OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — A renewed Palestinian bid to seek upgraded UN status may be aimed at saving the “two-state solution” but many believe the idea of an independent Palestine alongside Israel is looking increasingly unrealistic.
“The two-state solution is the only sustainable option. Yet the door may be closing for good,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned last month just days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas launched a fresh bid for upgraded status at the United Nations.
“We have reached a critical point,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi recently told reporters in Ramallah.
“Israel has been allowed to undermine the two-state solution to the point where this is a last-ditch effort to try to rescue the chances of peace and the two-state solution by the Palestinians,” she said.
With the peace process deadlocked for more than two years, the concept of the one-state solution — a bi-national entity on land encompassing Israel and the Palestinian territories — is gaining ground.
In recent months, the idea has become a hot topic of discussion across the Palestinian territories, its merits and shortcomings taking up an increasing number of column inches in the local and international press.
A survey published in May by JMCC, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian research centre, showed that one in four Palestinians — or 25.9 per cent — were in favour of a bi-national state, compared with 22.3 per cent six months earlier.
And a more recent joint Israeli-Palestinian survey conducted last month found that 30 per cent of Palestinians and 31 per cent of Israelis would support a one-state solution in which Jews and Arabs enjoy equality.
“Creating two neighbouring states for two peoples that respect one another would be the best solution,” wrote Israel’s former parliament speaker Avraham Burg in the New York Times.
“However, if our shortsighted leaders miss this opportunity, the same fair and equal principles should be applied to one state for both peoples,” said Burg, a longtime proponent of the idea.
The concept of a bi-national state is not new.
Until the 1980s, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) campaigned for a “democratic” Palestinian state on the territory that comprised mandatory Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948.
The strategy was later abandoned, with the Palestinians calling instead for an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war which together make up 22 per cent of what was mandatory Palestine.
Although the idea of a unitary state has always been favoured by a minority of Palestinians, among them the late intellectual Edward Said (1935-2003) and prominent academic Sari Nusseibeh, most people continue to favour an independent sovereign Palestine.
In Israel, the idea is also supported by a small number of people, such as Burg and leftwing intellectual Meron Benvenisti, who argue that the two peoples already live in a de facto shared state.
The bi-national concept is also backed, for very different reasons, by veterans of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud Party such as parliament Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and also by settlers who champion a “Greater Israel” encompassing the territories.
“As the two-state outcome has faded from the minds of people who know the region, many are beginning to revisit the idea,” wrote Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor in the introduction to an essay collection entitled: “After Zionism, one state for Israel and Palestine.”
Writing in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Loewenstein said the growth of Jewish settlement meant “a just division of the land” was no longer possible.
“It is for this reason, among others, that a one-state solution is gaining traction, even within conservative circles,” he wrote.
Proponents of a unitary state argue that settlement building breaks up the territory into “bantustans” which makes a viable Palestinian state unattainable.
Bantustans were tribal states set up by South Africa’s white minority government during the 1970s as pseudo national homelands for the country’s black majority in the hope of staving off the collapse of the apartheid system.
Growing number of settlers
When Israel and the Palestinians signed the 1993 Oslo Accords, there were 193,000 settlers living in the territories. That number now stands at more than 310,000 and is growing.
Another 200,000 or so live in a dozen settlement neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
PLO statistics show that since Abbas’ historic bid to seek full UN state membership in September 2011, the number of settlers has risen by more than 20,000.
“The only ethical solution is a [single] democratic, secular and civic state in historic Palestine,” says Omar Barghouthi, founder member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is modelled on the South Africa’s fight against apartheid.
“There is no such a thing as a one-state solution,” negotiator Saeb Erekat said last month.
“There is a one-state reality being created by the Israeli actions of settlements, dictations, facts on the ground, and with that comes apartheid.”