Saturday, September 27, 2008

The future is one-nation state

The two-state approach in the Middle East has failed. There is a fairer, more durable solution

Imagine the scene: the United Nations general assembly meets to discuss a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Unlike previous resolutions, which have been based on a Jewish state in most of historic Palestine with Palestinians relegated to the remnants, this one calls for a new state, covering what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, whose present and former inhabitants are equal under the law. Such a resolution has, in fact, already been drafted and discussions have begun to place it on the agenda at the UN.

The one-state solution is now part of mainstream discourse. Increasingly, Palestinians - and some Israelis - support it as the only alternative to a Palestinian state subordinate to Israel. One-state groups have sprung up and conferences and studies are under way.

A UN resolution is the logical next step, underlining the issue’s global importance and exposing the inequity and dishonesty of the two-state solution, to replace it with something fairer and more durable. It would be encapsulated in the following clauses, part of the draft UN resolution for a one-state solution, which has been under discussion for six months. Its principal authors are my fellow Palestinian Karl Sabbagh and myself:

“The general assembly notes the failure of recent efforts made by regional and international parties to resolve the conflict through the creation of two states; Recalling the recent history of the former [Palestine] Mandate territory as a land where Arabs and Jews shared equal rights of habitation; Reviewing Israel’s non-compliance with UN Resolution 194, requiring Israel to repatriate the Palestinian refugees, and its illegal conduct in the occupied territories.

“Calls upon representatives of Israel and Palestine to agree on behalf of their peoples to share the land between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan … by setting up a state which is democratic and secular, in which the rights of all people living within its borders to freedom of worship, security, and equality under the law are enshrined in a new constitution, to replace the separate forms of government that apply currently in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”

The two-state adherents will not approve. David Miliband at the Labour party conference this week continued to argue for a two-state solution. Tomorrow in New York, Mahmoud Abbas will petition George Bush for the same thing. Both are on a hiding to nothing.

The pace of Israeli colonisation, unimpeded since 1967, redoubled after the Oslo accords, demonstrating Israel’s aversion to a two-state solution. By 2007, the West Bank Jewish settler population had reached 282,000. In East Jerusalem, it rose to 200,000, massively Judaising the city and precluding it as a Palestinian capital. Today the West Bank is a jigsaw of settlements, bypass roads and barriers, making an independent state impossible. Gaza is a besieged enclave. In 2006 the UN special rapporteur in the Palestinian territories concluded that “a two-state solution is unattainable”. Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker, told the Israeli daily Haaretz in June that “time was running out for the two-state solution”.

Scores of others have articulated the same view. The peace process predicated on the two-state solution is stagnant, and a momentum has started towards the obvious alternative, a unitary state. This month a new forum, encompassing Palestinian personalities from the occupied territories and outside, has published a petition in the Arabic daily Al-Hayat to halt negotiations, annex the territories to Israel and demand equal rights in one state. This echoes many recent Palestinian demands to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and start an anti-apartheid campaign for equal rights.

The UN high commissioner for human rights has referred us to Robert Serry, the UN official responsible for the peace process, who stated that UN policy must conform to the Palestinian formal position, the two-state solution. A change in that position is not unthinkable. For our resolution to be discussed at the UN, a member state would have to present it, and several are privately known to support our aims.

A unitary state is inevitable. Establishing an exclusive state defined along ethnic-religious lines and excluding its previous inhabitants was unjust and ultimately unsustainable. No political acrobatics will alter this. The sooner the UN, which unwisely created Israel in the first place, takes charge of the consequences, the better it will be for Palestinians, for Israelis and for the region as a whole.

· Ghada Karmi is research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University g.karmi@exeter.ac.uk

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