Thursday, November 29, 2007

The end of the two state solution

The BBC is reports that Olmert has warned that failure to agree a two state solution would mean the 'end of Israel'.

As negotiating positions go this is not exactly a strong one. There is little prospect of a two state solution being agreed with the Palestinians at Annapolis as the party the Palestinians elected their government was not invited to attend. And even if this is ignored it does not appear that Omert is able to conceed any significant removals of settlers from the West Bank even if he was inclined to do so.

Omert is certainly correct in his observation that "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished." The US is willing to write a blank check to defend Israel against terrorism, it is not going to underwrite a struggle to maintain an appartheid system.

Hamas has been attempting to ensure the collapse of a two state solution for precisely that reason. The more interesting question is what will happen within Hamas at this point. Clearly there are many Hamas members for whom an Islamic state 'over every inch of Palestine' is the only acceptable outcome. It is however quite likely that there are more than a few in the Hamas ranks who are more pragmatic and would accept a unitary secular state.

The question is whether this faction is able to emerge as the dominant one inside Hamas. Which brings us back to the explanation for Omert's otherwise puzzling statement. It makes no sense for Omert to make such a statement to the Israeli people unless it is to justify a program of withdrawl from the West Bank in order to make a two state solution possible. Omert shows no sign of doing this, nor would it even help at this point.

Another possible explanation is that it is a coded message to Hamas: This is how you can win what you really want.

If so Omert's strategy begins to look like the British negotiating strategy that brought about the Good Friday agreement and ended the IRA's terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. The critical message in that case was that the British Government assured the IRA that it repudiated the discrimination against Catholics that originally sparked the troubles and that Britain had no interest in occupying the North against the wishes of the local population.

The idea of land for peace never made very much sense. It is hard to think of a case where partition has provided a lasting peace to any irridentist conflict. Partition in Ireland led to a civil war, two decades of peace until the second world war, then another two decades of peace during which the Protestants did their best to grind their heel into the Catholics' faces.

What the settler's really want is to be able to occupy any part of the territory. What the Palestinians really want is to be able to occupy any part of the territory and be treated with genuine equality. Those are not incompatible. The only incompatibilty arises when the bigots on one side or the other demand that the resulting state be 'Jewish' or 'Islamic' and set about creating the type of 'separate but equal' privileges that are guaranteed to create the bitterness and hatred that fuels the conflict.

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