What I mean when I say the two-state solution is dead.

The other day I dropped what amounted (for me) to a bombshell, and I feel duty-bound to explain myself.

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.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Gilad Shalit comes home, & the two-state solution dies.

Gilad Shalit is embraced by his father, Noam, immediately after his return to Israel.

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is home today, in his mother’s and father’s arms, his physical wounds receiving treatment, his other wounds no doubt just beginning to emerge. But he’s home. And that is a very, very good thing, and it’s good aside from and beyond anything else. Nothing I write here or anywhere else changes that. I am trying to hold that in my mind even as I consider all of the horror that surrounds that one, shining, good thing.

Last week, I wrote about some of what’s been wrong in Israel’s response to Shalit’s capture from day one — from day-minus-one, actually, given the Israeli kidnapping of two Gazan men from their homes, one day before Shalit was captured (in uniform and on duty) by Palestinian militants.

Today I’m going to write about what is so frightening and heartbreaking about the implications of the whole, broader story in which Shalit plays a part.

Gilad Shalit was captured in June 2006, about ten months after Israel’s 2005 retreat from the Gaza Strip. Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza was hotly contested, but was presented to the Israeli public as a way to disengage the two warring peoples, leave the Gazans to their own fate, and — in the part that most Westerners failed to notice or chose to ignore — make it easier for Israel to hold on to the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The problem (well – among the problems) is that in spite of repeated, and desperate, requests from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel walked away without so much as a by-your-leave.

There were no negotiations, certainly no security arrangements, and as a result, the Palestinian moderates (Abbas and his Fatah party) with whom Israel had purportedly been negotiating for 10 years had nothing to show for their efforts.

As a result, Hamas was able to claim the credit for its decade of terror, boosting the movement tremendously in Palestinian eyes and playing a crucial role in its January 2006 electoral victory (a narrow victory, due more to Fatah’s splintering and efforts to game the system than to any great support for Hamas — witness the fact that the next day, three-quarters of Palestinians polled told Al-Jazeera they hoped Hamas would negotiate peace). Moreover, the lack of security arrangements might very well have played a role in the Shalit capture and Israel’s inability to get him back. We can’t know for sure, but it’s certainly a reasonable question to ask.

Then on June 25, 2006, Shalit was captured. Israel launched an all-out assault on the Gaza Strip, ultimately wreaking tremendous damage on the Strip’s infrastructure and killing more than 250 Palestinians; sixty-four Palestinian legislators and government officials were kidnapped in the operation’s early days. Here’s a snippet from a CNN report on July 1:

Shalit’s abduction on Sunday by Palestinian militants triggered an ongoing military offensive that Israel says is aimed at freeing the soldier.

The groups said they wanted 1,000 Arab prisoners released from Israeli jails, according to a statement faxed to media outlets early Saturday. The statement did not make it clear whether the groups were asking for the prisoners’ releases in return for Shalit’s release.

The prisoners include women and children.

Israel has flatly rejected any prisoner swap.

Israel continued to “flatly reject any prisoner swap” for years, insisting that it would wrest Shalit from Hamas’s hands/punish Hamas for taking him in the first place, right through the 2008/09 Gaza War, in which some 1,387 Palestinians were killed, including 773 who weren’t involved in combat and 119 who were under the age of 11. During these same years of non-negotiation, 13 Israelis (soldiers and civilians) were killed in the course of hostilities.

Not quite a year after it launched the Gaza War, Israel said that it would be releasing 980 prisoners in exchange for Shalit. That deal fell apart, and in the ensuing nearly three years, Israel has continued both to try to do the thing it had “flatly refused” to do, while also still pounding away at Gaza intermittently. Gazan militants have responded off and on with rocket fire, but as in the past, the vast majority of casualties have been on the Palestinian side.

Jump to today. Five + years later, a total of something like 2,000 Palestinians and several Israelis dead — and Hamas has successfully worn Israel down, winning the release of more than 1000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Or at least that’s what it looks like to Palestinians, and unsurprisingly, Hamas’s popularity has soared as a result.

My read is that Hamas in fact wore Israel down, but also caught Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a time when he was both desperately in need of an image boost (being universally reviled across Israel at this point), and really interested in sticking it to Abbas.

