What’s next for Palestine after West Bank annexations?

The official End of the Two-State Solution is the Beginning of a new Battle

© Charis Bastin

In the Palestinian village of Bil’in on the West Bank, weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation have been taking place for years.

The annexation of the West Bank heralds the end of the two-state solution, but also marks the beginning of a new struggle, writes Tom Kenis. “One for equal rights for all the people under de facto Israeli rule, from the river to the sea.”

Two US presidents ago, I arrived in Palestine as a rookie ‘aid worker’. Facebook was barely a thing, the Arab Spring a mere season, and the peace process of yet no grounds for cynicism or incredulity. I for one was still a believer at the time. With the second Intifada over, new Israeli and Palestinian leadership were talking again. And just maybe the U.S., just finished razing Iraq to the ground, felt guilty enough for once to do something good in the region.

Huda, a colleague at the Palestinian NGO I had started working for in Ramallah, shook her head. I did a double-take. There were folks on both sides cut from a coarser clot, but they were easily recognisable by the suicide belts or F16’s they were buckled into. Not an unveiled, progressive woman drinking Taybeh beer on a sunny terrace. She mumbled something about a rights-based approach, and the issue of refugees. I’d like to write here that the consternation gave rise to an in-depth reappraisal of my beliefs, to critically review the mantra of the two-state solution I had internalized as a product of my orientalist training and literally every newspaper article ever written on the subject of the Holy Land post-Crusades.

The two-state solution, although EU –and Belgian– diplomacy stubbornly cling to it, is dead and buried. Compulsive optimism is to no avail.

Alas, ‘t was not to be. Any excuse served to maintain my optimism. That big old wall Israel was building, jutting deep into the occupied West Bank? An excellent starting point for meaningful negotiations. Condoleeza Rice, spearheading US mediation, was a foreign policy hawk. Palestinians, deprived of civil rights, would certainly strike a chord to someone growing up in the segregated American south, someone who as an eight-year old had lost a close friend during the infamous white terror attack on an Alabama church in 1963. In other words, sooner or later, everything was going to be a okay.

I’m not sure if I couldn’t or wouldn’t imagine otherwise. I only learned later that the map that broke the Camp David negotiations of 2000 wasn’t very different from the archipelago connected with rabbit dug-outs and wildlife-crossings Trump’s son-in-law, real estate expert, has been peddling. When footage of Netanyahu appeared, recorded without his knowledge, visiting the illegal Israeli settlement of Ofra in 2001, explaining in detail how he had been undermining the Oslo Accords, I figured: ok, but how long is a man like that going to remain in power?

Nineteen years later, that same Netanyahu has announced the annexation of the Jordan Valley, the most fertile thirty percent of what might have become a Palestinian state –no later than 1999 according to the interim Oslo Accords. Today, over 700.000 Israeli citizens live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, contrary to the Geneva Convention, 600.000 more than at the signing of the Oslo Accords –think about it. The two-state solution, although EU –and Belgian– diplomacy stubbornly cling to it, is dead and buried. Compulsive optimism is to no avail.

In the tangled course of world history, occupiers await three possible outcomes.

One: the occupier wins and assimilates the local population, violently or otherwise. A sad textbook example is the fate of the indigenous cultures of South America under Spanish domination.

Two: the occupier is simply expelled. Germany was twice. Belgium ‘suffered’ the same two-state solution in Congo.

Three: the occupier bites off more than he can chew, is unwilling or unable to retreat, and is eventually assimilated himself. Invaders of Persia, beware. History, it is oft repeated, repeats itself.

Divide & conquer

The State of Israel has existed for 72 years. The occupation of East Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza, and the Syrian Golan are in their 54th. Withdrawing three-quarters of a million settlers from these occupied territories is impossible. As is the expulsion of three million Palestinian ‘West Bankers’, despite feverish dreams of right-wing Israeli extremists to the contrary. A perfect stalemate the Israeli Prime Minister, still Netanyahu, has decided to break… by entrenching his country ever further.

The ‘compromise’ that’s been in place over the past five decades represents a lawless limbo for Palestinians.

The 58.000 Palestinians living in the to-be-annexed Jordan Valley, await a precarious future. According to ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, under no circumstances will they be able to obtain Israeli nationality. What will they get? The second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel proper? The third-class rights of Palestinian ‘permanent’ residents of East Jerusalem, annexed in 1980, also in defiance of international law? Fourth-class ‘West Bankers’, or the gulag that is Gaza?

