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Hichem Karoui: How about bi-nationalism?
June 10, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

What makes the Israelis think that the Palestinians would admit unilateral steps that the Israelis themselves did not admit from them? As the “give and take” approach seemed sinking along with the peace process, Defence Minister Ehud Barak is reportedly (New York Times, May 30) considering to impose the borders of a future Palestinian state!

However, it is not clear how he intends to “impose” those borders on the Palestinians. Is Israel going at last to recognise a Palestinian state, though within borders of its own choice, not necessarily agreed on them in negotiations? Is Israel going to evacuate its forces and people from the territories thus designated as “Palestinian state”?

When the Palestinians, fed up with Israel’s intransigence, have resorted to the UN applying for statehood, it was said: this is deadly wrong behaviour. The US would veto such a demand. You cannot get a state without negotiations. Today, unilateral action is considered by Israel. As time passes by, the impression that the two-state solution is being smothered by all the parties — the US included — is gaining potency.

Anyway, so far, nobody has been able to prove that this solution is well the best for this conflict. After all, why should it be the “only” solution? If we take the Republic of South Africa for example, we see that after a very long and violent conflict, which exhausted all the parties, there was no choice left but to share the country and live together in peace.

The concept of “unilateral action” as the only choice left to both parties is based on a failure finding, and certainly not on a serene vision. On the Palestinian side, it is just political manoeuvres, reaction under an oppressive reality, while the wise know that, without the means to impose those choices (political and military) it is an impasse. On the Israeli side, it is the same kind of irrational behaviour that led to believing Israel could force its way and impose its choices on millions of Palestinians and get away with it. This is for both sides a non-concluding conclusion.

From reviewing Israel’s history in the occupied territories, anybody can see that Israel has always moulded the reality to serve its political objectives in gaining control, asserting hegemony and creating facts. In this context, peace accords never hindered Israel from pursuing a settlement policy. After the signature of the Camp David accords with Egypt, for instance, the Israeli settlement drive intensified.

After 1993, “the interim phase agreed upon in the declaration of principles which allowed for the possibility of continued settlement activity,” observed Raja Shehada in her study of those accords, “was consistent with previous positions.” And she added an interesting note: “What has been happening in the occupied territories for the last three decades and is now continuing at a very fast pace is the attempt to prejudice the final status.” Of course.

Evidence? In only three years after the signature of the Oslo accords, the Israeli population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip increased from 124,500 in 1993 to 145,000. No Israeli government has ever attempted to stop the settlers’ activity.

As has been pointed by several observers, the settlements issue, which has been poisoning the peace process since its inception, is a political one, not just a legal. First, there are Israel’s strategic and tactical security requirements, which remain in consideration with all the governments since 1993, if we talk only of the period following the Oslo peace deal. Second, any Israeli government may be unable to declare the withdrawal of the settlements without risking alienation of the electorate and possibly civil conflict with the settlers.

Besides, the issues that hurt are still off the record: the refugees, the Palestinians in Israel, occupied Jerusalem. Nothing has been settled yet, and it is unlikely that it will be any time soon.

On both sides, public opinion is a key factor in any process. The Palestinian Authority is as much dependent on the public opinion than the Israeli government. This is also known and widely recognised.

“Since the outbreak of the uprising in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at the end of 1987,” wrote Matti Steinberg, “the Palestinian leadership both inside and out has become keenly aware of the special role played by public opinion in the territories (…) The uprising — not decreed from above by orders and decisions but as an outburst of popular feeling — proved that public opinion in the territories could move beyond passivity to a role of initiating activism.” That would not make it easy for any Palestinian leader to give concessions beyond “the red line,” according to Arafat’s much publicised expression.

The way out of this maze is not easy. The issue is not only political or legal; it is also moral. As Milton Fisk observed, “The Jewish state pursues a community project that oppresses Palestinians. To reform the Israeli state in such a way that the oppressive nature of it is avoided calls for a rejection of the Zionist community project on which it is based.”

A state can exist without a community project, mostly when it is an ethnic project. In moving from “Holocaust theology” to the issues of security, Israel made the Jewish redemption possible only at the price of oppressing another people.

A bi-nationalist project seems today a solution that deserves consideration: on the one hand, it provides a homeland for the Jews; on the other hand, it provides the right of self-determination to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza while extending an option of citizenship in the same bi-national state. For one thing is sure: there is no solution to the conflict that abuses the rights of any party. Unilateralist actions may create new facts on the field, but will never make any progress towards peace.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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