After all, Abbas just went to the UN to ask for state recognition for Palestine, and furthermore, the prisoners ideologically closest to Fatah (and furthest from Hamas) had just launched a hunger strike that was gaining real ground. It’s my read that Netanyahu still thinks (despite decades of evidence to the contrary) that Israel can just wait the Palestinians out, and he need never negotiate peace with anyone — particularly if he manages to entirely discredit and fatally weaken the one set of people most interested in such negotiations. And with this previously unthinkable prisoner swap, it is my opinion that Netanyahu has done just that.

So bottom line, from August 2005 through October 2011, from Sharon to Netanyahu, Israel’s greatest achievement in its relationship with the Palestinian people has been to throw Abbas and Fatah off a cliff. Which I gather was, at least in part, the point.

But what Israel — Netanyahu, his government, their supporters, the various pundits, and plain-old-folks who are happy to see Fatah go over the edge — has failed to understand is that there is a cord tied tightly around Fatah’s waist, and the other end is tied to us. By rendering Fatah/Abbas impotent, Israel has finally destroyed the possibility of a two-state peace, and thus doomed the Zionist experiment.

And I mean that. 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 am now more convinced than ever that when history looks back on the modern nation-state of Israel, the Jewish State will feature as just one more disaster in the long list of Jewish disasters.

And we will have people like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu to thank for it.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange – intial reactions.

Gilad Shalit speaking to the Israeli public from captivity in 2009. Israel released 20 prisoners to get this tape.

Please note update below, regarding Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

News has broken of an apparent prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas — Gilad Shalit will be swapped for what’s being called “1000 Palestinian prisoners,” including some Israel has said it would never release. In these cases, a perfectly round number is best seen as a metaphor for “somewhere in the vicinity of” but of course I could be wrong. And, of course, we’ve been here before. So, I’ll believe it when I see it.

I’m genuinely thrilled that Shalit might finally be going home — but I can’t help but feel equally genuine rage over the lies Israel has told and the blood it’s spilled during the 64 months of his captivity, most of it in the name of refusing to negotiate the very deal it now says it’s closed.

The day before Shalit was captured, Israel kidnapped two Palestinian men, suspected Hamas members, from their Gaza homes. It actually matters that Shalit was in uniform and on duty when he was captured, whereas the two Palestinians in question were kidnapped from their homes. No one ever talks about the Israeli kidnapping — all Israel has to say is “suspected Hamas members” for the world to stop caring — but for Israel to act as if Hamas engaged in some horrific, inhuman act against The Middle East’s Only Democracy ™ while it was, I don’t know, out picking daisies — makes me want to put my head through a wall.

And the simple truth is that in refusing to negotiate for X amount of time, Israel extended Shalit’s captivity. I don’t know by how much, but if they were so anxious to get him home, you would think they would have acted to bring him home. Instead, they engaged in constant, brutal violence against the people of Gaza.

In engaging in constant, brutal violence against the people of Gaza, Israel further extended Shalit’s captivity. Because people tend to balk at having polite conversation with their enemies while their enemies are shattering their cities (in July 2009, for instance, the United Nations Development Program reported that Israeli bombardment and bulldozing created half a million tons of rubble during the Gaza War).

The hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians killed in Israel’s mindless, immoral, and frankly counter-intuitive efforts to bring Shalit home without negotiations, will never come home. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children will never again receive their father’s kiss or be held in their mothers arms because either their parents were killed, or they were. My country has the blood of hundreds upon hundreds of children on its hands, all so that we could teach Hamas a lesson.

