Beyond a ceasefire in Gaza and any associated interim agreement no matter who might broker it, the two-state solution, which is backed by international consensus, is dying because of an Israeli decision with help from Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made public and explicit this week, and for the first time, the Israeli positions that reject the two-state solution, that is, the establishment of the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. Hamas has always been deceptive and has always avoided making an unequivocal commitment to the two-state solution, and was keen to engage in one-upmanship against the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, which dedicated itself to achieving the two-state solution. The United States has made the two-state solution the cornerstone of its policy and diplomacy, not just under President Obama, but also with the successive administrations before him. In effect, the UN Security Council that expressly called for the two-state solution was pushed by the administration of George W. Bush in 2002. Then the Arab initiative for peace with and recognition of Israel was also based primarily on the two-state solution. The so-called Quarter, which consists of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and the United States, was established to implement the two-state solution. So as international consensus is dying and is on the verge of collapse, what are the available options, and are they being considered by the Quarter or the Palestinian Arab leaders, or is everyone burying their heads in the sand? What if the policy in place is to pretend that the two-state solution is still viable while everyone knows that this is no longer the case?
More than anything, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wants his rigorous efforts and shuttling between Israelis and Palestinians to bring about a radical solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the basis of the two-state solution. Kerry reached an impasse in the last period prior to the events in Gaza, and reduced his involvement in the effort to push the peace process forward after sensing the intransigence of the Israeli side in particular. To be sure, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has offered the maximum possible concessions, and had to save face by forming a national reconciliation government with Hamas that is more symbolic than authentic, and John Kerry knows this very well.
Kerry resumed his efforts on the Palestinian-Israeli question not only for the sake of de-escalation and a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but also in the hope of reviving the peace process and to attempt to save it from total collapse.
The events in Gaza created new realities that have served the Israeli position rejecting the two-state solution. The narrative now is focusing on “offensive tunnels” as the Israeli army calls them, to justify the aerial and naval bombardment and the ground offensive. The current rhetoric is focusing on the conditions for a ceasefire, including lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza and opening the crossings with Egypt. No one is talking about the two-state solution, and the possible means to revive the peace process and negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A fait accompli has been now produced.
It is the government of Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that have produced this fait accompli. The Palestinian Authority is trying to catch its breath as it tries to make sense of the events in Gaza. Israeli and Palestinian moderates are on the retreat. The showdown between the forces of Israeli extremism and Palestinian extremism reigns supreme. The casualty figures include more than 700 Palestinians, 77 percent of them civilians, and 35 Israelis, 3 of them civilians, up until the moment of writing.
The new thing that emerged with the events in Gaza is how much the Israeli public has retreated into supporting the actions of its government and encouraging it to do more, despite the clear gap between the Israeli public and the international public opinion, which has protested against the methods and the outcome of Israeli military operations in Gaza.
The rift between the Israeli and international public opinions has frightening implications for what the Israelis really want when it comes to the Palestinians. The international public opinion did not support Hamas’s rocket launching but condemned it. It did not bless the tunnels, but denounced them. It did turn a blind eye to justifying the murder of Palestinian civilians by blaming Hamas for hiding in homes and using people as human shields, but called this out. It did not sympathize with the use of UNRWA schools to stash rockets, but decried it. But the international public opinion did not endorse Israel’s deliberate murder of Palestinian civilians who live in the places that the Israeli military machine decides to destroy.
The American comedian Jon Stewart summed it up succinctly: Where do civilians that Israel orders to evacuate hours before striking in besieged Gaza, densely populated Gaza, and cordoned-off Gaza, go? He summed the issue up succinctly again in a sketch showing how it’s impossible to even mention Israel without its apologists pouncing on all those who dare criticize it, and how defenders of Palestine pounce on anyone who dares criticize Hamas for using human shields.
Wolf Blitzer from CNN interviewed former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. Bloomberg criticized the decision of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ban U.S. airlines from flying to Israel after rockets fired by Hamas landed near the airport in Tel Aviv. The extent of Bloomberg’s hostility to the man who was a reporter for The Jerusalem Post before joining CNN was astonishing. He objected to every obvious question, and accused the pro-Israel anchor of inciting Americans against Israel.
This is just one example of the American backlash against anyone who criticizes Israel, and how any dialogue or discussion about Israel is barred in the United States. Despite this, according to polls, automatic support for Israel among the American public has dropped, with Americans protesting against the Israeli justifications for the deliberate killing of Palestinian civilians.
