by Hugh Lovatt
28 May 2019
The continued viability of the two-state paradigm has never been as uncertain as it is today. The arrival of a US administration that has displayed an unprecedented alignment with the Greater Israel ideology of Israeli right-wingers is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors. But long before Donald Trump’s election, the two-state paradigm was already under tremendous stress. This was due in no small part to an almost perpetually stalled Middle East Peace Process, and concerted efforts by Israeli governments to undermine the prospects of Palestinian statehood, even as they consolidated Israel’s hold over East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The inability of the European Union to match its fervently held two-state policy with consequential action is, of course, another significant factor.
Whether the vision of a two-state solution lives or dies is still uncertain, although current trends are unfavourable to its long-term feasibility. What seems more certain at present, though, is that the actions of the United States and Israel are entrenching a one-state reality of unequal rights for Palestinians. How the Palestinian liberation movement responds to these challenges will be decisive. While a significant change in strategy from senior Palestinian leaders appears some way off, youth activists in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora are already articulating a new discourse.
This selection of short essays by young Palestinian thinkers provides a partial snapshot of this conversation about the continued usefulness of the two-state paradigm, and about what to demand of Europe at this critical juncture.
These opinions do not, of course, represent all Palestinian viewpoints, and there are certainly missing voices, including those of Islamists and refugees in neighbouring countries. The short pieces are nonetheless reflective of how many young Palestinians see the current situation. They provide an indication of the future direction of the Palestinian national movement. As such, they should be taken seriously by policymakers.
Yasmeen Al Khodary, writer and researcher, London/Gaza
The question of whether we should move away from the two-state paradigm or not is an obsolete one. It is hard to imagine that people still believe that this is a possibility – we are in 2019, not 1995, and so much has changed for the worse. What would a two-state solution even look like?
The people whose daily lives are actually affected by this proposition – the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank – have much more urgent concerns, like surviving. The devastating consequences of Israel’s ongoing occupation have gradually transformed the Palestinians into divided populations without any basic rights or support, faced with an array of different daily challenges: siege, military onslaughts, settlements, segregated roads, curfews, imprisonment, to name a few. Ask any Palestinian suffocating in Gaza as a result of Israel’s ongoing 12-year blockade what they think of the two-state solution. You will probably not get an answer. People are tired of talking, and are tired of repeating the same basic demand: end the occupation. This is the only paradigm that we need to adopt right now.
Zaha Hassan, human rights lawyer and visiting fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC
The past 25 years of the Oslo peace process have left Palestinians in a political and legal black hole. In the current reality, Palestinians have been boxed out of both the possibility of self-determination within their own sovereign state, and of equality of citizenship in the state of Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu refers to this as a Palestinian “state minus”.
But, for now, the choice between a single binational state or two states is a false one. Both solutions are equally remote and unobtainable at present and will be for the foreseeable future. The more urgent discussion is how to characterise the nature of the conflict today and what the international community, particularly Europe, should do to respond to it.
Palestinians have been facing settler-colonial displacement for over seven decades. To name the conflict in such terms does not mean that the international legal framework delineating Israel’s obligations as an occupying power since June 1967 becomes inapplicable or inoperable. International humanitarian law is not abandoned by demanding compliance with international human rights norms. Both legal frameworks are mutually reinforcing and provide guidance to third states on how to characterise, and respond to, Israeli actions against Palestinians.
Europe has been a trailblazer in the past, recognising the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian self-determination. Given the European Union’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights, Europe, in coordination with the United Nations, is best positioned to act as a bulwark for the protection of Palestinian rights and to lead the discussion on what is required for a durable political solution that addresses both the individual and collective claims of Palestinians.
But first the EU and its member states must recognise the reality as it exists on the ground today. Namely, that Israel has now imposed upon Palestinians a one-state reality of unequal rights perpetual occupation, and conflict.
