Will the two-state solution go the way of the defunct peace process?

Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposals are likely to be nothing more than a rehash of approaches that have f

In the last week, press reports have suggested that the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is preparing to give a key speech on the peace process in the next few months, and many have flagged up as the hook his planned visit to the US in May. Claims of an imminent bold proposal have met with a good deal of scepticism from Palestinians and Netanyahu's domestic political opponents alike. Analysts have described the talk of a new plan as a "trial balloon" and a "public relations exercise aimed first and foremost at Washington".

Netanyahu's new plan, should it materialise, is rumoured to be based on "the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders" as part of an "interim peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority". Other reports have been even vaguer, claiming that Netanyahu is proposing "a phased approach to peacemaking", but leaving open whether this includes temporary borders.

Such an approach is similar to proposals previously put forward by the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and ex-defence minister Shaul Mofaz, both of whom emphasised the need for a long-term interim agreement. Lieberman's plan is said to entail Israel holding on to at least 50 per cent of the West Bank, while Mofaz would have Israel keep 40 per cent of the territory.

Last week, the senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath claimed that five months ago Netanyahu told the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, that Israel would demand control of 40 per cent of the West Bank for "an extended period".

These percentages correspond to the major settlements built by Israel in the West Bank since 1967, and the wider infrastructure of colonisation and de facto annexation. As the human rights group B'Tselem has described, 42 per cent of the land area of the West Bank is controlled by settlements. Human Rights Watch's report Separate and Unequal detailed how the 60 per cent of the West Bank known as "Area C", where Israel has "full control of security, planning and building", contains "substantial amounts of water resources, grazing and agricultural land", as well as the "land reserves" required by Palestinian towns for development and growth. UN officials have estimated (PDF) that 44 per cent of the West Bank has been "largely designated for the use of Israeli settlements or the Israeli military".

If Netanyahu is indeed preparing a proposal along these lines, then it is nothing more than a rehash of approaches that have repeatedly failed. This "new" way forward by the Netanyahu/Lieberman coalition brings together the essence of Oslo ("phased transition") with Israeli intransigence (unilateral definition of "borders" and imposition of conditions). Remember that it was the former PM Yitzhak Rabin who in 1995 stressed that "the country's final borders" would include "a united Jerusalem" and key settlement blocs.

There are other recent indications of Netanyahu's intentions, such as his visit to the Jordan Valley, where he reiterated Israel's aim of maintaining a presence along the West Bank's eastern flank. The PM has appointed a radical right-winger to lead the National Security Council, while talking with the far-right National Union party about joining the coalition. Even as he promises to demolish unauthorised settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land, Netanyahu is legalising "settlements and homes built without permission on state land".

Perhaps one of the more revealing comments this month came from an interview with Israel's strategic affairs minister and deputy PM, Moshe Ya'alon. Responding to a question about a Palestinian state, Ya'alon said that the "intention is to leave the situation as it is: autonomous management of civil affairs, and if they want to call it a state, let them call it that". The government, he said, will "keep what exists now" and let the Palestinians "call it whatever they want".

In other words, the Israeli government has nothing to offer except the same tired messaging while apartheid is consolidated. It is a short-term strategy that is taking the entire "two-state solution" the same way of the defunct peace process.

Ben White is a freelance journalist specialising in Israel/Palestine.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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A year on from the Brexit vote it’s striking how little we know about where it will lead

So many questions, so few answers.

One year one. Anyone who hoped we’d know what Brexit might look like or even, heaven, forbid, that we’d be inhabiting a post-EU UK by now, must be thoroughly disappointed. Even those with more modest expectations are feeling slightly uncomfortable. Because, a year on, we don’t know that much more about what Brexit means  than we did on 23 June last year (well, we know it means Brexit, I suppose).  

We do know some things. First, that divorce talks are preceding trade talks, as the EU insisted – and David Davies denied – all along. Second what the European Union wants in the initial negotiations is crystal clear and indeed on their website, if you’re interested.

