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Tel Aviv & UAE Move Israel-Palestine Closer to One State

telivivuaeThe one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conundrum may have inched a bit closer after the past week’s ‘normalization’ deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates suspended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu’s Donald Trump-backed promise to annex much of the illegally occupied and settled West Bank. Trump’s need for a ‘win’ in his bid for reelection and Netanyahu’s desperation for more political maneuvering room within Israel are the backdrop to this development. Moreover, both have failed in responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

The fact that creeping annexation has been the status-quo eroding any prospect of a two-state solution has been overshadowed by Netanyahu’s successful distraction through his campaign against Iran taken up by the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ offensive against Tehran which came a cropper in the UN Security Council’s rejection of the US attempt to reimpose ‘snapback’ sanctions against Iran. Much of the mainstream media has fallen in behind the Netanyahu-Trump narrative of the Israel-UAE deal marking an ‘historic’ geopolitical game changer reflected in such takes as in the effusive commentary by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman and even in the less gung-ho assessment of veteran New Yorker Mideast analyst and Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow, Robin Wright who sees the Palestinian cause waning amidst regional Arab common cause with Israel against Iran orchestrated by Netanyahu’s exploitation of regional Sunni-Shia polarization emanating out of the George W. Bush administration’s ‘war of choice’ in Iraq which brought a destabilizing end to President Bill Clinton’s ‘dual containment’ Iraq-Iran policy.

The Middle East has never been the same. So now, much of the Arab League could well be settling matters on Israel’s terms almost as if in the case of South Africa, the rest of the continent had bought into Ronald Reagan’s ‘constructive engagement’ with the apartheid regime. In the case of the Middle East, this Arab capitulation may well further shift momentum toward a one-state scenario.  Netanyahu has made clear, Israel has no intention of abandoning annexation. That being the case, IGD is re-issuing two blogs on Israel-Palestine published two years ago that raised the increasing prospect of a one-state scenario as Israel evolved into an increasingly ‘apartheid’ polity as warned by former US President Jimmy Carter in 2008. Carter, at the time, was roundly criticized for having raised this prospect. Now it is 2020 and that prospect has become a reality, thereby transforming the two-state dynamic as the Palestinian Authority is likely to recede into Israeli direct rule as well as military occupation in the West Bank. Perhaps, the Israel-UAE deal brings that much closer. That being the case, what kind of ‘one-state’ solution? With that, we revisit the projections of two years ago.

A PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI ONE STATE-TWO STATES PROCESS? (First published 26 January 2018)

Whether US President Donald Trump and his administration and supporters appreciate the magnitude of Trump’s anti-Palestinian policies and pronouncements (as Jesus intoned on the cross: ‘they know not what they do…’), Trump’s dubious achievement has been to force a total recasting of the Israel-Palestine logic. It is thus no longer a question of land, but of democracy. And as might apply to that old pre-Trump logic, there is the old saying: ‘You can never go home again,’ ‘home’ being the ‘peace process’ mantra of Camp David, Oslo and the Quartet: the ‘two-state’ delusion a la Padrig O’Malley. International reactions following Trump’s Jerusalem bombshell has shifted discourse definitively in the direction of ‘one-state’ as the only realistically inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But does that automatically put paid to the two-state scenario? Not necessarily, though it certainly places this outcome far into a long-term future if not ruling it out altogether – not that ‘one-state’ is imminent either. It is the pure sequencing logic of the two/one-state dynamic that requires critical interrogation.

To be sure, the bi-national one-state option is not what Jews and Israelis wedded to an Israel, both democratic and Jewish look forward to given the demographic future of political geography stemming from the eastern Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley. A two-state solution is the only path to a genuinely democratic state that is also Jewish. Yet the ultra-rightwing, pro-settler drift in Israeli politics, augmented by the powerful US Israel Lobby spearheaded by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and financing from such ultra-right oligarchs as Sheldon Adelson (a major financier in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as an underwriter of rightwing pro-settler politics in Israel) has all but buried the two-state scenario.

The Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’ might better be dubbed the Israeli ‘piece process’ as Tel-Aviv, under successive Likud regimes, backed by a bipartisanly captured US Congress relentlessly gobbles up the West Bank. Whether or not such a stealth strategy was the original intent, Israel and its over-zealous backers face a ‘beware what you wish for’ trap as the Piece Process rolls on! Israel-Palestine is de facto one state. As such, Israel’s presumed democratic character has long since eroded into what can now only be candidly described as a minority-ruled settler-dominated, military occupationist state.

Many in the US seemed emotionally traumatized by former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid when it came out in 2006. Yet 12 years later, we are looking at a repressive regime in Tel-Aviv that has tracked almost to the letter the path of racist minority-settler regimes in Algeria, Kenya and throughout a Southern Africa that also veered increasingly to the repressive ultra-right before ultimately succumbing to majority-rule. Is this now the scenario awaiting Israel? For like apartheid South Africa, Israelis seem hell-bent on turning Israel into a pariah state on the international stage, repudiating the Liberal Zionist Project.

So what might be done? It may well be that the long-term solution – and it will be long-term and bitterly protracted – is one that turns the two-state vs. one-state logic on its head instead of ruling out the two-state option altogether. The emphasis, instead should shift to democratizing the repressive one-state reality; this calls for a new discourse that no longer marginalizes the one-state option, but openly and honestly recognizes it as a plausible though daunting path to Israel-Palestinian peace (as opposed to Israeli ‘piece’!).

As such, the one-state option could be hypothetically linked to an eventual two-state possibility (in theory) in a two-stage process: First, an internationally-backed ‘anti-apartheid’ movement throughout historical Palestine aimed at transforming racist and militaristic minority-settler occupation into a non-sectarian, multi-ethnic democratic state with equal political and civil rights for Arabs and Palestinians residing within and outside Israel, including in the West Bank and Gaza. The Second stage would be optional.

This would involve a bi-national referendum among Israelis and Palestinians on whether-when-how to move toward negotiating two democratic states – or remain a one-state bi-national democracy. In other words, it may well come down to realizing that two-states may only emerge after a one-state transition to democracy in historical Palestine. But ‘two-states’ becomes purely an optional possibility, no longer the centrepiece of a ‘piece process.’

Meanwhile, the bottom-line should dictate that democracy and human rights for Palestinians not be held hostage to what has evolved into nothing more than a morally and politically bankrupt expansionist colonial-settler ‘apartheid’ charade. As it is, the plight of the Palestinians now takes a back seat to the US and Israel prioritizing with Saudi Arabia a dangerous sectarian geopolitical power-struggle against Iran at the expense of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Thus is democracy for the Palestinians and the two-state charade interlinked with wider geopolitical power dynamics in the Middle East.

SHARPEVILLE IN GAZA? Israel-Palestinian Twilight Zone (first published 21 June 2018)

The juxtaposition of the Donald Trump administration moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the massacre of Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel ‘border’ placed in sharp relief the moral and political bankruptcy of the US-Israeli alliance, one reinforced by their alliance with Wahabist Saudi Arabia. For all intents and purposes, the Palestinians have been cut adrift by Israel’s new found Sunni Arab allies. This is amid Israeli-American rightwing unity in what emerges as a joint Apartheid project in Palestinian subjugation. It mocks liberal Zionism’s inspirational birth of Israel. If Israel and supporters can justify the massacre that happened, including thousands injured, by propagandizing it as having been orchestrated by Hamas, this is tantamount to dismissively justifying the Sharpeville Massacre as caused by the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania.

The Gaza confrontations amid Trump-Netanyahu provocations serve as a backdrop for what is very real agonizing underway within Israel and its Jewish diaspora on ‘where to from here.’ What has passed for many decades as a ‘two-state solution’ aka ‘Peace Process’ entered a cul-de-sac under Barack Obama. The rupture is total under Trump. It is well known how skittish US politicians are to venture even mild criticisms of Israel, fearing reprisals from the Israel Lobby.

But this is changing as harsh criticism of Israel gathers momentum from within American Jewry and Israel alike. This was evident in one of the most read articles in the Washington Post calling Israel a ‘savage, unrepairable society’. The fact that this reticence has been broken by Jewish former Democratic Party presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, points to an increasingly urgent Jewish and Israeli debate underway in search of a pathway out of the dead-end that US-supported impunity and intransigence in Tel-Aviv has rendered. This debate was on display in Johannesburg at the beginning of 2018.

On February 5th 2018, the Liliesleaf Museum and Estate (where Rivonia trialists were nabbed by apartheid security police on 11 July 1963) hosted an insightful dialogue on “Israel and Palestine: What lies ahead?” It featured some of the most intensely sobering and extended exchanges to be witnessed on this seminal issue between three heavyweights. Featured was former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, once a senior advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Liel squared off with renowned liberal journalist Benjamin Pogrund and the head of the Afro-Middle Eastern Centre, Naéem Jeenah.

Most notable about the event was how it could have been witnessed as an intimate ‘hearts and minds’ debate among Israelis and Jews between Alon and Pogrund, with Palestinians and Arabs in the background. Perhaps under current circumstances, this is as it would have to be. Gross US-backed power asymmetries between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and its Arab neighbors amid the fraught regional geopolitical landscape leaves little of consequence to discuss. Hence, Naéem was never really in the dialogue.

Indeed the Palestinian position on what should lie ahead for Israelis and Palestinians currently has no power in the equation, less in fact than what black South Africans had when confronting Afrikaner nationalism. On top of that, internal Palestinian power-struggles add yet another layer to the Israel-Palestinian equation. Hence, Israel’s exploitation of these dynamics in the Gaza massacre with the Trump administration chimming in amid unanimous international condemnation. But this digresses from internal Jewish-Israeli agonizing over the future. 

What was most interesting on the night of the 5th February 2018 in Rivonia was the point-counterpoint between an Israeli senior diplomat on the one hand and a respected Jewish liberal senior journalist on the other. At dialogue’s end, one thing was clear: Alon and Pogrund both converged into a consensus that Israel can in no way, shape or form be considered a democracy. Considering, between them, how significant a swath of Jewish and Israeli opinion the two of them may represent, this emerging consensus puts paid to the notion of an Israel as simultaneously democratic and Jewish. This convergence strikes at the very heart of what must be the anguish of soul searching burdening Israeli and diaspora Jewish ambivalence about ‘where to from here’ for Israel.

For the democratically socialist project of Zion has hit a wall, a wall of ultra-intolerant, extremist fanaticism in the service of settler-annexationism. Israel, ‘the Home of the Jews’ is no longer democratic, let alone liberal: an illiberal democracy perhaps? Moreover, the no longer hidden corruption cloud hovering over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further erodes the very credibility of an Israel in rightwing lockstep with the equally scandolous Republican administration of Donald Trump, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Ambassador Alon and Pogrund could not arrive at common ground on either one or two states. Pogrund latched onto two states as if to a security blanket while Alon had no illusions about its realistic prospects.

Where Alon may be headed in his own thinking and where Israelis of his mind-set may need to nurture their diaspora brethren is somewhere in the vicinity of where veteran Israeli commentator Bernard Avishai pointed: toward “Confederation: The one possible Israel-Palestine solution,” in New York Review of Books. He states that: “A confederal system modeled on greater Jerusalem, but without the repression mobilized by Likud governments” would, in effect, constitute ‘one state’ while accommodating two interdependent but autonomous polities, something of a halfway house between one and two states. Moreover, Avishai’s plan could conceivably even include federating with Jordan as well. Perhaps, in the end, much depends on a new American-Israeli coalition of forces taking shape to place on the table a new security and policy framework that offsets the overwhelming power asymmetry between Israel and Palestinians to force changes in the strategic calculus in Tel-Aviv much as changed Afrikanerdom’s reality in the South Africa of the late 1980s.

Mr. Francis Kornegay is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue. He is also a member of the JIOR international editorial board and a past fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars where he worked on his edited work, Laying The BRICS of a New Global Order (2013). Kornegay holds Masters Degrees in African Studies from Howard University and in International Public Policy from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. Kornegay served two stints in the US Congress as a professional staffer, among other things, developing financial sanctions legislation on South Africa. His latest co-edited publication is Africa and the World: Navigating Shifting Geopolitics (Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, 2020).

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