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Israel and Palestinians need a one-state solution

Without real sovereignty, a separate Palestinian state will only enable Israel’s crimes

January 6, 2015 2:00AM ET

On Dec. 30, the United Nations Security Council rejected a proposal put forward by a coalition of Arab states and the Palestinian Authority calling for “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces” from all territories seized after 1967 and full Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza by Dec. 31, 2017.

The resolution needed nine votes to pass but garnered only eight. The United States and Australia voted against it, and five countries abstained. If the measure passed, the U.S. signaled plans to veto and override the vote — as it has done 41 times on Israel’s behalf since 1972.

Moreover, the resolution had no enforcement mechanism. It was not taken under Chapter 6 or 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes economic sanctions, diplomatic coercion or military intervention. So even if the measure had passed without a veto, Israel would not have faced consequences for noncompliance, which, given Israel’s history of defying U.N. conventions, would be a certainty.

Israel is, in fact, the world’s top violator of U.N. resolutions — pursuing nuclear weapons, illegally seizing Palestinian land and resources, carrying out devastating attacks on civilian populations and infrastructure as well as institutionalizing discrimination against Palestinians both within its legal borders and in the occupied territories. Despite this contemptuous disregard for international rules and norms, the U.N. has so far been unable to muster any kind of substantive response because of the U.S. veto, which is unlikely to change, despite the growing strategic cost for the United States.

With these realities, U.S. and Israeli politicians were correct in portraying the Security Council resolution as counterproductive. U.N. resolutions can establish Palestine as a legal entity — as they have already done repeatedly and unequivocally over the last 70 years — but the U.N. will never be able to do more than this, with the U.S. wielding veto power. And the Palestinians cannot truly live in a country that, for practical purposes, exists only on paper.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that Israel could “never, ever countenance” a fully sovereign Palestinian state. The world should take him at his word. There never was a two-state solution, and there won’t be one in any foreseeable future. Instead, that so-called solution serves only to enable Israel’s continued oppression, empowering cynics and hard-liners and perpetuating a never-ending cycle of conflict. The only viable resolution is to unite Israel and the territories into a single state.

A bad deal for Palestinians

The White House actually did the Palestinians an inadvertent favor by rejecting the U.N. resolution last month. Beyond the lack of enforcement mechanisms, the proposed plan was a bad deal for the Palestinians, as were previous iterations of the two-state model.   

Consider, for instance, that for more than 20 years Palestinians have been trying to convince Israel to settle for the land they captured in 1967 — though no existing U.N. resolution recognizes Israeli seizures from the Six-Day War as legitimate (although the proposed legislation implicitly would have). Instead, U.N. actions to date refer to the legal borders established in the 1947 General Assembly resolution, insisting that any territorial changes to that be achieved exclusively through negotiations.

The U.N. report preceding the 1947 resolution found that, Palestinians owned more than 94 percent of the property in Britain’s Mandate of Palestine and accounted for two-thirds of its population. Yet the resolution awarded 55 percent of the territory, including prime lands and resources, to Israel. The Palestinians, understandably, rejected this plan.

If Mahmoud Abbas really wants radical change for the Palestinians’ plight, he should dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand control of the West Bank to Israel.

However, the U.N. proposal, endorsed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, would have left Palestinians with less than half the territory relegated to them in 1947, even though their population has increased more than fivefold in the interim. It also didn’t address questions of critical resources such as water, which would have remained largely under Israeli control, given the 1967 borders and the power disparities between the two sides. It is hard to see how enshrining these boundaries at the U.N. could be considered a victory for Palestinians.

On Jan. 2, Abbas responded to the resolution’s failure by filing papers to have Palestine join the International Criminal Court (ICC). He has expressed interest in yet another Security Council bid in 2015, after its annual membership rotation. But both these ideas would be empty moves by a cynical politician. On the first, Israel did not ratify the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and therefore cannot be held accountable by the court unless referred by the Security Council — a move that the U.S. would most certainly veto. This means the court can do little more than investigate crimes on behalf of Palestine and issue reports and condemnations, as other U.N. bodies have already done at length — except when it comes to crimes by Palestinians. Hamas, for instance, would be subject to ICC prosecution by virtue of Abbas’ decision, although Israel would not be.

A one-state solution

If Abbas really wants radical change for the Palestinians’ plight, he should dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand control of the West Bank to Israel — as he has repeatedly threatened to do — and then encourage Palestinians to demand annexation with all rights, protections and benefits granted to other Israelis. Given the one-state reality on the ground, removing the illusion of sovereign Arab institutions would render Israel responsible for the population it has subjugated for the last 70 years. A failure to rise to this challenge would expose it as an apartheid state.

Israel justifies its mistreatment of Palestinians by claiming that Arabs are not its responsibility; whether they live within Israel or the occupied territories, they all ultimately belong in the unsettled West Bank and should be provided for by their own government — an attitude emphasized by Israel’s recent nationality law, which defines the country as an explicitly, perhaps exclusively Jewish state.

But in a unified Israel, Arabs would be the majority if afforded the same right to return that the Jewish diaspora has; there are 3 million registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. And demographic projections suggest Jews will soon be the minority even without considering the Palestinian diaspora. Accordingly, Palestinians would have much more leverage in a one-state scenario; their quest would then be for equitable power sharing and civil rights.

But most Israeli Jews vehemently oppose a single state. Thus an alternative amenable to all parties would be to reintegrate Gaza, the West Bank and Israel as a federation of semiautonomous states, with Jerusalem as its capital — a proposal not far removed from the vision of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. There still would have to be a substantial restructuring of territory, resources and relations between the two sides.

Either way, the first step would be to abandon the quixotic pursuit of a two-state outcome and, with it, a status quo that favors Israel at the expense of Palestinian suffering.

Musa al-Gharbi is a senior fellow with the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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