Will Israeli expansionism lead to single-state solution?
In the innermost recesses of our brain, there is some faint glimmer of optimism that something by way of a solution may come our way serendipitously.
A moment of respite has begun for battle-scarred Gaza after 11 days of ceaseless missile strikes that had pulverised its buildings. Even as Gazans are trying to rebuild their tattered lives, intellectuals and experts on the Midde East are revisiting the Palestinian question from all possible perspectives. They must have done it several times before at junctures like this without any tangible outcome. But hope, as they say, springs eternal in human breasts. In the innermost recesses of our brain, there is some faint glimmer of optimism that something by way of a solution may come our way serendipitously.
The Palestinian question has been alive ever since I came to the earth. We grew up lionising Yaseer Arafat, the iconic leader of the people fighting for liberation, alongside Nelson Mandela, another equally inspiring leader fighting against apartheid. India under the rule of the Congress has been steadfast in its support of the Palestinian cause. Indians of my generation were taught about the justness of the Palestinian struggle along with the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The excellent chemistry between Arafat and fiery Indian leader Indira Gandhi whom the Palestinian leader referred to as a sister is a staple of fairy tales.
I arrived in the UAE, a country geographically nearer to the site of Palestinian struggle, more than a decade ago with this baggage. Though I encountered very few Palestinians despite they being in very good number here, that abiding interest in their liberation struggle grew stronger. Day after day, we ran stories of displacement of Palestinians by continued annexation of their lands by newer and newer settlements. West Bank and Gaza began to resemble open air prisons with dream of an independent state becoming more and more remote despite overwhelming support in the UN General Assembly.
Then came a surprise one fine morning, a shocking one at that. Newt Gingrich, the then US Republican leader, called Palestinians invented people in his desperate bid to burnish his pro-Jewish image as he joined the party’s presidential race along with Donald Trump in December 2011. He told a cable TV channel at that time: “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are, in fact, Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.” This policy position ran contrary to the bipartisan consensus in the US on the need for Palestinians to have their own state. This badly resonated in the KT’s newsroom at that time and the next day’s front page had Gingrich statement on the top. The so-called invented people deserve a place which they can call their own is lost on the US leader who was only too keen to appease the Jewish lobby.
Is there any alternative the two-state solution? Palestinians themselves, in the beginning of their struggle, advocated one state — a state where people of all religions can live in harmony. But the impossibility of this dream became apparent after the Jewish state came into existence by usurping lands of the Arabs and others living in the historic Palestine. Palestinians gave up that dream and began fighting for homeland for themselves. A consensus has evolved around the two-state solutions —Israel and Palestine coexisting in harmony. It was enshrined in various UN resolutions after which the Oslo Accords — seen as a stepping stone for the two-state solution — was signed in 1993 amid much fanfare and which earned a Nobel prize for Arafat, then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres.
The post-Oslo accord period has not been a good experience for Palestinians. Israel continued its aggressive settlement activity with overt and covert support of the United States. More and more lands began to be ceded to Israel with Palestinians pushed into two geographically non-contiguous territories of West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian authority, a product of the Oslo Accords, began to be seen as an instrument of the Israeli government. Under president Donald Trump’s reign, the US recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, apart from backing expansionist project of usurping Arab lands more brazenly and openly. There are more finer details of this process which I am not going into here.
Given the current reality in Israel-Palestine, is the two-state solution still a viable project? A lot of experts are expressing doubts about the unrealistic nature of the dream as the facts on the ground have been aggressively changed by an Israel bent on driving Palestinians out of their homeland.
The latest Gaza conflagration brought the idea of a single state back to the forefront. Now that Israel has killed the possibility of a two-state project, it should accord citizenship to all Palestinians and give them all democratic rights including the right to vote, proponents of this view say. Already 20 per cent of Israeli citizens are Arabs. If the rest of them are given citizenship, they end up becoming a majority, undermining the very idea of a Jewish state. But who is responsible for this situation? Israel brought the calamity upon itself by mindless colonisation of the Palestinian lands, dismembering their contiguous territories. Some on the Israeli left are alarmed about this prospect and have been warning the right wingers against the mindless expansionism.
Edward Said, the most famous Palestinian intellectual and a critic of the Oslo process, was a passionate advocate of biracial single state based on the concept of citizenship and equal rights. He always thought the Oslo Accords had institutionalised separation and subjugation of Palestinians, an idea that is unworkable and is destined to collapse. He believed that Palestinian and Jewish aspirations for self-determination can be met within the framework of a single state. But can a modern state negotiate its way out of a landmine of ethnic and religious fault lines is a moot question.
How would a multi-ethnic Israel look like? We have a fine but bad example in Lebanon. The political power is evenly shared between Sunnis, Shias and Maronite Christians. If the same model is replicated in united Israel, a Jew will be PM, Palestinian will be president and speaker will be from Christians and other assorted tribes. This is a dreadful prospect given the dysfunctional nature of the Lebanese government. But that eventually is staring at Israel if it throttles the possibility of a Palestinian state.
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