Subject: Ben Efrat on the current viability of a two-state solution
Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2008 05:55:42 +0000
"Challenge Magazine" is (to quote it's website) "a leftist magazine focusing on
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a global context. Published in Tel Aviv,
its "editorial staff includes Jews and Arabs". Positioning itself with a clarity
and openness that I find exceptional even among alternative publications, the
"about" section on the "Challenge" website provides a succint history of the
editorial stands taken on key issues since the magazine's foundation in 1990.
Readers pondering how reliable or knowledgable a source this is, are offered a
detailed context to draw on.
power-matrix in Israel-Palestine, outlining what he sees as an almost no-exit
situation. He proposes that present moves are dictated, largely, by the Israeli
priority of retaining privilege and property for its well off and, no less, by
the ascendence of Hamas in Gaza and potentially in the West Bank.
"Israel's drive to separate the two peoples ...," says Ben Efrat, "results ...
from the evaporation of the Zionist ethos. This ethos once embraced all Jewish
citizens of the state, but it has shriveled to embrace the successful alone.
From a nation for all its Jews, Israel has become a nation for all its rich. The
classes that have lost strength in recent years ... have become a burden on the
state (that is, on the rich), just as the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank
are a burden. Israel seeks a model for separating from the Palestinians, while
it employs a neoliberal mode l to separate from its own poor."
Public criticism of Israel's government is, he claims, twofold: "political,
focusing on its [the government's] inability to bring the peace that alone can
secure the continuation of the Jewish State," but it is manifested, no less, in
terms of class conflict. "The same Jewish State, which once symbolized job
security and a homeland for most of its citizens, is breaking up ... It has
detached itself from the workers and the poor. In a nation that lacks both
physical and economic security, we cannot expect solidarity."
Given Israel's current priorities, Ben Efrat writes, "the State no longer has an
interest in direct occupation" which would re-saddle it with "full, direct
responsibility for the feeding, education and employment of 4 million
Furthermore, "Added to the 1.4 million Arabs living as citizens within its
borders, the number of Arabs under Israel's rule would then almost equal the
number of Jews (5.7 million)."
On Ben Efrat's analysis,"The most significant new factor in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the enormous decline in the status of the PA
[Palestinian Authority] after Fatah lost Gaza to Hamas." Handing "the reins" to
Fatah could completely "undermine what remains of Abbas's rule in the West Bank,
and force Israel to reconquer the cities there" and possibly also Gaza.
Israel accordingly opts for political inaction rather than a move which it
believes, "would bring on the Zionist nightmare."
Issue 107, January/February 2008
The Fading of the Two-State Solution
by Yacov Ben Efrat
AFTER RETURNING from the Annapolis Conference, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert told Haaretz (November 28, 2007) that "the State of Israel cannot endure
unless a Palestinian state comes into being ." Olmert had made a like
pronouncement in December 2003, when he was Deputy Prime Minister to Ariel
Sharon. At that time he told Nahum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot: "Israel will soon
need to make a strategic recognition… We are nearing the point where more and
more Palestinians will say: 'We're persuaded. We agree with [right-wing
politician Avigdor] Lieberman. There isn't room for two states between the
Jordan and the sea. All we want is the right to vote.' On the day they reach
that point," said Olmert, "we lose everything. … I quake to think that leading
the fight against us will be liberal Jewish groups that led the fight against
apartheid in South Africa."
On hearing these words, Barnea rubbed his eyes in astonishment. Today, it would
appear, the message is no less relevant. In Olmert's appraisal, if no solution
is found to the Palestinian question, Israel will wind up with an apartheid
regime; the Palestinians of the Occup ied Territories will then demand the right
to vote. The democratic West, he knows, will not forever tolerate an ethnocracy
that withholds this right from a third or more of its subjects. Such is the
The head understands, but the hands lag behind. Or to vary Abba Eban's quip:
where peace is concerned, Israel has never missed an opportunity to miss an
opportunity. Apparent exceptions turn out to prove the rule. In the Oslo Accords
of 1993, for instance, the Palestinians recognized Israel. But playing its usual
zero-sum game, Israel tried to use the Accords as a means to extract
concessions. By the end of the 90's, blockades, settlement expansion, economic
manipulation and political intransigence had wiped out Palestinian trust. The
result became apparent at Camp David in July 2000: Yasser Arafat knew he did not
have a mandate to sign.
Or consider the Sharon-Bush vision of June 2003, articulated in their le tters of
April 2004. Haunted by the Zionist nightmare, Sharon saw the need for a
Palestinian State, but he could not bring himself to allow a real one. The
vision announced by Bush amounted to a state without substance. It would be
fractured territorially, it would lack military capability, and it would have no
control over borders or air space. The economically weak Palestine was to remain
dependent on Israel, whose needs it would have to serve. In this way, Israel and
the US vitiated the concept of a Palestinian state, encountering no
Then came the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005. Israel insisted on
unilateralism. "There is no partner," was Sharon's mantra, although Mahmoud
Abbas (Abu Mazen) of Fatah was president. Sharon (and Olmert, his deputy)
bypassed him. This turned out to be a major error. If disengagement had come
about through negotiations with Abbas, he could have taken at least par tial
credit for Israel's withdrawal. In the event, Hamas took it all.
[August 2005, the disengagement from Gaza. Israel insisted on unilateralism.
Photo by Eldad Rafaeli.]
A few months later (January 2006) the Palestinians overwhelmingly elected a
Hamas government (although Abbas was still president). The two years since the
Hamas landslide have been difficult ones for them. Hamas has refused to accept
the West's conditions that it recognize Israel and accept the Oslo Accords. As a
result, the US and Europe have backed a political and economic blockade against
it, seeking to destabilize its rule. In June 2007, in Gaza, matters came to a
head. Hamas took the Strip in a military coup.
This event has immensely complicated the chances for peace. If Israel were to
reach a separate agreement with Abbas in the West Bank, there would still be
rockets from Gaza. Also, what guarantees that Hamas won't take over the West
Bank too? The notion of "two states for two peoples" has faded farther away than
ever. For example, in building the separation barrier as it did—carving off
pieces of the West Bank to protect its settlement blocs—Israel may have been
nursing the idea that the barrier would one day mark the border. The Hamas
victory has foiled that too: a wall does not stop rockets.
Such were the realities behind the Annapolis Conference. At first it was meant
to set forth principles for peace. According to first-hand sources on both
sides, these were already formulated in the year 2000 at Camp David and Sharm
al-Sheikh. At that time, however, trust between the sides was lacking, and
regional conditions were unfavorable. Today an agreement is impeded by the
internal Palestinian situation.
No discussion of principles or prior understandings can occur as long as the
Territories are divided between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. An
Isra eli withdrawal from the West Bank, it is feared, will lead to a Hamas
takeover there too. For this reason, Israel has clung to the Road Map as a life
preserver. It obligates the PA to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure as a
precondition for Israel's withdrawal. This implies the renewal of Fatah control
over Gaza. Israel is not about to begin a civil war with its settlers as long as
it lacks a secure and stable partner on the other side.
And so we come full circle: given the might of the Israeli Occupation, the power
of Hamas, and Fatah's lack of credibility, what chance has the Fatah
leadership—no matter how moderate it may be—to govern its people and wage peace?
[Gaza, June 2007. Hamas takes over. Photo by Wissam Nassar.]
The most significant new factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the
enormous decline in the status of the PA after Fatah lost Gaza to Hamas. It is
an axiom among all the mainstream Israeli par ties that the State no longer has
an interest in direct occupation. Yet the facts on the ground keep Israel from
handing the reins to Abbas.
Theoretically, the daily rocket attacks from Gaza might stop if Israel were to
reconquer the Strip. Yet such a step could hurtle the region into a tailspin,
undermine what remains of Abbas's rule in the West Bank, and force Israel to
reconquer the cities there too. The notorious Civil Administration would then
return, and Israel would have full, direct responsibility for the feeding,
education and employment of 4 million Palestinians. Added to the 1.4 million
Arabs living as citizens within its borders, the number of Arabs under Israel's
rule would then almost equal the number of Jews (5.7 million).
The nominal PA rule over the cities of the West Bank, along with the Hamas
domination of Gaza, enables Israel to maintain an indirect occupation while
avoiding responsibility. But if Israe l were to retake Gaza and then (following a
PA collapse) the West Bank, that would bring on the Zionist nightmare.
We may regard Annapolis, then, as a desperate attempt to strengthen Abbas,
prevent the PA's collapse and save the Jewish State. At the subsequent Paris
Conference, the developed nations pledged $7.5 billion toward the building of
Palestine. The West has recognized that this latest effort may be the last
chance for a two-state solution.
What exactly is the nature of the Jewish state that is thus endangered? It has
become clear in recent years that Israel's drive to separate the two peoples is
not meant as penance for its crimes of forty years. The desire for separation
results rather from the evaporation of the Zionist ethos. This ethos once
embraced all Jewish citizens of the state, but it has shriveled to embrace the
successful alone. From a nation for all its Jews, Israel has become a nation for
all its rich . The classes that have lost strength in recent years, such as
workers who could not make the transition to high-tech, or those displaced by
foreign labor, or single mothers, have become a burden on the state (that is, on
the rich), just as the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are a burden.
Israel seeks a model for separating from the Palestinians, while it employs a
neoliberal model to separate from its own poor. Recently, for instance, the
Olmert government faced the longest and most militant teachers'
strike in the country's history. (See article, p. 10.)
Criticism of the government is concentrated on two levels. The first is
political, focusing on its inability to bring the peace that alone can secure
the continuation of the Jewish State. The second level is that of class
conflict. The same Jewish State, which once symbolized job security and a
homeland for most of its citizens, is breaking up before their eyes. It has < BR>detached itself from the workers and the poor. In a nation that lacks both
physical and economic security, we cannot expect solidarity.
On the analysis given here, Israel is damned if it does and damned if it
doesn't. Perhaps it still has time to save the two-state solution—and itself—by
doing what it should have done long ago: through bilateral agreement, it should
have dismantled the settlements and withdrawn to the lines of 1967. But the
likelihood of such a conversion is now near zero, because a new element has
entered the picture: Hamas, which might do in the West Bank what it has done in
Israel is also damned, on the other hand, if it does not withdraw to the lines
of 1967, for it will then have to face the ever stronger forces pushing for a
single democratic state. The time has come for hard decisions: either help build
an independent Palestine or face a one-state solution.
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
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