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Friday, 16 July 2010

16 July 2010

You may have seen the survey this week that suggested that more than three-quarters of British Jews support a two-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

They’re in good company. So too, if we take them at their word, do the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, US president Barack Obama, and just about every other major world leader you care to name.

And let’s not forget the 52 per cent of Jewish Israelis who are also in favour, according to one recent poll, and the 49 per cent of Palestinians.

In which case, you may ask, what’s the problem? Well, where do I start? There may be new sweet mood music drifting out from the recent chin-wag in Washington between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama; there may be the ritual expressions of willingness to negotiate, but the truth, I fear, is that it all adds up to very little.

If I sound pessimistic, I’m in good company too. According to the same poll quoted above, carried out jointly by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, two-thirds of Israelis and Palestinians say the chances for an independent Palestinian state within the next five years are low, if not non-existent.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post suggested, not entirely seriously, that a more promising idea would be to press for a five-state solution. You could have Hamastan in Gaza, which is already ruled by Hamas; Fatahland in the West Bank, where the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is in charge; Palestine in those parts of Israel where Arab Israelis are in the majority (and don’t forget that they make up one-fifth of Israel’s total population); Haredia for Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews (known in Hebrew as Haredim); and Israel for secular or non-Orthodox Jews and any Palestinians who would rather live in Israel.

It’s an absurd notion, of course. But in the absurdity, perhaps there may be a grain of truth; because by exaggerating, it may help to illustrate the true scale of the problem. Definitions? Borders? Viable economies? Maybe that’s why there are increasing numbers of people, on both sides of the divide, who are beginning to question whether the notion of a two-state solution may not be almost as absurd.

According to a recent report from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israel now controls more than 42 per cent of the occupied West Bank. That includes not only the 200 or so settlements, regarded as illegal under international law, but also the roads that run between them, the army check-points, and the land sealed off by the Israeli military as vital to Israel’s security needs.

And when a year ago, Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed, for the first time, the notion of an independent Palestinian state, he added such a long list of caveats – it would have to be demilitarised; it would have to cede control of its air space to Israel; and it would have to recognise Israel as an explicitly Jewish state – that the Palestinians lost no time in dismissing his remarks as meaningless.

Here’s something else for you to consider – according to the veteran Israeli journalist and commentator Danny Rubinstein: “One can sense a great change among Palestinians – a new lack of trust in the possibility of a Palestinian state. In Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron, people are talking and writing about this. It is interesting that the shift is taking place at the very time when the whole world is united in pressing Israel to help the Palestinians create a state of their own.”

This is what he wrote in the left-wing American journal Dissent: “In international diplomacy there is a pervasive idea that it is possible and necessary to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that will exist side by side with Israel. Many Israelis and Palestinians want this and believe in it. But the forces working against this possibility are many and powerful ... On the Palestinian side … a new situation has emerged. National unity has dissolved, the national movement has atrophied and declined, and the idea has become acceptable that if there won’t be two states for two peoples, it is better that there be one state.”

Fine, you may say, let there be one state. But there’s just one problem. That state could no longer be explicitly Jewish – and for the vast majority of Jewish Israelis, whether secular or religious, that will always be a step too far.

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