The Road To Killing Two-States

03.14.13

Paved with Good Intentions, Lined with Settlements

Last week I raised concerns about Dennis Ross’s new 14-point peace plan, which would gut the very notion of the two-state solution. Ross’s approach is the most prominent manifestation of a growing trend toward the acceptance of a seductive new logic that has emerged in the context of the current Israeli-Palestinian deadlock. According to this line of thought, breaking the deadlock requires an approach that falls comfortably within Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pro-“Greater Israel” political comfort zone, but that can somehow still be marketed as “pro-peace.” A common element in all such approaches is the call to end 45 years of international consensus opposing the Israel settlement enterprise in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, legitimizing most existing settlement construction and green-lighting most new construction. The dangerous appeal of this trend is driven home by the latest offering from peace pioneer Yossi Beilin. Beilin’s commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace is unchallengeable, and, yet, his article raises the same red flags as Ross’s proposal. 

Ross's plan, it should be recalled, hinges on his argument that Israel should be permitted to expand settlements without restraint within the route of Israel's West Bank separation barrier. In effect, he is arguing in favor of the de facto Israeli annexation of around 10 percent of the West Bank, rendering impossible the emergence of a viable, maximally contiguous Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, and taking off the table the possibility of one-to-one land swaps. This, he suggests, will somehow strengthen the credibility of the two-state solution.

Beilin, for his part, offers ten “considerations,” centered on his suggestion that it is time to forget about achieving a peace agreement and focus on implementation of the 2003 Roadmap for Middle East Peace. Specifically, Beilin believes that implementation of Phase 2 of the Roadmap would enable the parties to leapfrog negotiating disagreements—like the fundamental disagreement over parameters of a future peace agreement, including whether the 1967 lines will be the basis of permanent status borders—and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state within provisional borders. 

With respect to what his plan would mean in concrete terms—facts on the ground—the single detail Beilin offers bolsters the impression that his approach and Ross’ are cut from the same cloth. Beilin suggests, simultaneously and contradictorily, that Phase 2 of the Roadmap is the way forward, but also that the key Phase 1 Roadmap requirement of Israel, stopping all settlement expansion, including so-called “natural growth,” must be jettisoned. Beilin pronounces this requirement an “unrealistic demand,” thus endorsing a fundamental deviation from the Roadmap—a plan which was conceived of and accepted by the parties as a phased approach, wherein each phase is dependent on full implementation of the previous one. In doing so, Beilin casually erases what is both one of the most important Roadmap deliverables for the Palestinians and what is the Roadmap requirement most vital to keeping alive the very possibility of the two-state solution during any interim phase. 

With this argument, Beilin appears to have acceded to the same logic that drives Ross and others: that the way forward should be defined first and foremost by what Netanyahu will consider reasonable. Only secondarily, if at all, is consideration given to what it is “reasonable” to demand from the Palestinians, or what is consistent with previous agreements and international consensus, or, perhaps most problematically, what is compatible with keeping alive the two-state solution.

Beilin's proposal regrettably will likely add momentum to the movement pushing for such an approach, regardless of the threat this logic poses to the very concept of the two-state solution. Those like Ross, who believe the two-state solution is immortal and infinitely malleable, will of course dismiss such concerns as immaterial. For those like Beilin, who genuinely support a viable, implementable, and durable two-state solution, the trend toward adopting such logic may reflect a belief that such a shift is necessary to maintain credibility in the eyes of those who are increasingly frustrated and fatigued with this conflict. 

The kind of simplistic proposals offered by Ross and others may indeed increase the feeling that peace proponents are under the gun, figuratively, to come up with their own alternative, more “realistic” approach around which to rally. In this context, there will be an understandable temptation to conclude that getting the Netanyahu government to agree to something—anything—is better than nothing, regardless of the longer-term ramifications on the viability of the two-state solution. It is a temptation that is as dangerous as it is alluring. In the current stalemate, an interim approach may indeed make sense, but only one that addresses the very real need to get developments on the ground that threaten the two-state solution under control. Absent this element, an interim approach is a recipe for the end of the Palestinian Authority and the death of the two-state solution. If President Obama and others are seduced by such an approach—something that is more likely if the prophets of the pro-peace Left and people like Dennis Ross appear to be on the same page—then it seems there is an ever-greater danger that the road to the death of the two-state solution will, in the near term, be paved with good intentions and lined on both sides with new settlement units.