All the power or all the land: Israel cannot have both
The US team working for the past two years on what President Donald Trump called “the ultimate deal” for Palestinian-Israeli peace have been trying hard to shake up the process. They argue that repeating the failed efforts of previous administrations will not produce a breakthrough, and it is true that previous US administrations never tried hard enough to solve the problem — but that is no reason to throw the entire process out merely to offer a different outlook.
Since the Trump administration “took Jerusalem off the table,” frustrated Palestinian officials have refused to engage with them. This may make emotional sense, but if politics is the art of the possible, it makes no political sense.
The Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh has often said that the solution to the conflict can be found in one of two ways: Both peoples must either share the land or share the power. More and more Palestinians, especially the young, are expressing a desire for the latter, even if the idea of one state with equal rights will take longer and will mean a continuation of the unacceptable apartheid discriminatory policies that Palestinians are enduring now. This divides almost every family (including mine), with older generations looking for a two-state solution while the young prefer to take their chances in a single state with equal rights for Jews and Arabs, even if it takes longer to come to fruition.
Palestinians led by the PLO leadership were initially for sharing power in a single “secular democratic state.” But consecutive Palestinian National Councils have never answered the simple question of the status of Jews, both those who were in Palestine at the start of the 20th century and those who came after, including the many who arrived after escaping the horrors of Nazi Germany.
This lack of Palestinian clarity, coupled with some irresponsible and anti-Jewish racists calls, was successfully spun by Israel and its supporters around the world as Palestinians wanting to “annihilate Jews and destroy Israel.” This forced Palestinians to accept what was at one time the battle cry of Israel’s communists, namely “two states for two peoples.” This position evolved gradually. It began with the 1972 10-point plan issued by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine; later, after the first intifada, it was legitimized in the 1988 Palestinian declaration of an independent state alongside Israel. That call was later turned into an international Declaration of Principles agreement witnessed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake. Yet even that successful Oslo Accords breakthrough failed when Ehud Barak tried to ram through, in Camp David, an agreement that was unacceptable to Palestinians.
Ending the Israeli occupation and its colonial and illegal settlement enterprise is perhaps the one area that all Palestinians and most of the world agree on.
The new Kushner/Greenblatt plan appears to deny Palestinians statehood; it thus shies away from the land-sharing (two-state solution) concept and is closer to the power-sharing concept, while clearly giving Israel an advantage and control. This has caused many to argue that the end result will be an apartheid state in which Palestinians will become second or third-class citizens. This fear was turned into reality in July 2018 when Israel passed the Jewish Nationality Law, which states that only Jews have the right to self-determination in the entire Palestine/Israel geographic area. Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed this when he said Israel was “not a country for all its citizens.” Nearly 20 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jews. Along with four million Palestinians in the occupied territories, Palestinians and Israeli Jews are evenly matched, which means any plan that does not include a separate independent Palestinian state and denies Palestinians equal rights will be immoral, and will not stand the test of time.
Palestinian leaders, both the PLO in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza, are totally against the “ultimate deal,” but it is incumbent on Palestinian leaders to engage the world’s superpower — even if the Trump administration has proved in word and deed to be biased in favor of Israel in the form of the move of the US embassy, the defunding of the UN refugee agency and the unashamed attempts to support a right-wing racist prime minister facing corruption charges.
The majority of Palestinians living today under Israeli rule were born after the 1967 war, which was the subject of UN Security Council resolution 242 stating that it is “inadmissible to conquer land by war.” Ending the Israeli occupation and its colonial and illegal settlement enterprise is perhaps the one area that all Palestinians and most of the world agree on; whether that is achieved by sharing the land in a two-state solution, or by sharing power in one state with equal rights for all its citizens, makes little difference.
What everyone wants is an effective mechanism that can produce a simple result: End the military occupation. Will Trump’s “ultimate deal” guarantee that?
• Daoud Kuttab is an award wining Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on twitter.com/daoudkuttab