The comments I made at the conference of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research earlier this month caused quite a stir. Speakers at the conference presented the activities being conducted in the shared spaces for different communities in the greater Jerusalem area, especially for Jews and Palestinians. I spoke about the importance of these spaces also as a sort of laboratory for binational life in the entire territory of the Land of Israel – considering the saddening and difficult possibility that the two-state solution will not be able to be carried out, and that Israelis and Palestinians will be dragged slowly, whether of their own free will or not, toward some form of binational or federative state.
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Almost 50 years have passed since the Six-Day War in 1967. During this time, I have clung with enthusiasm and determination to a belief in the two-state solution – Israel and Palestine, living alongside one another in peace and mutual recognition – and have acted on behalf of such a vision.
I still believe this is the right and moral solution to the conflict. And even if some in both the Palestinian and Israeli camps refused for years to recognize the legitimacy of this solution, it has slowly become the solution acceptable to the entire international community, including most of the Arab world – until finally being formalized in the Oslo Accords of 1993.
Even the current, far-right government in Israel adopted the two-state solution officially; on the ground, though, no real Israeli effort has been seen over the past decade to make progress toward achieving it. At the same time, it is clear that the Palestinian Authority, which also officially adopted the two-state solution, is evading serious negotiations with the Israeli government to implement this solution in real terms.
Jerusalem itself – whose eastern section is set to be the capital of the Palestinian state according to the solution – has become, on the physical level, more and more a single city. The possibility of putting an international border through it seems almost unreal.
The United States and European countries have failed to force the two-state solution on both sides, not only verbally but also practically. This is especially true on the Israeli side, which continues to expropriate Palestinian land for the growth and expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
The peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt may still be holding, but those two countries are having to deal with their own serious problems and their concern for the Palestinians is only lip service. The Arab world is falling apart and disintegrating in bloody civil wars and has lost all influence and interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, the vision of two states is becoming more and more problematic.
And what is happening in the Palestinian territories? The Gaza Strip is now completely separated from Israel with no Israeli presence, either civilian or military. For Israel, Gaza is a kind of small enemy state, a place where short wars break out occasionally between it and Israel. But the Gaza Strip is not under total siege since it has an independent border with Egypt, and there is also a channel for food and goods between Gaza and Israel.
The West Bank is divided into three areas based on the Oslo Accords: Areas A, B and C. Areas A and B comprise about 40 percent of the West Bank, while Area C makes up the remaining 60 percent of the land there. Areas A and B are under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, with the largest Palestinian cities and towns being situated there.
Area A is under Palestinian civil and military rule. In Area B, there is only Palestinian civil control, while military oversight is in Israeli hands. This means that most Palestinians in these areas are living under a form of partial and limited autonomy, and they have a semi-military police force at their service that, to a certain extent, cooperates with Israeli security forces to prevent terrorism.
All the Israeli settlements are located in Area C. According to cautious estimates, the settlers number about 450,000, with about half of them living in cities. The number of Palestinians living in Area C is only about 100,000, and they are the people who are continually in confrontation with the settlers, especially the extremist settlers, concerning the expropriation of land, harassment on the roads, uprooting of orchards and their disgraceful exploitation as cheap labor. These Palestinians are under constant supervision by the Israeli army, police and security services.
Given the general state of the world, which tends to far-right nationalism, the unfortunate situation in the Arab world, alienation toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been underway for over 140 years, and in light of the extremism of the right-wing government in Israel and passivity of the Palestinian Authority – it seems clear that the solution of two states for two peoples is becoming less and less possible. So we need to start thinking about other partial solutions, of a federal nature, that will bypass the current inability to establish a rigid international border between the two peoples in the Land of Israel.
In the first stage, in order to ease the burden of the occupation (whose offshoots poison democracy within Israel’s borders, too), it is necessary to grant Israeli residency to the 100,000 Palestinians living in Area C who confront the Israeli occupation, facing both the army and the settlers.
Granting these Palestinians residency will, first of all, grant them the fundamental rights that the settlers living around and among them have. In other words, social security benefits, health care, unemployment benefits, minimum wage, freedom of movement, and a stronger legal status with regard to the Israeli judicial authorities and Israeli law. Such residency would prevent the dispossession of their lands (or make it much more difficult) through the various, despicable proposed laws to legalize construction on private Palestinian land, or by arbitrary military orders, while abusing them as subjects without rights.
Contrary to what was implied in the reaction to my speech, granting residency will not constitute the annexation of Area C to Israel. The status of this territory would remain the same as it is today: disputed territory, whose status will be decided in a future agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, similar to the status of East Jerusalem. If in the framework of the two-state solution East Jerusalem will be part of the Palestinian state, then Israeli residency – which the 250,000 Palestinians living there already have – will not be an obstacle to an agreement.
I have repeatedly said I will continue to support the two-state solution, just as I have supported it for the past 50 years. But it is impossible not to try to improve, even slightly, the situation of the thousands of Palestinians living in Area C, where the malignant occupation embitters their lives day and night.
Our immediate humanitarian duty to reduce human suffering – as long as it does not conflict with reaching a just agreement in the future – comes before simplistic principles. A 50-year-old Palestinian, who was born into the occupation and is constantly confronted with it on the front line, deserves to receive substantial and immediate rights now, even if they are only partial ones, in order to improve his situation.