Whether we like it or not, the settlers have won. The two-state solution is now impossible

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, Israel’s the Palestinian “peace process” is dead. There’s no hope of any success for a two-state solution.

They can’t say they weren’t warned. In 1987 and 2000, after the eruption of the first and second intifadas in the occupied territories, Israeli officials could plausibly claim to have been taken by surprise. Not this time. Nitzan Alon, the Israeli general responsible for the West Bank, has warned publicly about the possibility of a third intifada by the repressed and stateless Palestinians. If the latest round of US-led diplomatic efforts fails, he told the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, a think tank, on 18 June, “I’m afraid we will see the escalation . . . strengthen.”

Alon’s comments follow similar warnings from, among others, the former Israeli intelligence chiefs Yaakov Peri and Yuval Diskin, as well as Israel’s former head of general staff, General Shaul Mofaz. “We are on the verge of a third intifada,” said Mofaz in January. “The fuel vapor may already be sensed in the air.” Four months earlier, in September 2012, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, had responded to demonstrations over political gridlock and soaring unemployment by declaring that a “Palestinian spring” had begun.

It is now a matter of when, not if, the West Bank boils over into violent protests. All eyes are on events in Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul while Israel continues to oversee the longest military occupation in the world, 46 years and counting.

Perhaps the most offensive phrase, still deployed by the laziest observers in the west, is “peace process”. There is no peace; there is no process – despite an astonishing five visits to the region in the past three months by the US secretary of state, John Kerry.

Negotiations between the two sides were “frozen”, to quote Dov Weisglass, the then chief of staff to Ariel Sharon, almost a decade ago. “[W]hat I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all,” Weisglass told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in October 2004. “Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.” Or, as a smiling and confident Dani Dayan, the outgoing chairman of the Yesha settlers’ council, put it to me in an interview for al-Jazeera English: “The conflict right now has no solution.”

Dayan and his fanatical friends can take credit for burying the “two-state solution”. Between 1993 and 2000, as Palestinians and Israelis met for summits, conferences and “peace talks”, the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem doubled. “It’s like you and I are negotiating over a piece of pizza,” as the Palestinian-American lawyer Michael Tarazi told an audience at Iowa State University in 2004. “How much of the pizza do I get? And how much do you get? And while we are negotiating it, you are eating it.”

Today, the relentless colonisation of occupied Palestinian land continues apace, in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, with 121 settlements and 102 unauthorised “outposts” occupying 42 per cent of the West Bank.

The settlements, therefore, have rendered a two-state solution impossible. The evidence for this? “The idea that a Palestinian state will be formed in the land of Israel has come to a dead end,” declared the former Yesha Council leader Naftali Bennett on 17 June. “Today there are 400,000 Israeli residents of Judaea and Samaria and another 250,000 in eastern Jerusalem.”

Whether we want to admit it or not, the settlers have won – they have what they call a “wet dream” government, protecting and promoting their interests. Israel’s foreign minister-in-waiting, Avigdor Lieberman, is a West Bank settler; so is his deputy. Both Uri Ariel, the housing minister, and Shai Piron, the education minister, are residents of illegal West Bank settlements. Bennett, who leads the pro-settler Jewish Home party, is also the minister for the economy.

Settlers make up 5 per cent of Israel’s population but more than 10 per cent of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Beyond the political sphere, settlers have mounted a concerted effort to dominate the Israel Defence Forces. Settlers in the government will not sanction a withdrawal from the occupied territories and settlers in the military would never enforce such a withdrawal. Thus, the “peace process” is a sham, “one of the most spectacular deceptions in modern diplomatic history”, according to the former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

On my last visit to the West Bank, I met Dr Mohammed Shtayyeh, the influential head of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, and Diana Buttu, a Stanford-educated lawyer and former Palestinian negotiator. “The two-state solution is not possible any more and we are slipping into a one-state situation . . . which is a comprehensive colonisation of all of Palestine,” Shtayyeh said.

Buttu said she no longer backed two states for two peoples, preferring a single, secular, binational state. But is that feasible? “Is it more feasible to try and get the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem – or is it more feasible for us to start pushing . . . Israel to give us our rights, rather than begging for a little piece of land to be carved out [for us]?” she asked me, as we sat sipping tea in a Ramallah café.

Buttu is right. The choice on offer is stark: either a democratic, one-state solution, in which Jews, Muslims and Christians can live side by side as equals – one person, one vote – or Bennett and Dayan’s “status quo” vision, in which nearly four million Palestinians continue to live under a de facto Israeli military dictatorship, denied the right to vote and offered only a divided, bantustan statelet.

I know which I’d prefer. Either way, no matter how many visits John Kerry makes to Jerusalem, it is time to consign the two-state solution to the dustbin of history.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer of the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post, where this column is crossposted 

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in May 2013. Photograph: Getty Images

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.