Strengthening Abbas Will be Linked to Progress

CALME Luminary MJ Rosenberg published this article as this week’s IPF Friday.

Washington DC, February 23, 2007
Issue # 312

One State, Two States.  Do I Hear Three?

A few weeks ago I participated in a panel on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The panel consisted of a Palestinian-American spokesman and me.  The two of us have been teamed up before although we tend not to disagree on very much.  In other words, no fireworks.

Both of us support the two-state solution and, although there are differences between us on some of the issues that divide the two sides, they are minor compared to our agreement on the central issue.

My “job” was fairly easy.  Almost all the people in the audience were supporters of the two-state idea and, in fact, view it as the only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  My Palestinian friend, on the other hand, was given a rough going over by some of his fellow Palestinians who oppose the two-state solution and favor Israel’s replacement by a state “for all the people who live there.”

At one point a Palestinian student — angered by my colleague’s insistence that the only alternative to two-states was a war that the Palestinians would lose — insisted that those advocating the one-state idea were not advocating violence.  “We don’t support violence against Israelis.  The state we envision can be established without violence.”

My friend laughed that off.  “So you think the Knesset will decide one day to simply declare the State of Israel out of existence? And that will be that?”

He then added that, as the grandchild of people who were forced from their homes in Jerusalem in 1948, he was not prepared to wait forever for the opportunity to return to some part of Palestine, if he so chose.  A West Bank/Gaza state with a capital in the Arab part of Jerusalem was the best he could hope for.  That and peace with Israel.   He cited polls that showed that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza agree with him.

The radical Palestinians didn’t want to hear it.  Of course, most of them have no intention of living in Palestine anyway so their militancy comes on the cheap.  They are analogous to the American Jews who reject the very idea of compromise with the Palestinians but do not have to live with the consequences of their inflexibility.

The bad news is that the one-state idea is picking up steam among Palestinians as they conclude that they, as a people, have almost nothing to show for the PLO’s 1988 acceptance of the two-state formula.  The only sovereign Palestinian territory is Gaza but even there Israelis control the air space and the passages in and out and preserve the option of sending in forces any time they deem it necessary.  Most view Gaza as more of a ghetto than a country although they do celebrate the removal of the settlers.

It is then small wonder that more Palestinians are looking at the one-state idea, as unrealistic as that concept is.

According to Thursday’s Los Angeles Times, Palestinian citizens of Israel are circulating a manifesto which essentially calls for the replacement of Israel with a bi-national state.

According to the Times the manifesto, which is called “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” is the “first such sweeping demand by Israel’s Arab mainstream. The manifesto was drafted by 40 academics and activists under the sponsorship of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel and has been endorsed by an unprecedented range of Arab community leaders.”

The Times reports that “the manifesto urges Israel to adopt a ‘consensual democracy’ like that of Belgium, which reconciles its Flemish- and French-speaking communities through power sharing, proportional representation and local autonomy. The system…would give Arab communities control over decisions about education, culture and religious affairs.”

It sounds rather innocuous until one considers that a “consensual democracy” would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

It is not hard to see the appeal of the one-state idea to Palestinians, especially when it is offered as a non-violent solution to the conflict.  Of course, this “solution” could no more be achieved peacefully than Israeli Cabinet Member Avigdor Lieberman’s plan to divest Israel of its Palestinian citizens could.  

Israelis would fight to preserve their state, the fruition of a 2000 year old dream and a thriving modern country as rooted in the Middle East as any of its neighbors.  And Palestinians would fight to prevent Lieberman’s ethnic cleansing plan; they are Palestinians and have been there from time immemorial.

The people on both sides who are turning to these ideas have given up on the very idea of peaceful coexistence with the “other.”  Many never believed in it to start with.

Fortunately, majorities of both peoples know that there is another way.  Israel can retain its Jewish character and its democracy through negotiations with the Palestinians to establish a West Bank/Gaza Palestinian state.  Palestinians would then be able to exercise their full national rights within their own country while Israelis would retain full sovereignty in theirs.  There is no alternative or, to be precise, no alternative that is capable of being implemented without massive blood-letting.

Those in the region and here in Washington who support the status quo – who see no urgency to resolving the conflict and insist that the Palestinian issue is not central to the overall Middle East mess – are contributing to a deadly denouement.

The events of the last few weeks do not change this reality.  Secretary Rice did not achieve a breakthrough during her recent trip but she pledges to deepen her involvement. Although the Hamas-Fatah agreement leaves a lot to be desired, it does not change the fact that Israel has a partner in President Abbas.  Nor does the still-tentative unity government mean that suddenly Hamas and Fatah have become allies, with Israel as their common enemy.

That will probably not happen, although if both the United States and Israel play their cards wrong (as both have repeatedly done in their reluctance to support Abbas), it could.

The United States needs to strengthen Abbas. Right now that means moving ahead with the $85 million package to help train Abbas’s security forces.  It also means encouraging Israel to alleviate some of the onerous and unnecessary checkpoints, dismantling settlements, and working out a prisoner exchange deal.  Abbas needs to ensure that the suicide terror war against Israel does not resume, a prospect that is again looming as the Israelis intercept more and more potential suicide bombers.  By supporting Abbas, including with weaponry, we help him thwart them.  And we also help preserve Saudi influence among the Palestinians (they brokered the Mecca plan) while reducing the influence of Iran.

Supporting Abbas is not a favor we do for him.  Like it or not, his survival is essential to Israel’s security and to the preservation of America’s interests in this most critical corner of the world.

On the other hand, there is the one-state solution.

MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center.

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Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Israel, Middle East, Middle East Peace, Palestinians, Two State Solution, U.S. Role

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