10.01.2013Essay by Tony KlugTwo States – by Design or Disaster
In his essay, Tony Klug warns that there might soon come a time when it will be too late to negotiate a peaceful two-state settlement through mutual agreement. But, he says, Israel and its people will ultimately have to pay a high price - unless Israel soon starts to support the inevitable two-state solution
On the 40th anniversary of Tony Klug's Fabian pamphlet, 'Middle East Conflict: a tale of two peoples', which called for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, this essay revisits the proposal in the light of subsequent developments and today's realities
Looking back on the 1970s, they were in general a time of cautious – if ultimately misplaced – optimism. Not to paint too rosy a picture but, following a shaky few years in the wake of the June 1967 war, both Israelis and Palestinian residents of the West Bank were enjoying full employment, living standards were rising, fedayeen guerrilla activity had virtually ceased, and mutual contempt and fear were stealthily giving way to mutual curiosity and incipient dialogue. Movement between Israel and the occupied West Bank was barely restricted.
In undertaking research for my doctoral thesis on Israel's rule over the territory, I regularly drove back and forth without hindrance, often in the company of Israeli and Palestinian colleagues. There were almost no checkpoints or roadblocks, no segregated highways and no genius had yet thought to divide the minuscule West Bank into three separate zones with different governances for each of them. Nor had unsightly eight-metre-high concrete walls and other barriers yet become a feature of the spectacular landscape.
Support for an independent Palestinian state
Dr Tony Klug Dr Tony Klug is a long-time writer on Israeli-Palestinian issues and a special advisor on the Middle East to the Oxford Research Group and is vice-chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum Although settlement activity was gathering speed, the supposition of most people on both sides of the divide was that Israel would relinquish the bulk of the West Bank and Gaza sooner or later. Various plans abounded.
The main debate was about the extent and timing of Israeli withdrawal. It was widely thought that evacuated West Bank land would revert to Jordanian rule, an assumption that was implicit in the unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967.
However, a small number of people, myself included, had started to call for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be handed not to the Jordanian king but to the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories to form their own independent sovereign state alongside Israel.
I felt sure that anyone who made a genuine effort to view the conflict through the eyes of the principal protagonists, each in turn, while parking their own preconceptions and prejudices at the doorstep, would reach the same conclusion. More and more people did indeed come round to this view over time, including most Israelis and Palestinians.
A double catastrophe in the making
However, it took a further three decades for the two-state formula officially to replace the 'Jordanian option' as the new global consensus, when it was endorsed by Security Council Resolution 1397 in March 2002 and simultaneously incorporated into the Arab Peace Initiative.
Far too many years had, in the meantime, been squandered by persistently negligent major powers, during which time Israeli control over Palestinian lives and the damaging – and self-destructive – expropriation and settlement of their land had continued apace, threatening not just the prospect of a viable Palestinian state but also jeopardizing the future of a predominantly Jewish state. A double catastrophe was in the making, having in mind the respective histories and contemporary aspirations of the two peoples.
"For too long Israeli control over Palestinian lives and the damaging – and self-destructive – expropriation and settlement of their land had continued, threatening not just the prospect of a viable Palestinian state but also jeopardizing the future of a predominantly Jewish state". Pictured: Jersualem after the Arab-Israeli War in 1948 The basic case for a Jewish homeland was strikingly, if inadvertently, put by the poet Lord Byron, as far back as 1815, when some of the worst tragedies to face the Jewish people, including the tsarist pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust, still lay a distance ahead and several decades before Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, was a twinkle in anyone's eye. Byron wrote: "The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave, mankind their country, Israel but the grave!" By "Israel", of course, he meant the Jewish people.
The Palestinians' heavy price
But, in the attempt, more than a century later, to rectify the enduring Jewish calamity, a second people paid a heavy price. The ill-fated Palestinians, in common with other colonized peoples, had looked forward to their future independence free from foreign rule, only to find that another people, mostly from foreign parts, was simultaneously laying claim to the same land. Of course the Palestinians resisted. Any people would have resisted in their place. Israelis certainly would have done so.
Dispossessed and degraded, the Palestinians were among the principal losers in the geopolitical lottery that followed the horrors of the Second World War. Their original felony was, in essence, to be in the way of another distressed people's frantic survival strategy.
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