Ten Questions for Supporters of a Two-State Solution. Part 1: Borders.


In the introductory post to this series, I argued that most current versions of the two-state solution are not viable and thus do not deserve to be taken seriously.

Nowadays, saying “I support a two-state solution” without any elaboration is just as meaningless or absurdist as saying “I support a no-state solution.”

In this post, I begin laying out precisely the sorts of elaborations that any solution – two-state or one-state – must address in order to become a meaningful statement. This is not a high bar to clear: many bad proposals should be capable of not being non-sense. But unfortunately, most versions of the two-state solution will not be able to answer these very basic questions.

This list of questions is by no means comprehensive; there are any number of smaller questions that must be figured out in the course of negotiations. But anyone who cannot answer these ten basic questions simply cannot be taken seriously. In other words, in the absence of clear, realistic answers to these questions a declaration of support for a two-state solution is essentially the same thing as a declaration of support for the apartheid status quo.

Once again, I want to urge those of us who support one-state solutions to likewise consider our answers to these questions, as well (especially when we move away from issues of drawing borders next post). As we shall see at the end of this exercise, we who support a single-state likewise have to elaborate our positions in more detail.

In the meantime, let us begin our Ten Questions for Supporters of a Two-State Solution:

1) Where are the borders?

The following image showing current Jewish settlement-colonies in the Occupied West Bank is taken from two-state proponents Americans for Peace Now’s very useful “Facts on the Ground” Interactive Map. Blue dots are settlement-colonies ilegal under international law while red dots are settlement-colonies illegal under both international and Israeli law.   

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 12.39.01 PM 

Quick! Draw a border.

That’s what I thought.

As the editor-in-chief of Ma’an News Agency recently told Mondoweiss’s Max Blumenthal:

Let them [Israel] call it what they like. But there will be no Palestinian state — I can’t see on a map where is Palestine and where is Israel.” Laham said he liked to challenge Israeli journalists to draw their country on a map, only because none of them are able to do it.

Back in the late-1990s, when “everybody knew” the solution, the borders were fairly obvious. Roughly, they would parallel the 1967 Green Line, with minor land swaps. Israel would keep Modi’in just on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, for example, while giving up some territory beyond the Green Line in the north or south to compensate for the loss of land.

Today, Israel refuses to use the Green Line as the basis for negotiations towards a two-state solutions. It is rather difficult to find any talk of future borders whatsoever amongst Israeli politicians of any variety. But when they do speak of borders, they now almost always talk about how “everybody knows” that they will keep all of the major settlement blocs, where around 75% of the settler-colonist population of the West Bank resides. Defining a settlement-bloc is rather difficult – some might say intentionally so – but the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem came up with the following educated guess:

In addition, Israel insists on keeping the “strategically important” Jordan Valley under its control. Once again, the exact boundaries of such an area are unclear, but ARIJ once again takes an educated, if on the expansionist side, guess.

Even the most conservative estimates put the Israeli “plan” as annexing 20% of the West Bank while isolating major Palestinian cities from each other. Just try and chart a path from Qalqilya to Hebron on the map above. No wonder Israel is refusing to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders!

We should stress once again, that the plan outlined above is the “consensus” mainstream Israeli plans. When talking with those who support the two-state solution in Israel and in their “liberal”-Zionist supporters, this is the plan they are most likely talking about. And it is completely unworkable, even if Israel could somehow convince the Palestinian leadership to accept such a raw deal.

So the first challenge to those who still support a two-state solution is to find the territory upon which  to establish a viable Palestinian state. Unless they can do this is a way that creates a viable Palestinian state, they are not serious. 

2) Do you divide Jerusalem?

This is more of a subset of the borders question than anything else, but it is always spun off as a separate issue for reasons that escape me.

For some bizarre reason, mainstream Israel has decided that the issue of Jerusalem is settled and they are keeping all of it. The issue is obviously far from settled, though. And the more construction of Jewish-only neighborhoods that happens around Jerusalem and the more Israel entrenches in this view, the less any possibility of any viable two-state solution becoming reality.

I won’t say that there is no possibility of a two-state solution without a divided or shared Jerusalem – because the awful PA leadership has given indications it is willing to compromise on the matter – but it does make things a hell of a lot more difficult, especially given the next question…

3) Where is Jerusalem?

