Buried within the news of the merger of Israel’s two major right-wing political parties, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, was a subtext which has as yet not registered in popular discourse on the Middle East – the final death of the “peace process” between the Israelis and Palestinians and of the prospect of two separate states existing between them.
Despite the presence of a highly conciliatory, and by many accounts obsequious, Palestinian partner in President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli leadership has moved farther away from the prospect of a two-state solution than at any time in recent memory and has firmly demonstrated their practical abandonment of the framework for peaceful separation outlined in the Oslo Accords.
The Israeli left-wing which favoured a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians is nearly dead and buried – the formation of Likud and Yisrael Beitenu’s popular right-wing governing party is reflective of the fact that the centre of gravity in Israeli politics has been pushed so far to the right that mainstream foreign policy debates regarding the Palestinians today focus more upon deciding on appropriate means of violently confronting them rather than upon drafting terms of a peace accord.
Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader who came closer than any in history to delivering the peace treaty, which dovish Israelis have sought for decades, was murdered in a hail of bullets by a right-wing settler extremist, and today the ethno-nationalist agenda of his killer has formally ascended to the heights of power in the country.
Once considered to be dangerous and intractable extremists, Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu have today formally taken their place within Israel’s legitimate political mainstream, while the segment of society which Rabin represented – that which was willing to make serious concessions to create two separate, sustainable and independent countries, has been pushed to the remote, irrelevant margins of Israeli political life.
In its place is a political majority which is in practice committed to the creation of a legally unprecedented Greater Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people, a position which observably exists today with the accelerating pace of settlement expansion but which has not been formally acknowledged due to the political expediency of maintaining the façade of an ongoing “peace process”.
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Among Israel’s international supporters, suppression of dissent towards this fraught trajectory has led to boycotts and fierce attacks against self-described “liberal Zionists” for merely attempting to bring Israeli policy in line with official rhetoric on the Palestinian issue, a sign of how far rhetoric has diverged from actual policy intentions.
In the long-term, this set of circumstances can ultimately only lead to one of two things – the creation of a formalised system of unequal separation where Palestinians live in isolated cantonments without basic rights and freedoms or the creation of a bi-national state with equal rights for all citizens regardless of religion and ethnicity.
Supporters of Israel today characterise, with some degree of justice, the label of “Apartheid” as being hyperbolic and inaccurate. However, if Palestinians are given neither equal rights within Israel nor a viable state of their own, this label will become undeniably accurate – and the latter outcome appears to have become an impossibility given changing political mores within the country.
For Israel, a relatively small, young and regionally isolated country reliant upon international support to maintain its legitimacy today, there increasingly appears to be only one viable and sustainable choice available on its horizon – a single democratic state with full equality for all its inhabitants.
The end of ‘two states for two peoples’
The Oslo Peace Accords which created the Palestinian Authority and was intended to be the first step towards a future final-status agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is today viewed by many on both sides as a disingenuous charade cynically utilised to maintain the status quo.
The prospect of a peaceful settlement which would leave both parties with viable, separate states and put an end to decades of vicious conflict – a prospect which seemed so tantalisingly close in the early 90s when it was negotiated – appears today to have been nothing but a cruel mirage.
The Israelis and Palestinians have come face-to-face in several bloody confrontations in the intervening years and state-sanctioned illegal settlement construction is today increasing at a rate unseen in years.
The creation of “facts on the ground” through settlement-building coupled with vehement opposition to any attempt by Palestinians to seek international recognition of their future state is indicative of Israel’s fundamental opposition to the prospect of a two-state solution despite its continued protestations to the contrary.
Perhaps, the most damningly explicit indictment of the Oslo formula for a peace came in the form of the “Palestine Papers“; the thousands of internal documents leaked to the media on the details of Israeli-Palestinian talks over the past decade.
Within them was revealed the true nature of the “negotiations” which for years had purportedly been continuing with the good faith intention of creating two states for two peoples; a shambolic process in which Palestinian negotiators expressed a near-fawning willingness to cede upon almost every Israeli demand but yet were repeatedly rebuffed by their negotiating partners.
Among the historic and unprecedented concessions revealed to have been repeatedly offered to Israel by the Palestinian Authority negotiators were disavowals of claims to the “right of return” of refugees and of claims upon illegal settlements built in the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods intended to make up part of a future Palestinian capitol.
Perhaps most tellingly was the utterly supine attitude displayed by Palestinian leaders – a far cry from the incorrigible militancy portrayed by the Israeli government as the main barrier to a peaceful settlement.
As reported in the leaked documents, when former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei mildly protested the refusal by Israel to cede the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumin, the sharp rebuke he received was that “then he would not have a state!” – an outcome which seems all but assured today despite the official Israeli position that a two-state solution is the only possible resolution to the conflict.
Indeed this past week, the Israeli government formally threatened to end Oslo and with it the Palestinian Authority for the transgression of attempting to seek non-member observer status at the United Nations.
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The incongruence between Israel’s claim to be fighting for two-states while simultaneously doing everything in its power to either ignore or undermine any move towards such an outcome is indicative of its true present aspirations – and in the long-term of the inevitability of a one-state solution.
Maintaining international viability
Contrary to popular perception that Israel maintains its support from the United States and other allies simply due to skillful lobbying or economic ties, there is abundant evidence that international support for Israel rests upon the belief that it holds shared values regarding democracy and human rights with Western democracies.
Accepting this fact and recognising the exponentially increased diplomatic costs to the US and other countries would incur to maintain essential support to a future state of Israel which abandons democratic values, it can be clearly seen that the trajectory which the Israeli political mainstream is taking the country is one that will lead it to unprecedented isolation and worldwide opprobrium.
Attempting to impose an Apartheid-style solution upon the Palestinians, the natural outcome of the abandonment by the political class of the two-state formula, would turn Israel into an international pariah.
At such a point, returning to a two-state solution would be impossible and the only avenue back into the global mainstream would be through dismantling the system of de facto legal and military separation and recognising Palestinians as full citizens within Israel.
For Israel, a country dependent in large part upon international patronage, maintaining support from foreign benefactors whose help is contingent upon the existence of a pretence of democracy is a vital national interest.
In the scenario which its leaders have created for the country, the zero-sum option of the future appears increasingly likely to be either unsustainable global isolation or an embrace of equal rights for both Palestinians and Israelis within one state.
The fight for equality
Today, Palestinians and their leadership are faced with a clear choice: either continue to perpetrate the charade of the non-existent peace process for the benefit of their occupiers or formally begin the fight for equal rights within a shared state of Israel.
In a situation which even its own leaders appear to recognise, the Palestinian Authority has become nothing more than a de facto contractor for the Israeli occupation, and gradual usurpation, of the land which was intended to have one day become Palestine.
The vision of “two states for two peoples”, bravely articulated by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat before an extremist settler ended the life of the former, is dead and gone. Its perpetuation in the public sphere today is done solely in order to maintain a system of inequality and oppression by paying lip service to a future reward upon which no will exists to deliver, and which has in practical terms has become impossible to achieve.
A future state of enforced separation and racial inequality; the inexorable trajectory of today’s Israeli political mainstream, will ultimately serve no one and its maintenance will not be lastingly possible in the face of international censure.
An Israel in which the rights of all are respected regardless of race or religion is the only solution which will deliver peace and stability to the present-day inhabitants of this land, and when presented with the alternative represents the only solution capable of creating an Israeli state which is both secure and viable in the long-term.
Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics.
Follow him on Twitter: @MazMHussain