Articles by Ori Nir and Hussein Ibish and Statements by President Obama
Articles by the Speakers
and Statements by President Obama
Washington Jewish Week: "No Solutionists"
By Ori Nir on January 7, 2010
Increasingly, you hear them at public events and symposia. You read their analyses in the press and on blogs. They are the "no-solutionists."
Ultra-skeptical, hypercynical, often giddy about their political nihilism, they typically argue something along these lines: "As a realist, I realize that there are problems in this world that simply can't be resolved. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of them."
Such skepticism can no longer be dismissed as spiteful vexation, now that Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman often make these arguments, and as many in Israel and in the U.S. buy into this pseudorealism.
Ironically, this argument brings together the extreme left and the extreme right. Both are harnessing it to their agendas, agendas that -- deliberately or not -- will turn the festering status quo of a diplomatic impasse and Israeli West Bank settlement activity into an endless quagmire.
This approach is both wrong and wrongheaded.
It is wrong because a reasonable solution to the conflict is, in fact, feasible. Majorities on both sides strongly support a two-state solution. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have in the past made significant progress toward mutually acceptable compromise formulas. Even on issues that involve heavy emotional baggage for both sides, such as Jerusalem and refugees, leaders on both sides have devised reasonable formulas that large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians supported.
Both parties have made giant steps toward a historic compromise by agreeing to recognize each other, to talk to each other and to negotiate over all the outstanding issues. The gaps between the parties, as broad as they may seem, are not unbridgeable. Israelis and Palestinians, as well as international brokers, can freshen up creative proposals such as the Geneva Initiative or the Clinton parameters. If leaders endorse reasonable, workable proposals, majorities on both sides will follow, as recent polls have shown.
The "no-solutionists'" approach is wrongheaded because the repercussions of abandoning the active pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace are disastrous for Israel and for the United States. Israel will not be able to exist as a democratic Jewish state without a two-state solution. Over time, the lingering occupation of the West Bank is eroding Israel's democracy, making Israeli society increasingly violent and isolating Israel in the international arena.
Peace between Israel and its neighbors is key for American interests, too, as often pointed out by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Therefore, even if political leaders assess that the prospects of a peace agreement in the immediate future are low, they owe it to their people and to their international allies to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of peace. Pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace is a national security obligation and a moral imperative -- both for Israel and the U.S.
Dismissing peace efforts as futile, or even putting the peace process on temporary hold, pending better circumstances, is potentially disastrous. Such an approach might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It might discourage Israelis and Palestinians, as well as their friends internationally, from striving to create conditions conducive to peace.
While some Israelis and Palestinians may think that the price of a two-state solution is unbearable for their nations, the price of not reaching peace will be heavier for both peoples.
Most Israelis recognize that the alternative to a two-state solution is not the status quo, but rather a disastrous scenario: An apartheid-like relationship will develop between what will soon become an Israeli-Jewish minority and a Palestinian majority in historic Palestine. This is a recipe for the devolution of the conflict from one that can be solved into the type of ethnic strife that the former Yugoslavia witnessed a decade ago.
Those who walk away from the pursuit of a two-state solution are inducing the birth of a binational state. By doing so, they not only condemn Israelis and Palestinians to endless bloodletting, they also induce the beginning of the end of the Jewish state.
Ori Nir is spokesperson for Americans for Peace Now.
Settlers seek to thwart Palestinian state
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
by Ori Nir Special to WJW
"ABSORPTION DRIVE IN AMONA" screams the ad in the national-religious Israeli weekly Ma'ayinei Ha-Yeshu'ah, inviting Israelis to come settle in an illegal West Bank settlement-outpost near the Palestinian town of Ramallah. The colorful ad promises families a home "accommodating the family's specifications," as well as "full community services."
