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Who killed the two-state formula?

Jun 30,2020 - Last updated at Jun 30,2020

The international consensus that the two-state solution is the only viable option for Palestinians and Israelis remains intact despite undeniable realities to the contrary.

For the Palestinians, the minimum expectations of such a solution were an independent and a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital. Palestinians agreed to "minor modifications" on reciprocal basis to the June 4, 1967 lines, which according to Security Council Resolution 242, would form the border between the two states.

The reciprocal modifications the Palestinians accepted more than 25 years ago were meant to allow Israel to annex some of the settlements close to the 1967 line, and compensate the Palestinians with other land equal in size and value.

That was a dangerous and a risky concession by Palestinians. Since the size of the land that could be exchanged was never clearly defined, Israel exploited the formula to continuously expand its colonisation, ending up leaving no space for any sort of a future Palestinian state.

The map published as part of Trump's Deal of the Century showing the allocated land for the Palestinian state as truncated shreds of terrain surrounded by Israeli settlements is a joke.

But even before Trump, the land swap principle was never taken seriously by Israel anyway: For Israel it was only a license to grab as much land as it could. Not only Israel had no intention to compensate the Palestinians for their land it illegally seized, but such land, the land equal in size and value, does not exist. 

The 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stating that any future settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would have to take into consideration territorial and demographic changes was a clear endorsement of Israel's unlimited, though strictly illegal, settlement expansion.

Like the land swap idea, the Bush letter did not refer only the settlement that existed at that moment. Rather, it covered any amount of future expansion. Thus, Israel was in a race to colonise as much of the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, as it could. That was what exactly followed.

The Bush letter also gave Israel every incentive to drag out the "peace process" as long as possible: The more time passed, the more land Israel could grab. That also what exactly followed.

As of January 2019, Jewish settlements in the West Bank covered more than half a million dunams, almost 10 per cent of the West Bank, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. However, settlement municipalities, called regional councils, control more than 1.6 million dunams, including vast open areas.

So, the settlements control about 40 per cent of the West Bank already, including 63 per cent of Area C, which covers about 60 per cent of the West Bank area. Israel officially recognises about 130 settlements, and more than 100 others have been built without official authorization, though often with government support and assistance.

In total, there are more than 600,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including around 200,000 in and around Jerusalem.

Those numbers are increasing all the time and Israel repeatedly insists that it has no intention of removing any settlements or settlers. How could any Palestinian state be possible with this size of territorial and demographic expansion remaining in place; with or without annexation?

Indeed, the settlements have been designed precisely to prevent any contiguous Palestinian entity from existing. The settlements are the implementation of the Zionist colonisation of Palestine that has been steadily continuing for more than a century.

Given these realities, why do so many, including Palestinians, still insist on the two-state solution?

For one thing, it has always been a convenient slogan for the peace process operators. "Two-state solution" can mean anything and nothing. It is such a shifting framework that it can be seen to accommodate the demands of both parties, no matter how contradictory and irreconcilable, as long as it is expressed only at the level of general principles.

Once you get down to the details however it always turns out impossible to achieve. But failure after failure is only an excuse to renew the endless "peace process" for another year or decade.

So, it has been the perfect escape for the many international leaders required by duty to take a stand on this historic conflict.

Adopting the two-state formula is totally noncommittal. It does not upset either side. It certainly does not upset the Israelis, because they know that its futile pursuit only gives them what they want: time to steal more land.

It also does not upset the Palestinian Authority. For the PA, the two-state formula absolves it of undertaking any serious effort to break the deadly silence on the gradual attrition of Palestinian rights and continued colonisation of Palestinian land.

Evidently, the PA in Ramallah seems to be quite content with the endless status quo that comes with enormous benefits for its leadership as well as its civil and security structures.

The legitimacy of the PA has long expired, but its role as a police force tailored to suit Israel's needs has not.

Created to help the occupier manage the occupation while completing its grand scheme of colonisation, the PA could only survive with funding from international sources, particularly the US and European Union. It is also wholly dependent on Israel, which collects taxes from Palestinians on its behalf and can withhold payments at any time.

The status quo may not be ideal for the PA leadership, which would much rather have a state to rule, but it is not the worst situation. The PA can always tell its people that eventually, one day, there will be a state. Annexation robs the PA of that illusion and excuse.

Now, the Palestinian Authority is threatening that if annexation proceeds, the PA security forces will hand over their weapons to Israel and force Israel once again to assume its full responsibilities as the occupier.

If that is an option, why did the PA not do it years ago, or when Jerusalem was recently annexed for the second time and declared as the eternal capital of Israel, or when the Trump deal of the century was revealed? Why did the PA allow Israel to continue colonising land for years after it was clear that the peace process was dead? The answer must be that the status quo was not that uncomfortable for the PA yet, no matter how disastrous it has become for ordinary Palestinians. However, let us hope the PA would do it now. The situation is so gravely serious that further procrastination would be detrimental.

Most of the opposition to annexation, especially from the EU and the UN,- is because of fears that annexation harms prospects for a two-state solution, as if, over the years they did exert any meaningful effort to help the creation of a Palestinian state in accordance with internationally agreed upon rules and principles.

Nonetheless, the dangers of any annexation, large or small, are going to be disastrous.

Once again therefore, His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan warned in no unclear terms that "Jordan will not accept even a limited annexation of West Bank land and will respond to any such move in the same way it would react to the unilateral annexation of all settlements and the Jordan Valley." This "uncompromising message" to Israel was conveyed via several channels" (The Times of Israel, June 29). This stern King’s message has also been sent to the US and the EU.

It is highly unlikely that Israel will fail to recognise the seriousness of the Jordanian King’s resolve.

But even if Israel cancels the planned annexation, it will not make the hollow peace process any more viable. The only way to make progress is for the international community to confront the root causes of conflict: the Israeli aggression, the occupation, racism and flagrant violations of international law and Palestinian rights.

As long as world leaders are not prepared to do that, not least by imposing sanctions on Israel to make it pay a price for its crimes, all their words of concern and condemnation will add up to nothing.

In the meantime, the Palestinians need to revise their entire strategy after decades of sterile negotiations. And most importantly the close to seven million Palestinians currently existing in Palestine should hold on to their land and stay where they are no matter what. That is the real power and the most enduring way to defeat all conspiracies to liquidate their cause and uproot them.

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