The end of the two-state illusion: Gaza’s silver lining?

Everything we see today in Israel/Palestine is a result of the “inability to put the Oslo zombie out of its misery”.

"Once the fighting dies down, Israel will threaten to end its support for Oslo and even topple the PA if it goes ahead with its fight for greater international recognition," says author [EPA]

It is deja vu all over again of the worst kind. Israel’s latest assault on Gaza will kill dozens and perhaps hundreds of civilians in a hail of hellfire from the ground, sky and even sea. Hamas will fire hundreds of rockets, likely killing a few Israeli civilians and terrorising tens of thousands of residents of the south of the country, but otherwise achieving little beyond helping to justify even more Israeli carnage in Gaza and who knows how many new housing units in the West Bank.

Outside of the benighted territory of Palestine/Israel sides will be chosen – at least for the cameras. The US will give “full-throttled support” for its ally. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president will feign outrage, bring home his ambassador, and otherwise stay safely out of the way. The Arab League and the UN Security Council will meet and make strongly-vaguely worded pronouncements. Or not. It really doesn’t matter.

Meanwhile, death, destruction and hopelessness will continue until yet another truce is declared. Each side – or rather, the worst elements of each side, will declare “victory” and arrogate even more political and economic power to themselves. And then the whole process will begin again.

Like Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas now can count on rich patrons – the Qatari and Turkish governments – to finance much of the rebuilding of whatever Israel destroys. And no doubt the war will only strengthen its hold on the Gaza, since any kind of protest against it will be repressed with even less mercy than is normally exhibited towards its opponents in Gaza.

The two-state illusion

During the last 60 years, Israelis have demonstrated a preternatural ability to “shoot and cry” when it comes to Palestinians. But in the last decade, all pretence of crying – that is, remorse at the need to harm and kill Palestinian civilians – has been removed. The two most prominent reactions today are a sheer lack of empathy or utter contempt, not merely towards the innocent Palestinian victims of the latest onslaught, but towards the victims of the never-ending occupation it’s meant to preserve. 


 Gaza live with Nadeem Baba

And as has always been the case, such responses highlight the fact that Israelis will do nothing to pressure their leaders to make the concessions necessary to achieve a two-state solution. The disproportionate military “reaction” – which is in reality only the newest link in an endless chain of violence that began the day the first West Bank settlement was established – will serve only to increase the complementary Palestinian dehumanisation of Israelis.

The root cause of this deadly dynamic and its perpetual motion is simple: the two-state illusion. Everything we see today in Israel/Palestine is a result of the inability to put the Oslo zombie out of its misery. 

The ceaseless settlement expansion and routine violence by an Israeli government that displays absolutely no intention of withdrawing from the West Bank, the entrenched power of a corrupt, undemocratic and incompetent PA “government” in the West Bank and of a Hamas rule in Gaza which looks and feels increasingly like its Western-sponsored counterpart in Ramallah, the ongoing weakness of militant non-violent resistance by Palestinian activists and their Israeli and international supporters, and the strategically meaningless and politically disastrous violence by militants – all of this continues unabated because they exist within the larger framework of a “two-state solution” which, like the proverbial Godot, will never arrive because it was never written in the script.

What is most shocking in this entire dynamic is why Palestinians continue to acquiesce to a political environment dominated by a peace “process” that has achieved nothing beyond the near politicide of the Palestinian nation. Why do they remain wedded, however unwillingly, to the illusion of a possible two-state solution that cannot possibly be achieved?

I have asked this question to Palestinian friends and colleagues across the political spectrum since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada. Even though most Palestinians have long understood that Oslo was unlikely to lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, there was a general consensus that the architecture of and international support for the Oslo process – specifically, the institutions and power of the Palestinian Authority backed by Israel, the US and Europe – were too strong to be defeated either by activists or militants.

Equally important, Palestinian society more broadly had not developed the skills, means and political vocabulary to articulate and then spend upwards of a generation fighting to realise a one or bi-national state vision.

The most talented and far-sighted activists I have known decided even before the outbreak of al-Aqsa that the best hope for the long-term future of Palestinian society was to devote the next generation to building the intellectual, economic and political infrastructure for the kind of broad-based movement necessary to push for a one-state or bi-national solution.

During such a preparatory phase, Palestinians would have to do their best to maintain control of as much territory as possible, until the situation in both Palestinian and Israeli societies changed enough to make a one-state solution seem plausible.

Fighting multiple occupations

Today, this calculus is clearly failing. Israel retains overwhelming military, political and economic power vis-a-vis both the West Bank and Gaza. The one significant movement that resisted joining the Oslo process, Hamas, has become Israel’s useful idiot; pretending to be its staunchest foe when in fact it has fulfilled its role all too well. And now, with Turkish, Qatari and other foreign funds flooding into Gaza, Hamas will grow as dependent on the very system that is holding it captive, as did Fatah a generation ago. 

Unlike Egyptians, Tunisians, or even Libyans and Syrians, Palestinians must simultaneously fight multiple occupations – against their own leadership as much as against Israel.”

Even more militant resistance movements will occupy more of its energy, along with repressing any forces within civil society that seeks to articulate a much stronger civil resistance against Israel, while all the new wealth created by Gaza’s Islamist-funded “reconstruction” will create a comprador class that has little ability to play outside the rules of the Israel-controlled rules of the game.

In the West Bank, the Fatah-led PA will continue to threaten self-destruction but, if the last decade is any guide, can always be expected to pull back from the brink at the last second with enough incentives and promises. Israel couldn’t have planned it better if it tried.

Once the fighting dies down, Israel will threaten to end its support for Oslo and even topple the PA if it goes ahead with its fight for greater international recognition. But there’s little chance it would follow through on such a threat, since the alternative to the Oslo process would be direct rule over the Occupied Territories, thus making the one-state choice for Palestinians.

Sadly, if the Arab Spring was in good measure inspired by the two Palestinian intifadas, there seems to be no scenario in which a robust Palestinian civil society can lead the kind of intifada that brought an end to the rule of Tunisia’s Ben Ali or Egypt’s Mubarak. Neither Israel nor the international community, nor the contending poles of the Palestinian leadership will allow such a movement to emerge.

“The People want the downfall of the regime!” is clearly a sentiment most Palestinians would agree with. But unlike Egyptians, Tunisians, or even Libyans and Syrians, Palestinians must simultaneously fight multiple occupations – against their own leadership as much as against Israel.

At the same time, like an abuser whose actions are celebrated by his friends rather than condemned, Israel has little if any incentive to begin treating Palestinians like full human beings. But if this latest round of bloody violence can help finally destroy the Oslo illusion, it might just force the two sides to look across the so-called Green Line and begin the long, arduous but absolutely necessary project of imagining a common and equal future in which the full humanity and rights of both sides is finally respected.

Mark LeVine is professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine and distinguished visiting professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and the author of the forthcoming book about the revolutions in the Arab world, The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharaoh. His book, Heavy Metal Islam, which focused on ‘rock and resistance and the struggle for soul’ in the evolving music scene of the Middle East and North Africa, was published in 2008.