Yara Hawari, policy fellow, Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, Ramallah
Many European Union states worry that Israel’s formal annexation of the West Bank is imminent, placing the final nail in the coffin of both the Oslo peace process and the two-state solution. While this worry undoubtedly includes concern for Palestinian rights, it fails to recognise that the Oslo discourse and the two-state paradigm has provided, over the past 26 years, complicit cover for the entrenchment of an apartheid regime from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea amounting to absolute Israeli control over Palestinian life.
Israel consistently blames the Palestinians for not being committed to peace, but it continues to colonise their lands and simultaneously ghettoise them into ever-shrinking ‘Bantustans’. The Palestinian leadership, while it is necessary to recognise its democratic and revolutionary failings, is also held hostage by the discourse of the Oslo peace process. As a result, Palestinians, along with their rights and aspirations for political sovereignty, have never been more vulnerable.
What is required is humility and honesty from EU states and a recognition that something into which they have put so much time, money, and effort has not had the desired outcome or tangible achievements.
Rather than focus on negotiations within the context of a political framework that is no longer viable, the EU should now focus on securing the internationally recognised rights of the Palestinian people wherever they may be, including by ensuring the full implementation of international humanitarian law. Through its diplomatic and trade relations with Israel, EU states can hold Israel to account for its violations and create a more level playing field.
Simultaneously, by dropping its dogged weddedness to an exclusive political solution based on two states, the EU can help create opportunities and spaces for Palestinians to think outside of the partition framework that has crippled them for so long.
Amjad Iraqi, writer, +972 Magazine, Haifa
A basic rule of policymaking is that if a plan does not produce a desired outcome, it should be revised. Unfortunately, European states dismiss this logic when it comes to the Oslo-configured Middle East Peace Process.
For years Europe has believed that the occupation is as unsustainable and undesirable to Israelis as it is to Palestinians. But that assumption has proved fatally false. Under the current conditions, Israelis can reside in homes across ‘Judea and Samaria’, enjoy the territory’s natural resources, and feel safer knowing that their ‘enemies’ in Gaza are under the army’s watchful eye. Much of Israel’s political spectrum no longer sees indefinite occupation as an interim arrangement, but as a durable solution to the Palestinian ‘problem’.
Europe’s failure to understand this calculation has left its policy ten steps behind the facts on the ground. Though the Green Line still appears as a dotted demarcation on Google Maps, it no longer exists in reality, and certainly not in the mind of the occupying power. Even as the Israeli government makes its goals unambiguous – including advancing annexation bills and the Jewish Nation State Law – European officials remain in denial over Israel’s intentions, offering concerns but imposing no costs for its deliberate erasure of the two-state solution.
The current paradigm is therefore not just defunct but detrimental. Europe must now catch up to what Palestinians have known for decades: we live in a one-state reality, governed by a complex but single regime of apartheid. Until Europe wields ‘sticks’ against that system, Israel will have every reason to believe this reality should endure.
Inès Abdel Razek, independent consultant, former adviser, Palestinian Prime Minister’s Office, Ramallah
We need to move away from the failures of the US-led Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) and the two-state solution – both of which have become interconnected exercises of political rhetoric regardless of facts on the ground. This is notably because Israel never recognised the two-state internationally agreed parameters, but even more so given the Trump administration’s moves to end Palestinian self-determination and right of return, and its unfiltered siding with the Israeli narrative.
A new political paradigm must be fleshed out. It will have to be based on international law and a people-centred approach that provides for equal rights and self-determination for both the Palestinians and Israelis. Regardless of whether this is ultimately achieved through one state or two, a new paradigm must first challenge the existing one-state reality of unending settler-colonialism, and oppose any ethnic discrimination. Peace cannot precede freedom.
At the same time, it must ensure that the demise of the traditional Oslo-configured MEPP parameters does not leave room for ambiguous interpretation and that the Israeli government does not exploit it to reinforce the current one-state apartheid reality.
The Palestinian national movement must embrace such a paradigm shift. This will entail a change in the tactics used since Oslo, making strategic use of their internationally recognised rights of return and self-determination, without the trappings of sovereignty. Diplomatically, multilateral efforts must facilitate such framing, with key geopolitical actors in the Global South and Europe taking centre-stage and replacing the counterproductive US-dominated agenda.