Why two-states is still possible

Why two-states is still possible

By Noam Sheizaf, +972 Magazine 
28.03.2013
 
An interview with Geneva Initiative Steering Committee member and borders expert, Shaul Arieli, on why the two-state remains the most viable solution. 
 
[Excerpt] 
 
Of all the Israeli prime ministers you served under or observed, who came closest to a final status agreement?
 
Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert wanted to reach an agreement (even if Barak denies it today). Sharon didn’t believe in agreements. I had the chance to see the way prime ministers matured in their positions. The dramatic changes took place with Barak and Olmert – by the time negotiations broke they were in a very different place. The only leader who was negotiating something real, something possible, was Olmert [in Annapolis]. But it was too late in his term, when he was almost a lame duck. Olmert internalized the concept of reciprocity. Barak never did, and Rabin was in a different era. He didn’t have the chance to end the process.
 
Did the Palestinians refuse?
 
I will quote Olmert himself: the Palestinians never refused. They didn’t accept some of our proposals, just as we didn’t accept some of theirs. Israelis think that Olmert gave “a generous offer” to the Palestinians. But the Palestinians would say the same. Mahmoud Abbas was ready for land swaps that would leave 75 percent of the settlers under Israeli authority, including in neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Abbas went a long way toward Israel on every issue.
 
Where do you think Netanyahu stands?
 
Olmert was able to set the four terms of reference that the international community would agree to: a relatively demilitarized Palestinian state (the Palestinians want “a state with limited arms” but the idea is similar), 1967 borders, partition in Jerusalem, and a return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel proper.
 
Then Netanyahu came, and he had tremendous experience and knowledge on these issues. After all, he took pride once in his ability to kill the Oslo process. I served under Netanyahu and I think he still believes in what he wrote in his book in 1995 – that ‘placing a PLO state 15 km from the beach of Tel Aviv poses an existential threat to the state of Israel.’
 
Netanyahu, when he came back to office in 2009, didn’t try to introduce his own demands. He went to changing the terms of reference. He declared that 1967 borders won’t serve as basis for the negotiations, and if he accepts land swaps, it will never be in a 1:1 ratio. He wants to annex 10 percent of the West Bank and give the Palestinians 1 percent in return. The same goes for Jerusalem. As long as he continues to speak about a united Jerusalem, anything he might say about the two-state solution is meaningless.
 
When we speak about 1:1 land swaps, that includes East Jerusalem too, right?
 
Yes. The annexation wasn’t recognized by the international community. Not even by the United States.
 
Can Israel keep that 6 percent you mentioned in 1:1 land swaps?
 
It’s a problem. The 6 percent include Ariel and Kdumin, which go 21-23 km into the Green Line, and cut the Shomron [the northern West Bank] in two. Furthermore, coming up with 6 percent of land on the western side of the Green Line [to hand over to the Palestinians] will be impossible. 3-4 percent is probably the upper limit.
 
So Ariel and Kdumin will have to be evacuated?
 
Kdumim – yes. With Ariel, evacuation is very likely but it’s not inconceivable that it will remain in Israeli hands. Its price in land swap will be very high though.
 
At the end of the day, we are talking about evacuating one percent of the Israeli population. Do the other 99 percent agree to be captive to the interests of the 1 percent? To sell their future for the future of the 1 percent? I am sure that if the government went for a real deal, it will still have the support of 70-80 percent of the public.
 
How much of the West Bank is now annexed de-facto to Israel by the security barrier (the Separation Wall)?
 
The planned path is leaving 8 percent of the West Bank west of it, ‘on the Israeli side’. But the barrier is not completed, so currently it’s 4.5 percent.
 
What is the solution for the refugee problem which was negotiated?
 
Israel never recognized the right of return, and the Palestinian will never give it up. So there should be a distinction between the recognition and the actual return. Israel will need to recognize its share in the responsibility for the suffering the Palestinians have gone through. Regarding the actual return, in Annapolis Israel offered 25,000 people, and the Palestinians wanted 100,000. By the way, it was Olmert who put forward this number, while Livni refused to have even a single refugee enter Israel. The number 100,000 relates to the historical agreement by Israel in Lausanne, 1949, to receive 100,000 refugees. Obviously, this is a number Israel can live with.
 
The refugees are the strongest bargaining chip the Palestinians have, but I believe that what’s really important for them in the negotiations is land. Compromise is possible.
 
Is there a point of no return in Jerusalem?
 
The real threat is the attempt [currently taking place – N.S.] to build projects for Jews inside the Palestinian neighborhoods. The projects in Jabel Mukaber and Mount Scopus are a real threat to the two-state solution. But even if those are completed, we could end up with a solution of an international regime in the city.
 
So what is the point of no return for the two-state solution?
 
I don’t think it’s a point in the land. It’s a political decision, on both sides. You can see the emergence of such a decision among young Palestinians, especially those who live abroad or have western orientation – to change the resistance into a human rights battle for civilian rights within the State of Israel. On the Israeli side, a decision to formally annex the West Bank could mark such a point.

Will a two-state solution really satisfy both sides?
 
[Historically] both sides wanted the entire land to themselves, and I discuss this fact in my book. So in terms of national narratives, there is no room for a common denominator. But [Security Council Resolution] 242, following the Six-Day War, gave a diplomatic way around that. It showed that settlement is possible without accepting the other side’s narrative.
 
I don’t talk about peace agreements. I discuss final agreements. A new reality that gives every side something but not everything. Both sides need to be very modest in their desires for the final agreements.
 
So why does the Israeli public believe that an agreement is impossible?
 
It’s an emotional result of the second Intifada, which was accompanied by declarations like Ehud Barak’s about the fact that ‘there is no partner.’ Those chipped away at Israeli trust dramatically. Needless to say, the Palestinians lost all trust in the Israelis too [...] Khaled Mashaal famously told the PLO that 20 years of negotiations with Israel didn’t get a single shoe of a single settler out of the occupied territory. ‘You need to tell the Arab people’ – Hamas says to Fatah – ‘that moving from armed struggle to negotiations was a failure. Israel doesn’t understand anything but force.’
 
The Jewish public also believes that PLO is temporary and that Hamas will soon take over with a vision of a single Arab land on the entire territory. But the public fails to understand that by holding on to such views, it aids Hamas.
 
The third problem is the regional changes, and the fear that those changes will lead to Islamic regimes in the area that cannot be negotiated with. Here also, the public doesn’t distinguish between the real and imagined threats.
 
And on top of everything, there is a feeling of power. That our way is actually working. Take a look – the West Bank is quiet. Israelis feel that they were able to win the psychological battle in the second Intifada.
 
This is not because of IDF operations. There were more casualties after the Israeli invasion of the West Bank cities in 2003 than before. What stopped the casualties was the security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, which was based on mutual interests. This could all end in a second.
 
Some people on the right think that Israel should annex the West Bank and give Palestinians Israeli citizenship – sort of a rightwing version of the one-state solution. What are your thoughts on this issue?
 
The people you are referring to are ignoring 40 percent of the Palestinians who live in Gaza. 1.8 million people who are left outside. Annexing the West Bank will make Hamas the sole representative of the diaspora, and it will continue the struggle from Gaza.
 
I don’t believe in the binational model. The economical gap is huge. Also, what will become of the refugees? The Palestinians will not forget them – they will demand a return to the unified state. The Jewish elite will flee the country, and you will be left with a poor, religious Jewish minority inside a Palestinian state. I don’t accept this model.