The Israeli-Palestinian Fallacy, Redux

Pondering the question of why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues even though there “is a near-universal consensus on the nature of the political solution,” Judah suggested yesterday that it’s because “the Israelis don’t realize that they have lost, and the Palestinians don’t realize that they have won.”

That reasoning implies that the two-state solution would be regarded by Israel as a defeat and by the Palestinians as a victory. But if thinking in these categories is at all useful here, it is the other way round: It is not the Israelis, but the Palestinians who regard the two-state solution as a defeat. And the conflict might be less intractable if this fact was more readily acknowledged.

At the outset of the Annapolis talks in December 2007, Ahmad Samih Khalidi, a former Palestinian negotiator, published an article aptly entitled “Thanks, but no thanks.” Describing a Palestinian state as “largely a punitive construct devised by the Palestinian’s worst historical enemies: Israel and its implacable ally, the U.S.,” Khalidi suggested that a binational state might be preferable for Palestinians and noted that “it’s hard to see how Israel can win this struggle in the long term.”

“Thanks, but no thanks” was also essentially the Palestinian response to Israeli proposals during the Annapolis talks. While coverage of these proposals in the international media was minimal, both the veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas have now acknowledged that Israel presented proposals that went beyond the offers made in Camp David and Taba some nine years ago. Jackson Diehl has rightly noted in the Washington Post that “it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.”

It is therefore high time to face the fact that the Palestinians view the two-state solution with considerable ambivalence, as two of the foremost experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, explain in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. Referring to the proposals presented by Israel during the Annapolis talks, they argue that there “is little reason to believe that more tweaking of the accord would have made a difference.”

Instead of simply pushing harder for a negotiated breakthrough, they recommend that the Obama administration should look for ways “to transform the political atmosphere and reformulate the diplomatic process”. While Agha and Malley don’t offer much detail to flesh out this rather vague proposition, it is clear that the “bottom up” approach to peace advocated by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would fit such an agenda rather well.

More World Politics Review