The American administration and European foreign ministers are putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to sign up for the so-called two-state solution. Palestinians are to have a state, and — abracadabra! — they will then live happily side by side with Israel. That there should be yet another attempt to impose peace on these two antagonists recalls Einstein’s famous trope of a man repeatedly banging his head against a wall in the expectation of getting a different result.
First of all, the timing of this two-state solution could hardly be less propitious. The Arab Spring has just demonstrated that even in established Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya or Yemen the structure comprising the state is artificial and fragile. In the absence of due processes, force is the only way to resolve a serious conflict of interest. So it proves time after time, until some strongman takes hold of power and enacts all the functions of a state. It is an incidental curiosity that European governments approve the imposition on Arabs of the state structure that in the European Union they are busy destroying for themselves.
And then “two-state solution” is a phrase with a misleading suggestion of equality hidden in it. Palestine has none of the attributes of statehood. In the separate Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip there is no rule of law, no rights for people or property, no freedom of speech, no bar to extortion, no accountability. Parliament, elections and legitimacy are notional. Justice is a matter of arbitrary arrest, torture and public executions.
An academic specialising in the issue of Palestine, Jonathan Schanzer provides a burst of bracing realism. The thrust of his book is that Palestine is neither a country nor a state, but only a cause with the one-track purpose of getting rid of the Jews. By definition, a cause is not open to negotiation and compromise but has to be satisfied by absolute victory. A Palestinian ruler who struck a genuine bargain with Jews could expect to lose power and probably his life as well, as Anwar Sadat did.
Yasser Arafat, an Arab strongman par excellence, had the chance to transform Palestine into a state and a country but decided instead that the rewards from organising a cause would be greater. He enrolled a handful of friends into Fatah, a terrorist group that launched the hijacker and the suicide bomber, and grew into the much larger Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Persuading many all over the world to join the cause, he became the father of the modernised anti-Semitism that aims to turn Israel by means of boycotts and sanctions first into a pariah and then to annihilate it. Schanzer gives details of the moral and financial corruption involved. US officials estimate that Arafat diverted to himself between $1 billion and $3 billion. His cronies built themselves the flashy new villas of Ramallah and Gaza City. What was a reward to them was a disaster for ordinary Palestinians, many of whom paid with their lives for a cause in which they had no say.
After Arafat’s death in 2004, Mahmoud Abbas took over Fatah and the PLO, as well as the presidency of Palestine. Now 78, and an ideologist and strongman in his turn, he has had to devote most of his time and energy to confronting rivals. In 2006 Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brothers, began its bid for power over Fatah and the PLO. The destruction of Israel still remains their common cause but once again force of arms decides who comes out on top. Hundreds have been killed and injured in a civil war complete with horrific atrocities. Worse may well come soon. Such is the intra-Palestinian hatred that Abbas himself does not dare leave the West Bank to return to his own house in Gaza. The immediate need for a two-state solution is not with Israel but between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Should Hamas ever succeed in overthrowing Abbas or his successor and taking power on the West Bank, the danger to Israel of the Palestinian cause would reach new heights.
So much political capital has been invested in the two-state solution that anxious officials like to rally support by raising scares. Should the parties not agree to two states, they threaten, Israel will be boycotted by the whole world and eventually go under just as Arafat and Abbas intended to happen. Schanzer makes it unmistakably plain that in present conditions officials concerned with this latest attempt to settle the whole dispute may have a roadmap but there is no road. In a final chapter he outlines 14 proposals for reforms that are indispensable if the Palestinians are ever to have a state. Even in a hard-headed analyst, then, hope triumphs over experience.