Unlike Masada, agreeing with those around us means working with the international community and the Palestinian people to end our control over them and create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and eventually in Gaza.
It took the Palestinian national movement and its representative organization the PLO (formed in 1964) 24 years to formally accept the existence of Israel and the two-state solution. Twenty-three years later, we are approaching the time when the Palestinian national movement and the PLO will abandon the idea of creating a Palestinian state next to Israel in favor of demanding full political rights within Israel.
Since 1937, when the Peel commission advocated the partition of Palestine-Eretz Yisrael into a Jewish state and an Arab/Palestinian state, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been defined as territorial. A territorial conflict is resolvable because you can divide the territory in question and allow each national movement to have a territorial expression. The main issues concern the delineation of borders, how to manage possible shared areas, border management, allocation, use and preservation of shared natural resources and the preserving and protecting of the environment, economic relations, security arrangements and the post-conflict issues of reconciliation.
If partition is no longer possible or desirable, the territorial conflict is transformed into what I call an identity conflict. An identity conflict is when two or more separate groups fight to determine which will be dominant in determining the nature and character of the territory. Territorial conflicts are easily resolvable.
Identity conflicts are not.
The best example from modern times is what happened in the former Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia broke up, those areas which had a clear territorial national identity could secede and form a nation-state – Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the other hand, were territories with mixed populations of Serbs, Croats and Bosniac Muslims, and no territorial solution was available.
Bosnia became the classic national-ethnic identity conflict. A national-ethnic identity conflict is almost impossible to resolve as long as national-ethnic identity remains how people define themselves. In this situation, violent conflict is almost unavoidable. In Bosnia it rapidly became a matter of everyone against everyone for everything. In four years, 150,000 were killed. It was a society that went insane. The end result was a ceasefire whereby essentially parallel states have been established over the territory. The situation remains extremely fragile, to the extent that people are almost afraid to talk about the conflict, knowing that even talk can easily lead to more violence.
We are close to losing the opportunity to divide Israel-Palestine into two states. The Palestinian leadership says its decision to go to the UN is its last attempt to save this solution. They see increased settlement activity, construction of the separation barrier which takes away more of their land, the Jordan valley being systematically closed off to them, increasing voices from within the Israeli government which say that no solution is possible. All this plus the failure of 18 years of peace process are now withering away support within Palestine of what was a majority in favor of the two-state solution. A growing number of Palestinians are saying they no longer think it is possible to divide the land. This call has been made by Palestinian intellectuals and Palestinian leftist groups since at least the second intifada. Now you will hear more and more people all around the West Bank who no longer believe in this solution. They don’t clearly articulate what the alternative is, but people are speaking loudly about what they call “the one-state solution.”
When I discuss the issue with them, I say there is no such thing as a one-state solution, if solution means the end of the conflict. The one-state option, I say, is a recipe for continuing the conflict for at least another generation. Neither Jews nor Palestinians are really interested in sharing the same state, and neither side is willing to compromise on its own identity.
My perception is that Israeli decision makers are not particularly disturbed by this emerging reality. I think they believe we can perhaps withdraw from territories that the PA controls today – some 38% of the West Bank divided into pockets surrounded by Israeli settlements – and allow them to have the kind of autonomy they enjoy today, perhaps with voting rights in Jordan. Some perhaps believe they can even add some communities of Palestinian citizens of Israel to that Palestinian Autonomous zone (they can even call it PAZ in Hebrew to make it sound nice). These Israeli leaders actually believe that the Palestinians, the Arab world, Europe or even the US will accept this situation.
But they will not. A situation in which Israel controls the entire territory between the Jordan River and the sea, and allows different sets of rights to exist based on national-ethnic identity, will be called under the best circumstances Israeli apartheid. Israel will lose it moral right to exist as a nation. Israel will lose the ability to claim it is a democracy. The Israeli and Palestinian people will suffer beyond imagination once the situation devolves into the next round of violence, when everyone is fighting everyone for everything. It will be national suicide.
We are now living in an isolation which will only grow if we refuse to act in our own self-interest.
Unlike Masada, agreeing with those around us means working with the international community and the Palestinian people to end our control over them and create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and eventually in Gaza. The Palestinians are providing the opportunity to achieve an agreed-on formula for implementing a territorial solution to the conflict through a UN Resolution that would be supported by the world. We should grasp that opportunity and work with the international community to draft the resolution and end the conflict. If we fail to utilize this opportunity, we are likely to strike a death blow to the two-state solution, and to our own right to live in a Jewish nation.
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.