Europe Must Save the Two-state Solution

Obama is incapable of assuming leadership in the Middle East because of his weak standing in the U.S., so Europe needs to take charge.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

The speeches have been given, and each leader pandered to his audiences. Netanyahu scolded the UN for singling out Israel unfairly for decades, quoting the Lubavicher Rebbe calling the UN house of lies. This was obviously not meant to gain him friends in the UN, but to show how connected he was to Jewish tradition. He put the blame on failed negotiations completely on the Palestinians, emphasizing the destructive impact of radical Islam.

Abbas spoke to his constituency, making clear that he was not ceding any Palestinian rights, using post-colonial language to mobilize his captive third world audience. Of course he blamed Israel for the lack of peace and put emphasis on Israels settlement construction.

Giant Palestinian flag being displayed outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, September 12, 2011. Credit: Reuters

Abbas once again, pleaded for Palestinians right for freedom, dignity, and self-determination, but there is a good chance that he will return largely empty handed. It was a big mistake for him to insist on the route through the UN Security Council, where he may fail to gather the necessary nine votes, and is certain to be blocked by the U.S. veto if he does gain a majority. If he had gone directly to the General Assembly he would have brought home a symbolic victory akin to Israels recognition by the same body in 1947.

Let us then look beyond the sound and the fury of the media blitz on what has transpired in New York, and consider the morning after. Isnt Abbas likely defeat good for Israel? Of course Netanyahu and Lieberman will celebrate this as a victory. But this, for Israel, is a pyrrhic victory.

If the Palestinian bid for statehood yields no tangible result, this may well mark the beginning of the end of the two-state solution. Already now, it is very difficult to implement because of the large number of settlers. An ever growing proportion of Palestinians think that the two-state solution is passé; that the Palestinian Authority should be dissolved, and that the Palestinians should demand citizenship in the state west of the Jordan, whether it be called Israel, Palestine of Isratine. Abbas hinted at this option when he said that if he does not achieve recognition, the Palestinian Authority might be dismantled.

Paradoxically, in the one-state solution, both Israels ideological right and Palestinian rejectionists will seemingly win by not ceding an inch of land. But all will end up losing. As yet I have never seen a credible blueprint for the one-state solution. Most Israeli Jews will insist that the state have a Jewish character, but they cant explain how this character can be maintained with democratic means, if there will be almost as many Palestinian as Jewish citizens. Therefore former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a New York Times Op-Ed published a few days ago warns of impending chaos, if the two-state solution is not implemented very soon.

Who then, can still save the two-state solution? Obama is incapable of assuming leadership in the Middle East because of his weak standing in the U.S. This leaves Europe in the position of being the only player left can prevent the total meltdown of the two-state solution. The European vote carries great weight: It is neither part of the Palestinians third-world automatic majority in the General Assembly; nor is it identified as an automatic Israeli ally under all conditions. Yet, together with the U.S., it is the leader of the free world.

Many European politicians have qualms supporting the Palestinian bid for statehood, because they are afraid it would be seen as anti-Israeli. But Europes leaders must not buy into the Netanyahu/Lieberman position that a vote for Palestine is an attack on Israel. A positive vote for a balanced resolution is ultimately in Israels vital interest. As Olmert writes, Israel is unlikely to have pragmatic and reasonable partners for dialogue if the current Palestinian bid will lead to naught. The status quo will not hold on for long, and the Israel-Palestine conflict may soon ignite the powder keg of the Middle East with unforeseeable consequences.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni who heads Israels largest party Kadima, has cried out, time and again, that Netanyahu and Lieberman are leading Israel into catastrophe. The Israeli peace initiative, led by former generals and heads of Israels security apparatuses, has been pointing to a route towards peace, showing that Israels well-being is much better served by engaging in a positive dynamic with its neighbors than by the dark vision of Netanyahu and Lieberman.

Because Abbas has deposited the Palestinian bid with the UN Secretary General, the vote at the UN will be delayed for procedural reasons. The EU must try to come up with a formula that gives the Palestinian realistic hope for a viable state while addressing Israels concerns. The EU could reformulate the resolution in a way that makes clear that the new Palestinian state will have no further demands, territorial or other, from Israel and make their vote conditional on such reformulation.

Such a resolution can in no way be misread as an attack on Israels legitimacy and long-term security, even if Netanyahu scoffs at it. A EU vote for such a resolution, either en bloc, or at least in a sizeable majority, would show both those Israelis and those Palestinians who refuse compromise that the two-state solution commands the support of the most of the free world. It would retain the glimmer of hope that reason and humanity will overcome fear, hatred and fanaticism on both sides.

This is the moment for Europe to show leadership; the moment to assert the moral vision of politics beyond pure power play that has guided Europes unification. The two-state solution must be saved, because it is the only the way to freedom and dignity for the Palestinians; and the only way to safeguard the dream of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

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