Israel, Palestinian territories and the two-state mirage
Three anniversaries in November are integral to the issue of Palestinian statehood. November 2nd marked the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain pledged in 1917 to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, without a legal or moral right to do so.
November 15th marks 28 years since the Palestinian declaration of independence in 1988 and November 29th marks the fourth anniversary of the upgrading of the Palestinian territories’ status at the United Nations to “non-member observer state”.
Respectively, these three events constitute the theft, declaration and recognition of Palestinian statehood.
International recognition of Palestine has grown in leaps and bounds. Following the declaration of independence, it was recognised by more than 80 countries. By last year, this number had risen to 136, representing 70.5% of UN members and 80% of the world’s population. In recent years, several European parliaments voted to recognise Palestine and urged their governments to do the same.
The UN General Assembly vote to upgrade Palestine’s status was passed overwhelmingly, with 138 votes in favour and only nine against. The Palestinian territories have joined an increasing number of international organisations and treaties.
However, the irony is that, as Palestinians cement their status on the international stage, the possibility of an actual state has all but vanished. It is a virtual state, one whose realisation on the ground has been thwarted by Israel’s relentless colonisation.
Its settlement enterprise, which houses several hundred thousand people, controls about half the West Bank and has cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied territories. Israel’s colonies are on strategic hilltops, the most fertile land and aquifers.
Israel insists on keeping illegally annexed East Jerusalem, whose boundaries have been expanded to compose about 10% of the West Bank, as well as the Jordan Valley, which comprises about another 30%.
The intended result is the fragmentation of the Palestinian territories, rendering a contiguous, viable state impossible. Israel’s polity and society lack the will to reverse this trend, its government replete with members, including the prime minister, who openly oppose a Palestinian state.
When the head of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem spoke at the UN Security Council and urged the international community to “intervene” to end the occupation, he was met with a domestic furore and increased political efforts to silence his organisation and others like it.
Even if the will existed, how could several hundred thousand settlers be evacuated when the removal of several thousand from Gaza in 2005 caused national uproar? The international community lacks the will to pressure Israel to abide by international law.
We have passed the point of no return. Adherents to a two-state solution are clinging to a mirage. What is required is a paradigm shift in thinking towards a binational state. This is portrayed by two-staters as a naive fantasy and by Israel and its supporters as a threat to its Jewish demographic supremacy. However, we have moved on from the debate about whether one or two states is preferable to what is now possible.
The two-state solution is not “at risk of being replaced by a one-state reality”, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned in September. The one-state reality is upon us, brought about by decades and generations of Israeli colonialism. Israel cannot have it both ways, denying a Palestinian state while decrying a single binational one.
The status quo — an apartheid system — is untenable in the long run, so efforts must be made to ensure that a transition to a binational state, with equal rights for all, is carried out as smoothly as possible. South Africa serves as a model not just for the futility of apartheid but also for how it can be dismantled peacefully.