OP-ED: One state or two states?
Is a peaceful resolution between Palestine and Israel ever possible?
A major fallout from the latest Israeli conflict over Gaza is the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years as prime minister. The Israeli-Palestinian truce on Gaza seems to be holding up so far – it’s been almost a month now.
Whether Israel’s truce in Gaza lasts another six months or a year, or whether new Prime Minister Bennet is able to translate this truce into a more permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is an open question. But a simple change in the leadership of Israel’s government is unlikely to happen anytime soon, unless the future of the territory is amicably agreed upon by the warring parties.
Since 1948, there have been three major wars in the region over this division, all over claims to this territory by the two competitors, with a result that has led to a continued shrinkage of what was once Palestinian territory. American author Mitchel Bard states that the first settlements in the West Bank were initiated by Israeli governments from 1968 to 1977 with the explicit objective of “securing a Jewish majority in key strategic areas of the West Bank”.
But the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Arafat at the time, officially paved the way for more Jewish settlements in the West Bank by creating three administrative zones: Zone A, Zone B and Zone C. Zone A comprised approximately 18% of the West Bank, Zone B 22%, and Zone C the rest of the territory.
According to the agreement, Area A was to be fully administered by the new Palestinian Authority, Area B jointly by Israel and the PLA, and Area C totally by Israel where a small Palestinian population lived among Jewish settlers. Israel had full authority to expand the settlement into Area C, with the result that today there are over 450 settlements there with a Jewish population of over 475,000 and over.
Palestinians living in the so-called PLA area of the West Bank and Gaza number around 5.1 million (3 million in the West Bank and 2.1 million in Gaza). Most of this population lives in less than half of the territories of the West Bank.
The demand for and international support for a sovereign Palestinian state has existed since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Oslo Accord created a pseudo-self-governing Palestinian territory in just one-third West Bank and Gaza, but he left open the question of a truly sovereign Palestinian state throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, of which the PLA wanted to be the capital of the Palestinian state.
The scourge of the ongoing dispute between the Palestinians and Israel is not just a sovereign Palestinian state, but what a future state will constitute. Will a sovereign Palestinian state be limited to Area A, which makes up only 18% of the West Bank and the 32 km long Gaza Strip, far from the West Bank, or will it include other parts of the West Bank? West Bank now known as Areas B and C?
Area B, which represents 22% of the West Bank, is heavily populated by Palestinians but not entirely under the Palestinian Authority (Israel controls all security aspects). Area C, which is the largest area in the West Bank (60%) is entirely under the Israeli government which is continuously developing Jewish settlements there. The Palestinian Authority has no control over the area, its governance and its security. It is essentially an extension of Israel.
A sovereign Palestinian state?
So what will a sovereign Palestinian state look like if this happens? Israel will not cede its hold over Area C since it has invested heavily in this area since 1968. There are nearly half a million Jews living in this territory in settlements spread across the area. Some of them are five decades old and the many settlers there now straddle two generations. (New Prime Minister Bennett is a second generation settler of Zone C.)
Will Israel force these settlers to leave the West Bank if a new Palestinian state is to be formed in the old West Bank? This is unlikely to happen, and no Israeli politician, left or right, will accept this return of the territory to a new sovereign Palestinian state.
At the time of President Trump (2020), Trump had already sketched a vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where he spoke of Israel annexing 30% of Area C and allowing the rest to merge into a future Palestinian state.
But warmonger Netanyahu had a more aggressive plan where he envisioned Israel’s annexation of all of Area C. And in Netanyahu’s plan, East Jerusalem was not part of the Palestinian state.
Is this how a Palestinian state should be? A population of 5.1 million people crammed into 40% of the West Bank and 140 square kilometers of an enclave called Gaza? Remember, the whole of the West Bank is landlocked territory (except Gaza), and all of its links with the rest of the Arab world are through Israel or Jordan. Access to Gaza is also through Israel.
The two territories also depend on common aquifers for their water supply. A sovereign Palestinian state will have to depend on the goodwill and cooperation of Israel for the movement of its people, its supplies and perhaps also its defense. A sustainable Palestine will only be possible when Israel accepts a sustainable zone in which the Palestinians can build a country. A new moth-eaten state will help neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis.
What is happening to Israel?
But considering a Palestine built on a fragment of the West Bank, can we think of what would happen to Israel and its people if such a state were to be born? Today, 20% of the Israeli population is made up of Arabs, many of whom identify as Palestinians. What would prevent these Arabs from settling in the part of the West Bank that Israel would like to keep?
As Israeli citizens, they could settle there unless the government restricts the freedom of movement of some of its citizens, which would constitute a violation of their constitutional rights. Can we then envision a future Israel where rights will be determined on the basis of religious groups?
Rashida Tlaib, a first-time US congressman of Palestinian descent, has proposed a radical solution to the conflict.
“One state,” she said in response to a question about her support for a one or two state solution. This is a remarkable opinion, because Rashida’s family, which was uprooted from Palestinian land, had emigrated to the United States. She says her proposal is pragmatic because the two states are now almost impossible due to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s racist policies.
A two-state solution would be impossible without actually hurting the Israelis, as some of the Israeli families have lived in these communities (settlements in the West Bank) for almost five decades. She believes that Israel will not be able to drive them out and uproot all these people without another catastrophe.
A point of debate
Whether MP Tlaib throws a wrench into the Palestinian conflict with its one-state solution as the international world calls for a two-state solution is a matter of debate. But being a Palestinian herself, she needs to know better whether the Palestinians will survive in a single democratic state with equal rights than as a sovereign country in a tiny space with a powerful Israel breathing all the time.
His reasoning is that the Palestinians may fare better in a united Israel because, along with the Arabs who are now Israeli citizens, they will constitute half of the population of Israel. And if, which is a big thing, Israel grants equal voting rights to all of its citizens in a democratic country that Israel claims to be, Palestinians will be better off than living in tattered territory living at the mercy of Israel, if they have sovereign status.
A sovereign state can give the Palestinians an independent country, but not necessarily independence from the rule of a powerful neighbor. In the end, what matters is people’s happiness and their right to exist.
What matters right now is an agreement between the two warring parties on a solution that leads to peace in that territory, be it one state or two states. An amicable resolution that guarantees peace for the next generation in both regions is all we ask for.
Ziauddin Choudhury worked in the senior civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the United States.