The construction campaign in Amona -- a settlement that is illegal not only under international law, but also under Israeli law (built entirely on privately owned Palestinian land) -- reflects the West Bank settlers' determination to step up their activity and strengthen their grip on the land. Their clearly stated objective is to thwart any attempt to implement a two-state solution.
Their success will mean a calamity for Israel and for America's efforts to stabilize the Middle East.
This settlement campaign reflects the settlers' recognition that the most potent tool Israeli extremists have to undermine peace efforts is what they do best: intensifying settlement activity throughout the West Bank. Furthermore, the campaign reflects the settlers' conviction that they are approaching the "point of no return," the point at which the settlements' demographic and topographic footprint will become an insurmountable obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
The settlers actually say so. Last week, the plenary of the settlers' Yesha Council met in the West Bank to discuss how to confront demands for a settlement freeze. Reportedly, there was a consensus that "aggressive actions" should be taken to oppose a freeze, to redouble settlement activity and to refuse negotiating with the Israeli government on the peaceful removal of settlement outposts built in violation of Israeli law, such as Amona.
A Yesha Council statement posted last week on the organization's Web site explains the alarm. "At the end of the day, what will determine whether there is a Palestinian state - God forbid - whether the land will be divided - God forbid - is construction in Judea and Samaria, the continued development, the broadening and the entrenchment of the settlement enterprise."
The statement makes clear that the settlers' interpretation of settlements' "natural growth" - or what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called "normal life" - is far broader than even the Israeli government's interpretation. "Normal life means construction. Normal life means infusing new blood. Normal life means natural development — not just natural growth, but natural development of the settlements in Judea and Samaria," the statement says. It concludes that nothing "brings closer the creation of a Palestinian state and the division of the land than freezing construction in Judea and Samaria."
Columnist Hagai Segal, a prominent ideological leader of the settlers' movement and a convicted terrorist who participated in the murder and attempted murder of West Bank Palestinian mayors in 1980, last week took the argument a step forward, explicitly stating the settlers' goal. Writing in Makor Rishon-Hatzofe, Segal argued that the battle now is over the "point of irreversibility," the point at which the settlements will make it impossible to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank. The Obama administration, he argued, recognizes that "the settlement enterprise is very close to the point of irreversibility, which is why this is where most of the energy should be invested." Segal added that if anyone inside Israel "wonders what he can do now to save Israel from a Palestinian state, the answer is to move to Judea and Samaria."
So, there you have it. The settlers have declared their goal. They are aiming at the tipping point, after which the creation of a Palestinian state will not be possible. They are determined to advance toward their goal and thwart Israel's chances for peace with its neighbors. Which is why negotiations over a settlement freeze must not leave any loophole that the settlers might use to advance their dangerous goal.
Most Israelis and most American Jews support the two-state solution. They know this is the only solution that will secure Israel's character as a democratic Jewish state. But it is utterly meaningless to support a two-state solution without supporting a full stop to settlement activity. Accommodating any amount of new settlement construction means accelerating the disastrous advance toward irreversibility, toward the tipping point that will deny Israel the future it deserves.
Ori Nir is spokesperson for Americans for Peace Now.
West Bank Settler: Settlements Don't Harm Palestinians
June 8, 2009, posted by Ori Nir
You've got to read it to believe it: An American Jewish settler, Aaron U. Raskas, sitting at the poolside, at his settlement of Rimonim near Ramallah, marveling at the sight of little settler kids splashing water, and telling fellow Americans that West Bank settlements do no damage to Palestinians.
What have these benign suburban communities done to the Palestinians that the whole world now wants to stunt their growth, he innocently kvetches. You can't even see a Palestinian village, not even a herd of sheep, from my little settlement, he says. The "myth" that settlements choke Palestinian life in the West Bank is an invention of the "Palestinian propaganda machines," he writes. "Israeli professionals living a suburban life with their children in the vast expanse of these territories do not threaten or harm Palestinians," he states. "The thousands of young children who frequent the Rimonim pool look to the future like children anywhere. They seek only to grow up in peace, experience the joys of youth with sufficient room in their homes and schools and, ultimately, have the right to raise families in the communities that nurtured them from birth."
