by Frank Schnittger
Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 10:34:11 AM EST
President Bush has made the achievement of a "two state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the key objective of the remainder of his regime. The two state solution is also the consensus position of most of the international community. Apparently no one wants to deny Palestinians their place in the sun as a member of the international community of nations, but is that really what is on offer?
I want to present an alternative thesis - one that has gotten me into more trouble as a blogger than any other subject that I have ever commented on. Perhaps I have gotten this all wrong, but in my view it is far, far, too late for ANY sustainable or viable Palestinian state to be created. Creating a separate state for Palestinians now would be far more akin to creating a homeland in the old Apartheid state of South Africa - a series of disconnected, disjointed territories, pock marked by Israeli only settlements, criss-crossed by "Israeli secured" roads, surrounded by security walls and fences, with few resources or industries of their own, many essential resources like water controlled by Israel, and with no hope of any sustainable autonomous economic viability, social harmony, or political stability.
Worse, the creation of an "independent Palestine" out of the remaining non-Israeli controlled scraps of Palestine, will enable Israel and surrounding states to expel Palestinians out of their refugee camps and societies and dump them in what have already been described as the largest open air prison camps in the world.
So what is the alternative? Please read on, and please don't shoot the messenger...
My heresy has been to suggest that the original UN mandated partition of Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian homelands has been irreparably broken by the wars, occupations, settlements, and Intifada which have taken place since. Instead, I have proposed a single state for all Israeli and Palestinian citizens, taking in the entire land area currently making up Israel and Palestine, and incorporating it into a pluralist multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-party, secular democratic state and with constitutional human rights guarantees for all citizens and minorities within.
The obvious model for this solution is post-Apartheid South Africa, where an attempt to create a racially segregated multi-state solution has been successfully replaced by a single state for all races and religions within. Indeed almost any modern multi-cultural democracy can be taken as a model: It is the attempt to create a state structure demarcated on almost purely racial/religious grounds which is unique and anomalous amongst modern advanced democracies.
Some have accused me of blatant anti-Semitism and an attempt to destroy the Jewish homeland and only "functioning democracy" in the Middle East. Many more have accused me of an almost complete lack of political realism. The hatred between Moslems and Jews is said to be ancient and absolute. Jews have been almost completely "ethnically cleansed" from all Islamic states. Any attempt to "force" Jews and Palestinians to live side by side in the same state is simply a recipe for ongoing political instability, economic decline, terrorism, and most probably, civil war: Best to keep the two peoples apart in their own states is the conventional wisdom.
That would be all very well if that was actually what was being proposed. However the UN mandated borders between the two have long been breached, and there is no possibility of the extensive Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank being dismantled or handed over to Palestinians moving in from refugee camps in Lebanon or Jordan. Neither is Israel likely to hand back East Jerusalem (Making Jerusalem an international city, as per the UN Mandate) or the Golan Heights to Syria unless there is a comprehensive settlement in the region.
I do not want to get into the long history of the larger middle- eastern and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts here, because those conflicts have been so bitter and sustained, and it is unlikely that any lasting solution can be arrived at from any blame games or "allocation of guilt" arising out of those conflicts. Palestinians and their supporters will always argue that they were in the vast majority in the whole of Palestine since time immemorial, and that British and UN attempts to partition the territory in order to provide a homeland for Jews post World War II was a blatant piece of imperialistic geo-engineering. Certainly, they have a case: Jews made up less that 10% of the total population of Palestine as recently as 1920, and only made up c. 33% of the population at the time of Israeli independence in 1948.
Israelis, and especially Zionists, will argue that the selection of 1920 or 1948 is entirely arbitrary and is in any case partly a consequence of previous wars and civil conflicts, that there has always been a significant Jewish presence in the region going back to biblical times, and that Jews have as much an entitlement to have their own Homeland as anyone else. They further argue that many Palestinians are no more native to the region than they are, and that there had been significant Palestinian migration into the region as well. In this Israeli view (and there are many!) any prospect of Jewish/Palestinian rapprochement was destroyed by poor communal relations prior to 1948, the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars, and by the Intifadas since.
The neutrals amongst us might argue, that going back on the "Two Sate solution" mandated by the UN in 1948 would be to legitimise the spoils of war that Israel has gained and the occupations and settlements that has taken place ever since. I cannot refute that argument, in any moral sense, except to note that national boundaries have often been a consequence of the outcome of war. The critical issue is the treatment of the defeated within the context of those outcomes.
Israel now lives in relative peace and harmony with a significant 20% Palestinian minority in its midst who have done nothing to suggest subversive tendencies, despite being economically and political disadvantaged by their minority position. Formally incorporating East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza into a greater "Israeli-Palestinian state" would create a c. 50:50 split in the ethnic mix and might obviously be much more difficult to manage in a stable way. However both Israeli and Palestinian political cultures are fractured on many lines, and it is very unlikely than any exclusively Jewish or Palestinian party would achieve political hegemony.
