“How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty?” – Bertrand Russell, 1970.
The dream of a “Palestinian state” lies shattered and torn, existing only in the imaginations of those who refuse to see how far we have fallen from the dream of equal rights for every man. In truth it died long ago, like an abusive stepfather forced onto its people, its shadow looming large over the Middle East, the scars it left in its wake so deep it will take generations to heal.
Nothing I have encountered in my life sums up hopelessness better than the abject suffering of the Palestinians. I have traveled the world and some of the dire poverty, war and destitution I have encountered has led me to believe that cruelty seems to be an inbuilt default setting for us as humans. It stuns me how often situations such as famine and poverty in the third world could be rectified with substantial investment and access to universal education and healthcare. US President Jimmy Carter has said “Palestinians are deprived of basic human rights, their land has been occupied, then confiscated, then colonised by the Israeli settlers,” and that Palestinians are “treated more like animals than human beings”.
However no amount of money or education can lift the Palestinians out of the catastrophic existence they find themselves subjected to. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on Earth with a population of over 1.6 million people living in a space no larger than 360 sq./km and nearly 40% of that population living below the poverty line. They live under a blockade in what is essentially an open-air prison with no way of leaving; often areas have little or no access to electricity, clean water or basic sewage systems.
That is just the Gaza Strip; the people of the West Bank suffer a similar fate on top of having to deal with the daily humiliation of living under occupation. It doesn’t stop there, in Lebanon alone there are over 400,000 Palestinians living in refugee camps under similar conditions. The same is true of many of the neighbouring Arab countries. They live with no access to employment, education, healthcare or citizenship as they sit and wait for a dream of returning to a homeland most of them will never see.
There are 4.7 million Palestinian refugees living outside of the occupied territories registered with the UN. Most of them live below the poverty line in semi-permanent refugee camps. Quite frankly their situation is pretty bleak. Under international law they are all entitled to return home. Their population numbers are swelling and no Israeli government has remotely entertained the notion of ever allowing these Palestinians to return to the lands they were forcibly expelled from in 1948 and 1967.
The powers that be, largely successive US, Israeli and EU governments would have the world believe that a solution is close and on the table and these issues are all to be worked out in negotiations. Anyone close enough to the situation can tell you this is a total myth – this is bullshit. I will try to break it down to its most basic elements.
International law states that the Palestinians are entitled to a state with full control over its territory as defined by the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital city and full right of return for all the displaced refugees. This is what is known as the two-state solution. No Israeli government has ever supported this option despite the fact that it is what the Palestinians are entitled to under international law.
I don’t expect you to take my word for it, the Palestine Papers are a series of confidential diplomatic documents that were leaked to Al-Jazeera detailing the failed negotiations over the past 20 years, in them all the evidence is clear that none of the Israeli governments that have passed have ever been committed to creating a sovereign state of Palestine. The papers show years and years of Palestinian desperation, offering most of Jerusalem, dividing the West Bank into cantons and even sacrificing the right of return (something which the Palestinian Authority has no right to concede), maintaining Israeli control over any future state and yet the Israelis still said no. The two sides are engaged in endless inconsequential peace talks for the sole purpose of allowing the Israelis the time they need to fully colonise Palestinian territory as a land for all the Jews.
One look at a map of the West Bank alone will show the magnitude of the problem, there are 500,000 Jewish settlers illegally living there dotted all across the land. The land is entirely segregated, with highways only accessible to Jews which Israel claim is a matter of security. How any sane person can claim that a road can only be driven down if you are of a certain faith and then claim this is not a racist proposal is beyond me, but this is neither here nor there.
The facts on the ground are pretty clear – the settlements encroach deep into Palestinian territory and the Israeli government has invested billions of dollars in creating infrastructure within this territory and has never shown any intention of dismantling the settlements for the future of a Palestinian state. Quite the opposite, it continues to expand them. This is the key reason for the negotiations; they are being used as a stalling tactic so Israel can irreversibly change the facts on the ground to make a future Palestinian state completely unviable.
In fact, the official Israeli position is that the land is not even occupied, it is merely disputed. The recently published Levy Report is paving the way within Israel to completely legalise the occupation and approve the process of legitimizing Israel’s settlement expansion activities. This is based largely on the claim that Israel occupies land that had no sovereign claim over it. Many pro-Israel lobbies also use this argument, including the Anti-Defamation League, however international law is very clear on this issue. Under the law of occupation, it makes no difference whether or not Jordan had sovereign claim to the territory before it was occupied. The binding definition in the Hague Regulations of 1907 establishes that “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.”