The writer is a lawyer from Baltimore. He should know better but he probably doesn"t. His disgusting op-ed reflects the stunning disregard of the settlers to the plight of the Palestinians who surround them. When I started covering the West Bank and Gaza as a cub reporter 23 years ago, I was shocked to meet settlers who were highly educated, highly ethical, compassionate people, but their morality and humanity somehow stopped when it came to their Arab neighbors. When Palestinians were concerned, there was a huge blind spot that grew as time went by.
I wonder how many of the 600 residents of Rimonim -- Raskas Esq. included -- know that 99.7% of the settlement's land is privately owned by Palestinians, as reported by Peace Now. This is land that was temporarily seized by the government of Israel more than thirty years ago for 'security purposes,' and is now used for Raskas and his friends to enjoy a benevolent country-club suburban life.
Does the gentleman from Baltimore ever stop to think about the price that Palestinians have to pay, in time and money, blood, sweat and tears, for him and his fellow Rimonimians to zip through the West Bank into Israel and back home? Does he have an idea, while sitting at the poolside, how appalling is the disparity in the allocation of water to Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank?
I found Rasks' article so annoying that I sent the following letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun. I am still hoping to see it published:
It is the ultimate Chutzpa for Mr. Raskas -- writing from the poolside of his West Bank settlement of Rimonim -- to argue that settlements do nothing wrong to Palestinians. Here is why: Rimonim was built on land that is almost all (99.7%) privately owned by Palestinians. It was first a military base, established in 1977, and three years later was turned by the government of Israel into a civilian settlement. In order to build roads for the 600 residents of Rimonim to travel to Israel, where most of them work, more Palestinian land was confiscated. Roadblocks and checkpoints were erected to allow Mr. Raskas and his fellow travelers to move freely into Israel, turning movement and access for Palestinians into a nightmare. And while he watches the happy children of Rimonim splashing in the settlement's half-Olympic swimming pool, Mr. Raskas may want to browse through the April 2009 World Bank report that documents how Israel's occupation authorities in the West Bank, which sustain and protect his settlement, discriminate in the allocation of the area's scarce underground water resources in favor of the settlers. Finally, Peace Now is not a "pro-Palestinian" organization. Israel's largest grassroots organization is a peace movement that believes the settlements must go because they make it impossible for Israelis to achieve security through peace with their neighbors.
Responding to readers' comments
May 29, 2009, posted by Ori Nir
Wow! So many comments!
I would like to thank all of those who took the time to comment.
Let me briefly address some of the comments and questions.
To Peter: you are right, the Geneva Initiative is somewhat underrated. You may want to know that former Prime Minister Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, thoroughly consulted the Geneva plan before they started their final status negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmad Qurei. I believe that once a negotiated two-state solution is achieved, the arrangements between Israel and Palestine will be quite similar to Geneva formula.
Daniel, I am not sure whether the PA published ads with the text of the Arab League's peace initiative in Palestinian newspapers. If it did not, the reason may have been that Palestinians know better than Israelis what is the content of the plan. By the way, following the publication of the PA's ads in Israeli Hebrew newspapers, Israel's Peace Now movement published ads in Arabic in the largest circulation Palestinian newspaper welcoming the Arab plan.
Peter, I think I understand your argument regarding the settlement of Palestinian refugees in Israel proper. Thankfully peacemaking is not about settling accounts or about mathematical formulae. We must be practical: we are striving for a two-state solution. A two-state solution can be implemented (albeit with difficulties) even if Israel annexes small parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It cannot be implemented if Israel is compelled to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees. It is simply a deal-breaker.
Martin Schwartz makes a good point: if Israel and Palestine are to have a "warm" peace, there must be a cultural transformation -- both among Palestinians and many militant Israelis. Most Israelis are ready for it. Having covered the West Bank and Gaza for many years and having kept track of Palestinian public opinion, I believe that most Palestinians are also ready and willing to recognize Israel, to accept a resolution to the conflict in the 1967 borders and to stop violence. There will always be militants (on both sides) who will try to act as spoilers. We should not let them veto a deal. I happen to think that it is the militants on both sides who fuel militancy. It is the enemies of peace on the Israeli side who serve to help the positions of Islamic fundamentalists (and vice versa), not the advocates of peace.
I am a bit confused by Morton Nadler's argument. You may be right, Morton, about the weakness of the Road Map. But it is impossible to reach Palestinian statehood without a process of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In order for viable negotiations to take place, certain measures must be taken by both sides. The negotiations will then address the various issues that will determine the contours of the Palestinian state and its relationship with Israel. You just can't put the cart before the horses.
Robert Gelman, I agree with your two-state vision. You ask about President Abbas' recognition of the state of Israel. He has recognized it many times. He did so in speeches during the past several years, since becoming the president of the PA and the chairman of the PLO. Check out his speech at the Annapolis conference, for example, where he said: "I say to the citizens of Israel, in this extraordinary day, you, our neighbors on this small land, neither us nor you are begging for peace from each other. It is a common interest for us and for you. Peace and freedom is a right to us, in as much as peace and security is a right for you and for us. Time has come for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to come to an end. Time has come that both of us should look at the future with confidence and hope, and that this long-suffering land, which was called the land of love and peace, would not be worth of its own name." You can read the speech in its entirety here, on the Israeli Foreign Ministry's web site.
I strongly disagree with DJ, who talks about a one-state "solution." The one state scenario, in my mind, is a nightmare, not a solution. It is a sure prescription for perpetual conflict and bloodshed.
Pepe (and others) ask about Israeli settlements remaining in the West Bank. We should distinguish between two issues. One is the possibility of settlement blocs, adjacent to the Green Line, which could be annexed to Israel in the context of a final status peace accord. There is broad agreement that Israel would then compensate the Palestinian state with land in Israel proper, on a one-to-one ratio, which would be swapped for land that Israel will annex. The other issue is whether settlements deep inside the West Bank could stay under Palestinian sovereignty, in a future Palestinian state. I suppose that it is theoretically possible, if both sides (and the settlers) agree to it. It seems impractical to me, though. If I were to advise a future Israeli negotiating team, I would strongly advise against it.
Thanks again to all of you who took the time to participate in this online conversation. Let's keep it going.
Postings from his blog, http://www.ibishblog.com/
January 19, 2010
The Obama administration deserves credit and praise for its determination to push forward with Middle East peace diplomacy. It is very reassuring that the administration has not regarded the frustrations and false starts of 2009 as evidence that nothing can be accomplished or that efforts are being wasted. It is vital that the United States continue to pursue progress towards peace on a variety of fronts, including at the diplomatic register. However, given the extremely difficult internal political circumstances in Israel and among the Palestinians, a healthy skepticism about what can be accomplished in the near term is warranted and serious consideration of innovations and parallel tracks is required.
November 6, 2009
Ibish, what is this Palestinian state you are talking about anyway?
Two-state advocates believe that the occupation and the status quo are completely untenable for both Israel and the Palestinians, and that there is no military solution available to either party. Needless to say, we also don't believe that boycotts, divestment and sanctions can work where violence has not, partly because they have all been in place to some extent during the entire period of the conflict on both sides to almost no effect, and because we doubt both the achievability and the effectiveness of boycotts and sanctions as the primary instrument of a national political struggle. That they can cause pain and discomfort, there is no doubt. That when specifically targeting the occupation they can be very useful, again I don't think there's much of a question. That they can sometimes be useful in raising the right kind of public awareness is also beyond question, although I think it's also obvious that they, when badly handled, can also send a counterproductive message that has a negative political impact.