Far more likely would be a series of coalition governments made up of more moderate elements and parties with predominantly Jewish or Palestinian bases. In due course, genuinely multi-racial, secular and politically moderate political parties could well achieve dominance. The chances of an exclusively Zionist or Islamist Government taking office could in any case be constitutionally barred by a Northern Ireland type power sharing arrangement where both communities have to be represented in Government.
Whatever about the problems of managing a polity with an approximately 50:50 ethnic split, there is no doubt that the economy would continue to be dominated by Israeli interests, much as the South African economy is still dominated by white interests even many years after the ending of Apartheid. Palestinians have very little economic muscle at present despite many years of significant EU and Arab support and the costs of entry, skill deficits, and lack of critical mass for Palestinian enterprises would ensure that continues to be the case for many years regardless of the political settlement reached. In due course, many businesses would become genuinely non-racial in any case.
What of the larger context of the Middle East? Why would the Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, |Saudi Arabia and Egypt go along with such a settlement? In the first place, the Arab league have often made conciliatory proposals including the recognition of Israel as part of any settlement. Secondly the presence of Palestinian refugee camps in the Lebanon and Jordan are destabilising for those polities as well. Israeli fears of being swamped by such refugees could be addressed by Lebanon, Jordan and Syria agreeing to settle most of those refugees permanently within their societies in return for the return of the Golan Heights and Sheba Farms areas to Syria and the Lebanon as part of the settlement.
So who gains and who loses by a single state as opposed to a two state resolution of the conflict? Firstly both Zionist and Islamic extremists lose out on their dreams of an exclusively Jewish Homeland, and of "Israel being driven into the sea" respectively. Palestinians will trade the poverty and non-sustainability of a largely illusory independent state in return for inclusion, as equals, in a larger multi-ethnic and secular entity with much greater prospects for economic prosperity and political stability. Israelis will gain much more defensible borders, greater security, much reduced security costs, greater opportunities for industry and trade and full recognition by the entire "community of nations" including the Arab league. Perhaps even inclusion into the EU.
So if it is in almost everyone's interest, why isn't it happening? 20 years ago, before the release of Mandela from prison, I wrote a Masters thesis predicting the imminent demise of Apartheid on largely economic grounds. Modern industrial capitalism and service industries, I wrote, were becoming much more important in the South African economy, replacing mining and agriculture as the dominant activities. Mining and agriculture had depended crucially on the cheap labour enabled by Apartheid policies. The mechanisation of those activities, combined with the growth of industrial and service industries made the South African economy much more dependent on access to external markets, growth in internal markets, more higher skilled labour forces, and much less dependent on cheap labour.
From a purely capitalist point of view, I argued that Apartheid was becoming hugely counter-productive, restricting access to external markets, creating huge security costs, artificially inflating the cost of (often very unskilled) white labour, and preventing the development of a skilled black labour force and a larger consumer market. Apartheid was being maintained, I argued, purely by the success of those who benefited from it - chiefly farmers, lower skilled white workers, and the security apparatus - in maintaining their hegemony of the political system. If another way could be found to address their interests and fears, I argued, Apartheid was toast, because it would then no longer serve anyone interests.
My thesis argued that this would probably have to be done through external intervention providing security and economic guarantees to those vested interests, in order for their opposition to be overcome. As it turned out large scale external intervention proved unnecessary. The visionary leadership of De Klerk and Mandela managed to achieve the destruction of Apartheid whilst at the same time mollifying those economic and security interests which had been tied to it. It was a major political achievement and happened more peacefully than I had dared to hope.
Equally, I dare to hope, that what seem to be intractable fears and hatreds between Palestinians and Israelis now can be overcome, precisely because both peoples could benefit hugely from a peaceful resolution. What needs to happen is that those who benefit from the current impasse and ongoing conflict need to be "bought off" or outmaneuvered by those who don't. Chiefly that means that those extreme Islamic and Zionist elements who seek outright victory of one over the other in Israeli/Palestine and beyond need to be brought to heal by the more moderate majorities in both communities.
But above all, we need the outsiders to the conflict - Chiefly Iran and the AIPAC/Zionist/Christian evangelist nexus in the US to be taken out of the equation. That is why we need a really strong and visionary next POTUS who can stand up to the AIPAC/Zionist/Christian evangelist nexus, leaders of the DeKlerk's and Mandela's stature to emerge in Israel/Palestine, and for the Arab league to tell Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to shut up.
It is all quite possible. Apartheid is no more. The Cold War is no more. The Iron Curtain is gone. The interests of the vast majority of the people of the Middle East are not being served by the present conflict. It is time for real leaders to emerge and for all of us to tell the racial/religious extremists to get off the stage.