Two young Palestinian girls make the best of playtime in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, a United Nations Relief and Works Agency-administered camp outside of Bethlehem.

As two-state solution fails, opportunity rises in occupied Palestine

Place The Occupied Palestinian Territories
Text Tina Grandinetti
Art Tina Grandinetti
Thread Palestine

“I want to be able to sip a coffee on the beach in Jaffa,” says Isshaq Al-Barbary, a millennial from the Beit Jibrin refugee camp in the West Bank—part of the area designated under international law as the Occupied Palestinian Terrritories (OPT). “I don’t really care if there’s an Israeli sitting next to me.”

Amidst an increase in spontaneous violence that has sparked predictions of a third intifada, the idea of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems naïve. But Al-Barbary is not alone in his reluctant hope for a shared future for occupier and occupied. Indeed, he is just one in a growing number of young Palestinians and Israelis, part of a generation that has known nothing but occupation and militarization, who have turned their gaze towards the possibility of a single state between Jordan and the Mediterranean.

A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 51 percent of Palestinians support a one-state solution, while 78 percent believe that the chances of achieving an independent Palestinian state in the next five years were “slim to none.” Support for this complex alternative is higher among young Palestinians who have grown up in the post-Oslo era and have lost confidence in a failed peace process that has lasted most of their lives.

Since the Oslo Accords, the two-state solution has served as the backbone to a peace process that envisioned an Israeli and Palestinian state divided along the 1967 borders of Israel. But the entrenchment of the two-state paradigm occurred alongside Israel’s effort to partition and absorb Palestinian land through a system of settlements, access roads and armed checkpoints. For all of its international support and political clout, the possibility of a two-state divide along the 1967 “Green Line” has only grown more distant from reality, largely due to the continuous expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The segregated Shuhada street in Hebron is the main road leading to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The school girls on the right are Palestinian, and their access to Shuhada street is limited. The boys on the left are Israeli.

Every Israeli administration since 1967 has made settlement building a central part of its domestic policy agenda. In the 20 years since Oslo, the settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has increased by a quarter of a million people.

Settlements are intended to create “facts on the ground” that would establish an Israeli presence on Palestinian land. Today, over half a million Israeli settlers, or about one-tenth of the Jewish Israeli population, live on the wrong side of the Green Line. Some of these settlers are ideologically driven. Others are economically motivated, drawn to settlement towns by handsome financial incentives provided by the Israeli government. All are living outside of their country’s recognized borders and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids states from transferring their population to occupied land.

The network of access roads and highways that connect these settlements to each other, and to Israel proper, cuts through and across Palestinian cities and villages. Ultimately, some 60 percent of the West Bank is currently under full and exclusive Israeli control, and an additional 22 percent remains under Israeli security control, with limited civil administrative powers resting with the Palestinian Authority.

More Palestinian land is being annexed by Israel each day through the construction of the Separation Barrier (known to Palestinians as the Apartheid Wall) that snakes through the West Bank. The barrier, which was built to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israel after the violence of the second intifada, now reaches deep within the West Bank to keep settlements within its bounds.

A Palestinian state based on the current system of spatial control would look like an archipelago of islands, the sea separating them enforced by armed soldiers and manned checkpoints. Furthermore, as French architect and editor of The Funambulist Léopold Lambert argues, simple separation has already proven to be wrought with problems of its own. Lambert explains, “The disengagement of the Israeli army and settlers from Gaza in 2005 is a good example of what could potentially happen in the case of a Palestinian state; militarized borders, blockades, and regular deadly sieges.” With such high stakes, for many Palestinians, sharing a state with Israelis is a preferable alternative to accepting their own state on just a fraction of the land of historic Palestine.

However, for the Palestinian Authority (PA), a bi-national state would also mean the disruption of its very comfortable role as Palestine’s political elite. When the Oslo Accords were signed, the Palestinian Liberation Organization surrendered many of its political objectives in exchange for limited power in the OPT. In doing so, the small, immensely wealthy class that makes up the PA became an intermediary in Israel’s strategic shift from direct to indirect military rule of Palestine. Israel’s costly occupation was successfully outsourced to a new, administrative pseudo-state authority. The strategy of neoliberal state-building through economic and institutional development lined a few very deep pockets, and also assured that the PA keeps a vested interest in the maintenance of the occupation.

This is why a growing number of young Palestinians believe that the PA should dissolve itself, and force Israel to assume its legal obligation to provide for the Palestinian people as a military occupier under international law. The son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Tareq, made headlines when he told the New York Times that he thinks his father should dissolve the Palestinian Authority. Doing so would help to sever the financial ties between Israeli and Palestinian elites, and would once again make the occupation costly for Israel, thereby creating pressure to pursue new, hopefully democratic, alternatives. Al-Barbary, like many other youth of the Oslo generation, agrees. “It would be our gift to them,” says Al-Barbary. “Take all lands. And the people with it,” he says with a wink.

Two Palestinian boys watch the sunset over the Dheisheh refugee camp.

For refugees like Al-Barbary, whose family fled their village within the current borders of Israel in 1948, the distant ideal of a democratic state for both Israelis and Palestinians offers something that the two-state solution almost certainly never could. Under United Nations laws, all refugees are guaranteed the right to return to their homes. However, negotiations towards a two-state solution have neglected this right because it poses a demographic—and, some would say, existential—threat to Israel.

For Israel to remain a Jewish state, it must retain a Jewish majority, which would be jeopardized by an influx of Palestinian refugees. Of course, this is exactly the reason that even the most liberal Israelis are often unable to entertain the idea of one-state alternative. A truly democratic, bi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-religious state would mean the end of Israel as an exclusively Jewish one.

And therein lies the crux of the problem. Shackled by talks of borders and institutions, the peace process in Israel-Palestine has always prioritized the needs of political elite in Israel, the U.S. and the PA over the rights of the people or the long, hard work of reconciliation. As a result, a generation of Israelis and Palestinians have grown up with almost no interaction with each other except as occupier and occupied, soldier and enemy. It is no coincidence that nearly two decades of the “peace” process have failed to bring the region closer to any meaningful kind of peace. In fact, imagining a one-state solution in the current context brings frightening images of sectarian violence and upheaval. But this is precisely why it demands our attention.

Though the one-state paradigm clings to an unlikely and perhaps maddeningly naive vision of the future, it is critically important because it repositions justice, human rights and international law as the center of any resolution that may come. Like Al-Barbary, whose optimism seems, always, to be consciously counterbalanced with a cautious, perhaps even cynical sarcasm, Lambert is quick to caution against a simplistic view of this complex alternative. “We should not call it a solution because this term implies a fantasized notion of the end of history,” he warns. “Yet,” he adds, “It is the only scenario that can claim a sense of justice for all.”By reorienting our understanding of the conflict, we may be able to lay the groundwork for a solution—whether one-state or two—that doesn’t require more walls, more weapons, and more violence.


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