Of the three leaders whose vision of a Palestinian state we are examining--Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, United States President George W. Bush, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon--Bush's vision of a Palestinian state is the clearest. On June 24, 2002, he stated that "the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement . . . with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized borders." On April 14, 2004, he added the "establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel," and indicated that Israel should be allowed to annex the major settlement blocs.
From an Israeli standpoint, this is a realistic formula. While it is not as detailed as the Clinton plan of December 2000, and though it prejudges issues best left by a US president to the parties themselves to resolve, the real problem with the Bush vision is not its content so much as the absence of a concerted presidential determination to pressure the parties into reaching any settlement at all.
Arafat's vision is the least clear. Ostensibly he aspires to a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem. This is what the now defunct Oslo process was all about. But in the course of final status negotiations in 2000-2001, and particularly since their collapse in failure, Arafat has presented positions on the Temple Mount/Harem al-Sharif and the refugee right of return issue that call into question his commitment to any genuine two-state solution, which must be based on at least an acquiescence in Israel's self-definition as a Jewish state.
By denying any Jewish historic/religious link whatsoever to the Temple Mount, Arafat appears to be saying (and he has said this in other ways many times) that the Jews as a people have no legitimate roots in Eretz Yisrael/Palestine. By insisting that Israel recognize the right of return of 1948 refugees, he is understood by many Israelis to be undermining the foundations of a two-state solution based on the recommendation by the United Nations in 1947 (General Assembly Resolution 181) that there should come into existence separate Jewish and Arab states in mandatory Palestine. An unwarranted admission by Israel that it was "born in sin" is hardly a healthy foundation for a future two-state relationship.
Arafat's real intentions regarding a resolution of the conflict are the subject of intense debate in Israel. His tolerance for the use of violence against Israel--particularly his encouragement of "martyrdom operations"--complicates the issue. Probably the ultimate reason why no clear determination can be made is that his penchant for lying has destroyed his credibility, and not only in Israeli circles. Consequently, making sense of Arafat's position is no longer a political imperative, but rather an academic exercise.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's position appears to be changing. Over the years Sharon consistently presented a map of final status based on minimum territory and maximum fragmentation of the Palestinian entity--which, in recent years, he has agreed to call a state. Settlements were the primary vehicle for fragmenting the land and ensuring an ongoing Israeli grip on the main roads and hilltops, as well as on greater Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and the western Samaria settlement blocs.
But Sharon's readiness to evacuate the entirety of the Gaza Strip indicates that he has softened his approach. Until very recently, Sharon argued that Gaza would be divided into three Palestinian enclaves that were separated by the settlements of Netzarim and Kfar Darum and reduced in size by the remaining settlements. Moreover, the projected removal of four isolated settlements in northern Samaria in the West Bank points to a possible readiness to afford the mountain heartland area a degree of genuine territorial continuity through the removal of additional settlements further south.
Sharon still appears to insist on holding onto the Jordan Valley, thereby radically reducing the Palestinian land mass and cutting it off from direct contact with the Arab world. Yet in Gaza he has indicated that he is inclined, in cooperation with Egypt, eventually to abandon the Philadelphi road and allow Gazans unfettered access to the Egyptian Sinai. Judging by pronouncements from Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister who in recent months has "fronted" for some of Sharon's new positions, even Sharon's approach to greater Jerusalem may be softening.
While Sharon's vision appears to be changing for the better, it is hardly a blueprint for a successful two-state solution. Moreover Sharon, like Arafat, has a credibility problem; many who have watched him perform over the decades, and particularly in the past three years, still expect him to sabotage his own disengagement plan.
This analysis leads us once again to the recognition that none of the three relevant leaders has a realistic peace strategy, meaning both a realistic map and the necessary determination to implement it. One can only hope that Bush in a second term, or Kerry if elected, will evince that determination. Sharon's views may be evolving, but for the time being--and assuming Sharon is serious--they appear to be adapted primarily to unilateral action. And Arafat appears to be a lost cause.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A Palestinian state seems to be the only part of the future Israeli-Palestinian agreement that is agreed on by all relevant parties: Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, and the rest of the international community. The agreement, however, is superficial. When we look beneath the surface to understand the parties' concept of the Palestinian statehood part of the solution, we find differences so significant as to render their agreement on a Palestinian state completely meaningless.
Each party to the conflict has its own final status concept, but each calls it a Palestinian state. When the Palestinians speak of statehood, they mean the complete Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. They expect to practice their right of self-determination by establishing an independent, sovereign, and contiguous state that can live in peace with its neighbor Israel alongside the borders of 1967.
For Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the current right-wing extremist government in Israel, the solution is simply autonomy arrangements on the minimum possible part of the territories that encompasses the maximum possible number of Palestinians. The Palestinian entity would have no real sovereignty and include no part of East Jerusalem. Sharon doesn't mind calling this a Palestinian state.
The American concept of the Palestinian state fluctuates according to changes in the Israeli government's composition and positions. While there is a certain level of American influence on Israel, to a large extent the American position and extent of maneuvering vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a function of the Israeli position or extent to which the particular Israeli government can go.
For all of these reasons, it is not very significant that the different parties to the conflict support the idea of a Palestinian state. What counts, instead, is whether or not they agree on two things: (1) willingness to end the occupation, the ultimate source of violence and instability, especially since the Palestinians are determined to continue with the legitimate struggle until the end of this occupation; and (2) willingness to implement the relevant stipulations of international law vis-a-vis the conflict. So far the differences on these two issues are very wide. This explains the ferocity of the confrontations between the sides.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
In the winter of 2001, shortly before Ariel Sharon defeated Ehud Barak in elections for prime minister, I had the opportunity in person to hear his vision of a Palestinian state. He removed a large map of the Land of Israel from a corner cabinet in his modest Likud headquarters office in Tel Aviv and pointed to the areas he proposed annexing to Israel. Moving from north to south, the pointer in his hand went from the Ariel bloc deep in Samaria to greater Jerusalem, and from there to the Etzion bloc and Hebron. Then the pointer hovered over the Jordan Valley, from Bet Shean to the Dead Sea. These regions, Sharon explained, are vital for Israel's security. They must not be conceded even in return for the best of peace agreements.
I asked Sharon if he knew any Palestinian who would suffice with a state made up of three enclaves bereft of territorial contiguity. He replied that that problem had preoccupied Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) when he examined the very same map during one of his visits to Sycamore Ranch. "I told him," Sharon related, "that there are places where we drive underneath Palestinian territory, such as the tunnel road to the Etzion bloc. We can implement the same arrangement-tunnels or bridges-in other places as well."
In the course of time, following the presentation of his vision of a Palestinian state by United States President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Sharon termed this idea (which in private conversations he used to compare to the "bantustan" model of apartheid in South Africa) "transportation contiguity." Such semantic exercises serve Sharon in bridging between the aspiration that Israel hold onto at least half the West Bank, the international consensus that the Palestinians deserve an independent state, and Israel's demographic interest. After the Oslo accord, Sharon gradually recognized that terms like "self government" and "autonomy" had become outmoded as models for a long-term solution. He realized that the interim agreement had in fact turned areas A into autonomous regions, and that under final status it would be necessary to go one step further.
Sharon's decision to pronounce the words "Palestinian state" was greeted in Israel and the world with great excitement; it even helped pave the way for the Labor party to join Sharon's first government. So joyful was the response that the public failed to notice that, beyond the headline, it was hard to find in the details of Sharon's plan any resemblance to the standard definition of a "state". Few, for example, bothered to search the globe for a sovereign state all of whose land links to the outside world were controlled by another state. (Sharon insists that even under final status Israel will control the "Palestinian state's" land, air, and naval border transit points.) The proof that nothing has changed is provided by the course of the separation fence and the never-ending expansion of the settlements in the three areas that Sharon seeks to annex to Israel. And even this meager "state" would be permitted by Sharon to emerge only after 15, 20 or even 50 years of interim arrangements.
It is hard to find any bridge that could conceivably link Sharon's vision of a Palestinian state to that of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The latter's room for flexibility does not exceed two or three percent of West Bank territory, and even that would be part of a one-on-one swap in terms of the size and quality of land involved. The Palestinian approach has not changed since the Algiers declaration of 1988 that adopted UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Then the Palestinian National Council gave Arafat a mandate to make concessions only against the PLO's original demands for "greater Palestine" and for total compliance with the right of return of the 1948 refugees. Throughout all the final status discussions, from the talks that preceded the Camp David summit in July 2000 through the Geneva accord of late 2003, not a single Palestinian negotiator was prepared even to look at a map that did not give the Palestinian state territorial contiguity and full access to its capital in East Jerusalem.
