SHAIK: Israel, the Palestinians and the end of the two state solution February 12, 2010

Map of Palestine & Handala

by Michael Shaik  -  Australian Humanist  -  Autumn 2010 issue

In light of the current negotiations on the future of Judea and Samaria, it will now become necessary for us to conduct a race against time. During this period, everything will be mainly determined by the facts we establish in these territories and less by any other considerations. This is therefore the best time for launching an extensive and comprehensive settlement momentum, particularly on the Judea and Samaria hilltops which are not easily passable by nature and which preside over the Jordan Valley on the east and over the Coastal Plain on the west.

It is therefore significant to stress today, mainly by means of actions, that the autonomy does not and will not apply to the territories but only to the Arab population thereof. This should mainly find expression by establishing facts on the ground. Therefore, the state-owned lands and the uncultivated barren lands in Judea and Samaria ought to be seized right away, with the purpose of settling the areas between and around the centers occupied by the minorities so as to reduce to the minimum the danger of an additional Arab state being established in these territories. Being cut off by Jewish settlements the minority population will find it difficult to form a territorial and political continuity.

(World Zionist Organization “Master plan for the development of settlement in Judea and Samaria, 1979-1983”)

Well there is no doubt that I haven’t been able to stop the settlements; and, there is also no doubt from my perspective that it’s in, not only the US interests but actually Israeli interests to not build settlements.

(Barack Obama, Fox News, 18 November 2009)

“If you will it,” wrote Theodore Herzl, the founding father of the Zionist movement in 1902, “it is no dream.”

The dream to which he referred was the founding of a Jewish state in the Arab country of Palestine, a project that would necessarily involve both the mass migration of Jews to Palestine and the displacement of the country’s indigenous non-Jewish population.

In 1948 the dream was realised when Zionist militia’s conquered 78% of Palestine and the flight or forced expulsion of the all but a fraction of the Arab population of the conquered territories.  Thus the creation of the state of Israel marks a turning point in the national history of both Israelis and Palestinians.  For the former it marks the transformation of the Jewish people from a nation of exiles scattered around the world into a strong and proud European nation state.  For the Palestinians it is remembered as “Al-Nakba” (the Catastrophe), in which they lost their homeland and began their history as a nation of refugees.

In 1967, Israel completed its conquest of Palestine when it captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and once again it seemed to the world that Israel had won a great victory and would continue to flourish at the Palestinians expense.  The decisiveness of the Israeli victory over three Arab armies left no doubts as to its military superiority and its dominion over the Occupied Territories seemed a temporary phenomenon that would eventually be resolved as part of a peace settlement with its neighbours or even the formation of a Palestinian mini-state comprising of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The real significance of the 1967 war for Israel, however, was that it marked the beginning of its end as a Jewish state and its gradual but relentless transformation into a Jewish-Palestinian entity in which two populations, sharing the same country are subject to different laws and have differing access to resources.

Ironically, one of the main reasons for this transformation was the very speed and decisiveness of its 1967 victory.  In 1948, Zionist militias took six months to conquer 78% of Palestine, giving them plenty of time to depopulate the conquered territory of its Palestinian population.  In 1967, Israel conquered the remainder of Palestine in only six days.  While in the immediate aftermath of the war Palestinians from the Latrun area, East Jerusalem’s Old City and other parts of the West Bank were expelled from their homes, the vast majority of the Occupied Territories’ population remained in place, leaving Israel, for the first time in its history, governing territories that were heavily populated with Palestinians.

The main factor behind Israel’s transformation, however, was its decision to colonise the Occupied Territories with Jewish settlements.  In their history of Israel’s settlements Lords of the Land, the Israeli historian Idith Zertal and journalist Akiva Eldar, demonstrate how in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 victory, Israel’s previously marginal religious Zionist movement was able to exploit the ambiguous policies of an uncertain and divided national government to establish the first settlements in the West Bank.[1] Following the victory of Israel’s Likud party in 1977, however, all ambiguity regarding Israeli intentions regarding the settlements was removed and all subsequent governments have committed themselves to the expansion and developments as a national priority.

In order to understand the role of the settlements in Israel’s transformation, it is important to realise their political purpose.  Settlements are not merely innocent Jewish communities built on lands that have been confiscated from their Palestinian owners.  Settlements are a weapon, the purpose of which is to foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state by making Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank impossible.  As the accompanying map illustrates, the settlements have been built to make what Ariel Sharon described as a “pastrami sandwich” of the Palestinians, surrounding their communities, preventing their growth and breaking up the territorial continuity of the West Bank, particularly around Jerusalem where they have been built to separate Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.  In this respect one of the more ingenious features of the settlements are the “bypass roads” which link up the settlements, which Palestinians are banned from using.  In an article on the impact of the settlements upon the Palestinians, the Israeli-American journalist Gabriel Ash described the impact of these roads in the following terms:

Between August 1994 and September 1996, 4,386 dunam of private land (there are about 4.5 dunams per acre) were confiscated for the purpose of constructing seventeen “bypass” roads.  Roads are long and wide and their trajectory can be shifted here and there to achieve maximum impact in terms of houses that must be demolished, orchards that need to be uprooted, and growth that can be stifled.  Used properly, a road is a weapon of mass destruction.  For example, road 447, which shortens the trip to the Settlement of Ariel by a full five minutes, ‘necessitated’ uprooting one thousand olive trees and confiscating 75 dunams from residents of the two Palestinian villages which Ariel targets.  In addition, every roads that connects two Jewish settlements doubles as a road that separates two Palestinian towns.[2]

As well as land and roads, the settlements require water, which Israel provides by taking water from neighbouring Palestinian communities.  The World Health Organisation has identified 100 litres of water per person per day as the minimum amount of water required for a healthy community, when one accounts for domestic use, medical and business needs.  According to Amnesty International, average Palestinian water consumption in the West Bank barely reaches 70 litres per person per day.  As Amnesty notes the primary reason for such a shortfall is the settlers’ profligate consumption:

Swimming pools, well-watered lawns and large irrigated farms in Israeli settlements in the OPT stand in stark contrast next to Palestinian villages whose inhabitants struggle even to meet their essential domestic water needs. In parts of the West Bank, Israeli settlers use up to 20 times more water per capita than neighbouring Palestinian communities, who survive on barely 20 litres of water per capita a day – the minimum amount recommended by the WHO for emergency situations response.[3]

To quote Ash again:

In this manner, the land becomes a palimpsest, in which every act of civil engineering is also its opposite, an act of war:  roads increase the distance between people, building houses lead to overcrowding, laying down water pipes creates water shortages, etc.  All aspects of human existence are turned into weaponry.  Even the sewerage the settlement produces is a weapon against downhill Palestinian towns.[4]

According to a June 2009 report by B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, each year the settlements dump five million cubic metres of untreated wastewater onto Palestinian lands, ruining farmlands, contaminating water supplies and causing a range of health problems.[5]

While Israel has been largely successful at deflecting international pressure to stop settlement construction, its determination to make the occupation irreversible has been carried out with any apparent regard for the long term consequences of such a program.  As early as 1983, when the Palestinians in the occupied territories were still quiescent, Israel’s former head of military intelligence warned that its continued colonisation of the occupied territories would inevitably result in the transformation of Israel into an Arab-Jewish state and the consequent “Belfastisation” of the country.[6]

In March 2009, U.S. Middle East Project, a bipartisan panel of Middle East experts including Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor to the Ford and Bush Senior administrations, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor to the Carter administration, released a paper entitled “A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement” urging President Obama to make a Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement a high priority for his administration.  Failure to do so, it warned, would be “to cede the field to America’s enemies who are counting on the Arab-Israeli dispute as the gift that keeps on giving.”

