Palestinians should be prepared to embrace idea of a binational state
Osama Al-Sharif
Less than a week after President Donald Trump, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, released his now infamous vision/plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians at a White House ceremony, the US administration got its answer. It was a resounding “no” from the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Arab League and Muslim nations. The show of unity, particularly by Arab states, is of fundamental importance for the Palestinians. President Mahmoud Abbas was reassured of the support of key regional players, especially Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
But what happens now? The Trump administration has asked Israel to wait until after next month’s Knesset elections before taking any unilateral action under the proposed plan. The fact remains that annexation of Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley — just like the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — is a clear violation of international law, the Geneva Conventions and UN resolutions. Such moves, if taken, will neither advance the cause of peace nor bring the Palestinians and Israelis closer to a just and lasting settlement.
That’s why the plan was rebuffed by Russia, France and the UN, among others. Abbas will head for New York next week to plead his case before the UN Security Council. The US will foil his efforts to pass a resolution rejecting the plan. But applying diplomatic pressure is only one way of resisting the one-sided plan, which gives everything to Israel and nothing to the Palestinians, short of a cluttered entity enjoying limited self-rule.
There is more that the Palestinians can and must do. Chief among them is the restoration of unity and ending the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. This is a true test for the Palestinian leadership if it is to foil attempts to change the parameters of the conflict with Israel. Unfortunately, the signs are not encouraging, as the two sides continue to distrust each other and cling to power.
Abbas will also need to restore his own credibility. At the Arab League meeting in Cairo on Saturday, he declared that he had sent letters to Israel and the US informing them of the suspension of contacts, including security coordination. He went further to say that the PA had canceled its commitment to the Oslo Accords. But such threats were made in the past, only to be discredited by Israel itself. Abbas has the legal backing of Palestine Liberation Organization institutions to carry out such threats, but he hesitates from taking the ultimate and decisive move of disbanding the PA and declaring the West Bank an occupied territory.
While the Palestinians should continue to back the two-state solution, as reiterated by the Arab League on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, they should also prepare themselves for the fact that Israel might still go ahead and annex its settlements and the Jordan Valley. Such steps, aimed at legitimizing occupation under Trump’s plan, would almost certainly close the chapter on the viability of the two-state solution.
This is why the Palestinians should be ready to change course and adopt a new approach: Demand full legal and civil rights in a binational state in historical Palestine. In fact, the Trump plan has polarized the Israelis. There is a growing fear that the Trump vision will lead to one of two realities: Making Israel a de facto apartheid state ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians; or, even worse for Israel’s far right, forcing an end to the Jewish state and making the only possible alternative a binational state.
So far, Trump’s plan has failed to help a beleaguered Netanyahu improve his chances at the polls. Fear of the forced transfer of Palestinian citizens will almost certainly result in an unprecedented Arab voter turnout in the March elections. Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, while welcoming Trump’s vision, said that he would deal with it once he forms a government and only after discussing it with the Palestinians and Jordan. A poll of polls published by Haaretz this week showed Gantz’s Blue and White coalition leading by at least two seats.
Abbas must seize the moment and appeal to the Israelis directly ahead of the crucial March vote. He should stress the point that, once annexation takes place, the PA will disband itself and declare the West Bank as territory under Israeli occupation. The death of the two-state solution would affect Israel as much as the Palestinians. Annexation will be a game changer and a path toward an unwanted outcome that would be anathema for Israel’s right wing. It will polarize Israel for years and turn the country into a supreme ruler of millions of Palestinians living under occupation in Bantustans. Trump’s plan is a disaster for Israel, as well as the Palestinians.