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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Is our obsession with class propping up the powerful?

Lynsey Hanley’s memoir Respectable: the Experience of Class attacks the sharp-elbowed bourgeoisie – but society will only be transformed by building coalitions between the middle and working classes.

Class is no longer banished from mainstream discussion, but it remains an uncomfortable topic for most mainstream media. The background to this is straightforward. The media all too often discriminate on the basis of parental wealth rather than talent: from unpaid internships to expensive postgraduate journalism qualifications, the routes into the industry are difficult to traverse without parents able to offer financial support. But most of us want to believe that our successes are personal achievements: that if we do well, it is because of our own ability, intelligence and determination. To realise that actually, you have queue-jumped, in effect, because of your parents’ bank balance: well, that would provoke insecurity and defensiveness. And so journalists and columnists are often disinclined to understand why society is stacked in the interests of some, but not others. Even raising the issue of class is felt as a personal attack.

That is one reason Lynsey Hanley is such a crucial voice. When she writes about class, she is writing about lived experience. Her new book, Respectable – the belated follow-up to her seminal Estates, published in 2007 – is a powerful investigation into the psychological impact, and cost, of shifting from class to class. She compares it to “emigrating from one side of the world, where you have to rescind your old passport, learn a new language and make gargantuan efforts if you are not to lose touch completely with the people and habits of your old life”. The case study? Hanley herself. The Personal Is Political would be as appropriate a subtitle for this book as any other.

Respectable compellingly (if sometimes erratically) weaves autobiography with academic research. Hanley grew up on a council estate in Chelmsley Wood, a 1960s ­new-build area of Solihull, in the West Midlands, a few miles from Birmingham. Her childhood, she says, would once have been labelled “respectable working class”: far removed from middle class but not “quite classically working class either” – rather, “foreman class” or “skilled tradesman class”. It feels wrong to infringe on Hanley’s right to self-define, but she does seem to have a very restrictive view of what being working class entails, so much so, that she isn’t entirely convinced she belongs. There has long been a clash between those who define class as a cultural identity and those who believe it has more to do with economic relationships (and those who think it is a combination of the two).

At Hanley’s school, “people didn’t do A-levels”. The high achievers ended up at the gas board or the Rover works and the word “university” evoked “something as distant as Mars”. Her school had 600 unfilled places, “effectively . . . abandoned by the community as much as by the local authority and by central government”. Hanley has always felt like an outsider: she struggled to make friends, found the limits of what was expected of someone from her background suffocating, and when – against the odds – she made it to sixth form, it seemed “one minute I was struggling for air, the next I felt as though I’d entered a large bubble of pure oxygen”. She looks to academics to help explain experiences she found difficult to navigate at the time. Her sense of isolation, for instance, can be illuminated by the sociologist Angela McRobbie’s exploration of “the ‘hermetically sealed’ nature of working-class culture in Birmingham”. The Uses of Literacy, Richard Hoggart’s 1957 classic, is her Bible; she feels he “could have been writing about my own childhood”.

Aged 17, Hanley was juggling five ­A-levels with four jobs: working at Greggs, selling Avon products, delivering newspapers and “making cakes and chocolates and selling them door to door”. But she became a professional journalist. When she was a teenager she visited Aldi to buy margarine and glacé cherries; now she comes back with “cold-pressed rapeseed oil and Pinot Noir”. She says “lunch” where she used to say “dinner”.

This is a well-crafted book full of insights. Hanley is determined to challenge the assumptions of left and right. She refers to socio-linguists such as Basil Bernstein, who examined how middle-class forms of communication were given preference over working-class expression but not because they were innately superior. Those who made the leap from working class to middle class found themselves assimilated by the new world. Many found it increasingly difficult to relate to the world they grew up in, and the people they grew up with.

Hanley thinks the approaches of both left and right to social mobility are problematic. Whereas the right uncritically worships the idea of “social mobility” – of parachuting the “lucky few” into the middle class without challenging the structure of society – the left, she says, believes that “social justice and social mobility are mutually exclusive”. In other words, she is questioning that old socialist maxim: “Rise with your class, not above it.”

Hanley assails those – including me – who place support for populist anti-immigration movements in a broader social context. She believes that we are downplaying the extent of racism in working-class communities, reducing it to fears over housing and jobs. We are robbing people of agency by letting individuals off the hook for their prejudices, she argues, stressing the casual racism she encountered on a daily basis. Disturbingly, she found that racism was often seen as a “sign of respectability”. She remembers sentiments along the lines of “Only common people hang out with darkies” and so on. My parents met through the Trotskyist movement; my father eventually became a white-collar local authority worker, my mother an IT lecturer at Salford University, and I was always by far the most middle-class of my friends. I’m not going to wish away the casual racism I encountered growing up in Stockport (and I’m white), but I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by Hanley’s argument. Why is there an anti-immigration party with mass support now, yet there wasn’t one in the 1950s, when bigotry was far more open and widespread? Surely something has changed, and rising job, housing and general economic insecurity have had a role to play? And will a strategy of criticising people for voting Ukip – or even for the far right – win them over?

My main problem with Hanley’s book is this. Those of us who want to transform society so that it is not run as a racket for a tiny elite need to build a broad coalition. I’m a political activist who writes; Hanley is someone writing about reality as she has lived it. But her book surely challenges attempts to build unity between the working and middle classes. She writes of how middle-class people both hog and deny their “social and cultural capital”, and believes that those who argue in favour of a “99 Per Cent” under attack by an elite help entrench middle-class privilege. The middle classes pretend they have the same interests as the working class, while using their sharp elbows to keep them down.

I wonder if there is a third way. Abolish unpaid internships; introduce scholarships; invest in education at an early age; automatically enrol the brightest working-class young people into top universities; deal with social crises, such as the lack of affordable housing, which help destroy opportunity for the less privileged; have a proper living wage. And so on. But if those who believe in social justice fail to build a coalition of supermarket worker and schoolteacher, cleaner and junior doctor, factory worker and university lecturer . . . well, we will fail. From the low-paid against the unemployed, to private-sector against public-sector worker, to indigene against immigrant, there are enough divisions exploited by the powerful as it is.

Nonetheless, Respectable is of vital importance: a searing indictment of a chronically unjust society in which our opportunities are granted or denied from the earliest of ages. The book may not offer clear prescriptions, but it is incumbent on all of us to fight for a just and equal society – one that currently does not exist. 

Owen Jones’s Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class is newly republished in paperback by Verso

Respectable: The Experience of Class by Lynsey Hanley is published by Allen Lane (240pp, £16.99)

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism