Breaking the Middle East impasse

Pretoria, South Africa – A new conventional wisdom is rapidly
taking shape
that the United States can resolve the 130-year-old
conflict in Palestine
by advancing its own peace plan. Zbigniew
Brzezinski and Stephen Solarz
outlined such a plan, and argued that President Obama could boost its
prospects
with a “bold gesture” — a trip, to Jerusalem and Ramallah in the
company
of Arab and other leaders to unveil it.
 
Strong supporters of
Israel have pushed back that “imposing peace” would
not work, but few Palestinian voices have been heard. Indeed, from a
Palestinian
perspective, this idea is dangerously simplistic, and more
likely to
deepen festering injustices and fuel, rather than resolve
conflict.
 
The “comprehensive solution” Brzezinski and Solarz propose is
nothing of
the kind because the conflict cannot be reduced to a mere
border dispute
between Israel and a putative Palestinian state. They
propose for example
“a territorial settlement based on the 1967 borders, with mutual and
equal
adjustments to allow the incorporation of the largest West Bank
settlements
into Israel.”
 
This is deceptive; the West Bank
and Gaza Strip constitute just 22 percent
of historic Palestine between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, in
which
Palestinians formed the overwhelming majority prior to their
expulsion
and flight as Israel was created in 1948. Official Palestinian
acceptance of the two-state solution was a concession unprecedented in
the
history of any nation because it involved surrendering the 78
percent of
the country on which Israel was established. To demand
that Palestinians
further divide the remainder represents no compromise by Israel. It
merely
ratifies Israel’s systematic colonization of West Bank land
since 1967 in
flagrant defiance of international law.
 
The
proposed “land swap” to compensate Palestinians for annexed Israeli
settlements is illusory. The majority of the half million Israeli
settlers
are concentrated in and around Jerusalem — the heart of the
would-be
Palestinian state. Yet the lands that Israel might consider
handing over in
compensation are small barren tracts far away from population centers.
If
there are such lands that could compensate the French for Paris,
the
British for London or Americans for New York City, then there
might be
lands that Palestinians could accept instead of Jerusalem.
 
Even
more devastating to Palestinian rights, Brzezinski and Solarz float “a
solution
to the refugee problem involving compensation and resettlement in
the Palestinian state but not in Israel.” This they call “a bitter pill”
but
argue that “Israel cannot be expected to commit political suicide for
the
sake of peace.”
 
Palestinian refugees have an internationally
recognized legal right to
return to their homes and lands, but Israel has always denied this on
the
sole grounds that Palestinians are not Jews. Thus Gaza, where 80
percent of
the population are refugees, is essentially a holding pen
for humans of the
“wrong” ethno-religious group. Would Brzezinski and Solarz be so
sanguine
about accommodating Israel’s discriminatory character if its
grounds for
refusing the return of refugees was that they had the
“wrong” skin color?
 
I write from downtown Pretoria, once the all-white capital of the
South
African apartheid state, which also argued that ending white
rule would be
“political suicide.” The notion that people of
different groups cannot or
should not mix is belied by the vibrant multiracial reality in the
streets
of Pretoria outside my window today.
 
And precedents
for the actual return of refugees abound. Under the
US-brokered 1995
Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnia war, almost half a
million refugees and internally displaced persons returned home with
international
assistance, to areas that had become dominated
demographically and
politically by members of another ethno-national
community — an
enormous achievement in a country with a total population
of 3.5 million and deep traumas as a result of recent war.
 
Other
than Israel’s discriminatory aversion to non-Jews it is difficult to
see
why Palestinian refugees could not also return to their lands inside
Israel, the vast majority of which remain uninhabited.
 
By
endorsing Israel’s self-definition as a “Jewish state,” Brzezinski and
Solarz
not only ratify the violation of the fundamental rights of refugees,
but consign another 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel to
permanent
second-class status within an increasingly intolerant and
ultranationalist
Israel. A more likely outcome than ‘two states
living side by side in
peace’ is that Palestinian citizens of Israel will come under increasing
threat
of expulsion to the Palestinian state — in other words, a new round
of
ethnic cleansing.
 
The vision of a truncated, demilitarized
mini-state in no way fulfills
basic Palestinian aspirations and rights and would bring no more peace
or
dignity than the bantustans which apartheid South Africa tried to
establish
for its black citizens to forestall and delay demands for
equality and
democracy. Nor would a trip by Obama do anything to revive shop-worn
ideas
that have gained little real support either among Palestinians
or Israelis
since they were first proposed at the failed Camp David
summit in 2000.
 
Margaret Thatcher once said that partitioning South Africa to
create
separate black and white states would be like “trying to
unscramble an
egg,” and could lead to tremendous bloodshed. It is
time to recognize that
this truth also applies to Palestine/Israel and to seek political
solutions
similar to the one here, or the settlement in Northern
Ireland, that
embrace rather than attempt to deny diversity, equality
and justice for all
who live in that land.
 
Ali Abunimah is author of ‘One Country, A
Bold Proposal to End the
Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.’

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