The apparent political dead-end in the Middle East Peace Process combined with a deepening apartheid-like reality on the ground, has reached a degree where many Palestinians and Israelis are asking not can the two-state solution be salvaged but should it? And, perhaps more urgently, what may be the alternatives? Khaled Elgindy, Fellow at the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy and Leila Hilal, Director of New America’s Middle East Task Force, moderated a discussion on this critical question with Omar Dajani at the New America Foundation.
Dajani is a Professor of Law at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific and a former adviser to the UN Special Coordinator to the Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larson, and the Palestinian negotiating team (1999-2001). He shared comments on the continuing centrality of a two-state paradigm for Palestinians and Israelis while arguing adaption, including new strategies from the Palestinian Authority and for America’s role in resolving the conflict.
1. Can/Should the two-state solution be salvaged?
Despite signs of failure, abandoning a two-state solution is problematic because a solution based on partition is a better vehicle for achieving Palestinian rights and Jewish-Palestinian co-existence. A two-state approach serves Palestinian self-determination because it would allow Palestinians political enfranchisement, and the ability to shape their own institutions, education policy, economic development, and foreign policy (in a way that reflects Palestine’s connection to the region). This arguably could not be achieved under a one-state solution as it negates self-determination, something that remains critically important to Palestinians.
Conventional thinking around the one-state solution is premised on two flawed assumptions: first, that Israel can be swayed through international pressure or moral suasion to abandon its self-perception as a Jewish state; and, second, that Palestinians will have a better chance of achieving political enfranchisement and refugee return through a civil rights struggle than through national independence. If the U.S. can’t persuade Bahrain, a relatively more pliable ally, to enforce democratic principles, it certainly won’t be able to force Israel vis-à-vis the one-state framework.
A participant noted that there’s a difference between the one-state solution and a one-state outcome – what exists now is a one-state reality. Therefore, one might frame the political challenge now as being about ensuring Palestinian rights within the existing reality according to the principle of equality.
2. Adapt Oslo
That said, how the two-state solution was conceived within the Oslo peace process needs to be transformed in fundamental ways responding to practical realities and the illiberal and ahistorical paradigm of the Oslo framework.
a. Abandon the condition of end of claims: Ehud Barak championed the view that the end of the conflict ought to be accompanied by an end of claims. This was raised in particular relation to the refugee issue. But, if there is a territorial settlement in the coming years, it is unlikely that it will include a resolution of the refugee issue in a way that is satisfactory to Palestinians. The issue is best deferred until a later time when it might be addressed more constructively. Palestinians, accordingly, should not be pressed to renounce their right of return, just as Israeli Jews should not be obliged to forswear their historical and religious attachment to the West Bank.
b. Abandon the conception of partition as separation: The status quo is separation but not partition. Under the framework of partition and not separation, there would be open borders between Palestine and Israel -- the populations do not necessarily have to be separate yet there would be two different states. Is this idealistic? Consider Europe and the Schengen visa arrangements. Israel and Palestine occupy a much smaller territorial range making it more practical to administer and fairer to imagine. Open borders would bring better economic opportunity and pose a good example for the region. It also would lower the stakes with respect to issues such as where the border is drawn and eventually make it easier to address the issue of refugee return.
c. Abandon position that settlers leave: Settlers should not necessarily be ordered to leave and settlements should not necessarily be dismantled. They should fall under the jurisdiction of the government of Palestine. This would convey recognition of Jewish historical and religious attachment to the West Bank while ushering a similar recognition of Palestinians’ attachment to their historical homeland. It is for the Palestinians to show that we are open to pluralism and defang opposition to territorial compromise. However, details such as land restitution or Jewish settler extremism were not examined closely in the session.
3. What about the Palestinian Authority (PA)?
The PA remains trapped inside the constraints of Oslo. Many have been calling for the dismantling or dissolution of the PA, but before such a step is seriously advocated, the goals behind it must be clarified. Some support dissolving the PA as a means toward moving outside the paradigm of the two-state solution. For the reasons discussed earlier, that approach is likely to yield neither Palestinian political enfranchisement nor a just settlement of the refugee question.
Others support dissolving the PA as a means of changing the Palestinian leadership. If that is the aim, then we must consider whether the PA’s dissolution would lead to democratic change or a political vacuum that could be exploited by Israel and/or undemocratic forces within Palestine.
And still others support dissolving the PA as a means of ending Palestinian subordination to Israel under the Oslo Accords. But if the Oslo Framework is the problem then the answer is not to dismantle Palestinian national institutions. Rather it is quite the opposite. The Palestinian leadership should “muster the courage of its convictions” with regard to its quest for recognition of Palestinian statehood by declaring the Oslo Accords dead and announcing its intention to exercise sovereignty over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, beginning immediately with the areas currently under PA jurisdiction.
This approach is confrontational – and, if it is to be successful, it will require careful advance planning. Palestinians must have a plan regarding what arrangements will replace the Oslo Accords’ economic and security framework. In addition, the states and multilateral institutions from whom the PA has received support must understand that they are being asked to make a choice – to commit politically (not just morally or financially) to the cause of Palestinian state-building.
This led to discussion of the missing Palestinian national strategy and sense of agency. The PA hasn’t managed to make either Israel or the US pay a price for the occupation. The Palestinian leadership thinks time is on their side and that Israel will eventually realize its future is tied up with Palestine’s. The PA has never been able to leverage the nonviolent movement, but only to rhetorically praise it.
4. The role of the United States (U.S.)
Acknowledging the limitations of the U.S. to bring about any kind of solution, discussion of the U.S. role centered on the catch phrase – less is more. In this sense, if the U.S. cannot take a pro-active role in moving the parties toward an agreement then at the very least it should adopt a non-interventionist approach to Palestinian internal affairs premised on the commitment to “do no harm” to Palestinian efforts to achieve internal political reconciliation. Added to this was the recommendation that the revision of the Oslo framework should include the disbandment of its progenies: namely, the Roadmap, Quartet, and the fiction of the MEPP. The US should also enforce its own rules and regulations to close loop holes that allow US entities to support settlement expansion.