In short, we believe that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are going anywhere and that neither has the ability to destroy the national project or will of the other through any practical, meaningful measures at their disposal. As a consequence, we believe that only a negotiated agreement that allows for two states to live side-by-side in peace and security can end the conflict and end the occupation.
It's also clear, and I strongly support this position, that the Palestinian people and leadership will not accept a rump state, bantustan, or state in name only, and will only agree to an end of conflict arrangement that provides for a sovereign, independent Palestinian state with all the sovereign rights and prerogatives of the other member states of the United Nations.
If such an agreement were to be reached, this state would have to encompass almost all of the occupied Palestinian territories and have its capital in East Jerusalem. It would probably, however, necessitate a land swap involving between 3-4% of the occupied territories to be retained by Israel in exchange for land contiguous (probably next to the West Bank) to a Palestinian state. Most of East Jerusalem was and remains an Arab, Palestinian city, and the bulk of it will serve as the capital of Palestine, although certain Jewish areas will probably be retained by Israel and some kind of creative solution will have to be found regarding the holy places in the old city with which Jewish Israelis have an undoubted interest. I also don't think that Jerusalem needs to be or can be physically re-divided through walls, checkpoints and barbed wire fences. I think as a practical matter, the city is going to have to serve as a capital of two states with divided but cooperatively administered sovereignty in much of it.
I think it's an obvious corollary, and this has long been accepted by most serious Israeli interlocutors, that a safe-passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip will have to be part of the land swap, that is to say a corridor of Palestinian sovereignty through southern Israel and the Negev Desert that can allow for unhindered transportation between the two non-contiguous parts of Palestine. Just as in the case of Jerusalem, there are many ways of conceptualizing and realizing this principle in practice. Where there's a will, and more precisely an unavoidable national necessity, there is most certainly a way.
While the Palestinian state will certainly have the normal sovereign prerogatives of a UN member state, I do think that some arrangements on Israeli security are going to be required, at least in some early stages of the limitation of the agreement. I'm thinking here in terms of things like electronic early warning stations regarding serious conventional attacks from beyond the Palestinian state and so forth. But I think these concessions have to be limited both in scope and in time and would hardly be unprecedented between neighbors entering into a difficult arrangement that both had a stake in ensuring succeeds. Obviously, Palestine would have full sovereignty over all of its water resources, airspace, electromagnetic spectrum and so forth.
On the military issue, the Israelis often make a big deal about the potential demilitarization, or other more precisely non-militarization (since there is no extent Palestinian military as such), of a Palestinian state. Well-informed Israelis know that when they are demanding this, they are demanding what is, in fact, a present intention of the Palestinian leadership. It's also something that my colleagues and I at the American Task Force on Palestine have recommended, along with suggestions that the Palestinian state be democratic, pluralistic and neutral in armed conflicts (I am presently writing from a small country in a volatile and heavily-armed region beset by wars, Costa Rica, that has made precisely this formula work with deeply impressive results). But ultimately all of these questions must be decided by the Palestinians themselves, and cannot be deal-breakers for Israel. As I said, in reality neither state will have an interest in destroying an agreement they have crafted that is essential to their national security and indeed their national survival.
As for the settlements and the settlers, I think it's clear that those that are not retained by Israel as part of this land swap will have to be evacuated. This is not so much because the Palestinians will insist on this. A number of Palestinian leaders including the current Prime Minister have stated that Palestinians have no objection in principle to Jewish Israelis being residents or even citizens of a Palestinian state. Rather, it is almost certain that any Israeli government that entered into such an arrangement would not seriously consider leaving its citizens behind the lines of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state. If any of these individuals or groups came into conflict with their neighbors or any harm befell them, which is readily imaginable given their ideology and temperament, the entire arrangement could be thrown into immediate question by the political pressure on any Israeli government to intervene in their behalf. It would be an untenable circumstance for an Israeli government to endure, and therefore I think the imperative for a full evacuation of all the settlements excluding those involved in land swap will come mainly from the Israeli and not the Palestinian side, and that this evacuation will, in fact, take place if an agreement is reached.
