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

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.