by Jeff Halper
For years I have been one of the doomsayers, arguing that the two-state solution is dead and that apartheid has become the only realistic political outcome of the Israel-Palestine conflict– at least until a full-blown anti-apartheid struggle arises that fundamentally changes the equation. I based my assessment on several seemingly incontrovertible realities. Over the past 40 years, Israel has laid a thick and irreversible Matrix of Control over the Occupied Territories, including some 300 settlements, which effectively eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. No Israeli politician could conceivably be elected on the basis of withdrawing from the Occupied Territories to a point where a real Palestinian state could actually emerge, and even if s/he was, the prospect of cobbling together a coalition government with the requisite will and clout to carry out such a plan is highly unlikely, if at all possible. And given the unconditional bi-partisan support Israel enjoys in both houses of Congress and successive Adminstrations, reinforced by the Christian Right, the influential Jewish community and military lobbyists and a lack of will on the part of the international community to pressure Israel into making meaningful concessions, a genuine two-state solution seems virtually out of the question – even though it is the preferred option espoused by the international community in the moribund “Road Map” initiative.
Now if it is true that the two-state solution is gone, the next logical alternative would be the one-state solution, particularly since Israel conceives of the entire country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River as one country – the Land of Israel – and has de facto made it one country through its settlements and highways. Seeing that Israel has been the only effective government throughout the land these past 40 years, why not go all the way and declare it a democratic state of all its inhabitants? (After all, Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East .) The answer is clear: a democratic state in the Land of Israel is unacceptable (to Israel) because such a state, with a Palestinian majority, could not be “Jewish.”
Which leads us back, then, to apartheid, a system in which one population separates itself from another and then proceeds to dominate it permanently and structurally. Since the dominant group seeks control of the entire country but wants to get the unwanted population off its hands, it rules them indirectly, by means of a bantustan, a kind of prison-state. This is precisely what Olmert laid out to a joint session of Congress last May when he presented his “convergence plan” (to 18 standing ovations). And this is precisely what Condoleezza Rice, together with Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, have been working on during Rice’s monthly visits to the region.
The plan embodies the worst nightmare of the Palestinians. Phase II of the Road Map presents the “option” of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders, “as a way station to a permanent status settlement.” Livni is publicly pushing for Phase II to replace Phase I, raising Palestinian fears of being frozen indefinitely in limbo between occupation and a “provisional” state with no borders, no sovereignty, no viable economy, surrounded, fragmented and controlled by Israel and its ever-expanding settlements.
For their part, Livni and Rice are proceeding very quietly, in stark contrast to the bluster of their male bosses. They have even refrained from giving a name to their plan, which Livni calls simply and innocuously ” Israel’s peace initiative for a two-state solution.” Ari Shavit, a leading journalist in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, asks: “Does Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have a clear diplomatic plan that she is trying to promote? Livni implies that she does, but refuses to explain. She speaks of the two-state vision. She talks about the need to divide the country politically….However, she does not explain what the plan really is.”
The plan is simple but far below the public radar. (The New York Times recently took Rice to task for “humiliating” herself by going to Israel frequently with no apparent plan). In order to seemingly conform to the Road Map initiative ostensibly led by the US, Livni talks of the two-state solution arrived at through negotiations. But the Road Map requires Israel to freeze its settlement building, something Israel steadfastly refuses to do. How can this be reconciled? How can Israel pursue a two-state solution while at the same time expanding its settlements and infrastructure in the very territories in which a Palestinian state would emerge?
The answer lies in a little noticed but fundamental change in US policy, announced by President Bush in April, 2004, and ratified almost unanimously by both houses of Congress. ” In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers [which is what the Bush Administration calls Israel’s massive settlement blocs],” he stated, “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” In one fell (but immensely significant) swoop, Bush fatally undercut the very basis of international diplomacy towards the Israel-Palestine conflict, including his own Road Map: the withdrawal of Israel to the 1967(1949) borders to make space for a genuine Palestinian state. Israel thus claims that settlement building within these settlement blocs does not violate the Road Map, since that territory has been unilaterally recognized by the US as belonging permanently to Israel. In this way between 15-25% of the West Bank has been removed from negotiations and annexed de facto to Israel, while the “occupied territories” have been redefined as only that area outside the settlement blocs – and that to be negotiated and “compromised.”
