Palestine solidarity activists must defend the two-state solution

Palestine solidarity activists must defend the two-state solution
Comment: Advocating a one-state or two-state solution is not solely about the technicalities of the end-game, writes Imogen Lambert.
6 min read
24 Apr, 2019
A one-state solution is a utopian fantasy, writes Imogen Lambert [Getty]
During the recent Israeli election campaign, as Binyamin Netanyahu pledged to annex settlements in the West Bank in a bid to win far-right coalition partners, Ahmed Tibi, co-leader of the Arab Hadash-Tal'al slate announced Netanyahu had "killed the two-state solution".

As Israel's political establishment has moved to the right, advocating annexation of parts of the West Bank, the pro-Palestine solidarity movement has been adapting a less reconciliatory position of anti-Zionism, linking Zionism with racism and imperialism, saying privileging Jews under the law of return while excluding Palestinians from their land is indeed racist. 

Many anti-Zionists therefore support variants of a one state solution, usually meaning both Jews and Palestinians living together with equal rights in one state, Israel-Palestine, although this would mean the population would be majority Palestinian - a people which Israeli governments have always viewed as an existential demographic threat.  

Many mainstream Jewish organisations object to the stance of objecting to Israel as a Jewish state, as this denies Jews "their right to self-determination… by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour," - as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance gives as an example of anti-Semitism.   

This was one of the examples of anti-Semitism the British Labour party refused to adopt into their guidance last year. While others they initially disputed, including "duel loyalty accusations" and comparing Israel with the Nazis, are clearly problematic, calling the Israeli state a racist endeavour directly challenges the discourse of anti-Zionism.  

Many of these debates around the legitimacy of Israel's foundation were being had through the years following Israel's foundation. Initially rejected by Palestinian factions who resorted to armed struggle in the mid-1960s, the Palestinian revolution eventually gave way to the official acceptance of a two-state solution by the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1988. 

This was a major milestone which ultimately led to the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s.

Yet instead of bringing peace, the process ultimately led to re-entrenchment of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, while the Palestinian Authority effectively became Israel's security contractor.  

It is perhaps this development which led many Palestinians and solidarity activists to consider that a Palestinian state would always be impossible with the continuing existence of an ethno-nationalist Israeli state next door. While a two-state solution traditionally had strong support in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, polling suggested support for two states decreased among the younger generation, which perhaps could also be seen as a rejection of Palestinian political factions.

There were also practical reasons to suppose the window of opportunity to implement the two-state solution had passed, as illegal settlements continue to expand in the West Bank at such a pace that removing them may seem impossible - an assumption which has frequently been challenged.  

There was also increasing scepticism that international law and an international peace process could address what is a political problem, failing to take into account the vast inequality between the situation of Israel and Palestinians; the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressors. 

With this disillusionment with the international peace process there has been increasing nostalgia for the years of the Palestinian revolution, before political factions recognised the existence of Israel and continued with the now-stagnant peace process.   

Yet in the international context, the attraction of revolutionary anti-Zionism was not only about Palestine, but also seems to have become a signifier for a wider rejection of a liberal consensus that briefly appeared across the world following the end of the Cold War; of multilateral peace processes, liberal interventionism and globalisation. 

Instead, people turned to an older leftist politics of a third world populism of the 1960s, while anti-Zionism also allows for repetition of an old populist anti-colonial discourse which is often no longer relevant, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring.   

The problem is the further "internationalisation" of anti-Zionism, removed from the Palestinian context, means Israel became a signifier for various other demands and failures; for example, for the pitfalls of the post-Cold War consensus often named "neoliberalism", for the failure of multi-lateral peace, and of supra-national institutions. 

The "Palestine test" allows for the rejection of mainstream liberal politicians as (albeit liberal) "Zionists" - even those who support Palestinian self-determination and condemn the occupation.   

But its function as a signifier is precisely what may have lead anti-Zionism in the West to take on anti-Semitic dimensions; as many theorists of 1930s fascism recognised, fascism was a reaction against modernity, where Jews were associated that modernity, and there may be some form of contemporary repetition where Israel seems to represent that flawed post-Cold War modernity of "neoliberalism" itself. This internationalisation of anti-Zionism has over the years been mixed with Rothschild conspiracy theories.

Furthermore, where the struggles of the region are viewed purely through the lens of anti-Zionism, this effected how other struggles in the region have been viewed; Sam Charles Hamad uses the phrase "Ziocentricism" to describe activists whose views on the Middle East are cultivated purely through the lens of the Israel-Palestine conflict.   

Anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitic - we must remember that the foundations of Anti-Zionism arguably lay within the Jewish community itself - and Palestinians must have the right to express their opposition to an occupying state. However, tragically, anti-Semitism does seem to have become more prevalent among parts of the pro-Palestine movement in the West. 

Facebook groups such as Palestine Live have contained anti-Semitic materials and conspiracy theories, and after initial denials, it is now widely accepted, included by its supporters, that there is a problem of anti-Semitism within Britain's Labour party, generally supportive of the Palestinian cause. 

This is not only unjustifiable racism, but also threatens the pro-Palestine movement - which is needed more than ever, as Israel continues settlement expansion and repeated onslaughts on Gaza.  

Annexation of the West Bank 

For as the pro-Palestine movement has adapted a discourse of anti-Zionsim and the one-state solution, a similar trajectory can be seen on parts of the hard Israeli right which is moving towards rejecting a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.   

The US administration of Donald Trump appears to be encouraging the assertion of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, which US officials are no longer referring to as "occupied" and, of course, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Following the elections, Netanyahu is building a far-right coalition which is likely to include parties pushing for at least partial annexation. Some have speculated that Netanyahu is not serious in his pledge, and there will not be a radical change of the status quo - but actions such as building a new road connecting Jerusalem with northern settlements would suggest he at least plans to annex settlements

Some may feel full annexation would eventually force Israel to recognise Palestinian rights - even former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said "if the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then the State of Israel is finished". 

However Israel has a right-wing government supported by much of its population in conflicts against Palestine, with a large proportion of Israelis being in favour of the last war against Gaza, and a sizeable proportion (42 percent) favouring some kind of annexation of the West Bank.   

It seems it would simply not be possible in the foreseeable future for the Israeli state and its people to allow Palestinians to live with equal rights inside the same state, and even if such a utopian vision emerged, it would certainly be preceded by increased Palestinian suffering and apartheid, with no guarantee the situation would improve in the long term; although some Palestinians may feel their situation cannot get much worse, this is not something that international solidarity activists can advocate.   

The only feasible solution to improve Palestinian lives and self-determination in the foreseeable future is still a two-state solution, drawn along 1967 borders as recognised by international law, and while Trump and Netanyahu do everything to undermine it, it must be defended.   

For advocating a one-state or two-state solution is not solely about the technicalities of the end-game, but the discourse which comes with this. As was widely recognised decades ago, the two-state solution allows for both the recognition of the right of self-determination of Palestinians, and of the right of Israel to exist in its current form as a Jewish state, without denying the tragedy of the Nakba and the brutality of the occupation.   


Imogen Lambert is a Middle East-focused journalist. Follow her on Twitter: @InnogenLamb

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff