Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2006, pages 9-10

Special Report

Two States or One? Let Israel Choose

By John V. Whitbeck

Israeli security troops guard a building to prevent its Palestinian residents from entering their homes after they were evicted by radical Jewish settlers in the Atur neighborhood in the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, on April 9 (AFP Photo/Awad Awad).

CONVENTIONAL wisdom notwithstanding, the installation in the last week of March of a new Palestinian government, coupled with the simultaneous election of a new Knesset, offers an unparalleled opportunity to leapfrog over the long comatose “peace process” and actually achieve peace in the Holy Land.

All that is needed is some clear, constructive and original thinking on the part of the new Palestinian leadership. Demonized though it may be in the West, Hamas won the recent Palestinian elections not simply because it was perceived as clean but also because it was perceived, justifiably, as competent and coherent. It is capable of such thinking.

As an early priority, the new Palestinian leadership should publicly announce its support for the Arab League’s Beirut Declaration of March 2002, by which all Arab states (including Palestine) offered Israel peace and normal diplomatic and economic relations in return for Israel’s compliance with international law by returning to its internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders. (Not incidentally, such an announcement would destroy the “destruction of Israel” excuse for current Israeli and Western plans to overturn the results of Palestine’s democratic elections and to bring the Palestinian people to their knees through economic privation.)

Israel has been able to ignore this generous offer, whose continuing validity the Arab League has periodically reaffirmed (most recently, and perhaps for the last time, at its summit in Khartoum on March 28), because it has always been offered as a carrot unaccompanied by any consequential alternative which a significant number of Israelis might view as a stick.

In this context, the new Palestinian leadership should simultaneously declare that, if Israel does not publicly agree to proceed toward a two-state solution in accordance with the Beirut Declaration by a reasonable date (say, three months hence), the Palestinian people will consider that Israel has definitively rejected a two-state solution in favor of a one-state solution and, accordingly, will thereafter seek their liberation and self-determination through citizenship in a single democratic state in all of pre-1948 Palestine, free of all forms of discrimination and with equal rights for all who live there.

The new Palestinian leadership should make clear that, after 39 years of foreign military occupation, the Palestinian people can no longer tolerate the cynical series of never-ending “peace plans” (including the current “road map” to nowhere) designed by others simply to postpone the necessary and obvious choices and to string out forever a perpetual “peace process” while further entrenching the occupation with new “facts on the ground.”

It should make clear that the Palestinian people demand, without further delay, a solution that will permit both Palestinians and Israelis to live decent, dignified and secure lives, that they could accept either a two-state solution in accordance with international law or a one-state solution in accordance with fundamental democratic principles, and that they are willing to let the Israeli people choose whichever of those two alternatives Israelis prefer and to accept Israel’s choice.

It should appeal to the international community, and particularly to Israel’s traditional friends, to encourage Israel to choose peace—on the basis of whichever of these two alternatives (the only alternatives for peace which exist or ever will exist) Israelis prefer.

Finally, it should appeal to all Palestinian factions, with the full force of the legitimacy it has earned, to suspend all acts of violent resistance to the occupation throughout the period allotted for Israel’s choice and to make that suspension permanent if Israel chooses positively.

If the new Israeli coalition government which emerges from the late March elections were to reject both a decent and viable two-state solution and a democratic and non-discriminatory one-state solution, the world could draw the appropriate conclusions and Western public opinion might shift in ways which, over a longer term, would themselves prove a force for peace with some measure of justice.

The former Palestinian leadership was a passive and reactive one. It simply responded to whatever initiatives others, who rarely had the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, chose to declare, for a time, as the “only game in town.” It never dared to try to seize the initiative, to set the agenda and to make Israel and the world react to a positive Palestinian idea.

The Palestinian people have voted for change. A rare moment of opportunity is at hand. It can and must be seized. 

John V. Whitbeck has served as a legal advisor to the former Palestinian leadership and is the author of The World According to Whitbeck, available from the AET Book Club.

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