In this issue of Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ), “Looking Back, Thinking Ahead”, we are marking our 25th anniversary with the publication of an unusual “Conversation” between Prof. Noam Chomsky and Dr Tony Klug about Israel-Palestine, the product of a year-long exchange of letters between May, 2020 and April 2021. 

Today, as we enter 2022, we are immersed in a “post-Oslo” paralysis, with no clear hope on the horizon for the future. 

The Palestinians are divided between Fateh and the PA which controls the West Bank, and Hamas which controls Gaza, and the current Palestinian leadership is subject to harsh criticism for its undemocratic tendencies which were highlighted by the postponement of the hoped for elections last spring. 

And the new Israeli “Government of Change” doesn’t seem to offer much hope, particularly given that Prime Minister Bennett wants to avoid dealing with the Palestinian question and was the first Israeli prime minister to simply ignore them in his speech to the UN General Assembly; though Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who supports a two-state solution and is scheduled to replace Bennett in August 2023, told one of the Meretz members of Knesset that “things will change for the better when I become prime minister.” Meanwhile that’s just words, not actions. 

The dominant view in both societies is a combination of apathy, frustration and pessimism about any possibility of renewed negotiations towards a resolution of the conflict.

Noam Chomsky and Tony Klug in their “Conversation About Israel- Palestine” brilliantly cover the entire spectrum of the dynamics of the conflict. During the course of their discussion, both are highly critical of much of Israeli policy and also of the decision-making of the Palestinians, while Chomsky asserts that American governments have been the primary factor responsible for the fact that the conflict has not been resolved. Reflecting on the title of this issue, “Looking Back, Thinking Ahead,” they devote much time to “Looking Back,” discussing the dynamics of the past. As for “Thinking Ahead,” neither Chomsky nor Klug have given up on the possibility of a solution for the conflict which would benefit both the Israelis and the Palestinians, though they don’t see a clear way forward. Klug writes that he is “not quite ready to give up on the quest to resolve the conflict as I still see potential opportunities,” and he suggests that “two states or equal rights for all” should be posed as a challenge to Israelis and the international community, while Chomsky writes that “a shift in policy” is needed and “is not entirely impossible,” though he has no concrete suggestions for the policy necessary to achieve the necessary shift.

Despair Is Not an Option

My view is, first of all, that despair is not an option. And apparently this is not just a problem in Israel/Palestine but also in the United States, as reflected in an article by Michelle Goldberg “The problem of political despair” originally published in The New York Times: 

I believe that we should hope and also work towards encouraging the healthy life preservation instincts of both Israelis and Palestinians to emerge and prevail, with the appropriate “encouragement” of the international community. That includes first and foremost the Americans and the American Jewish community, but not only. The European Union, Germany, Russia, and China all could play a role. So could smaller countries like Norway (think the Oslo process) and Spain (think the Madrid Conference). And, of course, the Arab World, via the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API), with a special role needed to be taken by the first two Arab countries who signed peace agreements with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, who are the representatives of the API to Israel. As for the Arab countries that signed normalization agreements with Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, although they violated the API principle that normalization should only come after the establishment of a Palestinian state, I think that the Palestinians are making a mistake in their total rejection of the possibility that the Abraham Accords can become a lever to also help promote progress on the Israeli- Palestinian track.

The Role of the International Community

The international community has a special responsibility to help resolve the conflict, due to the fact that it was United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, the Partition Plan, in 1947 that enabled the state of Israel to be established and gain its legitimacy. We should never forget that 181 called for the establishment of “a Jewish and an Arab state” in the area of Mandatory Palestine. The Jewish state, Israel, was declared and established in May 1948, while the second part of the resolution, the establishment of the Arab state, which today would be called the Palestinian state, has not yet been realized. In its Declaration of Independence, Israel declared that it was established on “the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly” and that its policies would “be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Similarly, the Palestinian Declaration of Independence issued at the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers in 1988 stated that the legitimacy for the establishment of a Palestinian state was based on “on the authority bestowed by international legitimacy as embodied in the Resolutions of the United Nations Organization since 1947.” Thus, both the Israelis and the Palestinians rely on UN resolutions, the voice of the international community, for the legitimacy of their respective rights to a state. Therefore, the international community has the right and, I would add, the responsibility to be involved in and to promote the total fulfillment of its decision to support the establishment of both a Jewish and an Arab (Palestinian) state in accordance with UNGA Resolution 181.

