Jonathan Freedland ('Britain should say yes to Palestinian statehood - and so should Israel' Guardian, September 14) presents the Israel-Palestine conflict as a territorial matter. 'The only way to resolve this most stubborn of conflicts' he writes, 'is for these two nations to divide the land between them into two states.'
Actually, the territorial question is only one half part of the solution; the Palestinian half, so to speak. The Israeli half concerns the existential question. Until Israel's security needs are met, and a realistic agreement is struck about the Palestinian refugees that doesn't threaten Israel as a Jewish state, then we do not have a conflict-ending agreement, only another stage in an ongoing campaign to end the Jewish state. That campaign began on the day in 1947 when the UN announced partition - two states for two peoples - and seven Arab armies invaded.
There is a brutally inconvenient fact about the two-state solution, and liberals in the West routinely bracket it. Peace requires an excruciatingly painful compromise on the part of the Palestinians: their acceptance that the refugees, or almost all the refugees, are not coming back. Pre-67 Israel, with land swaps, will remain the state of the Jewish people. The vast majority of Israelis have accepted two states for two peoples - the Jewish state must co-exist alongside a viable Palestinian state. The dangers of next week's debate at the UN is that the international community sponsorship will only delay that day when the Palestinians finally accept they cannot rewind the film of history and replay it, with 5 million refugees returning.
It is tempting to pin all the blame for the lack of progress in the peace process on an ogre. Jonathan Freedland argues that the health of the two-state solution has been deteriorating 'since Binyamin Netanyahu returned to the prime minister's office.' It's all going wrong because of 'the Israeli PM's stubbornness.' The main thing is not to 'boost Bibi.' And so on. There are two problems with this argument.
First, it is an oddly unhistorical version of the story, omitting some key facts. At Camp David in 2000, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack offered a Palestinian state. He hugged Arafat and began negotiations with an offer to withdraw from 100% of the Gaza Strip and over 90% of the West Bank. The negotiations ended without Arafat making a counter offer - and a bitter Bill Clinton concluded Arafat was never serious. Then came the second intifada - and a disillusioned Israeli public decided it had no partner. Some Israelis are indeed calling on Netanyahu to go, while some criticise him for not maintaining the momentum generated by Olmert, Livni and Abbas at Annapolis. But the two-state solution is 'ailing' for more reasons than Bibi.
Second, however much he may set the teeth of liberals on edge, Netanyahu stood before Congress and said 'I stood before my people, and I said... "I will accept a Palestinian state." It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say... "I will accept a Jewish state." Those six words will change history.'? Was he wrong?
There is one word Jonathan does not mention: Hamas. The terror group indulges eliminationist anti-Semitism but the PA is negotiating a reconciliation agreement with it? Who is the UN dealing with here? Many Western liberals find it easy to ignore the blood-curdling threats against all Jews in the Hamas Charter, but why should Israelis be so insouciant?
Jonathan also looks forward to the Palestinians gaining 'access to some of the major international institutions.' Was it Samuel Johnson who said "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? 'Lawfare' carries the risk of embittering the parties, entrenching the maximalists on both sides, and pushing direct negotiations into the distance.
Even J-Street, liberals and two-state'ers to a man and woman, an organisation routinely excoriated by AIPAC, decided in the end to oppose the Palestinians bid for unilateral recognition at the UN because 'a Palestinian application for full UN membership this September does not stand to appreciably advance that goal or improve conditions on the ground.'
If it was just a matter of the UN making a symbolic endorsement of the principle of two states, and urging renewed direct negotiations on that basis, Jonathan would be right to urge the UK government to vote yes next week. But more is at stake, dangers abound, and much could go terribly wrong on Day 2.
Whatever our disagreements, friends of a two-state solution should urge the UK government to minimise the damage: no diversion of the peace process into the ICC, no back-door for Hamas, the continuation of the successful security cooperation between Israel and the PA, and of support for the PAs nation-building programme.
Perhaps we can yet make the debate in New York an ante-chamber to direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah on the basis of Obama's May speeches. For make no mistake, that's where the solution lies.
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