Since I posted this piece yesterday, I’ve had a couple of further thoughts, as follows:
The first is that I think we should all call on Hamas to release all the Israeli noncombatants it is holding, immediately or as soon as as is physically possible. International law, religion, and basic morals would all indicate they should do this.
I can easily imagine that in the shock of their breakout on Saturday many young Palestinian militants, quite possibly stunned at the very broad success of the project to break out of the prison-cage of Gaza and informed by a general idea that taking hostages would be good, may have overstepped the bounds of what the Hamas military leaders intended to do.
The noncombatant hostages should all be released right now.
How to do this? It might be very difficult given that the Israeli military is pounding Gaza extremely hard and there is terrible death and destruction throughout the Strip. It probably requires a brief humanitarian pause for this express purpose, which I hope Qatar or Egypt can negotiate.
The IDF should also of course be urged to stop their assault more broadly, and not just for the purposes of this humanitarian pause. Let a fair-minded UN-sponsored disengagement and peace-negotiating process begin! The world demands this.
I have heard from a number of people whose judgments I value that they’re surprised that in my piece yesterday I came down so firmly in favor of the idea that the end-goal of the speedily negotiated peace that I urge should be a “robust two-state outcome.” After all, for many years now I have been generally inclining toward the idea that a South Africa-style “single democratic state” should be the goal in historic Palestine.
Back in 2003-04, when I was a co-author of the book-length report of a fact-finding mission that an international group of Quakers made to Palestine, our report was agnostic on the question of one-state or two-state, though we noted that the principle of the full equality of all human persons should be respected, either way. And I have many good friends, whose work I admire, who are stalwart and highly principled advocates of a one-state solution.
However, over the past few days when I was thinking through what I wanted to say in the piece I wrote yesterday, I came to the judgment that the crisis in Palestine/Israel is currently so extreme—and by this, I mean both the immediate crisis in and around the Gaza Strip and the longer-term crisis that has festered in the West Bank region, in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, as well as for Palestinians living as third-class citizens in Israel itself—that this conflict has to be brought to a fair resolution absolutely as speedily as possible… The suffering has gone on far, far too long already.
If we want a super-speedy negotiated resolution to this conflict, then the only proposal that currently has both strong international legitimacy and a broad amount of diplomatic traction is that of a two-state solution… And those are valuable tools to start working with, far too valuable simply to toss them away. If China, Russia, the BRICS countries, and just about all the states of the Global South (except Iran) and the Global North are all agreed—even if with vastly varying degrees of sincerity and commitment—that the two-state solution should be the goal, then that is immensely valuable.
As we know, the United States has completely monopolized all the peace diplomacy on this issue ever since 1991. And though from time to time leaders in Washington (except for Pres. Trump) may have given some lip-service to the idea of a two-state outcome, we all know that in practice the United States has slipped very far from actually championing it. Over the years, it has:
- Allowed its once-strong opposition to Israel’s implantation of civilian settlers into the occupied territories to slip, considerably—to the point where, in the “Oslo” accords, it was actually paying the Israeli government to build major pieces of road infrastructure that undergirded the continued expansion of the settlement project; and Washington has given tax-exempt status to numerous settlement-building organizations here in the United States that in effect take their taxpayer subsidies and plow them into building new settlements.
- Continuously adjusted its own proposals for what the limits of a Palestinian “entity” in the West Bank might be, in a way that always allowed for continued settlement expansion while shrinking the land that (in the U.S. view) should even be available for the Palestinians to negotiate for.
- Most damningly, in 2020 Pres. Trump conferred U.S. recognition of the annexation earlier Israeli governments had undertaken of the whole (expanded) Greater East Jerusalem area of the West Bank. And Pres. Biden has never reversed either that recognition or the recognition that Trump gave to Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan.
- Meantime, throughout the past 55 years since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which judged the “acquisition of territory by force”—which Israel had achieved in the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and Golan in the June 1967 war—to be “inadmissible”, a succession of U.S. presidents has always tried to punt on whether that meant Israel would actually have to give those lands back to their rightful owners. (In the case of Egypt, the U.S. did eventually agree that Israel should vacate all the land in Sinai that it occupied in 1967.)
To me, now, as to the vast majority of the people around the world, the answer to the question of whether Israel should withdraw from all the land it occupied in 1967 is unequivocally “Yes”. And the entity to which Israel should hand back the West Bank and Gaza is the Palestinian Arab state that an earlier UN resolution, #181 of November 1947, had decreed should be established, in those two areas as well as other parts of historic Palestine, alongside the Jewish state that would be established there.
The Jewish state did get established, as we know, in 1948. The Palestinian Arab state was still-born. But its birth certificate still exists.
I have one strong caveat, however. That is, that the two-state solution that the Security Council should now aim for should absolutely be a “robust” one. The Palestinian state should have full sovereignty and independence and there should be no requirement from the United States or any other party that it should “trim” its territorial basis in any way at all, whether to accommodate Israeli “settlement blocs” or for any other reason.
I say this for a number of reasons. Primarily, if the goal is to restate and underline important principles of international law, then those Israeli settlers will all have to leave (except for any, and they may be few in number, who are ready to live in peace under the independent Palestinian government.) No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Why should they get to stay, when their presence as civilian settlers in occupied territories is, and always has been, quite illegal?
I wrote yesterday that public opinion and the political class here in the United States and other Western countries seemed to have become inured to the idea that getting the settlers to leave the West Bank would always be politically unthinkable. I think “inured” is probably the wrong word. I think, rather,that we have all been intensively groomed by the pro-settler forces in Israel and their many supporters here to think that extracting the settlers would be impossible. Remember the huge sound-and-light show the settlers and their supporters put on in Gaza in 2005, when Israel’s prime minister of that day, Ariel Sharon, decided to pull all the settlers out of that terrain? The whole point of that was to make politicians and publics in the West conclude that trying to oust the settlers from the West Bank would be absolutely un-doable.
It is not. Ask the French or the Portuguese or the Germans or any of the other peoples who have pulled large numbers of settlers out of once-colonized territories.
And of course, while we’re getting into an international-law absolutist phase, the demand should also be made of Pres. Biden that he rescind U.S. recognition of Israel’s two quite illegal annexations (in Jerusalem and Golan), as well.
… Anyway, there will be lots of other intriguing challenges to face if the diplomacy of the coming goes ahead as speedily and as positively as I hope it will. But I just wanted to get this one-state / two-state issue more fully discussed. Please put your own reactions into the Comments box here!