The Israeli Prime Minister on countless occasions has also stated that Jerusalem will never be divided, despite the fact that East Jerusalem is considered by the international community to be part of a future Palestinian state. The Right of Return? Forget it, the Israelis will not accept any situation that allows an influx of Arabs that would damage its demographic hold over the land.
Let’s also discuss the “security” argument. Despite Hamas being the elected government of the Gaza Strip, Israel will not have dealings with them because they consider them to be a “terrorist organisation”. What I’m sure many of you don’t know is that Israel was actually founded by similar terrorist organisations such as the Haganah and the Irgun, the latter of whom carried out the King David Hotel bombing in 1946 killing 91 people. Once Israel was established in 1948 these organisations were then assimilated into the Israeli Defense Force and became the country’s national army and one of its leaders Menachim Begin became the country’s Prime Minister. Also, Israel claims it separates the populations for this reason, but if this is true, why is it also approving of settlements further and further into Palestinian territory? And why does it allow its citizens to live in flashpoints like Hebron, deep in the heart of Palestinian communities, surely the most dangerous place for an Israeli to live? The truth is that Israel cares more about colonising land than it does the genuine security of its people.
On top of this, Israel states it cannot deal with an organisation that calls for its destruction and insists that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state. However, there are many elected members of the Israeli Knesset who openly go on record calling the Palestinians a “cancer” and many of them also wish to expel the Palestinian population in an act of ethnic cleansing similar to that of 1948 in which 500 Palestinian villages were raised to the ground. For those labeling Hamas extremists, you need to look no further than the current Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who even staunch Israel supporter Martin Peretz of the New Republic labels a Neo-Fascist and is known to publicly hold racist views.
I’m not by any means supporting the views of Hamas, I’m just saying that the view Israel wants to portray of a liberal society fighting against extremism is not an accurate portrayal of events. The violence and hatred between these two people is cyclical, one hatred cannot exist without the other.
The increasingly desperate situation for the Palestinians is that the two-state solution is now dead in the water. Despite the fact that Palestinians are pushing for it in the UN General Assembly and it is the only solution proposed by the international community, the facts on the ground mean that Israel can no longer step back from the precipice. It has no desire to dismantle its infrastructure in the West Bank and allow the Palestinians a right to self-determination. Let’s not even get into the difficulties faced by splitting a future state between two territories, Gaza and the West Bank.
The hopelessness of the Palestinian situation grows and their aspirations for self-determination seem further away now than they ever did before. Even in the event of the UN granting the Palestinians a state, what does it change? The settlers aren’t going anywhere. In a poll by the Truman Institute 21% of Settlers said that if Israel was to attempt to dismantle the settlements they would “resist it by all means”, presumably taking up arms. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the future of the two-state solution does it?
The truth of the matter is it is near impossible for a two-state solution to ever be approved by an Israeli government that is worryingly veering further and further to the right. Even if by some miracle a Palestinian state was pushed through the Knesset from pressure from the international community, it will most likely be a state with very little sovereignty, its security and resources still controlled by Israel, no right of return and very few settlements dismantled. Even then, the measure would result in many settlers taking whatever measures they considered necessary to hamper any attempt to dismantle their illegal settlements.
Just as a large portion of the Palestinian population becomes more religiously fundamentalist, so too does an increasingly large section of Israeli society. The Jewish right wing believe that Israel has been given to the Jews by God and no amount of international law will matter one fucking iota to them. Try presenting a creationist with years of documented evidence for evolution for similar results.
The two-state solution is dead. And I won’t miss it. I am an atheist, a secularist and a believer in civil rights for all human beings on this planet. The idea of a state founded on religion is abhorrent to me, whether that is Saudi Arabia, Iran or Israel or anywhere else. No one is saying the Jewish people do not deserve a place to live, but why should anyone be forced to accept that a country should discriminate against people based on their religion? The Law of Return grants any Jew the right to live and work in Israel, whilst at the same time Israel denies rights to millions of people born within the country for not having the same creed. What kind of justice is that? Why should the Palestinians be forced to live on their knees with no rights to self-determination? Anyone who truly believes in equality for all mankind surely cannot accept that.