The letter of April 14, 2004 that President Bush delivered to Sharon in order to help him gain Likud approval for the disengagement plan indicates that Bush's vision of a Palestinian state is closer to that of Arafat. Bush rejected Sharon's request to cancel the administration's opposition to the expansion of settlements in the three settlement blocs. He sufficed with recognition of the demographic reality created in the territories since 1967. That reality can be translated into a final status agreement for the establishment of a Palestinian state in 94-96 percent of the territories, with fair land swaps. That was the vision of President Bill Clinton--which was thwarted by violence and shortsightedness.
Akiva Eldar is a senior political columnist and editorial writer for Ha'aretz. He was previously the paper's diplomatic correspondent and Washington correspondent. He is coauthor, with Idith Zertal, of a forthcoming book about the settlers.
The fact that there is an international consensus--conceptually at least--that the establishment of a "Palestinian state" is a prerequisite for peace between the Arab world and Israel is in itself testimony to the success of the Palestinian struggle. Israel's failure to crush the Palestinian resistance by sheer and brutal force has compelled both Labor and even right-wing Likud to accept the futility of continuing to deny the Palestinian political identity.
However, Israeli and American recognition of the necessity of creating "a Palestinian state" by no means indicates genuine acceptance of the Palestinian people's right to exercise self-determination and/or sovereignty. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's endorsement--even verbally--of the words "Palestinian state" and "withdrawal" is an important shift that cannot be underestimated; yet it is important to scrutinize closely the practical meaning of these terms as uttered by the Israeli government. The same applies to the United States: George W. Bush has become the first president to commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state following decades of American reluctance, and at times vehement resistance, to the idea of Palestinian self-determination, let alone statehood.
I remember asking a senior US State Department official back in 1992 to explain the US opposition to both Palestinian statehood and self-determination. The official, who for the next decade was involved in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, explained it as follows: Such recognition could threaten Israel's legitimacy. In other words, it would be paramount to acknowledging Palestinians' historic rights in Palestine and potentially raising questions about the legitimacy of the state of Israel and how it was established.
The official went on to say that the US position could change if Israel shifted its position. For Israel, Palestinian nationhood was long seen as the antithesis to the Israeli identity. It implied opening the file of the Palestinian dispossession in 1948 and the right of return of Palestinians expelled or driven out by fear of massacres and the fighting in 1947 and 1948. But the Palestinian intifadas of 1987 and 2000 changed the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian equation.
Controlling the Palestinians--even after bringing the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Tunis with the declared goal of enforcing Palestinian compliance with Oslo--has utterly failed as a strategy. Initially Israel--after giving up its attempts of the 1970s and '80s to get Jordan to represent the Palestinians--decided to deal with the existing Palestinian nationhood by undercutting prerequisites to sovereignty and excluding diaspora Palestinians.
As we saw throughout the Oslo process, Israel maintains the upper hand in defining the scope, timing, and nature of its redeployments of troops and determining the jurisdiction of a future Palestinian entity. The continued Jewish settlement expansions, home demolitions, land expropriations, and more dangerously, the erecting of the apartheid wall, are all designed to ensure a fragmented Palestinian entity and identity. This fragmentation undermines the possibility of sovereign nationhood.
The US, in spite of shy reprimands, fully supported Israel's steps to create facts on the ground that practically predetermined the size and jurisdiction of a Palestinian entity. By the time Israeli and American leaders started talking about "a Palestinian state," it was stripped of its meaning as an exercise in Palestinian self-determination and independence. It was reduced instead to forced Palestinian submission to the diktats of military and political power. In his infamous landmark "Bush Declaration," the American president went further by flagrantly depriving the Palestinians of the right to exercise their self-determination by reducing the so-called "peace process" to an internal Israeli-American deal in the old fashion of deciding the fate of colonized people in closed rooms.
For the Palestinians, meanwhile, statehood has remained a dream of liberty, freedom, and independence for which they have been struggling. Now they are watching this dream vanish rapidly under the weight of Israeli bulldozers, helicopter gunships, and full American endorsement for Sharon's so-called Gaza withdrawal plan, which transforms Gaza into a besieged strip, isolated from the West Bank.
Meanwhile, by annexing big blocs of settlements, cutting through villages, and further fragmenting the Palestinian population with the apartheid wall, Israel--backed by the US--has reduced the Palestinian state to a cover for colonized, besieged "islands". The Palestinian leadership, which was totally excluded from the negotiations, is left with the task of controlling and preventing resistance after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip, while at the same time deluding itself that this withdrawal could be a prelude to genuine statehood.
Lamis Andoni is a free-lance journalist and lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley.
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