Friday, January 30, 2009

Two-State Problem

The two-state problem
New Indian Express, 30 January 2009,First Published : 30 Jan 2009 01:52:00

Two-state solution. This is universally recognised as the only realistic and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All other ideas are non-starters.

Surprisingly the two-state formula is more than six decades old but always eluded mutual endorsement and hence remained unfulfilled. Of late, we have a new problem.

Thanks to the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict the two-state formula is assuming dangerous interpretations. Unless resolved quickly this would have a debilitating impact upon the future of the Palestinians.

In November 1947, the international community, represented by the newly formed United Nations, proposed the formation of independent Jewish and Arab states as the solution for the future of Palestine. It was not an ideal solution but more workable than any other idea floated at that time, including India’s lopsided federal formula.

Egged on by the neighbouring Arab countries, the Palestinian leadership did not even consider the partition idea. They underestimated the Jewish longing for sovereignty and the resolve to realise their nationalist aspirations and overestimated the strength and political unity of the neighbouring Arab states.

So confident were they that they never visualised a double disaster; emergence of a Jewish state and Arab schism over Palestine.

Those parts of Palestinian captured by the Arab armies in 1948 came under the control of Egypt and Jordan. The latter annexed the West Bank while the Gaza Strip remained under the military control of Egypt. The Palestinian experiment to form an independent Arab state in the Gaza Strip ended bitterly. Most Palestinians do not wish to be reminded of the all Palestine government proclaimed in October 1948.

Before long the two-state solution of the UN ended. For long the Arabs and Palestinians were demanding a Palestinian state in place of Israel. Their struggle for ‘liberation’ was confined to the territories that made up Israel. The June war of 1967 and the Israeli occupation saw the disappearance of Palestine from Arab control. As the revised charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) demanded, the whole of Palestine, including the state of Israel, had to be liberated from the control of the Zionist ‘usurper.’ It was only after the first intifada that broke out in December 1987 that the Palestinian leadership, especially its charismatic leader Yasser Arafat, formally recognised the two-state option.

For the Palestinians Israel, which based its formation on the UN partition plan, moved in the opposite direction. Having been used to the political, economic and strategic advantages offered by the occupied territories, it hardened its stand and adopted an unsympathetic attitude towards similar demands of the Palestinian. Both Labour and Likud parties opposed the formation of an independent Palestinian entity west of the Jordan River. The fears of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan about Palestinian independence suited Israel well.

The intensification of the Palestinian uprising and international endorsement of the political rights of the Palestinians eventually forced a large segment of the Israeli population to re-examine the traditional view regarding the national rights of the Palestinians. Even though a twostate solution was not explicitly stated, many Israelis gradually recognised that the end result of the Oslo process would be the emergence of an independent Palestinian entity, if not a state in the occupied territories. Even a hardliner like Ariel Sharon was forced to recognise that a Palestinian state was inevitable.

Thus, more and more people both within and outside the Middle East recognised that the only solution would be the two-state option.

The peaceful co-existence of Israel and an independent Palestinian state emerged as the only solution to the vexed problem.

When the world was moving towards this direction, things went horribly wrong within Palestinian society. For Hamas, the militant Islamic movement, Palestine is an Islamic property whose unity should not be abandoned and ceded to non-Islamic control. The Hamas-Fatah differences are severe and deep-rooted. Having recognised the Jewish state through the Oslo process, the mainstream Fatah has a serious territorial dispute with Israel whereas Hamas has irreconcilable differences over Israel’s very existence.

Thus the Islamic militant movement opened a twin front. At one level, it fought Israel, the occupied power and launched some of the deadliest suicide attacks within the pre-1967 borders of Israel. At another level, it challenged the Palestinian Authority and the leadership of Arafat for pursuing a peace process that it saw as anti-Islamic. Hamas went back to the traditional position and advocated the onestate solution: a Palestinian state that encompasses the whole of Mandate Palestine including the State of Israel. This stand and the violent campaign that accompanied were partly responsible for the peace process coming to a grinding halt.

Emboldened by the spectacular electoral victory in January 2006 Hamas went a step further. The formation of the Hamasled government was followed by a series of internal tensions. This culminated in the militant takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June 2007. The open challenge exposed deep-seated internal divisions.

Not many would have forgotten that masked Hamas militants were stamping over the portraits of Yasser Arafat. That fellow Palestinians could be so disrespectful to someone who single-handedly put the Palestinian cause on the world map cannot be forgotten so easily; unless one suffers from selective amnesia.

Israel capitalised on this putsch and enforced a political boycott accompanied by strong economic sanctions and siege. Before the US and European powers followed in isolating the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The Palestine Authority was not far behind and appointed a separate political arrangement for the West Bank. A statein- making is burdened with two prime ministers; Salam Fayyad for the West Bank and Ismail Haniya for the Gaza Strip. Nothing could be more ridiculous than this.

Even if political niceties prevented many Arab and Islamic leaders from deriding this development, the consequences are obvious.

It made a mockery of the two-state solution. Much of the international community, including most of the Arab and Islamic countries, recognise the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority while the support for Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip comes exclusively from the governments of Syria and Iran.

The Hamas-Fatah differences have become more obvious after the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip where nearly a thousand Palestinians were killed. Despite clarion calls for a third intifada, echoed by a section of the Indian media, the West Bank is relatively quiet. The residents of the West Bank could not be accused of being a traitor or collaborator.

Thus tragically the actions of Hamas have given a new and sinister meaning to the two-state solution. Two-state does not mean two Palestinian states co-existing in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Time someone told Hamas this.

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