The only solution on the table has been the two-state solution, it is the only matter ever discussed in the international community, but it is one that none of us will live to see established. Surely as humanity we should be striving for peace and equality. Surely the only justice would be a land that does not discriminate against people because of their religious beliefs. A land in which everyone is given a vote and an equal share. Democracy.
The problem for Israel is that no matter how much they build or how much land they annex, 5 million Palestinians won’t go away. In fact their population numbers are growing at rapid rate. That tends to be the problem populations living in abject poverty with little education or employment. Religious extremism grows rampant and people breed, having children is the only pastime for many of them. If the two-state solution is dead, then what is left?
Israel, whether it is ready to admit it or not, has essentially already annexed the West Bank. The land of Greater Israel is not so much of a Zionist dream anymore as the Apartheid reality on the ground. Israel fears admitting this reality the most because it spells the end of the idea of a Jewish state. Don’t take my word for it though; in October this year President Jimmy Carter said Israel had abandoned a two-state solution for a “Greater Israel” and that it was moving towards an “inevitable Apartheid”. Even Ari Shavit, who has referred to Netanyahu as a “visionary of the two-state solution” has also described the occupation as “intolerable” and referred to the settlements as a “disaster”
The recent report in Haaretz by Gideon Levy says it all, 58% Israelis polled believe Israel already practices Apartheid and 69% of the population oppose giving voting rights to Palestinians. If that isn’t Apartheid I don’t know what is.
We have seen it all before in South Africa. Before that we had the American civil rights movement. People without a voice demanding freedom and liberty. The reason Israel will not accept the Palestinian population is simple. Demographics – that is the key here. Israel exists as a Jewish state because of demographics.
There are roughly 6 million Jews living in Israel and roughly 1.5 million Israeli Arabs. There are roughly 5 million Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Add those populations together and you have your answer 6 million Jews against 6.5 million Arabs.
What do we mean by a one-state solution or a bi-national state? Essentially a land of Greater Israel, with all the occupied territories officially considered part of Israel. As I have been arguing, this is pretty much already the case. The key issue is the Palestinian citizens of that land are not entitled a vote in order to maintain a Jewish majority and Jewish control over the lands. That cannot be considered to be justice in any sense of the word. Like the American civil rights movement and the South African struggle against Apartheid, all citizens of this world deserve a right to live equally and free from oppression.
Even high-ranking Israeli politicians agree that this is the eventual outcome of this situation. Israeli defense minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said as long as “there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an Apartheid state.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “If the two-state solution collapses,” Israel will “face a South African-style struggle” and he said as soon as that happens “the State of Israel is finished.”
This does not mean for one second I agree with endangering the rights of Israel’s Jewish citizens either. More importantly they should have rights that equal those of their Palestinian neighbours. Everyone should have the right to freedom of religion (as much as I disagree with religion in the first place) and those freedoms should be constitutionally enshrined. However, as I said before, declaring a Jewish state or an Islamic state giving privileges to one group over another is amoral.
What faces the Palestinians in the one-state solution is pretty terrifying too. With Israel refusing to create a two-state solution, their opposition to allowing Palestinians to live and vote amongst them is even greater. If the past is anything to go by, there will only be more and more bloodshed as the dream of a Palestinian state flickers and dies and is replaced by a dream of living a life of equality.
A New Hope Rises from the Ashes
What amazes me is that despite Israel understanding this demographic threat to its “Jewishness” it is still moving full speed ahead to create a Greater Israel by annexing more and more of the West Bank whilst denying the Palestinians a “just” state and as John Mearsheimer puts it, its racist ideology is “effectively helping Israel commit national suicide.”
Sadly, as justified as this solution sounds in theory, in practice there will continue to suffer terribly at the hands of the Israelis for generations to come. However, eventually there is a hope that the Palestinians will eventually get their rights to self-determination, largely due to Israel’s unwavering desire for an Apartheid state has put it on course for total self-destruction.
Hopelessness describes the situation pretty well if you ask me. The only two options on the table are a crippled state forcing the Palestinians to stay living on their knees, or Apartheid with a civil rights struggle that will take decades. In any solution there will most likely be heavy casualties on both sides and what purpose does it all serve? There are those of us who live in hope of a day when all men can live side by side equally, in peace and with religious differences finally put to bed. But sometimes that road seems so long, and the light at the end of that tunnel is so far away that I don’t think any of us will ever live to see it.