The future of Palestine: Youth views on the two-state paradigm

A quarter of a century on from the Oslo Peace Accords, young Palestinian writers share their views on the future of the two-state solution

The continued viability of the two-state paradigm has never been as uncertain as it is today. The arrival of a US administration that has displayed an unprecedented alignment with the Greater Israel ideology of Israeli right-wingers is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors. But long before Donald Trump’s election, the two-state paradigm was already under tremendous stress. This was due in no small part to an almost perpetually stalled Middle East Peace Process, and concerted efforts by Israeli governments to undermine the prospects of Palestinian statehood, even as they consolidated Israel’s hold over East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The inability of the European Union to match its fervently held two-state policy with consequential action is, of course, another significant factor.

Whether the vision of a two-state solution lives or dies is still uncertain, although current trends are unfavourable to its long-term feasibility. What seems more certain at present, though, is that the actions of the United States and Israel are entrenching a one-state reality of unequal rights for Palestinians. How the Palestinian liberation movement responds to these challenges will be decisive. While a significant change in strategy from senior Palestinian leaders appears some way off, youth activists in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora are already articulating a new discourse.

This selection of short essays by young Palestinian thinkers provides a partial snapshot of this conversation about the continued usefulness of the two-state paradigm, and about what to demand of Europe at this critical juncture.

These opinions do not, of course, represent all Palestinian viewpoints, and there are certainly missing voices, including those of Islamists and refugees in neighbouring countries. The short pieces are nonetheless reflective of how many young Palestinians see the current situation. They provide an indication of the future direction of the Palestinian national movement. As such, they should be taken seriously by policymakers.

Yasmeen Al Khodary, writer and researcher, London/Gaza

The question of whether we should move away from the two-state paradigm or not is an obsolete one. It is hard to imagine that people still believe that this is a possibility – we are in 2019, not 1995, and so much has changed for the worse. What would a two-state solution even look like?

The people whose daily lives are actually affected by this proposition – the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank – have much more urgent concerns, like surviving. The devastating consequences of Israel’s ongoing occupation have gradually transformed the Palestinians into divided populations without any basic rights or support, faced with an array of different daily challenges: siege, military onslaughts, settlements, segregated roads, curfews, imprisonment, to name a few. Ask any Palestinian suffocating in Gaza as a result of Israel’s ongoing 12-year blockade what they think of the two-state solution. You will probably not get an answer. People are tired of talking, and are tired of repeating the same basic demand: end the occupation. This is the only paradigm that we need to adopt right now.

Yasmeen Al-Khoudary is an independent London-based researcher and writer who specialises in Palestinian archaeology and cultural heritage with a focus on Gaza. Previously, she co-founded Diwan Ghazza and has published extensively in the Guardian, CNN, Al Jazeera English, among others. She tweets @yelkhoudary

Zaha Hassan, human rights lawyer and visiting fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC

The past 25 years of the Oslo peace process have left Palestinians in a political and legal black hole. In the current reality, Palestinians have been boxed out of both the possibility of self-determination within their own sovereign state, and of equality of citizenship in the state of Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu refers to this as a Palestinian “state minus”.

But, for now, the choice between a single binational state or two states is a false one. Both solutions are equally remote and unobtainable at present and will be for the foreseeable future. The more urgent discussion is how to characterise the nature of the conflict today and what the international community, particularly Europe, should do to respond to it.

Palestinians have been facing settler-colonial displacement for over seven decades. To name the conflict in such terms does not mean that the international legal framework delineating Israel’s obligations as an occupying power since June 1967 becomes inapplicable or inoperable. International humanitarian law is not abandoned by demanding compliance with international human rights norms. Both legal frameworks are mutually reinforcing and provide guidance to third states on how to characterise, and respond to, Israeli actions against Palestinians.

Europe has been a trailblazer in the past, recognising the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian self-determination. Given the European Union’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights, Europe, in coordination with the United Nations, is best positioned to act as a bulwark for the protection of Palestinian rights and to lead the discussion on what is required for a durable political solution that addresses both the individual and collective claims of Palestinians.

But first the EU and its member states must recognise the reality as it exists on the ground today. Namely, that Israel has now imposed upon Palestinians a one-state reality of unequal rights perpetual occupation, and conflict.

Zaha Hassan is a human rights lawyer and visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Previously, she was the coordinator and senior legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team during Palestine’s bid for UN membership, and member of the Palestinian delegation to Quartet-sponsored exploratory talks between 2011 and 2012. She tweets @zahahassan

Yara Hawari, policy fellow, Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, Ramallah

Many European Union states worry that Israel’s formal annexation of the West Bank is imminent, placing the final nail in the coffin of both the Oslo peace process and the two-state solution. While this worry undoubtedly includes concern for Palestinian rights, it fails to recognise that the Oslo discourse and the two-state paradigm has provided, over the past 26 years, complicit cover for the entrenchment of an apartheid regime from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea amounting to absolute Israeli control over Palestinian life.

Israel consistently blames the Palestinians for not being committed to peace, but it continues to colonise their lands and simultaneously ghettoise them into ever-shrinking ‘Bantustans’. The Palestinian leadership, while it is necessary to recognise its democratic and revolutionary failings, is also held hostage by the discourse of the Oslo peace process. As a result, Palestinians, along with their rights and aspirations for political sovereignty, have never been more vulnerable.

What is required is humility and honesty from EU states and a recognition that something into which they have put so much time, money, and effort has not had the desired outcome or tangible achievements.

Rather than focus on negotiations within the context of a political framework that is no longer viable, the EU should now focus on securing the internationally recognised rights of the Palestinian people wherever they may be, including by ensuring the full implementation of international humanitarian law. Through its diplomatic and trade relations with Israel, EU states can hold Israel to account for its violations and create a more level playing field.

Simultaneously, by dropping its dogged weddedness to an exclusive political solution based on two states, the EU can help create opportunities and spaces for Palestinians to think outside of the partition framework that has crippled them for so long.

Yara Hawari is Palestine policy fellow at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. Hawari taught various undergraduate courses at the University of Exeter and continues to work as a freelance journalist, publishing for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye, and the Independent. She tweets @yarahawari

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