Third, the government, for the moment, remains committed to the kind of hard Brexit it has laid out since the Conservative Party conference. Nothing that has been said or done since the election indicates a softening of that position.

That’s it. That’s essentially all we have to show for the last year. This isn’t to say that stuff hasn’t been done. Both the European Commission and the British civil service have been beavering away on the Brexit issue. Papers have been written, careful, detailed analysis carried out. In fact Brexit has dominated the work of Whitehall since the fateful vote.

But for all this work, it’s striking how little we know about where this process will lead. The government’s commitment to a hard Brexit might not survive. Whether it does so or not will depend on what happens with the things we don’t know. The known unknowns, to coin (well, quote) a phrase.

First, we don’t know how long the prime minister will remain in post. This is obviously important, not least given Theresa May herself has seemingly singlehandedly been defining the kind of Brexit Britain should seek. Yet there is more to it than that. A leadership election would take time, and eat up yet more of the two years stipulated by the EU for the Article 50 process. It would also open the rift within the Conservative party over Brexit. Always a good spectator sport. Never a recipe for effective government.

Second, we don’t know how parliament will behave. Much has been made of the "soft Brexit majority" in the Palace of Westminster. But remember last June? When the significant majority of pro-remain MPs were expected to kick up a fight over Brexit? The same MPs who nodded the triggering of article 50 through with hardly a glance? We just do not know yet how MPs will behave.

And their behaviour will be shaped by both inter and intra-party dynamics. Both the large parties are internally divided over Brexit. The Labour leadership seems happy to leave the single market. Many Labour MPs, in contrast, are fundamentally, and publicly, opposed to the idea. Whether loyalty (not least given the prospect of another election) triumphs over opinions on the EU remains to be seen.

As it does for the Tories. I imagine the phrase "do you really want to risk a Corbyn government" will soon trip off the tongue of every government whip. Whether this threat will prove effective is anyone’s guess. Tory Remainers certainly seemed to rein in their criticism of the prime minister following the "chocolate trousers" affair. Maybe this was simply a case of keeping their powder dry until the legislation needed to make Brexit work hits parliament in the autumn. We’re about to find out. And it will matter much more now the Tories have lost their majority.  Indeed, I think this, more than anything else, is why the prime minister called the election in the first place.

One crucial determinant of how MPs behave will be what public opinion does. Regular polling by YouGov since the referendum has, until recently, shown virtually no movement in attitudes towards Brexit. Around 52 per cent think it was a good idea, and around 48 per cent a bad one. Sound familiar? There has in recent weeks been what could best be described as a slight wobble. What we don’t know is what will happen in the weeks to come. Should the polls show a swing away from Brexit, might politicians swing with it, increasing the pressure on the PM to modify and soften her stance?

Turning from Westminster to Whitehall, will a government with no majority adopt a different style to a government with a small one? This matters, particularly when it comes to business. The May Government before the election was notable for the way it put politics above economics, focusing on the need to ‘take back control’ even if this meant the potential for real economic damage. A number of business leaders report getting short shrift when they visited ministers to voice their concerns.

But can a weak government be so dismissive? We know what most businesses want – certainly the kinds of business that get to knock on ministerial doors. They want single market and customs union membership. They want, in other words, a soft Brexit. Chancellor Philip Hammond, it would seem, has been listening to them from the start. Will his colleagues now start to do so too?

And if government policy does start to shift, this in turn will open up a whole host of new unknowns. Most importantly, might the EU be open to some sort of deal whereby we limit free movement but get some kind of single market membership? That discussion has simply not happened, because of the way in which Theresa May closed it off by stipulating a hard Brexit.

Most EU observers think a compromise is unlikely in the extreme. Yet while the EU won’t be more generous to a non-member state than to a member state, there is no reason a non-member state should buy into all of core EU principles entirely, so there might be some room for compromise. Again, we don’t know. And we won’t unless we decide to ask.

So many questions, so few answers. That is the story of Brexit to date. One year on, and those answers are about to get clearer.

Anand Menon is the director of The UK in a Changing Europe. Read their report: EU referendum: one year on to find out more.

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