Kicking the Beehive

The problem is not whether Palestinians want two states or one - the problem is unilateral Israeli action that is rapidly making, or has arguably already made, a two-state solution impossible.

Avraham Tal's recent article - "The PLO still sees a single state," Haaretz, October 14 - effectively argues that any Palestinian support for a one-state solution is proof that the PLO's real intention is the destruction of the "Jewish" state. This is the logic of a man who kicks a beehive and uses the resulting stings as proof that the bees intended to attack him all along.

The PLO is officially committed to a two-state solution. This was reaffirmed most clearly by Chairman Yasser Arafat in the New York Times in 2002, in which the PLO leader wrote: "The Palestinian vision of peace is an independent viable Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as an equal neighbor alongside Israel with peace and security for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples...

"The Palestinians recognized Israel's right to exist on 78 percent of historical Palestine with the understanding that we would be allowed to live in freedom on the remaining 22 percent, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Our commitment to the two-state solution remains unchanged..." The article also appeared in the Arabic and Hebrew press.

True, some Palestinians (like some Israelis) are ideologically committed to a one-state solution, believing in Western democratic values that affirm the fundamental equality of all human beings and rejecting the domination of one religious or ethnic group over others. Some Palestinians may advocate one-state as a threat - "Jews are so threatened by equality that the best way to get a fair two-state solution is to say we only want one." But polls show that the majority of Palestinians still favor a two-state solution.

But as David Ben-Gurion noted: "It doesn't matter what the gentiles say, it only matters what Jews do." The problem is not whether Palestinians want two states or one - the problem is unilateral Israeli action that is rapidly making, or has arguably already made, a two-state solution impossible.

To Palestinians, the strategy behind Israel's two-state solution is clear. More than 400,000 Israelis live illegally in more than 150 colonies, many of which stand on top of Palestinian water sources. Ariel Sharon is prepared to evacuate settlers from Gaza - but only in exchange for expanding settlements in the West Bank.

And Israel is building a wall not on its land but rather inside occupied Palestinian territory. The wall's route predictably maximizes the amount of Palestinian farmland and water on one side and the number of Palestinians on the other. This strategy was quite evident in Barak's self-serving Camp David proposal - Israel would have been able to take the Palestinian land on which East Jerusalem's settlements have been built while carving away Jerusalem's Christian and Muslim population).

Palestinians finally understand that Israel is offering "independence" on a reservation stripped of water and arable soil, economically dependent on Israel and even lacking the right to self-defense. Should the Palestinians in this state so much as make a peep about the injustice of their new "independence", like Tal some people will vociferously complain that this proves Palestinians do not really want a state - they want to destroy Israel.

But Israelis are deluding themselves if they believe that a "one state, one reservation" solution can be repackaged and sold to the Palestinians as a "two state solution". Given the realities of Israel's Wall and incessant settlement expansion, Palestinians not only have the right but the obligation to reevaluate their options.

If Tal is uncomfortable with the result, he should perhaps take up the matter with the settlers and the Israeli government. But he should not blame Palestinians for following Israel's policies to their logical conclusion.

The writer is PLO legal adviser.