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Some Hear Death Knell for a Two-State Solution

Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

WASHINGTON, Apr 30 2013 (IPS) - Despite indications that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is committing a substantial amount of time and effort to revive the long-stalled Israel-Palestinian “peace process”, a growing number of experts believe a two-state solution is no longer viable and the lack of a realistic discussion of the issue in the United States is leaving the country without an alternative policy.

In the two months since confirmation in his post, Kerry has made three trips to the region. On Monday, he hosted an Arab League delegation, including the League’s secretary general, the Qatari prime minister and representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Lebanon.

"Obama’s failure makes it clear that the U.S. will never be an honest broker." -- Harvard's Stephen Walt

The meeting was aimed at renewing the long-dormant Arab Peace Initiative (API), which promises full normalisation of relations between Israel and all Arab League member states in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967 and a “just resolution” of the Palestinian refugee issue.

Kerry hopes that the API can serve to get Israeli-Palestinian negotiations back on track.

But those efforts may yet be for naught, according to analysts, some of whom have long championed the two-state solution but who now believe that a combination of U.S. fecklessness and Israel’s establishment of “facts on the ground” in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank have made such a settlement impossible.

“The U.S. public has bought a narrative that is totally dishonest and misrepresents the obvious facts – and what can be more obvious that there can be no peace process if you simultaneously steal the land in question,” Henry Siegman, former national director of the now-defunct American Jewish Congress and current senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and president of the US/Middle East Project, said at a recent talk hosted by the Middle East Institute in the halls of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“But the reason the U.S. public is overwhelmingly supportive of the Israeli position is that it is uninformed on geography and world affairs… So it is not surprising that the public accepts a narrative that is totally unrelated to facts on the ground,” he said.

The effect of that distorted narrative is to cripple the United States’ ability to act as an honest broker in this conflict, Siegman said.

“It was always assumed that the United States’ great friendship and support for Israel meant at some point it would say ‘enough’ because if you cross this line, we can no longer invoke our common values – apartheid is not a common value. But the other reason for our failures is that presidents and Congress have never had the courage to act on that reality.”

Philip Weiss, editor of the anti-Zionist web site, Mondoweiss, clarified the reason for that inactivity, and contended that the key place to try and change things is within the U.S. Jewish community.

“The U.S. has allowed this to happen despite knowing Israeli ambitions (to control all of the West Bank) due to the Israel Lobby,” Weiss said. “The Lobby draws its strength from the U.S. Jewish community’s commitment to Zionism… Zionism was once a valid response to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. But the need for Israel to be a Jewish state leads inevitably to the excesses of occupation.”

Professor Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and co-author of the controversial book, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy”, identified the United States as a major reason for the current impasse.

“The failure of the two-state solution means we have to start considering alternatives,” Walt said. “For the past 15 years or so, the two-state solution was the consensus of the foreign policy community. The problem is that this goal is further away than ever.

“Many believe it is now impossible, due to settlements, the Israeli drift to right and the split [between Fatah and Hamas] among the Palestinians.

“[President Barack] Obama’s failure makes it clear that the U.S. will never be honest broker…That’s why we need alternatives. People will want to know what the U.S. is in favour of instead.”

The “failures” Walt spoke of are not limited to Obama’s first term. Despite a well-received speech during Obama’s first presidential visit to Jerusalem as well as two trips to Israel by Kerry, the divide between Israel and the Palestinians seems more entrenched than ever.

Reports from Israel after Kerry’s visit earlier this month indicated that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Kerry’s formula for dealing with borders and security first as a way to restart talks with the Palestinians.

This cannot be surprising, as Netanyahu’s own party, Likud, as well as two of his three major coalition partners, the Israel Beiteinu and The Jewish Home parties, are strong supporters of the settlement franchise.

Kerry’s strategy to encourage progress through Palestinian economic growth was deeply undermined by the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad just after that same visit.

While Kerry insisted that his economic initiative was not meant to replace a political peace process, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas insisted on focusing on the political issues such as Israeli settlements and the fates of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Even Kerry’s attempt to build on the progress Obama made in rekindling diplomacy between Israel and Turkey by asking Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan to postpone a planned trip to Gaza was met with refusal and a sharp rebuke of Kerry from Turkey.

All of this suggests that there is no hope on the immediate horizon. Secretary Kerry testified before a Senate subcommittee recently and said there was a window of only one to two years for the two-state solution, and given the lack of opportunity now, this is strong evidence for the position that the path to two states is indeed closed.

In a clear signal of the international community’s frustration with the U.S.’s failure to find any progress in the conflict, a recent letter signed by 19 former European prime ministers, presidents and foreign ministers urges European Union Foreign Affairs Representative Catherine Ashton to take immediate action to save the two-state solution.