I think this is a pretty good rough sketch of what two-state advocates imagine, and have always imagined, the implementation of UNSCR 242 and the land for peace formula it initiated in 1967 would look like in practice. There is, of course, a plethora of reasons for believing, as the reader does, that time has passed this aspiration by and such an agreement is no longer feasible. Many one-state advocates also believe that it was never desirable and is insufficient, but we will leave that to one side in this instance.
The main objection to the feasibility of achieving such a two-state agreement in practice is, of course, the Israeli settlements and ongoing settlement activity. This is an extremely reasonable objection. It would, and hopefully will be, a not entirely but almost unprecedented step for a state to move many thousands of its citizens, often against their desires, outside of the context of an ongoing major conventional war. So the obvious question is: what on earth makes us think that this can possibly be accomplished, especially when one looks at maps of settlement expansion in the occupied territories?
The answer goes back to the first principle. It is because there is no other way out of the present situation. We strongly believe that Israel has an overwhelming national interest in securing its future and its self-identity as a "Jewish and democratic" state, and that this can only be achieved by ending the occupation. The occupation involves ruling over and subjugating in a most cruel and unjust manner almost 5 million Palestinians who are not Jewish and who are not citizens of Israel or any other state. This arrangement already does and increasingly will make this Israeli self-definition untenable and even absurd.
Perhaps more importantly, there is no chance that these Palestinians will endure unending occupation and colonization with no hope of a peaceful settlement in quiet and with equanimity. One thing the Palestinian people have proven beyond doubt over the past century is that not only are they not going anywhere, they are ready, willing and able to fight for their rights and for their national aspirations. This was expressed in sectarian conflict throughout the 30s and 40s, the civil war of 1947-48, in many ways in the various Arab-Israeli wars, and most clearly in the two intifadas. That there will be future uprisings if the occupation does not end and shows no signs of ending is really beyond any question.
There is also almost no reason to doubt that these uprisings will follow the examples of the relationship of the end of the first intifada to its beginning, and of the second intifada to the first: that is to say, increasing militarization, increasing violence and increasingly religious fervor on both sides of the equation. Beyond the question of its self-identity, Israel faces this fundamental existential problem: it can either have the occupation or can have peace. It cannot have both. Continued occupation means war, conflict and ever-escalating violence, hatred and bloodshed. It is a literally untenable, unmanageable situation.
It would be marvelous to think that Palestinians would eschew armed struggle in favor of nonviolent resistance as the primary tools in future uprisings, but in reality there is no basis for believing this. There is almost no question that the large, heavily armed and ideological political parties that became entrenched in the occupied territories by the end of the first intifada and seized control of the uprising its latter stages, and then entirely dominated the militarized and disastrous second intifada, would immediately seize hold of any momentum created by large-scale nonviolent resistance movement, especially since that resistance would almost certainly be met with the utmost brutality by occupation forces.
The argument therefore is that there is still reason to believe that a two-state agreement is possible because it is the only way out for both parties, and both parties have an existential need to find a way out of what will otherwise almost certainly prove a calamity for both. I agree that it's going be difficult, and I would even agree that it is a long shot, but I can't think of any other plausible scenario that could be achieved that would end the conflict and the occupation.
As numerous people have observed, states, like individuals, generally do what is necessary, no matter how unpalatable, once they have exhausted all other options. My very strong belief is that until the prospect of a viable, negotiated peace agreement is irrevocably foreclosed, all responsible parties should do their utmost of finding a way to make it work in spite of the undoubted difficulties and obstacles.
