Two States, Too Little, Too Late
Recently, famous peace activist and renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, one of the great moral figures of North America, wrote about the Israeli Wall and its invidious agenda ("The Wall as a Weapon," New York Times, 23 February 2004). In his meticulously written deconstruction of Israel's false and disingenuous arguments, he calls for the almost forgotten "two states for two people" solution to be revived, and for the wall, if one was felt to be necessary, to be built on Israeli land. While it is difficult to disagree with Chomsky that this vile construction of the largest ghetto wall in creation is one that should never have been built on Palestinian land, his whole argument is problematic.
The two-state solution, in the form of Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line of the pre-1967 war, would, if implemented, leave the Palestinians with 22 per cent of their own country. For the Palestinian population, which is roughly the size of the Israeli Jewish population, after a century of suffering to accept the loss of four fifths of their country to foreign settlers, "returning" after two millennia, is not an easy solution to accept.
It is made even more difficult by the facts on the ground. Israel would have territorial contiguity, while Palestine would be divided into two parts, with connecting roads under Israeli control. All the valuable assets of the small country -- water resources, coastline, arable land -- would be in Israeli hands. Israel has the fourth most powerful army in the world, a First World technological economy and the unwavering support of the most powerful empire on earth, in whatever it decides to do; this after almost four decades of brutal and illegal occupation in which it did all it could to break the spirit and destroy the daily life of most Palestinians.
It may be just that imbalance of power that drove the Palestinian leadership to accept this most unequal of peace formulas in Oslo, moving towards a resolution of the conflict by negotiated solution. For a while, this looked feasible -- Mr Rabin indicated that settlements in the occupied territories would have to be removed as part of an overall peace settlement that included Syria and Lebanon.
The settlers were not about to accept that. Mr Sharon, the founding father of the settlement enterprise -- a giant project of diverting funds, priorities and effort so as to make any political solution impossible -- was there right behind them while Mr Rabin was assassinated for trying to say the obvious; that Israel must vacate all territories taken by force to allow the Palestinians a fifth of their own country. That was the price of peace. Most of us would argue that it was the Palestinian people who were asked to pay the bill for the peace process: giving up most of their country in order to be allowed to govern themselves in a small corner of it.
Even this was not to be. Mr Rabin never got to the point of getting any settlers off their militarised, illegal outposts. He was shot in the midst of one of Israel's peace rallies. Following that vile murder, of a man, an idea and a vast array of hopes, all Israeli leaders who followed him were reluctant to go as far.
None accept what was the rationale of the Oslo accord: that Israel must vacate all its settlements -- every single one of them -- including those areas of Jerusalem which were unilaterally and illegally annexed. This was the very evenhanded bottom line for most Palestinians. Most people elsewhere could easily see the reasoning and justice behind such a solution. To a man, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and now Sharon have refused to come to terms with reality. Whole years of waiting have passed in which Palestinians hoped that promises would be honoured -- these puny, humiliating and minimalist promises.
But Israeli society was not ready, and still is not ready, to face the simple realities that it had created by its military occupation, refusing to make even those minimal adjustments which would create the necessary conditions for peace. It may be argued that Oslo could never have worked, offering Palestinians so little in return for their giving up on the struggle to liberate Palestine. That may well be true, but for a while Israel was offered a genuine possibility for peaceful coexistence. It failed to live up to this historical opportunity. It refused consistently to make the adjustments. Instead, it chose to hang on to military spoils; to a continuing, dehumanising occupation and its regime of terror and intimidation.
If Israel was ready to accept Oslo, and what it entailed, the need to build this enormous wall would have never arisen. Many lives on both sides would have been saved, as well as lives of others elsewhere, probably.
This is not something I find easy to say, as an Israeli and son of Holocaust survivors. I would like to be able to argue for an Israeli-Hebrew entity -- not a Zionist militarist enterprise, of course, but a democratic, autonomous political and cultural entity twinned with a similar Palestinian entity. But after four decades of military rule and all the desecration of political, human, civil, property and other forms of rights by the occupation regime, most reasonable people will agree that no support can be given to this outdated, violent, immoral and inefficient mode of domination of one people over another. If it at least worked for the oppressors some people may well have justified the means vis-a-vis the end.
Alas, it does not, cannot and will not work for the benefit of either side. The West was quick to see this in the case of South Africa, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Kuwait and a number of other zones of conflict. Military occupation cannot be condoned. Domination through power and might will never get the vanquished to accept the occupiers. Political solutions enforced by the powerful on the powerless are wrong -- not just morally but because they undermine the rule of law elsewhere.
This reality, simple enough in itself, was not just avoided by Israel but the powerful forces in the new world order. This denial has finally come home to roost. The removal of hope for a solution by reason and negotiation leaves the ground open for extremists and those who feel, having lost all other avenues and not being in control of any real power to change reality, that suicide is the only means of affecting history. This in itself is a most serious indictment of the international political order. To drive a nation into this corner could be described as nothing short of criminal shortsightedness. That is exactly what has happened as the Palestinian claim for natural justice has been totally ignored for over half a century.
So, after all that has taken place since October 2000 when Mr Sharon, architect and author of the most hideous examples of Israeli aggression -- from the Kibya massacre, through Sabra and Shatila to the horror of the Al-Aqsa Intifada -- has made it impossible, by careful and detailed work over many decades, to affect the two-state solution. The wall, a structure that will create 16 ghettoes of a kind the world has never seen, even during the atrocities of WWII, making life for Palestinians just about impossible, is the last straw. It will achieve exactly what it was designed to do: no possibility of going back to the 1967 borders.
So, what should Palestinians do? What should the international community do? Are we to suffer the menace, illegality and atrocities of the Sharon regime as if they were natural disasters? Should the international community, the UN, the EU (even the US) just accept whatever Sharon does when they would never have done so if those atrocities were to be committed by Milosevic, Saddam or Idi Amin? If it was possible, and necessary, for international society to intervene in Cyprus, why not in Palestine?
The mistake Chomsky makes is to assume that there is still a two-state solution. There is none possible. Sharon has made sure that cannot happen. Many Palestinians are now returning to an earlier, more principled stage of their political development and argument -- the PLO solution of a secular, democratic single state in the whole of Palestine; one state that allows equal rights to Jews and Arabs alike. It is ironic that through failing to grasp the nettle which would have enabled them to keep a separate Israeli state in the pre- 1967 borders, Israeli leaders have forced a change in Palestinian thinking: "if we are not allowed to live as a free people in 22 per cent of our country, or come to that, even 10 per cent of it, maybe we should go back to fighting to liberate the whole country, for both people to live in peace, as equals."
What Chomsky is suggesting is too little, too late. Not because Palestine rejected this solution, but because Israel did. The Palestinians are not turkeys, and will not vote for Christmas, and the idea that they can be forced into the 16 ghettoes is ludicrous. But so also is the idea that Israel will go back to the 1967 borders willingly. The international community bears full responsibility for failing to act when it could.
While it is not clear when such an advanced solution of Jews and Arabs living together may materialise, it seems that it is the only one left, as Israel has made damned sure no other solution is allowed even half a chance. The question seems to be: Must we have a bloody showdown, massacres and ethnic cleansing before it emerges?
That is a question international society can ill-afford to ignore.
The writer is an Israeli academic working at the University of East London. He is the co-editor of The Gulf War and the New World Order and co-author of Introduction to the Holocaust .