Palestinian affairs expert and longtime journalist Danny Rubenstein came to visit me a couple of evenings ago. He was researching the issue of the transfer of cash to Gaza that Defense Minister Barak had allowed. After clarifying this issue our conversation went on to discuss what Danny called the emerging “bi-national reality” that has developed in the West Bank and has become more entrenched, perhaps beyond the point of no return. Danny is one of the real experts. He’s been covering Palestinian affairs since 1967, has written several highly respected books on Palestinians, their national movement and leaders. He has contacts in every part of Palestine, with all sectors of the society. His conclusion concerning the “bi-national reality” is drawn from observations over the past months after traveling north, south, east and west – all throughout the West Bank, spending hours listening to people and observing the reality on the ground.
I told Danny that I am not ready to give up the hope that our leaders will find the wisdom and the courage to implement the “two-state solution” before it is too late. In my heart, I had to wonder if Danny wasn’t right. Perhaps it is already too late. Perhaps the events of Hebron, of the forced removal of the settlers from the building that they claim and the riots that broke out afterwards when they went on the rampage against Palestinians in Hebron demonstrates in the most bloody terms that these two communities might be too locked into a entanglement that is already beyond the possibility to untangle.
IT IS not only Hebron that might be impossible to disembroil. The settlement enterprise has implanted about 500,000 Israeli Jews (including greater Jerusalem) beyond the Green Line in the occupied territories. Along with those settlers in their segregated communities comes a whole system of infrastructure, roads, public transportation, water, sewage, post offices, police and more. Although the entire area is essentially controlled by Israel, there are two entirely separate systems of governance and the provision of services, but in reality, Israel controls it all. The Palestinian Authority is little more than a “puppet” government and President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are essentially little more than mayors. In principle it might be possible to separate the two systems; in reality it may actually be impossible. When one wanders around the West Bank the question of how Israel will ever withdraw itself from all of those settlements is a natural one to ask. Any acceptable future border between a State of Palestine and the State of Israel with the Palestinians accepting the principle of a minor land swap of about 3 percent of the West Bank will mean that Israel will have to remove about 100 settlements with at least 80,000 settlers. Part of the solution could be in the proposed legislation for voluntary resettlement and compensation. Some of the settlers might agree to move from their settlement to another settlement within the Israeli annexed areas that will remain in “Judea and Samaria.” A large number of settlers will not cooperate at all.
The Gaza disengagement provides one model whereby the Israeli police and army physically removed the settlers from their homes. In principle, that could work, but will the settlers resort only to non-violent resistance? What would happen if the settlers took up arms against those coming to remove them? What would happen if there was more wide-spread refusal on the part of soldiers to remove them? Even before the stage when the government has to remove the settlers, what if there is simply no Israeli leader or a parliamentary majority willing to make the territorial compromise necessary for peace with the Palestinians? Tzipi Livni negotiated with the Palestinians for a whole year. She was unsuccessful at reaching an agreement, and she had the political will to do it. What will happen if it is Binyamin Netanyahu is on the Israeli side of the table “negotiating” with the Palestinians? Will he have the political will to reach a peace agreement based on real territorial concessions? Will he be able to enable the Palestinians to establish their capital in East Jerusalem? Without this there is no peace agreement.
The Palestinians negotiated with Livni because they honestly believed that it might be possible to reach an agreement with her. There is absolutely no belief on the Palestinian side that Netanyahu, with a right-wing religious parties-backed coalition will be able or willing to negotiate anything of substance with them. Netanyahu’s “economy first” plan is a non-starter for the Palestinians. They have lost hope with false promises. They know from experience of years that there can be no real Palestinian economy that is under occupation. The needs of the occupier will always come before the needs of the Palestinian population and the Palestinian economy will always be subservient to perceived Israeli economic interests and to Israeli security prerogatives. Palestinians are not going to give up their national struggle so that they can have a few more dollars, euros or shekels in their pockets. You cannot buy people’s personal or national dignity. The Zionist movement in pre-State days would have never given in to some British ploy to improve our economic lot in lieu of our national rights for independence and sovereignty. The Palestinians are no different from us in that respect. They will not give up their freedom for money. They will not end their struggle because Netanyahu tells them that they should build their economy before they get their national rights. If there is no real peace, there will be real violence.
THE PALESTINIAN desire for independence and sovereignty will not be broken, but it will evolve. There are two separate and clear evolutions of the Palestinian national movement taking place. One is Gaza. Islamic fundamentalism is a clear direction of evolution of the Palestinian national dream. The hope for a better reality is transformed into the hope of a better future, even if it means in the afterlife. The bottom line is not to give into Israel or to the West, to maintain hard-line firm positions cushioned by blind faith in an omnipotent Allah whose plan we cannot understand but we know that he is on own side.
The other evolution is the secular answer of the Palestinian intellectuals. They say: “The two-state solution is no longer viable – not by our choice, but by the choice of the ‘Zionists’ who chose settlement and occupation over logic.” Palestinian intellectuals, including the very same people who led the Palestinian national movement to support the two state solution, have now turned back to the bi-national plan. They are not naïve enough to believe that Israel will accept the bi-national reality that it has created. They know that Israel will continue to hold onto the occupation and to keep the local Palestinian population under its guns and control. They know that the price of accepting the bi-national option is continued struggle which will more than likely be much bloodier than anything we have seen until now.
IT IS hard to imagine that there are Israelis who actually believe that this totally unequal reality is sustainable. But there are. There are perhaps millions of them in Israel today, and they are probably going to vote for the Likud. With Netanyahu at the helm and without a course to steer that leads towards sincere negotiations with the Palestinians on all of the core issues, including Jerusalem, the chances for reaching a two-state solution will rapidly fade away and in its face will come, without a doubt, the bi-national reality, either in its secular form or in its Hamas form.
The international community will respond quickly. It may take the US longer because the hope for the two-state solution will linger longer across the ocean, even with a president who should be super sensitive to blatant discrimination. The bi-national reality will be brutal because by accepting it the Palestinians will not be acquiescing to the status quo. There is nothing about the status quo that will be acceptable or that can be acceptable. If the secular evolution endures, the Palestinians will launch and international struggle for full democracy – one person one vote for everyone living between the river and the sea. Once the two-state solution is no longer viable, and with the election of Netanyahu we will rapidly approach that moment, the dream of a democratic Jewish state will be lost. The international community, even Israel’s best friends, will not be able to accept the bi-national reality where the Jewish people completely control the lives of millions of Palestinians who no longer want independence in their own state. The Palestinians will demand democracy, civil rights, the right to vote, the right to be elected, the right for representation, the right to change the character of the bi-national state. They will never agree to some form of counterfeit freedom called “economic peace” or “autonomy.” Netanyahu and Feiglin and their friends can dream on.
If the secular evolution does not endure, Hamas will rise and then the security of the entire region, even east of the Jordan River and to our south across Sinai into Egypt, will be threatened.
The end of Zionism is in sight brought to us by the very hands that created the bi-national reality on the ground in the name of Zionism. This does not have to be the course that we take. But that decision will be made by us on February 10, 2009.
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.