Thursday, March 12, 2009


The key is an end to occupation
Daoud Kuttab
The Jordan Times
March 12, 2009 [1]
Following the words and efforts of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Sharm El Sheikh, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah, one gets the feeling that she was on a hard-sell campaign trying to convince the majority of Israelis to accept the concept of the two-state solution.

For now, Palestinians are more interested in the end of the decades-old occupation of their lands.

Clinton’s pleading with Netanyahu to adopt the international consensus on the two-state solution is wrong. She should focus instead on the choices that Israel has, namely, to share the land of Palestine/Israel with the Palestinian side or agree to power sharing, among the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

The two-state solution has been on the books for some time. An independent Palestinian state alongside Israel has been a demand of some Palestinians since the 1970s, but became official PLO policy in one year, after the relatively nonviolent Intifada began.

The November 15, 1988, declaration of a Palestinian state alongside Israel replaced the PLO policy which called for a secular state on all of historic Palestine.

The two-state solution was adopted by the Arab League at its Beirut summit in 2004, and following that, it was unanimously supported by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which includes states such as Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Former US president George W. Bush gave the two-state solution public support most prominently in the last year of his second term, when he promised that an independent, viable and contiguous state of Palestine will see the light before the end of his term.

Consecutive Israeli governments have given mixed responses to it. The current Olmert/Livni government gave lip service to the two-state solution, but exclusive Jewish settlement building continued in areas earmarked for the Palestinian part. The effort to depopulate East Jerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants has not stopped since Israel occupied and then unilaterally annexed the Arab-populated section of the city to Israel.

The poll results that followed the assault on Gaza seemed to show a shift in the Israeli opinion towards a more hawkish position, contrasting sharply with the more dovish shift in the US. Some expect that a Netanyahu government will be on a collision course with the Obama administration. Hence, Clinton has been pleading with the right-wing Israeli leader to adopt the policy that even the pro-Israeli Bush-Cheney team had adopted.

With the shift to the hawkish right in the most recent Israeli elections, many Palestinians believe that the true nature of the Israeli ruling elite became clear. Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been tapped to form a coalition government, refused to publicly accept the two-state concept.

As Israelis seem to be backtracking from the two-state solution, some Palestinians are arguing for the need to create one state for all the people living in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. But the choices that should be made clear to Israel are not whether it should accept the two-state or the one-state solution. Israeli leaders and people must be made to understand that the key issue is the need to end the occupation.

The international community has made this very clear since 1967. In the preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242, the binding resolution states: “It is inadmissible to occupy land by force.”

Being wedded to the two-state solution, the US has been forced to try and deal with the day-to-day actions of the Israeli army and Israeli government in the occupied territories.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell decided to set up office in Jerusalem and to staff it with security and political personnel whose job will be to monitor the situation in the occupied territories. This is a positive development, but what is needed is much more strategic. Instead of pleading with the Israelis to accept the two-state solution, the US should simply ask the Israelis to end their military occupation of Arab lands.

Such a strategy might require the international community to help Palestinians and Israelis in the transitional period. This might mean the introduction of international troops in the occupied territories, instead of the Israeli army.

To carry out such strategy, the US must not beg the Israelis to accept this or that solution. Instead, the US as the leader of the international community, must place a clear challenge to Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Livni, Barak and all Israelis. It should set a date for the withdrawal of occupation forces and begin negotiating a responsible pullout.

The question, therefore, is as simple as the one uttered by a US presidential nominee in the 1990s. Using former president Bill Clinton’s phrase, it is not a two-state or a one-state solution, “it is the occupation, stupid”.