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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Do you see yourself as British or English? The answer could help define modern politics

The rise of English identity has left a glaring space in politics for an English nationalist party. Who is going to fill it?

Political scientists call it the “Moreno question”. In the 1980s, the Spanish academic Luis Moreno Fernández came up with a test for identity, which was originally applied to gauge interest in Catalan independence. In its English incarnation, it asks voters to grade themselves from “I feel more British than English” to “I feel more English than British”. Unsurprisingly, Ukip does best among those who describe themselves as “English, not British”, while Labour’s vote rises the more people see themselves as British. In the biggest group – the 47 per cent who see themselves as equally English and British – the Tories lead.

The Moreno question helps us make sense of three interlinking trends in modern politics. First, the stark fact that in the 2015 election, a different party won in each nation of the United Kingdom: Labour in Wales, the SNP in Scotland, the Tories in England and the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. Second, Ukip’s lack of success north of the border: the Herald reported in July that Ukip’s only elected representative in the country, David Coburn MEP, had been forced to take on the role of treasurer at his local branch in Fife because it has so few members. Third, Labour’s declining performance in its historic northern heartlands. Many voters there want a party with a distinctively English flavour and don’t feel that Labour is it.

Devolution has had many unexpected consequences, but the rise of an English identity is one of the least explored. Because of its demographic dominance, mainstream politicians have long argued that it would be unfair to give England its own parliament. Labour is particularly resistant to the idea because it would magnify the Conservatives’ power. As it is, the principle of “English votes for English laws” will exclude the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the grand committee-stage hearings on grammar schools, because education is a devolved matter.

However, the last general election showed that there’s a problem with English voters feeling ignored. In Worcester, the Tory MP Robin Walker told me in April 2015 that arguments about the SNP holding Labour to ransom cut through on the doorstep. “There is a real concern if [voters] are saying, ‘The proceeds of the mansion tax are all going to go on nurses in Scotland. That doesn’t help us,’” he said. Many English voters felt that the SNP would be a successful lobby group at Westminster for Scotland’s interests. Where was their equivalent?

For John Denham, the former Labour MP who now leads the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester, the same dynamic applied this summer in the EU referendum campaign. “Scotland got ‘Scotland Stronger in Europe’,” he tells me. “England had to put up with ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’. That was an elite campaign run by people who think Britain and England are the same thing.”

Once again, the Moreno question helps us understand a fundamental divide among English voters. Denham says that 80 per cent of people who defined themselves as “English only” voted Leave, while 80 per cent of those who called themselves “British only” voted Remain.

Denham thinks that this presents an enormous challenge for Labour in northern seats where Ukip is in second place, given that its intellectuals and leading politicians feel so squeamish about Englishness. “If Labour continues as a cosmopolitan, liberal party that doesn’t want anything to do with the politics of identity,” he warns, “it won’t reach those voters.”

Other politicians worry that if Labour doesn’t occupy this space, another party will. “As nationalists go, the SNP is pretty good,” a senior left-wing politician told me recently. “An English nationalist party could be something altogether more nasty.”

In this light, the election of Diane James as the leader of Ukip looks like a rare stroke of luck for Labour. She is a southerner, educated at Rochester Grammar School, and an MEP for south-east England. Although she is polished and professional – albeit prone to outbursts of admiration for Vladimir Putin – she seems unlikely to appeal on an emotional level to working-class white voters in the north, where the greatest potential for an English nationalist party lies. Thanks to Ukip’s Caligulan internal politics, the deputy leader, Paul Nuttall (from Bootle), did not stand and the charismatic Steven Woolfe (from Burnage) was excluded from the race after the party’s executive committee ruled that he had submitted his nomination papers 17 minutes after the deadline. (Another potential candidate, Suzanne Evans, was suspended by the party, and pretty much everyone else in Ukip seems to hate its only MP, Douglas Carswell.)

If not Labour, or Ukip, perhaps the Conservatives? Theresa May’s rebranding of the party, complete with articles on bringing back grammar schools in the Daily Mail, shows that she is pitching for Ukip-leaners. “In terms of language and biography, she has a better understanding of that struggling, socially conservative, English nationalist voter than Cameron did,” says Robert Ford, a professor of political science at Manchester University and co-author of Revolt on the Right. He believes that any party that thinks a simple economic message can sway these voters is underestimating the “emotive” nature of identity-based politics. “It’s no use going to Sunderland and saying, ‘We’re going to nationalise the trains,’ and thinking, ‘They’ll come back to us.’”

There is another option. A new party could be born, perhaps even out of the ashes of post-referendum Ukip: Arron Banks, its mega-donor, has said that he fancies the idea. With the right leader, nationalist sentiment could spread like wildfire among the “English, not British”. And, as Nigel Farage has shown, you don’t need to get elected to Westminster to have an effect.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times