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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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear