The generally accepted approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the creation of a Palestinian state and the peaceful coexistence of Palestinians and Jews living side-by-side. The Oslo Accords in 1993 aimed at a two-state solution and former President George W. Bush formally accepted this in his infamous ‘Road Map‘ and President Obama continues to push down this road. Indeed, finding a two-state solution has been officially accepted by the Israeli government.
The attraction of a two-state solution is derived by default from the unattractiveness of the other options. Israel can continue its oppressive occupation, drive all Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza or forget the Zionist dream of a Jewish state and create a bi-national state with the Palestinians. All three options are near impossible: the first is logistically and morally difficult and undermines the Israeli democracy; the second would be a second Nabka, creating much more anti-Israeli feelings and would further isolate Israel internationally; and the third is rejected by nearly all of Israel and the Jewish identity is important to most Israelis. So a two-state solution it is then.
Or is it? Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator wrote a paper last December about the possibility of giving up on a two-state solution and pursuing a bi-national state. Erekat says that he still prefers the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but the refusal of Israel to truly return to the negotiating table is forcing the consideration of a bi-national state. In the December paper, the paper focuses on the right of return of Palestinians in a bi-national state and proposes 15,000 returning refugees over the span of 10 years. If 15,000 new Arabs entered Israel, the Jewish state would demographically no longer by considered Jewish.
[tweetmeme] This is not the first time that Palestine has suggested that Israel intransigence would lead to impossibility on the two-state path and it probably will not be the last. The ‘Jewishness’ of Israel is a trait that most in the country believe is the most defining characteristic of their country and Israel is very adverse to losing this characteristic. Indeed, Israeli PM once held Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state (an admission that would destroy the Palestinian right of return) as a prerequisite for negotiations. In a display of how big the schism in perception is, many Palestinians (and others around the world) feel that defining Israel as Jewish is at best exclusionary and at worst racist and incompatible with the modern understanding of democracy.
Erekat, of course, knows and understands the Jewish fear of losing Israel’s Jewish identity. The question is whether Palestine accepting a bi-national state is plausible or simply a ploy into scaring Israel back to the negotiating table. In 2008 the then chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, played on these same identification fears in order to force peace talks forward, but – considering the peace talks have moved nowhere – the threat did not succeed.
Erekat’s December paper will not bring the Israelis running to make a deal with Palestine because of its fears; Israel is well in control of the situation and can mandate when and how the peace talks are going to evolve and Palestinian nationalism has evolved to the point that Palestinians will reject a bi-national state as well.
Personally, I think that the desire for an independent Palestinian state and the Israeli need to remain a Jewish state immediately rules a one-state, bi-national solution and relegates any suggestion of one to a nonstarter. Erekat’s paper will undoubtedly reawaken Israel’s fears of identification, but will do little to promote the peace talks. If anything, Palestinian nationalists will view Erekat’s paper with disdain and weaken the Palestinian leadership even further.
It is impossible to know whether Erekat’s suggestion was sincere or strategic, but suggesting solutions that are unacceptable to both sides improves nothing and tarnishes Erekat’s own standing among his Palestinian supporters.
Photo from MEPeace