Following is a short list of just some of what Israel has done since June 2006 in an effort to not strike the deal it’s just announced:

  1. June 28, 2006 – Israel launches an assault on Gaza, said to be aimed at freeing Shalit. Damage done to Gaza’s infrastructure in the first few days includes the destruction of several bridges and the Strip’s single power plant, leaving much of Gaza without electricity or running water.
  2. June 29, 2006 – The IDF kidnaps 64 Palestinian legislators and officials from inside Gaza, including eight government ministers.
  3. October 10, 2006 – The UN reports that a total of 256 Palestinians have been killed since June 28, of whom 60 are children. 848 have been injured. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and 31 Israelis injured. In response to the operation, Hamas has fired 465 Qassam rockets into Israel.
  4. November 1, 2006 – Israel launches “Operation Autumn Clouds,” focusing its attack on the Beit Hanoun neighborhood which frequently serves as a base for rocket fire into Israel. At least 82 Palestinians are killed and 260 injured, and HaAretz concludes that “the IDF wreaked havoc and terror… but despite all this, the declared aim of the operation was not achieved and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel continues.” In November, the UN expresses its “shock at the horror of Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun while they were asleep and other civilians fleeing earlier Israeli bombardment.”
  5. February 27, 2007 – Israel launches Operation Warm Winter; between Feb 27 and March 4, Israeli forces kill 120 Palestinians, including 34 children, and 269 Palestinians are wounded. In the course of hostilities, 224 rockets and 49 mortars are fired into Israel; one Israeli is killed and 14 injured.
  6. December 27, 2008 – Israel launches Operation Cast Lead (the Gaza War). In the first day, at least 225 Palestinians are killed and 700 wounded; Israeli human rights monitor B’tselem reports that between December 27 and January 18, 2009, Israeli forces kill 1,387 Palestinians, of whom 773 weren’t involved in hostilities; 119 were under the age of 11. Three Israeli civilians are killed by Qassam rocket fire, six Israeli soldiers are killed in combat, and four by friendly fire.

I’m Israeli, and I love my home and my people. When Shalit was captured, I was glued to the news, and I wept with each new scrap of information, about him, and about the two soldiers killed in the same attack, Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker.

But my country should neither celebrate, nor pat itself on the back today. There is nothing but shame in this deal. Shame, and rivers of blood, and Shalit’s own extended suffering. We should welcome him home with gentle, loving arms, and sue for peace.

But that’s not going to happen, is it.

********

UPDATE: To learn more about the Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, click here for the fact sheet produced by the Institute for Middle East Understanding. A few highlights:

  1. Since 1967, “Israel has imprisoned upwards of 700,000 Palestinians, or about 20% of the population.”
  2. There are currently somewhere between 5,200 and over 6,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
  3. Amnesty reports “consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children.”
  4. More than 7000 Palestinian children have been arrested and imprisoned since September 2000, 87% of whom report being subject to physical violence while in custody.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Gilad Shalit and 5,383 Palestinians

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere (and in meat world I happen to be in Israel) so in the meantime I’m running some old posts — today I’m running an updated version of a piece I ran a year ago today. It never fails to stun me how much sturm und drang there always is in Israel/Palestine without anything ever actually getting any better….

Today is the fifth anniversary of the capture of Gilad Shalit. Shalit was serving at an Israeli military post on the border with Gaza when he and his unit were attacked by Palestinian militants. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed; Shalit was taken into Gaza.

This event came a day after Israeli forces went into the homes of two suspected Hamas members in Gaza and kidnapped them, taking them to jail in Israel. According to Israeli human rights group B’tselem, working from figures provided by the Israeli government, Israel currently holds 5,383 Palestinians in its civilian and military detention systems. Also according to B’tselem, and other Israeli human rights organizations, Palestinian prisoners are “routinely tortured” in Israeli jails.

In a joint statement released yesterday, B’tselem along with several Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups called for Shalit’s immediate release:

Human beings are not bargaining chips

Marking five years since the capture of Gilad Shalit, Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations state:

Hamas must immediately end inhumane and illegal treatment of Gilad Shalit

Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for five years. Those holding him have refused to allow him to communicate with his family, nor have they provided information on his well-being and the conditions in which he is being held. The organizations stress that this conduct is inhumane and a violation of international humanitarian law.

Hamas authorities in Gaza must immediately end the cruel and inhuman treatment of Gilad Shalit. Until he is released, they must enable him to communicate with his family and should grant him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Truth be told, I wept when Shalit was taken, as I wept over the loss of the soldiers he served with, Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker. I spent hours before the computer, listening, reading, willing the facts to not be facts. These are my people, and as I read the stories of these young men’s lives, I felt I knew them. I cannot imagine the torment their families have lived through in the past  nearly 2,000 days

But I likewise call on Israel to recognize that the political prisoners it holds are just that.