What Israel expects of the Palestinians, then, is a type of occupation-by-consent made possible by “negotiations” in which a priori the Palestinians lose up to 85% of their historic homeland. Now this is patently unacceptable to the Palestinians. Israel’s initial attitude was: Who cares? The Palestinians have always been irrelevant, including in the Oslo “peace process.” In his congressional address, Olmert was explicit in Israel’s intention to impose a Pax Israeliana unilaterally if need be: “We cannot wait for the Palestinians forever. Our deepest wish is to build a better future for our region, hand-in-hand with a Palestinian partner. But if not, we will move forward — but not alone. We could never have implemented the disengagement plan without your [ America’s] firm support. The disengagement could never have happened without the commitments set out by President Bush in his letter of April 14th, 2004, endorsed by both houses of Congress in unprecedented majorities.”
But here Olmert hit a snag. The Road Map – to which lip service must be paid – clearly calls for a negotiated end to the Occupation and the conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says the text, must be resolved “through a negotiated settlement leading to a final and comprehensive settlement.” Both Bush and Blair grabbed Olmert and told him that the “convergence plan” could not be imposed unilaterally. He would have to “pretend” (and I know that word was used by the British government) to negotiate with Abbas for a year. That is what lies behind the occasional meetings Olmert has had with Abbas, which Olmert has publicly limited to strictly “practical issues.” The Boston Globe reported on April 15, 2007, “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas launched a U.S.-initiated series of meetings on Sunday, bypassing some of the most contentious issues of the Middle East conflict….’We will not discuss the core issues of the conflict – the issue of (Palestinian) refugees, Jerusalem and borders,’ Olmert said in broadcast remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting.”
And here is where Tzipi Livni’s idea of substituting Phase II for Phase I comes in. After the year is over (in May 2007) and it is clear that the Palestinians have not been “forthcoming,” Israel will be allowed to declare the route of the Separation Barrier its “provisional” border, thus annexing about 10% of the West Bank. That may not sound like much, but it incorporates into Israel the major settlement blocs (plus a half-million Israeli settlers) while carving the West Bank into a number of small, disconnected, impoverished “cantons.” It removes from the Palestinians their richest agricultural land and all their water. It also creates a “greater” Israeli Jerusalem over the entire central portion of the West Bank, thereby cutting the economic, cultural, religious and historic heart out of any Palestinian state. It then sandwiches the Palestinians between the Barrier/border and yet another “security” border, the Jordan Valley, giving Israel two eastern borders. This prevents movement of people and goods into both Israel and Jordan, but also internally, between the various cantons. Israel also retains control of Palestinian airspace, the electro-magnetic sphere and even the right of a Palestinian state to conduct its own foreign policy.
In that way the Palestinians get their state, albeit with “provisional borders,” Israel expands onto 82-85% of the country while still conforming to the Road Map and apartheid – in the guise of a “two-state solution” – becomes political reality. And that’s where we stay forever.
But here I hit a snag. Make your case as persuasive as you might, neither Israelis nor Palestinians nor governments are willing to give up on the two-state solution, seeing nowhere to go from there. So I have to cut it some slack. Tzipi Livni herself, one of the few truly thinking government officials we Israelis have, has uttered some hopeful phrases lately, going further in tone and content than anyone in the Labor Party. ” On the one hand, I want to anchor my interests on the security issue, demilitarization and the refugee problem,” she said recently, “and on the other I want to create a genuine alternative for the Palestinians that includes a solution to their national problem.”
She has even criticized male approaches to the conflict over the years. “Did you see male hormones raging around you?” she was asked in a Ha’aretz interview (December 29, 2006). “Sometimes there are guy issues,” she answered candidly. “Was there a guy problem in the conduct of the [Lebanon] war?” pressed the interviewer. “Not only in the war,” she responded. “In all kinds of discussions, I hear arguments between generals and admirals and such and I say guys, stop it. There’s something of that here….During those days [of the war], the thinking was too militaristic….At the beginning of the war, some people thought that the diplomatic role was to provide the army with time. That’s understandable: In the past we always achieved, we conquered, we released, we won, and then the world came and took away from us. The victory was military and the failure political. But this time it was the opposite.”