Is the Two-State Solution Still Possible?

Of course, the question is: What potential solution to the conflict should Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community be working for? There are those who believe that the two-state solution is dead and that the only alternative is a one-state solution. A recent poll of Palestinian public opinion taken by Dr Ghassan El-Khatib indicates that, for the first time, a majority of public opinion in the West Bank (though not in the Gaza Strip!) supports a one-state solution. However, no poll has indicated any significant support within the Jewish community in the state of Israel for a one-state solution with equal rights for Jewish and Palestinian citizens. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish citizens of the state of Israel, who constitute 80% of the population, continue to support a predominantly Jewish state, either on part or all of the Land of Israel/Palestine. Other alternative proposals, such as a confederation or “A Land for All: Two States, One Homeland,” rely on the two-state approach at the core of their proposals. 

I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only viable solution and that it is still possible.

Yes, there are 650,000 settlers living in illegal settlements according to international law east of the Green Line international border in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. From June 12th, the day after the end of the war in 1967, I was opposed to the establishment of even a single settlement in the newly occupied territories. Yet all Israeli governments since then have been complicit in the establishment of the settlements. But that doesn't mean that a two-state solution is no longer possible. My guide for this 
understanding is the ongoing research carried out by former IDF colonel Dr Shaul Arieli, who was head of the Peace Administration in Ehud Barak's government. Arieli, the author of A Border Between Us and You (2013) and more recently The Atlas for the Jewish-Arab Conflict (2021) under the auspices of the Hebrew University's Truman Institute for Peace, says that the settlement enterprise has not succeeded in preventing a two-state solution. One of the formulators of the Geneva Initiative, he says that it would be possible to establish a two-state solution with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, with the aid of a 4-5% mutual transfer of land, since 80% of the settlers live in that area adjacent to the Green Line. That would leave 80,000 to 100,000 settlers within the Palestinian area of sovereignty. Most would prefer to return to Israel proper, the sovereign state of Israel within the recognized international borders, backed by Israeli and international financial compensation; a few will be ready to continue to live under Palestinian sovereignty; and just a few thousand extremists might oppose the agreement. Once such an agreement will be reached, the majority of the Israeli population will prefer peace to ongoing conflict, backed by the force of the IDF, as was the case in the Gaza Disengagement in 2005. Of the settlers, 200,000 live in the new post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods that were established in the eastern side of the city, such as French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, and Gilo. Palestinian negotiators have agreed that in the context of mutual one-to-one land swaps, those neighborhoods would remain under Israeli sovereignty, as would the Jewish and Armenian Quarters of the Old City, together with the Western Wall. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas were very close to reaching an agreement on that basis in 2007-8, and they both continue to say that if they had had just a few more months to continue the negotiations, they would have reached an agreement.

A conference in Jerusalem organized by The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP)

Of course, what has been lacking so far, particularly on the Israeli side after Rabin's assassination and the fall of Olmert, throughout the Netanyahu period, was the political will to reach such an agreement. Hamas, which opposes such an agreement (and is not a member of the PLO), has always said that Abbas and the PLO leadership, who are the authorized Palestinian negotiators according to the Oslo Accords, are welcome to try, and if an agreement is reached, they will abide by the results of a referendum of the entire Palestinian people. They add, however, that they don’t believe such an agreement will be reached. And after Clinton at Camp David 2000, George H.W. Bush at Annapolis in 2007, and John Kerry in 2013-14, the international community has also not seriously tried to promote a solution. 

At the day-long conference organized at Givat Haviva by the Israeli Peace NGO Forum on November 3, 2021, Arieli said the following:

“There are three conditions necessary for the possibility of a two-state solution to be realized: The first is a physical possibility, which exists, and I have a complete plan for that. 
“There are two other absolutely necessary conditions: One is the political possibility, and today that does not exist from the point of view of the positions of the Israeli government. And there are quite a few problems on the Palestinian side as well – the division between Gaza and the West Bank, the need for a united leadership, etc. 
“And the 3rd obstacle is the lack of what I call the consciousness possibility. The ethos in Israeli society today is one of conflict, which is constantly being nourished by the hegemonic factors. And there are also problems on the Palestinian side. 
“Therefore, the process we need is to promote the necessary consciousness which is the role of the Forum and all the organizations, the necessity to emphasize a peace discourse. At the same time, we have to work on promoting and building the political possibility as well.”