Though the extent to which groups such as al-Qaeda have succeeded in exploiting the Palestinians’ suffering to mobilise Muslims against America and it’s allies is impossible to measure, their can be no doubt that the West’s support for Israel forms a central theme of its propaganda.  In his study of radical Islamist movements Journey of the Jihadist Fawaz Gerges makes the following observation regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict in the radical Islamist ideology:

The truth is that Arabs. – not just Islamists – thought that American politicians had stabbed the Palestinians in the back, sacrificing them to placate the powerful Jewish community believed to dominate American political life.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shaped the perception of Arabs and Muslims toward America far more than anything else.  On this score there exists no differences between Islamists and secularists, leftists and conservatives; all blame America for tipping the balance in favour of the Jewish state.

Not surprisingly, every Islamist and jihadist I have ever interviewed has made a point of condemning America’s policies towards Israel.  In his “Letter to America” published in the British Observer on November 24, 2002, after being posted on Al Qaeda’s Web site on October 14 2002, bin Laden tried to explain to Americans why he had launched his attacks on them.  Palestine topped his list of grievances.  “The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals…  It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine, as it was promised to them in the Torah.”  Bin Laden’s opinion is widely shared by those who denounce his violent methods.[7]

Following Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, bin Laden recorded a message that was broadcast on Arab television networks vowing to take revenge on America (not Israel).[8]

In his June address from Cairo’s al-Azhar University, Obama acknowledged the Palestinians’ plight as a major source of tension between the America and the Muslim world.  While firmly denouncing contemporary anti-Semitism, he also denounced Israeli settlement expansion as a violation of previous peace accords that undermined efforts to achieve peace.  The response of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to announce further settlement construction and pay tribute to the settlers as an integral part of “a principled, pioneering and Zionist public”.[9]

In the war of wills that followed, it was Obama who gave way.  In August, Netanyahu pledged that he would not evict any (Jewish) people from their homes as Israeli police evicted Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, which were taken over by Jewish settlers.  The White House reacted by stating that it “regretted” Israel’s actions.  In September, Obama summoned Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to a summit in New York in which he praised Israel for having “discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity” and called upon both parties to “move forward” on negotiations, pressuring Abbas to drop his demand for a freeze in settlement construction an return to the Oslo formula of an open-ended “peace process” against the backdrop of settlement expansion.[10]

“I understand English,” an exuberant Netanyahu gloated at the conclusion of the summit.  “‘Restraint’ and ‘freeze’ are two different words.”[11]

In November, he went onto demonstrate his proficiency in English by announcing that for ten months it would “restrain” settlement construction to (only) 3,000 houses throughout the West Bank and whatever public buildings (schools, shopping centres, synagogues) are needed to accommodate the (government subsidised) “natural growth” of the settler population.  Palestinian East Jerusalem, where the lion’s share of settlement construction is taking place, will be excluded from any such restraint.[12] In December, after witnessing a Palestinian family being evicted from their home in East Jerusalem to make room for Jewish settlers, the veteran peace activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman warned that “the Obama administration remains a laughingstock at best, and in many quarters the U.S. is again the subject of scorn and derision.”[13]

At the beginning of the 2010, with a burgeoning population of half a million Jewish settlers dominating fully forty percent of the West Bank, it would seem that both Ariel Sharon’s dream of making the occupation irreversible by making “a pastrami sandwich” out of the Palestinians and Yehoshafat Harkabi’s worst fears concerning Israel becoming an Arab-Jewish state have been realised.  According to figures from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006 there were 5,328,949 Jews and 5,393,400 Arabs living throughout all of Israel and the Occupied Territories.[14] With Palestinian fertility rates significantly higher than those of Jews, it seems inevitable that the Palestinians will soon become the majority population.

Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the British historian Arnold Toynbee described the Western powers’ insistence that a non-Western people be made to compensate European Jewry for a crime of which they were completely innocent as a “declaration of the inequality of the Western and non-Western sections of the human race”.[15] Had Israel confined itself to its original borders, however, it is unlikely that its conflict with the Palestinians would have become such an issue of such centrality in international politics.  After all, Israel is hardly the only state to have been founded upon the displacement on its indigenous population, nor, as contemporary events in India and Pakistan or subsequent events in Cyprus demonstrated, was the large scale and violent “transfer” of civilian populations unknown in the twentieth century.

The reason that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has become such a defining and decisive issue in twentieth century geopolitics is that, more than sixty years after the Holocaust, the Palestinians are still paying for the Nazis’ crimes and that, as a result of the changes in Israel’s demography caused by its ongoing settlement drive, Israel’s insistence upon its right to exist as the state of the Jewish people has become manifestly inconsistent with the human rights of the Palestinians as the land’s indigenous population living as non-citizens in their own country.

The international implications of this contradiction became clear last April when the United Nations held a conference against racism in Geneva.  The conference was boycotted by Israel, the US, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Italy, Poland and Australia, all of which made it clear that their reason for doing so was that they feared the conference would provide a stage for the criticism of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, thus marking the first time since the end of apartheid in South Africa that the Western and non-Western worlds have been so clearly split over the issue of racism.[16]

In 2007, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that without a two-state solution the Palestinians would eventually opt for a South African-style struggle for equal rights and Israel would be finished as a Jewish state.[17] Though it was made as part of his campaign to sell his unconvincing “Consolidation Plan”, which envisaged the consolidation of Israel’s Jewish majority through the unilateral annexation of “Greater Jerusalem”, the Jordan Valley and the main “settlement blocs”, while leaving the Palestinians with a “state” comprising of a patchwork of reservations surrounded by Jewish settlements, his observation is revealing.

Given the international community’s evident failure to halt, let alone reverse, Israeli settlement construction, the term “two states”, rather than being a solution has become a euphemism for a one-state reality in which access to roads, water, housing and other resources are determined by one’s nationality.


[1] Zertal, I. and Eldar, A.  Lords of the Land.  Nation Books, New York, 2007.

[2] Ash, G. (2003). ‘Settlements: A User’s Guide.’ Dissident Voice, May 17 2003.  Available at

[3] Amnesty International.  Thirsting for Justice: Palestinian Access to Water Restricted.  October 2009.

[4] Ash, ‘Settlements: A User’s Guide.’

[5] B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  Foul Play: Neglect of wastewater treatment in the West Bank.  June 2009.

[6] Yehoshafat Harkabi.  The Bar Kokhba Syndrome: Risk and Realism in International Relations.  Rossel Books, 1982.

[7] Gerges, F.  Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy.  Harcourt, 2006.  pp. 161-162

[8] Gerges, Journey of the Jihadist, p. 254.

[9] Sobelman, B and Boudreaux, R.  “Israel’s Netanyahu says he would accept a disarmed Palestinian state”  Los Angeles Times.  15 June 2009.

[10] “Obama calls for Mid-East urgency”  BBC News Website.  23 September 2009.

[11] “Doubts loom large after Obama’s Mideast summit”  Reuters.  23 September 2009.

[12] Koutsoukis, J.  “Israeli housing freeze looks awfully familiar”  The Age.  27 November 2009.

[13] Ascherman, A.  “Armageddon, Straight Ahead”  Rabbis for Human Rights Website.  2 December 2009.

[14] See “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”.

[15] Cited in Quigley, J. The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective.  Duke University Press, 2005.  p. 34.

[16] Sofer, R.  “Netanyahu thanks Geneva boycotters”  21 April 2009.

[17] Benn, A., Landau, D., Ravid, B. and Rosner, S.  “Olmert to Haaretz: Two-state solution, or Israel is done for”  Haaretz.  29 November 2007.

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