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TWO STATES OR ONE -- TIME TO CHOOSE

TO: THE EDITORS OF THE OPINION PAGES

Dear Editors,

Transmitted below is an opinion article which I hope you will see fit to
make my second opinion article published in the Post. The prior one was
published on March 16, 1994.

Since 1988, my articles on behalf of Middle East peace have been
published more than 500 times in the Arab, Israeli and international
press. My "Two States, One Holy Land" framework for peace was the
subject of a three-day conference of 24 prominent Israelis and
Palestinians (including four Knesset members) held in Cairo in November
1993 under the sponsorship of The Middle East Institute (Washington).

Kind regards,
John Whitbeck
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

*****************************************************

TWO STATES OR ONE -- TIME TO CHOOSE

By John V. Whitbeck


Almost immediately after the hollow show in Annapolis, a ray of hope has
appeared from an unexpected source -- Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

In an interview published on November 29 in the Israeli daily
/Ha'aretz/, he declared, "If the day comes when the two-state solution
collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting
rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as
that happens, the State of Israel is finished."

This /Ha'aretz/ article helpfully referred readers to a prior /Ha'aretz/
article, published on March 13, 2003, in which Olmert had expressed the
same concern in the following terms: "More and more Palestinians are
uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to
change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South
African one. From a struggle against 'occupation', in their parlance, to
a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner
struggle, a much more popular struggle -- and ultimately a much more
powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state."

Briefly, the Palestinian leadership appeared to have noticed Mr.
Olmert's nightmare. On January 8, 2004, Ahmed Qurei (then the
Palestinian prime minister and, more recently, the chief Palestinian
negotiator in the run-up to Annapolis) declared that the wall being
built through the West Bank represented an "apartheid solution" which
would "put Palestinians like chickens in cages" and "kill the two-state
solution" and concluded: "We will go for a one-state solution. There is
no other solution." Three days later, he reaffirmed this position as he
stood before the wall.

Unfortunately for the Palestinians and for the causes of justice and
peace, there was no Palestinian follow-up. Now, almost four years later,
Mr. Olmert has flung open the window of opportunity so wide and so
publicly that it is barely conceivable that any Palestinian leadership
could fail to notice and jump through it.

Throughout the long years of the perpetual "peace process", deadlines
have been consistently and predictably missed. Such failures have been
facilitated by the practical reality that, for Israel, "failure" has had
no consequences other than a continuation of the status quo, which, for
all Israeli governments, has been not only tolerable but preferable to
any realistically realizable alternative. For Israel, "failure" has
always constituted "success", permitting it to continue confiscating
Palestinian land, expanding its West Bank colonies, building Jews-only
bypass roads and generally making the occupation even more permanent and
irreversible.

In everyone's interests, this must change. For there to be any chance of
success in the new round of negotiations, failure must have clear and
compelling consequences which Israelis would find unappealing -- indeed,
at least initially, nightmarish.

If Israeli public opinion could be brought around to sharing the
perception of their position and options reflected in Mr. Olmert's
public pronouncements, the Palestinians would be entering the
"continuous negotiations" due to commence on December 12 in a position
of overwhelming strength -- intellectually and psychologically difficult
though it would be for them to imagine such a role reversal.

All that the Palestinian leadership now needs to do is to agree, very
publicly, with Mr. Olmert. It should state promptly that, if a
definitive peace agreement on a "two-state basis" has not been reached
and signed by the agreed deadline of the end of 2008, the Palestinian
people will have no choice but to seek justice and freedom through
democracy -- through full rights of citizenship in a single state in all
of Israel/Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race or
religion and with equal rights for all who live there, as in any true
democracy.

The Arab League should then publicly state that the very generous Arab
Peace Initiative, which, since March 2002, has offered Israel permanent
peace and normal diplomatic and economic relations in return for
Israel's compliance with international law, will expire and be "off the
table" if a definitive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has not been
signed by the end of 2008.

At this point -- but not before -- serious and meaningful negotiations
will begin. It may already be too late to achieve a decent two-state
solution (as opposed to an indecent, less-than-a-Bantustan one), but a
decent two-state solution would never have a better chance of being
achieved. If it is, indeed, too late, then Israelis, Palestinians and
the world will know and can thereafter focus their minds and efforts
constructively on the only other decent alternative.

It is even possible that, if forced to focus during the coming year on
the prospect of living in a democratic state with equal rights for all
its citizens -- which, after all, is what the United States and the
European Union hold up, in all other instances, as the ideal form of
political life -- many Israelis might come to view this "threat" as less
nightmarish than they traditionally have.

In this context, Israelis might wish to talk to some white South
Africans. The transformation of South Africa's racial-supremicist
ideology and political system into a fully democratic one has
transformed them, personally, from pariahs to people welcomed throughout
their region and the world. It has also ensured the permanence of a
strong and vital white presence in southern Africa in a way that
prolonging the flagrant injustice of a racial-supremicist ideology
and political system and imposing fragmented and dependent "independent
states" on the natives could never have achieved.

This is not a precedent to dismiss. It could and should inspire.

/John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the
Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of
"The /World/ According to Whitbeck"./

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