Livni, like most Israelis, cannot abandon the two-state plan. The alternatives – one state or apartheid – are clearly unacceptable. The existence of a Jewish state depends on that of a Palestinian one. Yet that has not constrained Israeli settlement expansion, which continues apace even as I write. Livni appears to believe, with most Israelis, that there is a thin magic overlap between the minimum the Palestinians can accept and the minimum Israel can concede – especially if emphasis is given to the Palestinian state and territory rather than to genuine sovereignty and economic viability. I doubt this, particularly in light of the fact that more than 60% of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are under the age of 18 and need a truly viable future.
Failing the carrot, Israelis – and here I’m not really sure where Livni stands – turn to the stick, to military pressures, economic sanctions and daily hardship that, they believe, can compel the Palestinians to accept a truncated, semi-sovereign, non-viable mini-state. All that is needed is continued pressure on the part of Israel, combined with some “sweetening of the pudding” designed to make apartheid palatable to the international community. Giving the Palestinians 90% of the Occupied Territories, for example. Though all the resources, sovereignty and developmental potential are found in the 10% Israel would keep, simply offering them such a “generous offer” would place irresistible pressures on them to accept. Who, after all, really cares about “viability?”
I think the two-state solution is gone and apartheid is at the door. I do not see any way that “finessing” will liberate enough qualitative land for a viable Palestinian state to emerge. But if we are stuck with it for the meantime, I would then contend that three absolutely indispensable criteria have to be met to give any two-state solution at least a shot at success: (1) the Palestinians must obtain Gaza, 85-90% of the West Bank in a coherent form (including its water resources) and an extra-territorial land connection between them; (2) they must have unsupervised borders with Arab States (the Jordan Valley and the Rafah crossing in Gaza), plus unrestricted sea- and airports; and (3) a shared Jerusalem must be an integral part of a Palestinian state with free and unrestricted access.
I fear that the Livni-Rice plan falls far short of this. I don’t doubt Livni’s sincerity (something unusual for me to say about any politician, let alone one from Likud-Kadima), but I fear she, like almost all Israelis who seek peace, minimize what the Palestinians can accept beyond what they are capable of. And when they don’t accept, they are, of course, to blame. Thus Livni herself has said tellingly: “Abbas is not a partner for a final-status agreement, but he could be a partner for other arrangements, on the basis of the road map’s phased process.”
Can Livni pull it off? It all depends on her sincerity, her ability to maneuver an extremely right-wing Olmert government onto a path of true peace or, failing that, to get elected Prime Minister on her own and then establish a government that could take the momentous decisions a true and just peace with the Palestinians would require. A pretty tall order, but keep Tzipi Livni, not a name most people recognize today, in mind.
In the meantime, the no-name, no-publicity, Livni-Rice non-plan proceeds on its course, concealed by seemingly larger events such as the Arab League initiative. But wait! What about the Arab League/Saudi initiative? Doesn’t that call for a two-state solution and a return of refugees? It does, of course, but few in the Arab world take it seriously. People there understand that justice for Palestinians means far less to the Arab governments than relations with the US and, yes, Israel, especially given the common Iranian threat. So the Arab League initiative is intended more to placate the Arab Street than as an actual political position that will adversely affect the Livni-Rice plan.
We in the peace camp must closely monitor the doings of Livni and Rice. There is nothing really secret; everything reported above has been said or reported upon in the Israeli press. It is simply a matter of connecting the dots, of picking up the hints and half-statements. We must develop the ability to comprehend the significance of bland non-news statements such as “Abbas is not a partner for a final-status agreement but…” if we, unlike the New York Times, want to “get it.” As it is, the Livni-Rice initiative is significant in exactly the reverse proportion to how it is perceived as newsworthy.
(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a candidate, with the Palestinian peace activist and ISM co-founder Ghassan Andoni, for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He can be reached at