In my book, "What's Wrong with the One-State Agenda?," I argued that one-state advocates and others are wrong in thinking that the topographical, administrative and demographic changes wrought in the occupied territories by the settlement project have definitively rendered Palestinian statehood untenable, precisely because it is an existential necessity, not only for the Palestinians, but for Israel itself. What is established by political will can be reversed by political will, if the necessity is strong enough.
In the book I suggested that a more politically precise and accurate yardstick for gauging the viability of a potential two-state agreement is the extent to which a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis believe it is necessary for their interests. By all measures, they both continue to believe this. When and if they don't, and that is sustained for some period of time, it will be necessary, of course, to seriously examine all the other options, although I really don't know what realistically they're going to look like beyond the most atrocious, escalating and religiously informed armed conflict. But because Israel needs this agreement as much as the Palestinians do, and because the Israeli majority should be able to overcome the resistance of a fanatical minority due to existential national imperatives, I think it is definitely premature to speak in terms of the "death of the peace process" and the idea that the time for a two state agreement is definitively past.
There is every possibility, and every reason to fear, that such an agreement will not be reached. My argument is that given the plausible alternatives that can realistically be imagined in the absence of such an agreement, and especially in the absence of a constituency on both sides pushing for such an agreement, it is irresponsible to the point of nihilism to throw up one's hands, give up and walk away. Palestinians who labor under the illusion that boycotts and sanctions can force Israel to abandon its national project in favor of living on equal terms in a single state with an increasing Palestinian majority, and Israelis kid themselves that Egypt and Jordan can somehow be maneuvered to accept responsibility for the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank that Israel does not want to retain respectively, are both deeply deluded in my view. Neither of these "solutions" qualifies as anything of the sort, because they will not be minimally acceptable to the other parties involved. In my view anything that promotes itself as a "solution" has to be plausibly acceptable to the parties who are supposed to accept it, and if it isn't, then not only is it not a "solution," it's essentially an excuse for not having any real ideas or any real strategy to end the ongoing evil of the occupation and avoid a looming disaster.
I have been saying for some time now that while there is no such thing as a "one-state solution" there may be a one-state outcome. That is to say, a single, unified state could be the result of an imaginable set of circumstances, but these really would only in practice be unprecedented and almost unimaginable levels of violence, warfare and bloodshed over many decades at the very least. 100 years of confrontation and 60 years of armed conflict (boycotts, sanctions and the rest) have done nothing to dent the national wills and agendas of either the Israelis or the Palestinians. I think anyone who embraces the prospect of the one-state outcome needs to be honest about the process that will be required to produce it. In my view, such a process would be much more likely lead to many less palatable (to say the least) outcomes than a one-state reality that is just, fair and equitable. More importantly, the kind of mutual depletion, exhaustion and perhaps even decimation that would be required simply doesn't bear thinking about at the human level.
In my view, anyone who embraces the one-state outcome in the full knowledge of the bloodbath that would undoubtedly be required to produce it has not only given up on peace, they've given up on humanity as well. I respect the ethical fervor and moral impulse of those who want the Israelis and Palestinians to voluntarily agree to live in a single, democratic, post-national state that is fair and equitable. If I thought it were remotely possible, I would be agitating for it as well. But I think I've been able to explain why I don't think it is achievable as a solution and why it's extremely undesirable, because of its necessary process (which is unlikely to produce this result anyway), as an outcome.
All of this is what leads me to continue to work for the only viable way out of the present untenable, unacceptable, evil and outrageous circumstance and for peace based on ending the occupation by creating a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel.
November 3, 2009
As long as the administration persists, and remains -- as all its leaders keep saying it is -- "determined" to see this process through, there is no reason for anyone to despair. There is, after all, no other choice: it's either a slow, gradual and, yes, painful, inching towards a two-state agreement, or it's war, conflict and occupation into the foreseeable future and catastrophe all around. Despairing, giving up and walking away is too irresponsible for this administration, for the United States, or for anyone with the best interests of Palestinians, Israelis and Americans at heart.
