Settlements and the Two-State Solution
I’ve been living and teaching at Ariel, a large Israeli settlement, and spending time talking to settlers and people who work with them. There’s an interesting gap between how settlers think of themselves and how others do. Much of the Western liberal world considers settlers at the center of the problem and assume their communities will be removed as a result of a peace treaty. People who live in these communities cannot imagine it; at least they do not see themselves as radicals interfering with peace. But the issue of the settlements for many is the most difficult and fundamental problemIsraelfaces. The legal issues and the definitions ofIsraelproper versus settler expansion into contested territory that violates state and international laws are not very resonant for members of these communities. They easily swipe away arguments about legality.
Like so many others I am lamenting the possible demise of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps I remain naïve, but it seems to me to be the only sensible answer. Also in my naïveté I do not understand why the Palestinians would not be enthusiastic about the possibility of their own state. Why would they not want to start the process of building institutions, educating their kids in their own schools supported by a sovereign state, creating art and philosophy and watching their society develop? I know, I’m a Westerner in these are Western ideals. But from what I know of the Palestinian population such goals are consistent with their desires. Moreover, two sovereign states independent but working together is the only way thatIsraelremains a democracy committed to Jewish particularity. No solution or lack of solution is going to jeopardize the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. But the “Jewish” nature of the state is a thoroughly different and interesting question.
There is some sort of failure of will and failure of leadership that is choking the life out of the two-state solution. Netanyahu has publicly stated his support for a Palestinian state but seems to do little to bring it into effect. I suppose he’s a talented political animal skilled at swaying with the wind, but his victories are in the realm of security and protection not peace, even accepting the fact that they are related. Netanyahu and Barak ran the country once and now they’re running it again. Unfortunately, political survival seems to be their primary goal.
Even if there were two states there would be a tremendous amount of cooperation between the two required. Transportation and movement, business relations, oversight of holy sites, and any number of governmental and commercial transactions would be shared experiences between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That’s why Herb Kelman in his overview of the solution to the problem in the journal Middle East Policy calls it “two states in one country.”
Here’s one suggestion for saving the two-state solution day: work with the Palestinians and the United Nations on the declaration of a state that is satisfactory to both Palestinians and Israelis, not a unilateral Palestinian declaration. The West Bank andGazawill have to be part of the new Palestinian state with agreements about land exchanges.Israelcannot make demands on a Palestinian state that essentially deny the nature of the state. The Palestinians must be satisfied with the political and geographic conditions. A number of negotiators believe the issue of the status ofJerusalemand refugees can be solved relatively easily. Many of the issues related to these problems have been aired and it’s a matter of bold leadership to make a decision.
I have an Israeli friend who makes the case for a political system that is federal-like or involves independent Palestinian communities without removing settlements. In future posts I will explore the issues around such solutions as well as political arrangements that involve the single state.