Palestine 2010: Time for Plan B

Al-Shabaka Policy Brief


The likelihood of current diplomatic initiatives resulting in a meaningful two-state settlement is for all intents and purposes non-existent, argues Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Mouin Rabbani, due to Israel’s determination to permanently control East Jerusalem and large swaths of the West Bank, and the lack of political will in the U.S. and Europe to reverse Israel’s expansionist momentum. He foresees an unwelcome future of further ghettoization and fragmentation of Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel, greater marginalization and atomization of the Diaspora, and an increasingly regionalized and existential conflict in which the initiative will lie with non-state actors operating beyond the confines of Israel/Palestine. Thus, rather than relying on continued diplomacy and alternative peace scenarios in the forlorn hope that the dominant American-Israeli framework will be modified, advocates of Palestinian self-determination should focus their efforts on arresting and where possible reversing realities on the ground, and undertake global campaigns to challenge Israeli impunity and promote the concept of Israeli accountability for its actions toward the Palestinian people. This, Rabbani concludes, presents the only realistic option for preserving Palestinian rights and, perhaps in the longer run, establishing meaningful diplomatic options.

Why Peace Talks Can’t Succeed

Almost 18 months into his mission United States Special Envoy, George Mitchell is once again shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, this time purportedly with a four-month deadline to finally secure “progress.” Yet there is no indication that the United States (and therefore the broader “international community”) has the will to exercise the sustained pressure on Israel for the minimum outcome required for the acquiescence of a Palestinian leadership – even that of Abbas. In the unlikely event that it does, it is not at all clear that the current Israeli government – or a less extremist successor – can survive capitulation to such demands. Indeed, given the commitment to maintain perpetual Israeli rule over East Jerusalem and West Bank territory within significant sectors of Israeli society and institutions, including the security establishment, it is highly improbable that a formal Israeli decision to withdraw from the occupied territories can be implemented. (see also Camille Mansour’s policy brief ).

Additional factors, such as inter-Palestinian division and the absence of an Arab challenge to Israeli regional dominance, contribute to the impasse and serve to make the status quo Israel’s least unattractive option. Mitchell’s mission notwithstanding, it seems equally reasonable to conclude that Washington and the European Union will, however reluctantly, once again reach the same conclusion.

While the prospects for a two-state settlement have for all intents and purposes been overtaken by reality, a democratic or bi-national resolution is an even less likely alternative for the foreseeable future. This would require multiple transformations at least as profound as transpired in South Africa during the 1990s, and in a considerably less propitious local, regional and international environment; the challenges of dis-establishing Zionism far exceed those of removing Israel from the territories it occupied in 1967.

A sober analysis of the facts therefore points toward an unwelcome future: further ghettoization and fragmentation of Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel, and greater marginalization and atomization of the diaspora, all unchallenged by Western governments and enjoying unprecedented levels of Arab support. This is likely to be paired with increasingly regionalized and existential conflict, in which the initiative will lie with non-state actors operating beyond the confines of Israel/Palestine. The establishment of what Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s appointed Prime Minister, has called a “Mickey Mouse state,” will facilitate rather than stem these developments.

While these conclusions can only be speculative in the sense that, although derived from the available evidence they can be neither conclusively verified nor refuted, one implication is that retaining a primary focus on conflict resolution, such as by advocating more robust American and European promotion of a two-state settlement, is the equivalent of fighting the last war. What was sensible and possible before the 1991 Madrid Conference that inaugurated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – and perhaps even until the late 1990s – is today unachievable because the requisite conditions are almost entirely absent.