Israel’s 60th anniversary coverage (or was it actually Nakba coverage…?) has revealed, in Britain, a small swing towards a single state solution to the conflict. This one-state view is espoused by, among others, the One State Group, the boycotting Left, the small proportion of Jews who are anti-Zionist, Hamas, Hesbollah, and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Their view is that Israel is a “Zionist lie” which not only should be dismantled but is illegitimate now (their designation of Israel as an “apartheid” and “racist” state depends on this).
Although it doesn’t much matter what Britain’s political margins think in this respect, recent Palestinian polls reflect a current disillusionment with the peace process. Checkpoints, settlement activity, and the Gaza blockade endure, life is blighted by restrictions and, pollster Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre Jamil Rabah asks, “where there is no peace partner, how are you going to have expectations and hope for a state?”. Tim Franks (BBC Radio 4’s Middle East correspondent) diagnoses the polling evidence as suggesting that “faith in a two state solution is indeed dying”.
Dying? The problem with this analysis is the impression it gives that Israel is reaching the end of some acknowledged probationary period, and that Palestinians (and possibly the BBC) are in charge of conducting the assessment. Actually, Israel doesn’t exist on sufferance and moreover there is no viable alternative to a two state solution. No matter how disillusioned with the peace process Palestinians might feel, only a marginal fringe of Israeli society (on the far right and far left) even entertain the idea of a single state solution. This makes the active single staters more expansionist than the mainstream Israeli right.
Some sections of the British media are reporting this lability of opinion as if it were active support for a single state solution. The following day, Tim Franks on the subject of a two state solution (BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, 08:51, 15th May, in an mp3 with ‘alnakba’ in the title) refers early in his piece to a “growing thrum of voices asking if that dream is still alive” and later repeats his suggestion that it’s dying. The piece includes a contribution from single staters, including campaigner Ali Abunimah who thinks that a single state “should be a matter of principle for Israeli Jews” and who has referred to those advancing a two state resolution as collaborators with the enemy. Abunimah says:
“If you give up this monopoly on power, if you give up this system which has caused so much misery for so many people, there is a place for you, a permanent, vibrant place. That’s what whites did in South Africa, that’s what Protestants have done in Northern Ireland, and that’s what Israeli Jews will have to do if they want to guarantee their place in the Middle East for the foreseeable and long-term future.”
Not just in Israel (where there has always been a Jewish presence), but in the entire Middle East (where there has always been a Jewish presence). This fighting talk from Abunimah meets with no comment from the BBC, which concludes the piece on a note of pessimism for two states.
The single state proposition is distinctly odd and its advocates usually try to give it respectability by making vague pronouncements about a Palestinian state no longer being viable. You have to wonder what this implies for Afghanistan, say, or Mozambique. You also have to wonder why there are no alternative proposals emanating from these quarters that the West Bank become a single state with Jordan, or Gaza with Egypt. The thing is, it’s easy to dream up scenarios in which the unification of Northern Ireland and the Republic, Kosovo and Serbia, Russia and Chechnya, Lebanon and Syria, India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, &tc would work beautifully. But whatever the One State Group (which fails to engage the wider Israeli public), let alone Hamas, Hesbollah, Ahmedinejad &tc would like, they’re ill-advised to welcome support for their solution which is based on the disillusionment of Palestinians with a two state solution. This disillusionment would signal a lack of recognition of Israel and a growing support for war. Indeed a recent poll suggests there is growing support – 49.5% – for ‘resistance operations against Israeli targets’ and 39.3% support the use of locally-made rockets (the majority of respondents who answered like this are from the Gaza). Like Palestinians, Israelis do not respond well to pressure.
Tony Blair understands that there is no alternative to a two state solution. When confronted (07:51, 14th May) by Tim Franks with poll evidence that 40% of Palestinians have no faith in a two state resolution, he pointed out that “Palestinian opinion goes up and down depending on whether people think there’s a prospect of peace”. What I believe is the report being discussed notes that the poll coincided with a number of outbreaks of hostility between Israelis and Palestinians:
“The poll conducted by JMCC coincided with several aggressions against the citizens in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, mainly “the Gaza Holocaust” at the end of February. Number of martyrs from that date
until the date of these results reached around 200. the poll also came at a time when President Mahmoud Abbas issued an implicit threat in his speech at the recent Arab Summit in Damascus that he would halt the negotiations with Israel if the settlement activities continue, especially the negotiations that started after Annapolis Conference.”
Tony Blair observes this in an interview with Tim Franks (Today Programme, 14th May, 07:51) in which Franks suggests that Blair, International Envoy to the Middle East, “may be running out of road”. Tony Blair patiently points to the growth in the West Bank economy and the unprecedented nature of the initiatives he is proposing to boost the economy, gain freedom of movement and improve security. He also refers to the importance of intimate knowledge of the occupation in decision-making about relieving it:
“Getting the deal is about the detail. Because actually for ordinary people on the Palestinian side, the occupation is in the detail. And in fact as someone said the other day to me ‘We don’t want to hear with our ears anymore, we want to see with our eyes’, and if you don’t get down to the detail you don’t get it done. And the reason why I will give this as much as it takes for as long as it takes is because I do believe that there is a fundamental issue going on in this whole region and the wider world. Resolving the IP dispute gives us a chance of a peaceful 21st Century, failure to resolve it increases the chance of confrontation and conflict. And so, you know, for me this is of vital importance, I believe in it passionately and, you know, if that means I have to know, you know, the precise nature of the checkpoints in the West Bank, and what the sewage treatment works are like in Gaza, well, that’s what I have to know”.
Tony Blair understands that a two-state solution is the only option. People who disagree, and confused commentators, need to understand that Israel is not an experiment does not exist on sufference, but de facto and de jure.
Lastly, a look at the poll results on the question of one state or two states (see p5) is revealing. The question:
Some believe that a two state formula is the favored solution for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict while others believe that historic Palestine cannot be divided into two states, and thus the favored solution is a bi-national state on all of Palestine where Palestinians and Israeli enjoy equal representation and rights, which of these two solutions do you prefer?
Two- state solution: an Israeli state and a Palestinian state: 47.1 (all, n=1199); 47.1 (West Bank ); 47.2 (Gaza)
Bi–national state on all of historic Palestine: 23.4 (all); 25.5 (WB); 19.6 (G)
Palestinian State: 10.2 (all); 6.6 (WB); 16.4 (G)
Islamic State: 2.1 (all); 2.1 (WB); 2.2 (G)
Other solution: 0.9 (all); 1.1 (WB); 0.7 (G)
No solution: 13.4 (all); 14.2 (WB); 12.1 (G)
No answer/don’t know: 2.9 (all); 3.4 (WB); 1.8 (G).
To listen to Tim Franks on the Today Programme you’d have thought, because of what was omitted, that Palestinian preference for a two state solution had all but gone. It hasn’t, but Palestinians need reasons to hope and they won’t have found many on the Today Programme.