“European leaders cannot wait forever for action from the United States,” the letter says, while advocating a clear EU statement that all Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders are illegal and calling for stronger efforts to unify the divided Palestinian leadership, among other measures.

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  • Mark Thomason

    “the lack of a realistic discussion of the issue in the United States is leaving the country without an alternative policy.”

    That is the point. If they don’t pretend the two state solution, they would have to face questions they do not want to answer. Specifically, the US absolutely will not support the policy the Israelis are pursuing, which is ethnic cleansing in slow motion. The Israelis absolutely will not support the only policy that the US would support, which is one state that is secular with equal civil rights for all both in law and in practice. To avoid that confrontation, they play pretend. It is in the Palestinian interest not to play along. The EU will even more than the US break with Israel over this, if it can be made to face the end of the two state games.

  • Speaker of the truth

    Are you serious? The only country in the Middle East that gives Palestenians ANY RIGHTS is Israel. In Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, etc. a Palestenian is not allowed to own land or even have such jobs as doctors and lawyers. You need to learn what you are talking about.
    This article is a joke

  • lightweaver1213

    There are a few places of dialogue in this article and I am not sure if the comments are continued on behalf of Mr. Henry Siegman, or if the comments are by the author of the article, Mitchell Plitnick, but as an American who has studied the lands in the Middle East, and who has been following the MiddleEastern conflicts by reading many online news articles daily, and one who has searched Wikipedia for land boundaries between the Arabs and Jews in order to gain some insight and to be better informed, I found this article to be highly inflammatory towards the US and Americans based on the following:

    1) “But the reason the U.S. public is overwhelmingly supportive of the Israeli position is that it is uninformed on geography and world affairs… So it is not surprising that the public accepts a narrative that is totally unrelated to facts on the ground,” he said. Does anyone realize how many Americans travel to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, etc. daily, monthly, and yearly????

    2) I admire Mr. Kerry for his efforts. I truthfully do not know what Israel expects from us. The comments almost border on slander. The United States as well as other countries, are allies with Israel. However, the US is NOT Israel’s SAVIOR!!!!! It is not our responsibility to make decisions on lands in the region of Israel and Palestine. What allies do is what we are doing, engaging in dialogue, putting suggestions on the table for thought.

    3) In the same manner [with help of allies] that Israel gained recognition as its own nation is what the Palestinians are seeking. You cannot have a nation with boundaries in one location and then traverse to another area of land (not connected by boundaries) to get to the other part of what would be hoped for as part of that nation. It belies logistics and geography and really makes no sense.

    4) There has to be some ‘give-and-take’ if you are ever to succeed at brokering a deal. What is so difficult about putting the map on the large conference table and physically making some determinations that will be workable?

    I’ll need to come back to this after I read it again.

  • hughjones

    Excellent analysis. The Jews came to the U.S. and fought for equal rights and a secular state and now look at them. Give the ‘Right of Return’ to the Palestinians and equal rights and the M.E. is their oyster!

  • Peter

    1. How many Americans know the history and geography of the region that aren’t Arab or Jewish?

    2. It is also not our responsibility to provide financial, diplomatic, and political cover for Israel while getting nothing in return. Your second is typical of Israel’s supporters who want all the benefits of an US – Israeli alliance without giving anything in return.

    3. Your third point ignores Alaska which is separated by Canada from the US mainland. Malaysia is divided by a body of water. Russia also has sovereign territory(Kalinigrad) separated by three country. Also UN 181 intended the Palestinian Arab areas to be separated so this concept is continuous sovereignty is nothing new.

    4. You forget things such as resources, roads, etc.. that makes the situation more complicated than it looks.

  • lightweaver1213

    I appreciate your comments back to me. I wish I had taken more interest in geography beyond 10th grade. Now I’m 61 and trying to play ‘catch-up.’ Unless you can really physically see the land it is hard to render an honest suggestion or so it seems. I have taken into consideration some of your points such as both Hawaii and Alaska being separated by water. I didn’t know about Russia’s territory. I think my main viewpoints aren’t necessarily based on US relations with Israel, rather that everyone has a right to dwell in shelter, have the right to peace, have food/water, and education. Four of these rights I believe every human being is entitled to regardless of religion, race, etc. I know the Mediterranean Sea runs along Gaza upwards to the West Bank area. I don’t know if it’s habitable land vs. desert? Yes, in viewing this stretch of land as a possibility for Gaza to have open land, I have thought about resources such as roads, electric lines, water/sewage, etc. I am foremost a Christian who believes that with God, all things are possible. Please feel free to comment back.

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