paradise promised by the early Zionist founders. A new generation of leaders on both sides is needed to take this project forward. They have to find ways of making a principled appeal to Israeli Jews, including the settlers, to Israel’s Palestinian citizens and to the Palestinian masses to come together to establish a peaceful future for the region.
AWTW communications editor