By Mustafa Barghouthi, Palestine Monitor – 8 May 2010
After 18 months with no direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, so-called proximity talks between intermediaries, rather than face-to-face meetings between the direct parties, are scheduled to begin this week. An announcement is anticipated shortly. These shuttle deliberations are expected to continue for four months with Arab League backing. They hold little hope.
Israel’s governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is unprepared to comply with international law and meet the minimum demands of Palestinian negotiators. Yes, last year, Netanyahu voiced support for a two-state solution, but he loaded it with so many caveats as to make it a meaningless commitment. He said no on a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, no on the return of Palestinian refugees to homes and land in Israel, no on crucial control over borders, no on essential dismantlement of settlements illegal under international law. And, in fact, Israel’s Likud Central Committee, approximately 3,000 of the party’s most active members, voted in 2002 — at Netanyahu’s behest — never to permit a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. The vote still stands today.
These negotiations will not bring peace. The best outcome that can be hoped for is if they expose Netanyahu to American intermediaries as devoid of positive contributions to peace and intent solely on scuttling progress. Last month, Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s deputy, David Hale, according to a Wall Street Journal story, informed Palestinian officials that the United States would consider allowing a United Nations Security Council resolution that censured a recalcitrant Israel intent on further settlement activity if Palestinians would return to talks.
If accurate, and the U.S. followed through, this would be a monumental moment as the U.S. has repeatedly vetoed Security Council resolutions directed at Israel, including efforts to stop the Har Homa settlement in occupied East Jerusalem undertaken in the 1990s under Netanyahu. An Obama administration willing to stand up to Israel could save the two-state solution. If not, however, the two-state solution could die on the Obama administration’s watch and be replaced by a South Africa and apartheid reality that Israeli leaders such as Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have warned against.
Then-Prime Minister Olmert declared in 2007: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”
And, just weeks ago, Israeli Defense Minister Barak stated, “As long as between the Jordan and the sea there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic. … If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don’t, it is an apartheid state.”
These are damning words. And they are spoken at the highest levels of Israeli government. Palestinians have long expressed similar reservations, but only recently has the reality trickled into Israeli discourse, and it is still finding its way to the United States. High-level American officials are now grappling with the reality that if the two-state solution fails to take root during Obama’s tenure that we will be left with apartheid. The burgeoning non-violent Palestinian struggle against the wall and occupation my colleagues and I are organizing might yet transform into a civil rights struggle capable of rivaling movements last seen in the Jim Crow South and apartheid South Africa.
Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a member of the governing Likud Party, which has long pursued policies that subjugate Palestinians, is one of the few Israeli leaders to say a binational outcome is acceptable. “I would,” he recently said, “rather (have) Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up.” Regardless of his motivation, for Rivlin to reach this point highlights the inner crisis within Likud. Palestinian steadfastness and global solidarity are forcing Israel to choose: two states, apartheid, or democracy in one undivided state.
Although I continue to back two states, I believe the vast majority of Palestinians would accept equal rights and one person, one vote in one state with alacrity. I certainly would were we to reach such a day. But the political reality in Israel is otherwise. My equal rights are anathema to the vast majority of Israeli political leaders who deem any such offer “political suicide.”
Yet the extension of equal rights to me in two states — or one — is not a doomsday scenario for Israeli Jews. No solution, however, will be acceptable to Palestinians that does not provide us with full rights and freedom. We will not accept a two-state solution that more closely resembles a state of Israel and a series of South Africa-like Bantustans set aside for Palestinians. Black South Africans rejected such proposals — and were backed in their struggle by much of the international community — and so, too, will we.
The goal of negotiators must be a viable Palestinian state based on the 1949 armistice lines with its capital in East Jerusalem; Palestinian control over borders, airspace and seaports; a connector between Gaza and the West Bank; and a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue that resolves the plight of the more than 700,000 Palestinians expelled 62 years ago by Israel and never allowed to return.
Israel has a fateful decision before it: Comply with international law and achieve a just two-state solution, or reject the logic of peace and face a determined non-violent movement against apartheid that will spread from the West Bank to Gaza to within Israel itself. When this reality becomes more widely known, Americans will, I believe, begin to question backing an Israeli ally subjecting a majority people to a discriminatory standard of law.
One set of laws for Jews and one set for Palestinians is intolerable in the 21st century. American funding for Israel to perpetrate this mockery of democracy is, I have found in my speaking engagements here, already unsettling U.S. taxpayers. While we pursue non-violent resistance to Israeli expansionism in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, American military aid to Israel destabilizes the region and endangers Palestinians daring to protest an occupation that attempts to reduce us to an inferior status. Much as in apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow American South, such discrimination is increasingly rankling concerned people around the world. Problematically, these latest talks seem ill-equipped to address this central concern.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The article was first published on USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-05-06-barghouthi05_ST_N.htm