However complex and multi-layered the conflict may be, the dilemma for Israel is quite simple. Option one is to give Palestinians a state worthy of the name in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. This way, Israel will by and large retain its Jewish majority without having to undemocratically rule over millions of non-Jews. Another avenue would be to allow all Palestinians that are governed, de facto, by Israel to have a say in how they are governed. As in: democracy. Which would mean the de facto end of a Jewish homeland given that Palestinians are projected to soon comprise over half of the population of this enlarged area.

The ‘compromise’ that’s been in place over the past five decades represents a lawless limbo for Palestinians. Both the left and the right in Israel were for a long time unanimous on this status quo, with its endless negotiations, flare-ups, ceasefires, American mediation, and so on –ad nauseam. Recently, Netanyahu seems to have decided unilaterally to end it for something worse.

With every achieved ‘victory’, the de facto apartheid regime that has long been apparent to its Palestinian victims becomes clearer to the outside world. Will annexation prove to be a bridge too far for Israel’s traditional supporters in Europe and the US? Will international observers, Belgium, EU diplomacy, the country’s American friends through thick and thin, stick to the increasingly absurd fiction that is the two-state solution? My Palestinian colleague was already under no illusions in 2005.

Strange bedfellows

An alternative dynamic seems to be, forgive the pun, gaining ground inside Israel. Short of expelling all Palestinians to Jordan, all of the Israeli right’s wishes have come true, from the river to the sea. In Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and other small towns, the Palestinian government is relegated to directing traffic and organising waste collection.

What seems to be emerging is a Palestinian-Jewish left.

In the Israeli Knesset, the traditional Zionist left has all but disappeared. Increased anti-Palestinian rhetoric, by Netanyahu as well as his challenger in the last elections, Gantz, has created unprecedented unity among Palestinian politicians. Palestinian voters have flocked to the polls in equally unprecedented numbers to support them.

Even more astounding is an increasing number of Jewish voters turning to the joint Arab list, which ran Hebrew, Yiddish, Amharic and Russian campaigns to reel them in. What seems to be emerging is a Palestinian-Jewish left.

These strange bedfellows have slowly come to realise that the only way to break the right-wing stranglehold on the Israeli political landscape, and the military chokehold on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, is a historic rapprochement.

One state, two identities

One swallow does not make a won civil rights struggle, but the deck has been thoroughly shuffled. The strict segregation between Jewish and Palestinian political parties is blurring. With the annexation of large parts of the West Bank, the dividing lines between Israel and its occupied territories are similarly dissolving.

The day after the oft-postponed funeral of the two-state solution, another struggle begins: one for equal rights for all the people currently living under either civilian or military Israeli rule, from the river to the sea. A system of civil administration and due process for Jewish settlers and harsh military rule – shoot first, ask questions later – for Palestinians is no longer tenable.

It’s hard to predict which spark will prove to be one too many.

The next negotiations might not discuss borders and settlements, but the colour of the flag, and which corner of it a smaller Star of David will be relegated to.

It seems science-fiction, but a civil rights struggle will prove a lot harder to ignore by the international community, let alone Israel’s own citizens, than a 1960s style war of national liberation, with its geostrategic affiliates, factions within factions, tit-for-tat violence, and oversized sunglasses.

Recently, Israeli soldiers killed a young Palestinian at a checkpoint. Ahmed Erakat supposedly aimed to carry out a ‘vehicular attack’. However, Ahmed was on his way to pick up his mother to drive her to his sister’s wedding. He would soon get married as well.

This is not an isolated case. Seen through a civil rights lens, the situation eerily resembles the systemic violence blacks are subjected to by law enforcement in the United States. #AhmedErakat briefly became a hashtag, just like George Floyd was, and countless others for him.

It’s hard to predict which spark will prove to be one too many. The end of the ‘two-state solution’ is the beginning of a new fight. One that could be decided a lot quicker.

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Over de auteur

  • Schrijver, publicist & vertaler

    Tom Kenis heeft een achtergrond in Islamstudies en Internationale Betrekkingen. Hij woonde en werkte vier jaar in het Midden-Oosten en in Berlijn.