When Gilad Shalit returned to Israel, I wrote
I believe that October 18, 2011 is the day on which Gilad Shalit — a pawn in the hands of more people than I can rightly count at this point — came home, and the day on which the possibility of a two-state solution finally died.
I could be wrong, and lord knows I hope so. It might bear noting that the only times that I’ve been really wrong about this conflict have been those times that I’ve been optimistic, but then again, who knows.
But here’s why I think pessimism is in order: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been a proponent of the two-state solution since the 1980s. It was his movement (Fatah) within the PLO which, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, entered peace negotiations with Israel in the early 1990s, and he’s long been known to be more moderate (which is to say: more willing to renounce violence and/or to acquiesce Israeli demands) than Arafat ever was, even in his most Nobel-peace-prize winning days. If Israel was ever going to achieve a negotiated two-state peace, Abbas was the guy. And he and his government have consistently been available for talks and compromise — witness the revelations of the Palestine Papers.
But Israel has never given Fatah anything to show for their efforts. Life has gotten demonstrably worse in the territories since the 1993 Oslo Accords, and every time Arafat and then Abbas tried to do something about it, they got shut out.
Furthermore, since the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, during which Israel steadfastly refused to negotiate anything, Abbas’s credibility has been in steep decline, in favor of Hamas. The Shalit deal is one more striking example of this: The prisoner exchange comes against the backdrop of Abbas’s UN statehood bid and a growing hunger strike on the part of Palestinian prisoners in or close to Fatah — or, in other words, just when it looked like Abu Mazen (as Abbas is known among Palestinians) was about to achieve something, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gift wrapped 1,000 prisoners, and gave them to Hamas.
You simply cannot humiliate your negotiating partner again and again and expect that he will forever retain the political capital he needs to make the hard compromises that peace agreements always demand. This is perhaps the most egregious Israeli blind spot: No Israeli government has ever seemed to genuinely grasp that Palestinians will also be giving something up in any real negotiation process, and just like in Israel, that’s a hard sell. Political capital is crucial.
Now, Hamas has said time and again that it’s willing to enter some form of negotiations, or accept the results of a public referendum ratifying a peace deal, and don’t forget that back when Israel first started talking to the PLO, they were the terrorists we hated.
But to negotiate with Hamas, Israel would have to be even more willing to bend than it’s been with Abbas/Fatah. If Israel has been unwilling to discuss the eminently reasonable Fatah positions — all of which are based on every single peace proposal put forward to date — there’s no real reason to believe that Israel, particularly under the current leadership, will feel comfortable working with Hamas.
Which is not to say that the negotiation theater will end any time soon. Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the US will continue to talk about it ad naseum — I just believe that is will continue to be an expensive, deadly exercise in wheel-spinning. Israel has no intention of actually making peace (witness the new settlement in Jerusalem) and Abbas probably couldn’t right now, even if Israel were to give it a go.
Having said that, I still believe that the two-state idea is the only possible resolution of the conflict. The vaunted “one-state solution” about which so many people like to talk is not what the vast majority of the people on the ground actually want (most particularly Israelis, but Palestinians, too), and if the sides haven’t been able to reasonably discuss a good way to share the land in two pieces, I cannot imagine what makes people think they’ll be able to reasonably discuss how to share it in one.
No, the “one-state solution” which I now believe is the inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come about as a result of ongoing, escalating bloodshed and destruction, and it will not be negotiated. It will be imposed, whether by fiat or by circumstances.
I imagine it won’t happen soon — death throes tend to take a very long time in global politics — and I will continue to advocate against it, but I am now genuinely convinced that the dream we’ve had for 25 years of two states and two peoples, living side by side and in peace, has become an impossibility.
The two-state solution, in which both sides would achieve both national dignity and genuine security, allowing each to heal and grow over time into real neighbors, is still the only resolution available. I will still fight for it. But I am now convinced that I fight a losing battle.
Sometimes, that’s all we can do.
Update: Click here for more on why I support a two-state solution, if you’re interested.