I would call on Israel and my fellow Israelis to think of the families on the other side of the fences and walls. I would call on Israel, and my fellow Israelis, and the world at large to remember all of the many, many God-awful mistakes that Israel has made (including a series of military attacks in which hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians were killed) in trying to force Hamas to free Shalit — to absolutely no avail.

There are two sides here, and much as I mourn my own people’s losses and pray for Shalit’s safe return home, I cannot forget the suffering that my people, in turn, have caused.

The only way to end the madness is to end it. The only way to end the madness is to build a just peace.

************************

In December, 2010 it looked as if a deal might have been struck to swap Shalit for nearly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. I wrote about it at the time, but as we all know, nothing came of those negotiations. I want to quote some of the facts and figures from that post here; to read the whole thing, click here.

I have compiled a short, and certainly incomplete, timeline outlining the things Israel has done since June 25, 2006 in retaliation for the capture of its soldier, in retaliation for subsequent Hamas retaliations to Israeli attacks, and/or in the name of bringing Shalit home without negotiation:

  1. June 28, 2006 – Israel launches an assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Summer Rains” and said to be aimed at freeing Shalit. Great damage is done to Gaza’s infrastructure in the first days, including the destruction of several bridges and the Strip’s single power plant, leaving much of Gaza without electricity or running water.
  2. June 28, 2006 – Israeli jets fly a sortieover the home of Syrian President Bashir Assad, an act of saber-rattling directed at the government Israel accuses of being one of the main sponsors of Palestinian militant organizations. The IDF simultaneously “[raises] its alert level on the northern border, mainly for fear that Hizbullah or other groups will attempt to take advantage of the situation and cause an escalation.”
  3. June 29, 2006 – The IDF kidnaps64 Palestinian legislators and officials from inside Gaza, including eight government ministers.
  4. October 10, 2006 – The UN reportsthat a total of 256 Palestinians have been killed since June 28, of whom 60 are children. 848 have been injured. Some 355 acres of agricultural land have been destroyed, and 3,000 commercial fishermen have lost their incomes because the Israeli navy will not allow them access to fishing grounds off the Gaza coast. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and 31 Israelis injured. In response to the operation, Hamas has fired 465 Qassam rockets into Israel.
  5. November 1, 2006 – Israel launches “Operation Autumn Clouds,” focusing its attack on the Beit Hanoun neighborhood which frequently serves as a base for rocket fire into Israel. Over the course of eight days, the UN reports that at least 82 Palestinians are killed and 260 injured, and HaAretz concludesthat “the IDF wreaked havoc and terror in Beit Hanoun and left behind hundreds of wounded, as well as destroyed houses, uprooted orchards and a water system that was brought to a standstill. But despite all this, the declared aim of the operation was not achieved and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel continues.”
  6. November 14, 2006 – The UN expressesits “shock at the horror of Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun while they were asleep and other civilians fleeing earlier Israeli bombardment.”
  7. February 27, 2007 – Israel launches Operation Warm Winter; between Feb 27 and March 4, Israeli forces kill120 Palestinians, including 34 children, and 269 Palestinians are wounded. In the course of hostilities, 224 rockets and 49 mortars are fired into Israel; one Israeli is killed and 14 injured.
  8. December 27, 2008 – Israel launches Operation Cast Lead, now more commonly known as the Gaza War. In the first day, at least 225 Palestinians are killed and 700 wounded; B’tselem reports that in the course of the war, which lasts until January 18, 2009, Israeli forces killed 1,387 Palestinians, of whom 773 did not take part in the hostilities and 119 were under the age of 11. Three Israeli civilians were killed by Qassam rocket fire, six Israeli soldiers were killed in combat, and four were killed in a friendly fire incident. In July, the United Nations Development Program reported that it would likely take the Palestinians a year to clear the half a million tons of rubble created by Israeli bombardment and bulldozing in the course of the war. It’s widely presumed (and suggested by official Israeli statements) that the continued captivity of Gilad Shalit is at least one of the reasons for the launch of the war.