The two-state solution is dead, but Palestinians didn't kill it
Tzipi Hotovely, Israel's far-right ambassador to the UK, claimed on Wednesday that efforts towards a two-state solution failed because Palestinians “never wanted to have a state next to Israel, they want to have a state from the river to the sea”.
She is right that the Oslo paradigm of the 1990s failed, and perhaps right that the two-state solution is no longer viable.
But Hotovely, who opposes a one-state solution with unconditional citizenship for Palestinians, therefore logically only advocates for a permanent ‘Greater Israel’ with unequal rights (something she has explicitly called for in the past).
Hotovely’s view of Oslo’s failure is twisted into the illogical Israeli-American narrative that a fair deal was on the cards, if it weren’t for those meddling Palestinians.
It has even become conventional wisdom that the Oslo peace process - the era of unprecedented negotiation which began in 1993 as back-channel talks through Norwegian mediators - came tantalisingly close to a sovereign Palestinian state.
"When bilateral relations were at their peak and the power imbalance was far less one-sided than it is today, Palestinians were still offered no more than a sham state"
But Oslo would have produced only a half-baked state with meagre sovereignty had Israel’s offers been accepted by Yasser Arafat. When bilateral relations were at their peak and the power imbalance was far less one-sided than it is today, Palestinians were still offered no more than a sham state.
For the Israeli government, Oslo was never about creating a prosperous Palestinian state. It was about preserving key elements of the occupation with a shiny-new internationally-sponsored peace process to legitimise its control over the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).
In practice, this meant Israeli economic, security and military domination would continue in return for superficial Palestinian autonomy in areas such as education, health, and taxation.
Israel’s best offers at Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001) afforded Palestinians only 91 to 97 percent of the occupied territories. Palestine would be unofficially divided into three blocs by settlements and bypass roads, Israel would retain the right to deploy troops into Palestine in ‘emergencies’ (in other words, whenever they liked), and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees to their former homes.
The new ‘State’ of Palestine would not even have been able to freely build new water aquifers without Israeli approval.
The Oslo Accords were never about peace or justice. 30 years on, they have only served to cement Israel's occupation and settler colonial expansion, while allowing the world to abandon the Palestinian cause, writes @Yara_M_Asi 👇 https://t.co/3HPuhHiST2— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) September 13, 2023
It is worth recalling (if there is any doubt around Israel’s vision of a Palestinian state) that aggressive settlement expansion continued throughout the process.
Such was Israel's lack of accountability from western allies that future prime minister Ariel Sharon could unashamedly declare in 1998: “Everybody has to run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them.”
In 2000 alone, seven years after Oslo’s inception, 13,000 new settlement units were under construction.
President Bill Clinton still arrived at the incredible conclusion that it was the Palestinians who had “missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being”. This deluded (but widespread) school of thought placed the blame for Oslo's failure squarely at the door of the Palestinian camp.
Then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak largely succeeded, along with Clinton, in convincing the Israeli population that a fair deal was in their grasp.
“Israelis believe that they tried, they were told that their Prime Minister went to Camp David and realised there is no Palestinian partner for peace. This lie spread very, very effectively,” Israeli journalist Gideon Levy told me in 2021. Just look at Tzipi Hotovely.
After Camp David, the population's appetite for peace negotiations was annihilated, a right-wing hawk in Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister, the Second Intifada raged, and the Oslo process was finally consigned to the dustbin of history.
Why should things be any better today? Since Oslo, settlement expansion has ramped up without consequence (which other nation can so brazenly breach international law without even the threat of sanctions from the US?), with the settler population now above 700,000 according to the UN, up from 192,000 in 2000.
Hundreds of kilometres of “bypass” roads have been built linking Israel proper to the settlements, and deliberately fragmenting Palestinian territory in the process. In 2020, transport minister Miri Regev announced plans to expand the project until 2045, creating a sprawling network of inter-settlement highways across West Bank land.
"This is where the idea of a ‘fair two-state solution’ is exposed as an oxymoron. The Palestinians who have been subjected to a belligerent and deadly occupation for nearly six decades must be the one to set the terms of its own freedom for fair resolution to be reached"
Foreign correspondent titan Donald Macintyre posed Highway 55 as a prime example of Israel’s intentions. Highway 55, a multi-million pound project, was undertaken to upgrade a road linking Israel to a settlement of just 4,500 people. There is no financial cost-benefit to the scheme. There is, of course, territorial benefit.
Israel’s fragmentation of the West Bank has changed the ‘facts on the ground’ to such an extent that the region should only be viewed as what it is in practise: a single state with two regimes.
The occupation is not a temporary state of affairs, nor an unfortunate incident which Israel wishes to see the back of. It's part of Israel’s economic, political and military infrastructure, with even the Gaza Strip no more than a “gigantic cage in the backyard”, in Levy's words.
The power balance (the essential component of a fair treaty) has massively shifted in favour of Israel since Oslo, in part due to feeble Palestinian leadership and lack of political unity, but largely due to the extension of Israeli dominance.
This is where the idea of a ‘fair two-state solution’ is exposed as an oxymoron. The Palestinians who have been subjected to a belligerent and deadly occupation for nearly six decades must be the one to set the terms of its own freedom for fair resolution to be reached.
Yet when Palestinians demand a complete dismantling of all the structures of occupation, from the settlements to the bypass roads, they are told to compromise. This, of course, makes no sense.
An occupied people by definition has nothing to give, only something to be returned. When they therefore refuse to compromise, they are told, as Clinton did with the kind of condescension that should be reserved for toddlers, that they “missed the opportunity” to have a state.
Any future two-state solution on offer will inevitably reek of the power imbalance underlining its negotiation. It exemplifies the ‘toughness dilemma’: as the weaker party, Palestinians will only reach a deal if they concede to elements of occupation. Negotiation will always be on Israel’s terms because they will always have the luxury to walk away - unless the western world takes substantial action.
Unfortunately, long-standing western tradition has dictated that commitments to a sovereign Palestinian state must be accompanied by a deafening silence (barring the odd feeble statement to clarify sincere disapproval) as the consequence-free expansion of Israeli occupation continues.
So when will our leaders stop burying their heads in the sand? To support a sovereign Palestine means to take a far tougher stance towards Israel than ever before. It means tangible action against Israel, such as heavy economic sanctions, has to replace the spineless hot air for as long as the occupation exists.
If world leaders aren’t willing to do this, which they almost certainly aren't, it means accepting that the two-state solution is no longer the only route to a fair peace.
Perhaps it’s time to look at the one-state solution as a genuine alternative, as advocated by much of the Israeli left, Palestinian youth and Palestinian diaspora. A single state with equal rights and universal suffrage may be the only remaining way to free the Palestinian people.
Alex Croft is a freelance journalist based in London. His work has appeared in the Daily Mirror, the Hackney Gazette, Ham and High, and more
Follow him on Twitter: @alxcroft
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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.