Is the two state option still viable?

There is a saying that goes “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”. This might be a useful refrain when considering the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian state, it seems, is increasingly in the interest of the Zionist project. In as little as seven to 10 years, projections indicate, there will be a Palestinian majority between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. The Israeli Vice-Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has elaborated on the implications of this development: “We don’t have unlimited time. More and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against occupation ... to a struggle for one man, one vote ... For us this will mean the end of the Jewish state.”

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s attempts at unilateral disengagement must be understood in the context of this fear. Transforming the Palestinian struggle into one for civil rights within the same state with a Palestinian majority is the apocalyptic scenario for pragmatic Zionists, similar to the terror evoked in South Africa’s white nationalist minority by the swaart gevaar [black danger].

Olmert recommended an 80% unilateral disengagement from Gaza to “maintain a Jewish democracy”. But as Akiva Eldar opined in the respected Israeli daily Ha’aretz, this will create no more than a “Bantustan in Gaza”, where all major decisions about security and movement remain with Israel.

If South Africa is an inspiration for many Palestinians, then it has to do with this: it enabled living together in a single state rather than separation, and it did so by making a threatened minority feel that they would belong in a post-settlement society.

While the Geneva accords and recent actions by Sharon suggest the dismantling of settlements in Palestinian territories, there must be some cautious optimism about the motives, details and scale of a pullout, which may well put in doubt the viability of a two-state solution to this conflict, because the question is this: if a viable, workable and just state for Palestinians is not possible then is a two-state option still a viable solution?

This anxiety is not ignored by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation policy-makers. Diana Buttu is a member of the Negotiations Support Unit and an expert on refugee and international law. When asked about a one-state solution by Isabel Kershner of the Jerusalem Report, Buttu noted that “while we are still firmly committed to the two-state solution” the issue “cannot be separated from the settlement issue, which is making a two-state solution impossible anyway”.

Bulldozers have been working at an alarming rate in the past decade. There were nearly 200 000 settlers deep in the West Bank and Gaza, with roads and irrigation infrastructure which by-passes Palestinian areas. There are also 180 000 settlers in East Jerusalem. It was under Sharon, as minister of trade and industry, that grants and low-interests loans were given to settlers for housing, and for the development of a highly developed infrastructure of roads, water supplies, and industry. After the Oslo peace accords, and in violation of them, a settlement programme was implemented so as to create “the facts on the ground”, endorsed by US President George W Bush’s comment that Israel could not be expected to return to the pre-1967 borders.

If the removal of settlers is potentially explosive then it appears that settlement dismantlement must be scrutinised because if it is not substantive, it will mean having to offer Palestinians even less than the 22% of the land they are demanding, and offering them non-contiguous cantonments, or “Bantustans”.

The obstacle of the settlement programme is compounded by the building of the wall, or “security barrier”, which cuts through Palestinian villages, leaving a meaningful Palestinian state even more fragmented, and therefore perhaps even more elusive?

Suren Pillay is a lecturer in the department of political studies at the University of the Western Cape

Elections hang in the balance

Israeli threats to prevent next year’s Palestinian elections unless Hamas is disarmed could lead to a collapse of the present ceasefire and a new wave of attacks from the West Bank, reports Chris McGreal.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demanded that Hamas disarm and renounce the call for the destruction of Israel before being permitted to run for Parliament.

Hamas said if Israel carried out its threat to block the election this would lead to the collapse of the ceasefire. Hamas is buoyed by what it sees as the victory of resistance in forcing the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. But the group now confronts the dilemma of how to translate that into political success.

In recent years, Hamas has said it would be prepared to agree to a long-term ceasefire on condition that a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders was created, with East Jerusalem as its capital.—Â

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