This will not translate into a radical shift in U.S. public opinion in favor of Palestine at the expense of Israel. It is a temporary outcry. The organic American-Israeli relationship is here to stay, and in the coming days, the Israeli war machine will be able to shift the blame to the Palestinian side. Hamas will be the primary recipient of this blame because it, in the eyes of the U.S. official and popular opinion, is a terrorist group. However, the ultimate casualty will be the weak Palestinian Authority, and with it the peace process and the two-state solution, which requires ending the Israeli occupation. The term “occupation” will be removed from the American lexicon, as Israel is planning.
But what has Hamas achieved both in the near and long terms for Palestine?
Hamas may boast of having forced international airlines to suspend flights to Israel as a result of the rockets it launches. It may hunker down and reject the Egyptian and Qatari ceasefire initiatives, even though Qatar supports Hamas, while the latter’s affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood has played a key role in Hamas’s rejection of the initiative by the Egyptian leadership that had toppled the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule.
Hamas may chortle at having forced the likes of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary John Kerry to make efforts to meet some of its demands for a ceasefire. Hamas may boast of having become the representative of the Palestinian people at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, and may find that the events in Gaza have helped it reposition itself in Palestine and regionally. Hamas may also believe that the international public opinion is sympathizing with the Palestinians thanks to its rockets and their role in reviving the Palestinian question in the world’s conscience.
All this is precarious and its cost may well be the death of thousands of Palestinian civilians and the displacement of thousands more. It is precarious because the focus will be on how to dismantle Hamas’s military capabilities next, including demolishing tunnels and preventing it from restocking its rocket arsenal. It is precarious because while Hamas may think it has won a battle, the main war is supposed to be to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state, two quests that are now up in the air.
Hamas is well aware that what is required of it is to be the face of extremism and terrorism so that the Israeli right can justify its alternative to the two-state solution, namely, the demographic solution that requires the forcible deportation of Palestinians from Israel, rendering Israel an exclusive Jewish state free of Palestinians. In other words, through its rockets and cavalier attitude, Hamas has given Israel the impetus to implement the demographic solution as an alternative to the two-state solution.
In his press conference last Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu said explicitly that he now ruled out completely giving Palestinians the kind of sovereignty required by the two-state solution. The Times of Israel reported in detail on what Netanyahu said in Hebrew, revealing how the Israeli prime minister pretended for nine months that he was engaged in earnest in the talks brokered by John Kerry, while deep down he was always planning to thwart the two-state solution and moving ahead with the settlement project. Netanyahu said, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I have always been saying,” which is that there is no way for any treaty to lead to Israel ceding military control of the territory west of the Jordan River.
This means that Israel will not give up its security grip in a manner that would allow the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the territories that are supposed to make it up. This is precisely what Benjamin Netanyahu has stated, and in this he has the support of the Israeli establishment and the Israeli people as recent indications suggest.
What is behind Israel’s clear rejection of the establishment of the Palestinian state dictated by the two-state solution? And is there anyone who dares recognize the demise of the two-state solution, internationally, regionally, and at the Arab and Palestinian levels? The short answer is no. Everyone is hiding behind their fingers, pretending that there is a little glimmer of hope.
The first challenge is for the Palestinians themselves. They have the option of the political process, even if they are convinced that the peace process is only a temporary sedative, and that it has become an empty process without purpose or real prospects for success. But those who cling to the political solution say that there is no real military solution that would be in the interests of the Palestinians, and that any military solution would be at their expense. Therefore, the “process” remains a safety valve that prevents the Palestinians from being crushed militarily and denies the Israelis the ability to implement their demographic solution, at least until further notice.
The other option is the military solution, which many Palestinians see as a suicidal solution, bearing in mind that the war would be exclusively fought by the Palestinian side and will not be fought by Arab states, Iran, or any of the parties that claim to be wedded to the Palestinian cause.
The third option is a war of attrition, something that Hamas seems intent to engage in through intermittent battles punctuated by sporadic negotiations and temporary deals to prevent the spread of terrorism by the likes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) into Gaza, from which it would then be able to attack Israel.
Israel does not care about international reactions if it decides to implement the demographic solution that would create a pure Jewish state free of Palestinians, and impose Jordan as an alternative homeland for the latter. What Israel has always said about Jordan as an alternative homeland, as a radical solution, often falls into a spiral of denial by others. Today, from the Gaza Strip, elements of the original Israeli plan are being revived.
The least anyone can do is to stop pretending and burying their heads in the sand. Israel now explicitly speaks its mind and reveals its real goals. It is time to acknowledge this reality and it is time for Arab and international parties to begin making contingency plans and long-term strategies after they mourn the two-state solution.
Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi