A decade ago I wrote an article describing Israelas Matrix of Control over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It consists of three interlocking systems: military control and incessant military actions; a vast skein of _facts on the ground_ (the steady constricting and fragmentation of Palestinian territory through the wholesale expropriation of Palestinian land, physical restrictions on freedom of movement, settlement construction, the building of a massive system of Israeli-only highways, control over natural and economic resources and, subsequently, the erection of the Separation Barrier); and administrative measures (house demolitions, economic _closure,_ administrative restrictions on movement, deportation, induced out-migration, the _quiet transfer,_ and much more). I argued then that unless this Matrix was dismantled, the Occupation would not be ended and a two-state solution could not be achieved.
Since then the Occupation has grown immeasurably stronger and more entrenched. Indeed, the Matrix has reconfigured the country to such an extent that today it seems impossible to detach a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state from an Israel that has expanded all the way to the Jordan River. Anyone familiar with Israelas _facts on the ground,_ including the settlers, would reach the conclusion I have: that, in fact, the Matrix cannot be dismantled. It is far too multi-faceted and would take far too many confrontations with Israel to make that possible. The only way to a genuine two-state solution and not a cosmetic form of apartheid, I now argue, is to cut the Gordian Knot. Israel must be told by the international community, led by the US, that the Occupation must be ended entirely with consideration given to Israelas security needs. Period.
And now, at this critical juncture, as the two-state solution disappears under the weight of Israeli settlements, we face a great imponderable: Is President Obama genuinely serious about reaching such a solution or is he merely going through the same motions familiar to us from previous administrations?
Many of us, Palestinian, Israeli and international proponents of a just peace, took heart in Obamaas early speeches and gestures. Beginning with the appointment of George Mitchell and continuing through his speech in Cairo, we allowed ourselves, after years of disappointment and struggle, a cautious hopefulness. Weakened economically, isolated politically and over-extended in Middle Eastern conflicts from which the US would like to withdraw, it seemed that Obama at least _got it._ For the first time ever an American president actually said, repeatedly, that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the vital national interest of the United States. These words significantly raise the bar. Framing the conflict in this way makes it easier for the Administration to win congressional support for a tougher policy vis-à-vis Israeli obstructionism while undermining AIPACas ability, given American Jewish sensibilities over suspicions of dual loyalty, to mount an effective resistance.
Since the Cairo speech, however, fundamental doubts about American efforts have resurfaced. The only demand made by the US towards Israel has been for a settlement _freeze,_ a welcome symbolic gesture, to be sure, yet irrelevant to any peace process. Israel has enough settlement-cities in strategic _blocs_ that it could in fact freeze all construction without compromising its control over the West Bank and _greater_ Jerusalem. Focusing on this one issue _ which, months later, is still being haggled over _ has provided Israel with a smokescreen behind which it can actively and freely pursue more significant and urgent construction which, when completed, will truly render the Occupation irreversible. It is rushing to complete the Wall, which is already being presented as the new border, replacing the long-forgotten _Green Line,_ a border the most ardent two-staters have long given up on. It is demolishing homes, expelling Palestinian residents and permitting Jewish settlement throughout East Jerusalem, measurably advancing the _judaization_ of the city. It is expropriating vast tracts of land in the West Bank and _east_ Jerusalem and constructing at a feverish pace an infrastructure of Israeli-only highways so as to permanently reconfigure the entire country, making it impossible to detach a coherent, viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state. It is drying up the main agricultural areas of the West Bank, forcing thousands of people off their lands, while instituting visa restrictions that either keep visiting Palestinians and internationals out of the country altogether, or limit their movement to the truncated Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank.
_Quiet_ behind-the-scenes diplomacy is surely taking place, but the few details that have surfaced are far from reassuring. In September the Obama Administration will present nothing more than a _rough draft_ of a regional peace plan. It is no exaggeration to say a two-state solution will rise or fall on the outlines of this plan. Although the two-state solution has been eulogized many times in the past, Obama represents a best case scenario. If he presents, in the end, a disappointing peace plan that offers no genuine breakthrough, then the shift to a one-state solution on the part of the Palestinian people and their international supporters, including me, will be inescapable.
So how can Obamaas plan be judged when it is finally unveiled? Its chance of success can be predicted, I suggest, by how well it addresses the fundamental needs, grievances and aspirations of the peoples involved. An effective approach to ending the conflict, as opposed to worn positions, rests on at least six elements:
(1) National expression for both peoples. Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are not simply ethnic groups like, for example, American Jews or Arab-Americans. They are two people which, like national groups everywhere, demand self-determination. This reality actually lends credence to a two-state solution, but only if the Palestinian state is truly sovereign and economically viable. Letas not forget that, in the days of apartheid, South Africa established ten _Bantustans,_ small and impoverished _homelands_ on 11% of South African land, seemingly to address the demand of the black population for self-determination but actually to ensure a _democracy_ for the white population on 89% of the country. Netanyahuas notion that the Palestinians should get _autonomy with certain characteristics of a state_ on about 15% of historic Palestine _ _autonomy plus-independence minus,_ as he called it _ is reminiscent of apartheid.
If the Obama Administration plan does not cut the Gordian Knot that is Israelas Matrix of Control _ something no plan or initiative has yet succeeded in doing _ it will simply fail to achieve an equitable two-state solution. Only a complete withdrawal of Israel from all the Occupied Territories and the sharing of Jerusalem with no restrictions on movement can avert a Palestinian Bantustan.
This is eminently do-able. There is no compelling reason why Israel should not return to the 1967 border _ and letas not forget that if it leaves every inch and centimeter of the Occupied Territories, it still retains a full 78% of the country, not bad for what will soon become a minority Jewish population. Obamaas plan will, like its predecessors, undoubtedly leave the major Israeli settlement blocs intact, including those in Palestinian _east_ Jerusalem. Even with so-called territorial _swaps,_ this would significantly compromise Palestinian sovereign and viability. Why, then, leave these massive settlements intact? The argument is that their residents would object to the point of a civil war. This is patent nonsense. True, these settlement blocs contain 85% of Israelis living in the Occupied Territories, but these are not the ideological settlers we know who claim the entire Land of Israel. Instead, they are _normal_ Israelis who have been attracted to the settlements by high-quality, affordable housing. They would have no objection to resettling inside Israel on condition their living standards do not fall, while the Israeli economy, assisted by international donors, would have no problem resettling this population, about 200,000 in number. Settlements in _east_ Jerusalem, housing another 190,000 Israeli Jews, present no problem whatsoever. Residents are free to stay where they are in a shared and integrated Jerusalem. As for the _ideological_ settlers of the West Bank, only about 40,000 in number (out of almost six million Jews altogether), they can easily be relocated inside Israel, just as were their counterparts in Gaza.
(2) Economic viability. The Obama plan will no doubt adopt the Israeli position that Palestinian refugees can only be repatriated to the Palestinian state itself, not to their former homes inside Israel. This would place a weighty economic burden on that tiny state, since the refugees are, by and large, a traumatized and impoverished population with minimal education and professional skills. Add to that another significant fact: some 60% of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18. A Palestinian state without the ability to employ its people and offer a future to its youth is simply a prison-state.
Now the need for a viable Palestinian state is recognized and embodied in the Road Map, and will probably be acknowledged in Obamaas plan as well. Despite its limited size, a RAND Corporation study concluded that such a state is possible, but only if it controls its territory, borders, resources, and movement of people and goods. Israel must be made to understand that while it will remain the hegemonic power in the region, its own long-term security depends upon the economic well-being of its Palestinian neighbors.
(3) A genuine addressing of the refugee issue. Eighty percent of the Palestinians are refugees, and half of the Palestinians still live in refugee camps within and around their homeland. Any sustainable peace is dependent upon the just resolution of the refugee issue. Technically, resolving the refugee issue is not especially difficult. The Palestinian negotiators, backed up by the Arab League, have agreed to a _package,_ to be mutually agreed-upon by Israel and the Palestinians, involving a combination of repatriation in Israel and the Palestinian state, resettlement elsewhere and compensation.
The _package_ must contain, however, two other elements, without which the issue will not be resolved and reconciliation cannot take place. First, Israel must acknowledge the refugeesa right of return; a resolution of the issue cannot depend solely on humanitarian gestures. And Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for driving the refugees from their country. Just as Jews expected Germany to accept responsibility for what it did in the Holocaust (and Israelis criticized the Pope in his recent visit for not apologizing enough), just as China and South Korea will not close the book on the Second World War until Japan acknowledges its war crimes, so, too, will the refugee issue continue to fester and frustrate attempts to bring peace to the region until Israel acknowledges and asks forgiveness. Genuine peace-making cannot be confined to technical solutions alone; it must also deal with the wounds caused by the conflict.
(4) A regional approach. Obamaas edge over his predecessors lies in his understanding that the Israel-Palestine conflict is part of _ and in some ways the symbolic epicenter of _ a wider regional problem that extends from the neighboring countries to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, indeed, throughout the entire Muslim world and beyond. It is this linkage, long denied by Israel which has insisted that the Palestinian issue can be handled separately from all others, that the Obama Administration seems finally to have embraced. Indeed, even in the narrow confines of the Israel/Palestine conflict itself, the key issues _ refugees, security, water, economic development and others _ are regional in scope.
(5) Security. Israel, of course, has fundamental and legitimate security needs, as do the Palestinians and the other peoples of the region. Unlike Israeli governments, the Israeli peace camp believes that security cannot be addressed in isolation, that Israel will not find peace and security unless it enters into a viable peace with the Palestinians and achieves a measure of integration into the Middle East region. We certainly reject the notion that security can be achieved through military means. Israelas assertion that the security issue be resolved before any political progress can be made is as illogical as it is self-serving. We all know, the Israeli political establishment and the military together with the peace movement and the Palestinians themselves, that terrorism is a symptom that can only be addressed as part of a broader approach to the grievances underlying the conflict. Israel, which also must be held accountable for its use of state terror, cannot be allowed to exploit legitimate security concerns to advance a political agenda of permanent control.
(6) Conformity with human rights, international law and UN resolutions. To the degree that negotiations are entered into, they must have as their terms of reference international law and UN resolutions if the Palestinians are to enjoy even minimal parity with their Israeli interlocutors. This was the fatal shortcoming of all the preceding attempts to reach an agreement. Once negotiations are based solely on power, the Palestinians lose, the differential being so heavily weighted on the Israeli side which totally controls Palestinian life and territory. Indeed, a peace agreement rooted in international law and human rights _ in short, a just peace _ would offer the best prospect of working.
Put simply, we can (and must) filter any plan, proposal or initiative for peace in Israel/Palestine through the following set of critical questions: