Israel announced last week that it would annex 1,000 acres of land owned by Palestinians to build a city for Jewish citizens. The state department noted this is “counterproductive… to a two-state solution”. Someone should let the State Department onto a secret. The two-state solution is dead, and has been dead for almost 40 years.
It died when Menachem Begin’s very first Likud government dramatically expanded settlements in the West Bank. No Likud government since has deviated from this path. No Palestinian leader will ever tell their people they should give up Jerusalem or the Jordan Valley, and nor should they. The Israeli electorate is not ready to make peace either, since they’ve been told a fairy tale about the expulsions of 1948. The hard right has begun to fantasize that they might be able to get away with another mass expulsion.
The only real question facing Israelis and Palestinians is one of timing. When will the Palestinian population be granted equal rights in the one state that has existed for 47 years.
This will happen when US policy changes (unless Israel decides to become a Russian client state like Assad’s Syria). US political institutions are not sympathetic to Palestine. Individual politicians may be sympathetic, but in their official capacity they cannot be. They cannot be supportive while the American population at large is uninterested. Remedying this will take three steps.
1. Stop talking about a “two-state solution”
Outside of diplomatic circles in Geneva, New York and DC, no one knows what the “two-state solution” is. Most Americans certainly don’t. Every failed summit costs the Palestinian people more years under a brutal military occupation. Worse, if Israel decided to give up the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza tomorrow (how likely is that), the resulting Palestinian state would cover 22% of Israel-Palestine, be split in two unconnected pieces, and need to support over half the people (not counting refugees outside Israel/Palestine).
Israel’s government is content to participate in “Peace Talks” that go nowhere while building settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. It’s time to change the dynamic.
2. Speak in terms Americans understand like “Equal Rights” and “Freedom”.
Tragically, not enough minds will be changed by images of dead children and innocent civilians. That did not work in the 1982 Lebanon war, it did not work in the Intifada, it does not work in the dozens of West Bank towns that stage protests every week, it did not work in Gaza in 2009 or 2012 nor in 2014.
But the Palestinian cause does resonate strongly with American ideals like: “Civil Rights”, “Equal Opportunity”, “Voting Rights”, “All Men are created Equal” and “Freedom”. It will not be with “Liberty” for example, that is a term co-opted by the American right, and Bibi Netanyahu is far more effective at speaking to them than any Palestinian will ever be. Israel’s official policies carry negative connotations, and they should described as “Jim Crow Laws”, “Separate and Unequal”, “Housing Discrimination”.
Terms such as “Right of Return”, Green Line” or “Pre-67 Borders” are not part of the American experience and we tune out when we hear them.
To have an impact, the Palestinian struggle for freedom must be presented as:
- A Civil Rights Movement: To gain a vote in the government that controls your lives and the right to travel, live and work where you wish in your country.
- Jim Crow on the Jordan: Palestinians and Israelis live under two sets of unequal laws that are enforced unequally, point out how similar this is to South African Apartheid or the American South prior to the 1960s.
- Native Americans in the 1900s: The treatment of the Negev bedouin is very similar.
- American Revolution: This is perhaps the most powerful image. Come up with your own list of Israeli grievances, like the Declaration of Independence.
3. Be prepared to act.
The current Israeli administration will not easily accept a single, “bi-national” state in Israel-Palestine with equal rights for all. They will try to Palestinians that a shrunken West Bank could become San Marino and Gaza could turn into Monaco. They use every argument to limit the independence of any Palestinian state and shrink its territory.
If you do manage to change American opinion though, then Israel will be forced to negotiate and stay till there is a resolution. Before this happens, the Palestinian people have to know what they want. Do they want a state in 20% of the land your grand-fathers inhabited?
In my view, a partition will eventually lead to more bloodshed because neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be satisfied with it nor should they.
A just solution is one where all Palestinians and all Israelis are treated as human beings who have the right to live and work in their land where-ever they please. This was the original aim of the Palestinian resistance. This was the dream of many Zionists till the few who dreamed of a state with a Jewish majority became ascendant. Of course, that state had to be built on the rubble of Palestinian villages and neighborhoods, it has to be sustained by a system of inequality and a military occupation. A single state is the only for Palestinians to save themselves from oppression and rescue their Israeli brothers and sisters from becoming oppressors.