My vision of two states for two peoples is closer to the true Zionist dream than any vision that settler leaders have presented denying the reality of two peoples living in this land and agreeing to do so under one flag (which is the Jewish flag).
I met an American-Jewish lawyer this morning who visits Israel frequently; she is a strong supporter of our country, and a proud Zionist. She has been on the liberal side of American politics her whole life, like most American Jews.
She fought for civil rights in the 1960s. She was against the war in Vietnam. She was proud of Israel in 1967, worried in 1973, confused by the first Lebanon war, dismayed by Israel’s continued presence in Lebanon for 18 years.
She saw the first intifada as the birthing ground for a peace process with the Palestinians based on mutual recognition. She was inspired and hopeful when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn in 1993. She was devastated when Rabin was assassinated. She continued to believe in peace and was convinced that the two-state solution was the best way to fulfill Zionism’s dream of a sustainable Jewish nation-state in the land of Israel.
Now, she is challenged within her own Jewish community on the viability of a two-state solution and she finds herself becoming part of a rapidly shrinking group of American Jews who hold firm to the belief that it is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Settlement leaders, writing in The New York Times and other local and international newspapers, tell us that there is no two-state solution, and they claim, there never was. They tell us that the Zionist dream is the fulfillment of the Jewish state in all of the land of Israel and make believe that there is no thing called the Palestinian people.
Every week “talkbackers” to my articles in this newspaper make the same claim. I still have not heard one of them – or any credible settler leader – explain to me how we make peace with our neighbors by implementing a one-state reality.
I have heard some of them say that peace is not in the cards. That is certainly true if we continue to implement the plans that they dictate to the country. They are right: there will be no peace if we deny the Palestinian people their right to self-determination. If we deny them their freedom – if we continue to confiscate their land and build more settlements for Jews only – there will be no peace.
LAST WEEK I wrote here that it seems to many that there is no conflict with the Palestinians, as if the Israeli-Palestinian clash has evaporated. We are really good at it. We have created magical mystery paths of legal wizardry to confiscate land which is not ours.
We have mastered the art of counterfeiting bills of sale and land registration certificates. We even bring people back from the dead to sign documents allowing us to take their land. We have created committees of legal experts who, with a dose of salt and pepper and a magic wand, can make the occupation disappear.
We have produced demographers who don’t need censuses to create facts and who have the amazing ability to add hundreds of thousands of Jews in place of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and presto, there is no “demographic problem.”
The only thing they haven’t gotten down to yet is figuring out how to make those Arabs in Judea and Samaria really disappear. Those Arabs never do what they are supposed to do.
My American-Jewish lawyer friend searched me out because she was told by a common academic friend – another Jewish-American with similar background who had just spent a number of weeks in Israel trying to determine if there remains any chance at all of still having a two-state solution – that Gershon Baskin is the only person left in the peace camp who is still optimistic that is can be achieved. Everyone else, he told her, is busy searching for other options.
I am guilty as charged, and I will try to explain why.
The number one reason is that there is no other solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict except the two-state solution. Yes, there is a conflict and there is a Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. If “solution” means end of conflict, then there is only one solution. I want to be completely clear: I am not talking about states separated with “Berlin walls,” but rather peace based on cooperation and eventually an open border. This must be the goal – a positive peace built on developing trust and normal relations.
Secondly, the physical realities on the ground, created by settler demands and consecutive governments capitulation, are far less paralyzing than they appear to be. The built-up areas of the settlements (as opposed to their artificial statutory borders) amount to less than 3 percent of the West Bank. More than 60% of the West Bank is still uninhabited and undeveloped. That land is under full Israeli control, but eventually, when it is given up by Israel in a peace deal, there is a lot of room available for building the Palestinian state.
Thirdly, the key to moving forward towards peace is mainly in the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This is the same man who surprised the nation by approving the prisoner exchange for Gilad Schalit against all of his previously held values and principles. He ruled in favor of another set of values and principles – the covenant between the people and the state that enable us to have a “peoples’ army,” the basic element of our social solidarity.
He faces a similar dilemma regarding peace with the Palestinians – it is either continuing to settle the entire land or to have a Jewish state which is also democratic. The real Zionist choice is to compromise on the land in order to preserve the democratic Jewish nation state.
He will find a real partner in Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad and the Palestinian people when he finally comes around to realize that he cannot have both the land and a democratic Jewish state.
I still have hopes that Netanyahu will come around to the right conclusion. Most of my readers, friends and foes alike will say that I am dreaming. Perhaps I am. But my vision of two states for two peoples is closer to the true Zionist dream than any vision that settler leaders have presented denying the reality of two peoples living in this land and agreeing to do so under one flag (which is the Jewish flag).
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.