Netanyahu was perfectly happy to “manage the conflict” without taking any initiative towards resolving it. After four inconclusive elections within two years, the new Israeli right-center-left “Government of Change” that was formed in 2021, the big experiment led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, is for the time being setting aside the Palestinian question as being too divisive to deal with. And the Palestinians have continued to be weak and divided. Yet, as the11 days of lethal fighting between Israel and Gaza in May 2021 demonstrated, it is not possible to ignore the conflict and assume that it will just remain on the back burner. It will continue to reassert itself onto the local, regional, and international agenda.

A One-State Solution?

Is the one-state solution a realistic alternative? There are some who believe it is, among them a small group of Israelis like Prof. Jeff Halper and Prof. Ilan Pappe, and Palestinians like Prof. Mazen Qumsiyeh, founder of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History; Ali Abunimah who runs the The Electronic Intifada; Dr Ghada Karmi, who teaches and writes in the UK; and Jonathan Kuttab, the first Palestinian I had an in-depth discussion with during the first New Outlook-Al Fajr meeting in East Jerusalem back in 1980. Kuttab recently published a book titled Beyond the Two-State Solution which is reviewed in this issue. And even some liberal American Jewish thinkers like Peter Beinart, who famously published an article in The New York Times titled “I no longer believe in a Jewish state,” have joined the one-state camp. Two authors in this issue, Prof. Ian Lustick and Prof. Avi Shlaim, also advocate a one-state solution. Their vision of one state based upon equality for all its Jewish and Palestinian citizens is a beautiful idea. The only problem is that none of them have provided a realistic roadmap for how it can be achieved. After over 70 or 100 years of conflict between the two national movements, depending on how you count, with all of the mutual traumas and scars, the riots/insurrections in 1929, 1936, 1939, after the 1948 war and the Nakba (catastrophe), the first and particularly the second violent intifada, the violent clashes between Gaza and Israel in 2009, 2012, 2014, 2021, etc., it's hard to imagine a scenario that can enable the creation of one harmonious state in any foreseeable future. Both the Jews and the Palestinians want their right to national self-determination, which can include a national minority of the other people. Think India- Pakistan, and look at what happened to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, where different nations did not manage to hold together in the same state, with Czechoslovakia splitting into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, while Yugoslavia split into Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo, no less than seven separate states!

A “Cosmopolitan Spirit” Is Needed

The best formula for the future that I have heard was presented by Prof. Kwame Anthony Appiah, the NYU professor of philosophy and law who comes from a mixed Ghanaian/British background and writes the “Ethicist” column for The New York Times. Speaking at the closing session of a week-long “Healing the Nations” Zoom conference in July 2021 with participants from throughout the Middle East organized by the London-based Next Century Foundation that granted my colleague Ziad AbuZayyad and myself a Peace Media Award in 2012, he suggested a future based on what he called the “Cosmopolitan Spirit.” He described this as a “complement to nationalism”:

“Nations are held together by cultural unity, but today, most people don't live in a monocultural state, they are all transnational. A recent survey indicated that 40% of members of the younger generation say “I am a global citizen.” A sensible citizen cares about all human beings, fellow citizens and others – EVERYBODY MATTERS. We can be local, but many problems require cosmopolitan, global attitudes to solve them. Like the climate…”

Appiah said that the post-WW II idea of a World Government was not possible or desirable. Europe, however, did learn from the deadly devastation caused by World War I and World War II and eventually formed the European Union which enables countries to retain their sovereignty while working together in close, peaceful cooperation. It's not always easy, but in the final analysis it works (despite Brexit). 

That's definitely what we need in the Middle East as well. Each of us, Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and all of our other neighbors, should have our separate sovereign identities, while working together based upon the principle of a “Cosmopolitan Spirit.” That's what German-Iranian Prof. Mohssen Massarat was aiming for when he convened a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East in 2011, and that's also Prof. Johan Galtung's vision when he talks about “A Middle East Community with Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria as full members, with water, arms, trade regimes based on multilateral consensus; and an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East with a broader base.” 

The goal remains Shalom, Salaam, Peace.