The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, were supposed to lead, through a “peace process,” to the final solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two sovereign states living side by side in peace. It would have been a sulky, grumpy peace, and the Palestinians only would have got a tiny, overcrowded, impoverished and completely demilitarized country, but at least they would have had a state at last.
The “peace process,” alas, actually died some time ago. It has been almost a decade since insiders really believed that it was going to end up in the “two-state solution” that was envisaged at Oslo. Now that the corpse finally has stopped twitching, it’s time to consider what other roads to a permanent peace settlement remain open. If any.
Yossi Beilin, then Israel’s deputy foreign minister, initiated the secret negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords 20 years ago, but now he has lost almost all hope. Last month he wrote an open letter to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, the interim body that was supposed to morph into the government of the Palestinian state once all the details had been settled. He urged Abbas to dissolve the PA.
“No one thought the PA would be there for 20 years,” he wrote. “It should have ended. So I find myself in the bizarre situation in which I am actually asking to put an end to it. But the bottom line is that, paradoxically, all those who cursed Oslo are now cherishing it.”
What Beilin means is that the Oslo agreement, which originally was “a tremendous victory for the peace camps on both sides,” actually has become a means by which those who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state can spin out the negotiations endlessly. It is now only “a device that has allowed the parties to block a two-state solution.” And who is the main culprit on the Israeli side, in his view? Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Yuval Diskin, the recently retired head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, is even blunter in condemning Netanyahu. “Forget all the stories they’re selling you in the media about how we want to talk but [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] doesn’t. We’re not talking with the Palestinians because this government has no interest in talking to the Palestinians.”
The reason, Diskin says, is because Netanyahu fears that “even the smallest step forward on this issue [of a Palestinian state]” would cause the coalition he leads to collapse. Removing at least most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a precondition for a Palestinian state, but several of the parties in Netanyahu’s coalition would pull out immediately if he agreed to do that.
“Yuval Diskin is a thug,” wrote columnist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth. “Only one thing can be said to his credit: he is telling the truth.” Moreover, it is a truth that extends beyond Netanyahu’s current government. It is almost impossible to construct a coalition in Israel that does not include some of those pro-settler parties, so not even a leader who actually favored a Palestinian state could do what is necessary to achieve one.
That is the main reason why the two-state solution envisaged in the Oslo Accords is dead. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good alternatives.
Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords, recently wrote: “We must seriously think about closing the book on the two-state solution and turning over a new leaf.” But the only alternative is the one-state solution, and that poses equally big problems for both sides.
The single state would contain all the Jews and Palestinians who now live in the lands between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. All this land has been under Israeli control since the 1967 war, when Israel conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but almost half of the residents are Palestinians — and they have a higher birth rate than Israeli Jews.
So a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would involve either permanent Israeli military rule over a large and rapidly growing Palestinian minority or a binational state where everybody, Jewish or Palestinian, has equal rights, including the vote. But since there are going to be more Palestinians than Jews on this land within 10 years, the single state with universal suffrage no longer would be a Jewish state.
A one-state solution that does not give Palestinians equal rights, said Beilin, “means a Jewish minority dominating a Palestinian majority in a few years from now, and that is something that neither Israelis nor the world would accept.” But he adds: “Is it possible to have one state in which a Palestinian will be the prime minister or president? No, Israelis will not accept that.”
There are only three options: the two-state solution, permanent Israeli military rule over a Palestinian majority, or a single state that, although democratic, is no longer exclusively Jewish in character. Of the three, the least objectionable to all the people involved would be the two-state solution. Which is already dead in terms of Israeli domestic politics.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose commentary is published in 45 countries.