Israel and the two-state dilemma

Israel and the two-state dilemma

Israel insists on seeing its conflict with the Palestinians in ideological terms, stymieing all attempts to reach a workable settlement.

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By Ahmed ElSoukkary

This article addresses the dilemma of the two-state solution, taking into account the Israeli perspective, and argues that stagnancy in the Middle East peace process is based more on the stance of Israel relative to its ultimate goal —to establish one Jewish state — than the inability or unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to make a necessary leap.

Palestinian interest in the two-state solution is decreasing while around 75 per cent of Israelis are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders if it means withdrawing Israeli troops from the Jordan Valley, according to a survey conducted by a right-wing think-tank headed by a political ally of the Israeli prime minister. Previous surveys showed that up to 60 per cent of Israeli public opinion was in favour of a two-state solution.

“Many used to say that the core of the conflicts in the Middle East, and from there the rest of the world, were rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a recent speech. “That was never true, but it’s now demonstrably false.”

He continued, “And what we see is the old order established after the Ottoman Empire collapsing and militant Islam, either of the Shia hue led by Iran, or the Sunni hue led by ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], rushing to fill the void. Now those two forces are clashing with each other because each wants to be king of the Islamist hill. [It] is a battle of militant Islam against other Muslims, and against everyone else.”

Netanyahu’s words show clearly the extent to which Israel does not recognise the danger of a continuation of the current status quo in the Middle East peace process. The current deadlock could flare-up in a vicious cycle of violence. This would be the worst possible outcome, not only for both sides, but also for the region and the world at this critical moment of global challenges and crises especially the refugee and migration crisis, and the threat of violent terrorism.

The Israeli conviction that the conflict with the Palestinians is ideological rather than territorial leads to the conclusion that the conflict can’t be resolved by drawing lines on a map, but rather by forcing the Palestinians to live under the aegis of one “Jewish” state — an idea totally rejected not only by the Palestinians but also by the Arab and Muslim community. The Israeli vision of peace with the Palestinians includes a number of interrelated elements, as follows:

  • The core of the conflicts in the Middle East is a battle between early medievalism and modernity — a battle being waged now around the world.
  • The advanced countries in the world (the supposedly civilised countries of the world) have to make common cause to contain and ultimately defeat militant Islam.
  • Israel is determined not to allow any of the violent “medievalist forces” to threaten the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
  • Israeli official circles believe that the territorial aspect is an issue that needs to be addressed in a peace process, including the question of settlements, but that it is not the core of the conflict.
  • Israelis believe that instead of gaining peace from negotiating with the Palestinians, they gave up territory and got 15,000 rockets on their heads. When they removed the settlements in Gaza, they disinterred people from their graves. But peace did not prevail. Rather, they got the worst terror possible.
  • The Palestinians persistently refuse — not only Hamas in Gaza, but also the Palestinian Authority as well — to accept that in a final peace settlement they recognise the Jewish state. Israelis believe that they are being asked to recognise a nation-state for the Palestinian people, but that Palestinians refuse that same right for Israelis.
  • The only workable solution is not a unitary state, but a demilitarised Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish state. That’s the solution from the Israeli side. But the Palestinians, according to Israel’s vision, have to first recognise the Jewish state.
  • Israeli officials do not perceive the Palestinians as real partners in the Middle East peace process because of their refusal to recognise a nation-state for the Jewish people. Before the elections, Netanyahu said that so long as he was prime minister no Palestinian state would be established. After the elections he said he was not retracting his position, but expressed support for the “two states for two peoples” solution. However, from the Israeli perspective, the core of the conflict is the inability or unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to make a leap towards peace.
  • Israelis, according to Israeli polls, are not interested in whether a resolution is labelled as two states, separation, one state, or shared sovereignty. They have a phobia of the lack of security inside Israeli society itself. This will raise again the trend towards the militarisation of Israeli society that will overshadow possible efforts aimed at finding solutions to the peace dilemma.

Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to have a state of their own is fundamental to the Israeli vision of peace, and the absence of this recognition is cast as the real obstacle.

Because of this, we can conclude that the two-state solution is actually not negotiable by either Israel or the Palestinians as their respective views of the negotiation process are completely different.

Israel wants an ideologically based solution while the Palestinians need to revise their negotiating strategy in order to bridge the deep gap between negotiating positions and find a real solution to the stalemate in the region.

Ahmed ElSoukkary is a foreign policy practitioner and the holder of a PhD in international negotiation management from Cairo University.

This article has been published in Al- Ahram Weekly newspaper in its Issue No.1280, 28 January, 2016 and it is republished here in TransConflict with the permission of Al-Ahram Establishment.. The original can be accessed by clicking here.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

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