I recently went on a tour of the Mt. of Olives with some family that was visiting from abroad. Unfortunately, the tour guide we got was not up to scratch. As we crossed into East Jerusalem, a woman on the tour asked him if we were going to be in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or not. Standing in illegally annexed land, he answered no. As we approached an eastern-facing lookout on top of the Mount of Olives, the same woman asked if we could see the West Bank at all. Staring directly into it, he once again answered no, stating that everything she was seeing was Israel, except for the tiny little bit of Palestine we could see.

I do not think our guide was being intentionally deceptive. Rather, it did not ever occur to this tour guide, who identified himself as left-of-center, that he was not only standing in Occupied East Jerusalem, but that he was staring out onto the West Bank, dotted as the landscape may have been by illegal Jewish-only settlement-colonies.

This is not a unique experience. “Peace activists” regularly object when I point out that Gilo is just as illegal under international law as is Gush Etzion. Likewise, I have been on tours with Jewish Israeli “peace groups” that tell me how “everybody knows” Israel will keep Ma’ale Adumim, increasingly referred to by Israel as part of the “indivisible Jerusalem.”

This ever-expanding idea of Jerusalem is also starting to filter outside of Israel as well. Recently, the New York Times ran a story referring to the settlement-colony of Har Homa as “a neighborhood on Jerusalem’s southern edge” despite the fact that it is closer to Bethlehem than to Jerusalem. These expansions – increasingly naturalized for even so-called leftist Israelis – are a huge impediment to any two-state vision.

As even the Europe Union now recognizes, current construction activity around the E-1 expansion of Ma’ale Adumim would make the creation of any Palestinian state – even one without Jerusalem – an impossibility, by cutting off the northern from the southern parts of the West Bank. Less well-covered, though perhaps even more problematic, are the Jewish-only neighborhoods being constructed throughout East Jerusalem.

The emerging policy consensus internationally – and certainly within Israel – is that Jerusalem will remain under sole Israeli control as part of any two-state solution. As I stated above in #2, this “consensus” alone is probably enough to scuttle any realistic possibility of achieving a two-state solution. But even if this understanding can somehow be forced upon Palestinian negotiators, the ever-expanding borders of Jerusalem make any establishment of a Palestinian state available. If these settlement-colonies are part of the “eternal Jewish capital of Jerusalem,” then we are no longer seriously talking about a two-state solution.

On the other hand, you also have several neighborhoods which – unlike Har Homa or Ma’ale Adumim – are within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but are completely cut off from the rest of the city by a 30-foot tall steel-reinforced concrete “separation barrier.” The 25,000 residents of Kufr Aqab, 20,000 residents of the Shuafat refugee camp, or 1500 of Sheikh Sa’ad are legal permanent residents of Jerusalem residing within the city’s municipal boundaries. Here, the “indivisible Jerusalem” has been quite literally divided, and its residents cut off from most basic municipal services. Moreover, because of surrounding Jewish settlement-colonies that Israeli conventional wisdom believes it will keep in a two-state solution, it is difficult to imagine any territorial contiguity with these areas will be achieved. So what do two-state supporters propose be done with these neighborhoods? Will they find ways of incorporating these long-neglected ares of the city? Will they forcibly expel these residents and ethnically cleanse the city? Or will they seek to maintain semi-permanent ghettos within their midsts forever?

Questions 1 through 3 are all about the borders imagines for a future Palestinian state. Anyone who cannot present a reasonable answer to the questions of where to draw the borders, what to do with Jerusalem, and where they consider Jerusalem to be is simply not talking about a serious proposal for ending the conflict. In the absence of clear proposals on these questions, expressing support for a two-state solution is absolutely meaningless. In effect, there is no difference between such meaningless expression for a two-state solution and expressing support for the current apartheid regime: both achieve the exact same ends.

Although perhaps the most obvious issue to consider, however, borders are not the only thing that supporters of the two-state solution must figure out if they want to present serious proposals for ending the Palestine-Israel conflict. Join us next time as we look at the more human factors. As we do so, we’ll also start to encounter more directly the sorts of issues that one-state supporters must address if we wish to present clear pathways towards ending the conflict.

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