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MIDEAST: Time Running Out for Two-State Solution

Analysis by Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH, Jun 1 2011 (IPS) - Time is of the essence if the implementation of a two-state solution to end the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to succeed. Changing demographics both within Israeli and Palestinian society could render this impossible, with a one-state solution the only feasible outcome.

An eventual one-state solution, however, would lead to two possible scenarios. Either Israel would extend the franchise to all Palestinians in the occupied territories, which would lead to the end of Israel’s Jewish character, or Palestinians would be denied the vote and Israel would be officially pronounced an apartheid state.

Following recent talks in Washington between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, analysts and political pundits are warning that with the establishment of facts on the ground the two-state solution is under growing threat.

“Israel could be the Titanic heading towards the iceberg,” says Gershon Baskin, the Israeli co-CEO of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI).

“The two-state solution is still possible despite the physical realities on the ground. The settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem can be dismantled or evacuated and handed over to the Palestinians similar to what happened to the settlements in Gaza during Israel’s withdrawal from there in 2005,” Baskin told IPS.

“Furthermore, an agreement can still be reached with the current Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership. They will continue to cooperate with the international community and with Israel if the latter shows flexibility.

“But if no agreement is reached with the Israeli government then the next generation of Palestinian leaders will give up entirely on the two-state solution and will ask for the vote to be extended to the Palestinian territories. Due to the Palestinians’ higher birth rate this will lead to one-state and the end of Israel’s higher Jewish demography.”

Baskin travels regularly to the West Bank and films non-violent protests against the continued expropriation of Palestinian land and the expulsion of Palestinian civilians from their homes to make way for illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

“The young Palestinians I speak to who have no political affiliation say that the current Palestinian leadership is the most moderate the Israelis will ever have. They argue that they have given Israel the most generous offer ever. The Palestinians are prepared to settle for a homeland on just 22 percent of historical Palestine and will accept the Israelis keeping the remaining 78 percent.”

Palestinians were the indigenous majority before hundreds of thousands either fled or were expelled by Israeli forces during the state’s establishment in 1948.

The last chance for the two-state solution may come in September when the PA takes its case for independence to the UN. The General Assembly will recognise the fledgling state and then the Palestinians will have the moral victory of recognition even if the Security Council doesn’t back the establishment.

The matter can then be taken to international bodies such as The International Court of Justice amongst others. This could lead to international sanctions against Israel as an illegal occupier of another country.

Dr Samir Awad from Birzeit University near Ramallah agrees that the time for a two-state solution is running out.

“It is becoming more problematic. The plans presented to the Palestinians by the Israeli leadership are designed for rejection. They want to present a state without East Jerusalem, without the Jordan valley, no right of return for refugees, the continuation of many settlements, and maintaining border and air space control,” Awad told IPS.

“The situation could be resolved if the Americans would pressure the Israelis but they won’t. But the realities of history can’t be ignored, and history will ultimately be on the side of the oppressed and those denied historical justice. People should remember this.”

In the meantime the demographics of Israel’s population have changed dramatically in the last few decades with Haredi or orthodox Jews heading to become a quarter of Israel’s population in the future, with their high birth rate.

Extremely right-wing Haredi political parties such as Shas are powerful coalition factors in the make-up of Israeli governments, dictating a fair amount of policy. The Haredi population has little education and high rates of unemployment, leading to a drain on Israel’s economy as well as its secular and more politically compromising demographic.

Furthermore, Russian immigrants to Israel now comprise approximately a fifth of the population. Coming from former totalitarian regimes many of them are also little inclined to accept the Palestinians as equals.

And within Israel itself the birth rate of Israel’s Palestinian minority outstrips that of the Jewish majority. Combined with the “demographic threat” in the Palestinian territories, this is another “time bomb” the Israelis fear.

This is the reason that some of Israeli’s Knesset members are arguing that Israel’s survival may well depend on the successful implementation of the two-state solution.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said in 2007, “if the two-state solution fails, Israel will face a South African style struggle for political rights.” And “once that happens,” he warned, “the state of Israel is finished.”

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