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12 March 2011

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

By Ben White

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”.

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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.