September 23, 2009
What is fascinating is that, having hit a brick wall with his initial proposals, Obama is not, in fact, backing down at all. Rather, he is doubling down on Middle East peace, willing to accept the political price of being defied by both the Israeli government blatantly and the Arab states to a lesser but still significant extent, and is not taking no for an answer. Other administrations would have already accepted the Israeli position as a legitimate and useful one, and congratulated Israel for the 9-12 month settlement freeze, not including buildings already under construction or Jerusalem. Obama has completely refused to do that, but has also not allowed this stonewalling by Netanyahu to torpedo his entire Middle East peace initiative. Instead, he has absorbed the blow, so to speak, and, in effect, called Netanyahu's bluff by insisting that the parties go forward into permanent status talks anyway. The New York Times today reports that administration officials including the President have assured the Palestinians that these talks will have "clear terms of reference," in other words that the talks will look a lot more like the ones the PLO wants to have been those that Netanyahu will be comfortable with
If Netanyahu was trying to sabotage Obama's peace initiative at an early stage by refusing to accommodate his demands for a complete and total settlement freeze, then this plan has not been a success, but a failure since the President is insisting the process move forward and pocketing whatever private assurances he has gained from Israel without any public acknowledgment of them. It's true, and regrettable, that he has not succeeded in achieving his first major goal, but it's important that President Obama is not letting this deter him from pushing forward, and it's extremely premature to conclude, as some ideologues on both sides (who don't want peace talks to succeed anyway) are, that Obama's initiative has "already failed." The administration might be accused of a miscalculation, but not of a fatal failure.
President Obama's Statement 1-22-09
It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors. To help us pursue these goals, Secretary Clinton and I have asked George Mitchell to serve as special envoy for Middle East peace.
President Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly
September 23, 2009
I will also continue to seek a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world. (Applause.) We will continue to work on that issue. Yesterday, I had a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. We have made some progress. Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians. As a result of these efforts on both sides, the economy in the West Bank has begun to grow. But more progress is needed. We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.)
The time has come -- the time has come to re-launch negotiations without preconditions that address the permanent status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. And the goal is clear: Two states living side by side in peace and security -- a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people. (Applause.)
As we pursue this goal, we will also pursue peace between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and a broader peace between Israel and its many neighbors. In pursuit of that goal, we will develop regional initiatives with multilateral participation, alongside bilateral negotiations.
Now, I am not naive. I know this will be difficult. But all of us -- not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us -- must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we will only lend it lip service. To break the old patterns, to break the cycle of insecurity and despair, all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. (Applause.) And -- and nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to recognize Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security. (Applause.)
We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It's not paid by politicians. It's paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It's paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own. These are all God's children. And after all the politics and all the posturing, this is about the right of every human being to live with dignity and security. That is a lesson embedded in the three great faiths that call one small slice of Earth the Holy Land. And that is why, even though there will be setbacks and false starts and tough days, I will not waver in my pursuit of peace. (Applause.)
Time Magazine Interview with President Obama (excerpt)
January 21, 2010
Question: Why is that? My sense of it is that [U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George] Mitchell spent a number of months negotiating a settlement deal and saw some progress from the Israelis and kind of got blinded by that, because he didn't see that it wasn't sufficient progress for the Palestinians.
Answer: I'll be honest with you. A) This is just really hard. Even for a guy like George Mitchell, who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland. This is as intractable a problem as you get. B) Both sides -- the Israelis and the Palestinians -- have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that. From [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas' perspective, he's got Hamas looking over his shoulder and, I think, an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.
And on the Israeli front -- although the Israelis, I think, after a lot of time showed a willingness to make some modifications in their policies, they still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures. And so what we're going to have to do -- I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high. Moving forward, though, we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and the Palestinians have sovereignty and can start focusing on developing their economy and improving the lives of their children and grandchildren.
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