Middle East Eye / June 4, 2019
Palestinians are in a position of historic vulnerability as we approach a potentially monumental period of negotiations.
A group of former EU ministers recently published a letter in The Guardian warning that the situation in Israel and Palestine is “sliding into a one-state reality of unequal rights” as they called for adherence to the two-state solution within the framework of the Oslo Accords.
Although clearly an attempt to challenge the further deterioration of Palestinian rights, particularly in light of what appeared to be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election, the letter obscures the fact that the one-state reality is already here, and provides complicit cover for the worsening situation in the West Bank.
Two weeks before the 9 April elections, US President Donald Trump boosted Netanyahu by formally recognising Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights, Syrian land it has occupied since the 1967 war.
Violating international law
With one signature, the US rewarded Israel’s lengthy violation of international law, laying the groundwork for its annexation of the rest of the West Bank (East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967). A few days before the election, Netanyahu vowed to begin the annexation process. This was not a rogue statement: most Likud members who ran for re-election are behind it. In this context, it is easy to envisage Trump giving his seal of approval to this move as well.
Annexation would mean a series of legislative measures extending Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank, leading to the consolidation of Bantustan-like entities for Palestinians. Rather than one sweeping move, annexation will continue to be a gradual process, turning Israel’s de facto control into de jure control.
This process began more than 50 years ago, in 1967, when Israel gained complete control over all of historic Palestine’s borders – land, sea and air – giving it effective control over the movement of people and goods. Even when Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas wants to leave the West Bank, he must obtain Israel’s permission.
While the PA has control over the Palestinian population in Area A (less than a fifth of the West Bank), broader control of land and resources by Israel is absolute, and these are diverted for the benefit and use of Israeli Jews.
On both sides of the Green Line, Israel limits Palestinians to as little land as possible. This has been seen through the gerrymandering of borders in Jerusalem; the expulsion of Bedouin communities, such as Khan al-Ahmar; and the appropriation of huge swathes of Palestinian land in the Galilee and the Naqab, in present-day Israel.
Meanwhile, the Israeli practice of segregating populations is becoming more apparent, though the legal mechanisms that divide Jews from non-Jews are decades old. The passing of the nation-state law last year outraged many progressives, as it seemingly enshrined Jewish supremacy through its declaration that Jews alone have the right to self-determination in the land.
Yet, the law only reiterated what already exists in Israeli legislation, particularly in its Basic Laws, which function as the state’s constitution. While Palestinian citizens of Israel are permitted bits of nominal political space, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and Syrians in the Golan, have no say over the administration that governs them.
The Oslo process has allowed Israel to gradually disempower the Palestinian people through these practices. Though Oslo was supposed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, its parameters allowed for Israeli dominance, and Palestinians unwittingly signed a capitulation agreement.
The international community’s consistent embrace of Oslo and its narrative has provided complicit cover for the Israeli regime and the prioritisation of the two-state solution over basic Palestinian rights. Even in the face of the one-state reality, and a quarter-century after the signing of the accords, the narrative continues to be spouted in a futile attempt at resuscitation, as evidenced by the recent Guardian letter.
This reiteration of a failed framework, with little to no action on the ground and no consequences for Israel, has placed Palestinians in a position of historic vulnerability as we approach a potentially monumental period of negotiations.
An affront to justice
Trump adviser Jared Kushner has stated that the “deal of the century” will be released after Ramadan, which could mean imminently, although Netanyahu’s failure to form a government and the snap elections may provide an excuse for a further delay. The PA, without knowing the deal’s contents, has already rejected it.
In light of the US decisions on the Golan and on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, along with its attack on Palestinian refugees through the de-funding of the UN agency that serves them, it is clear that any “deal” will be an affront to international law, justice and equality.
The deal will provide a litmus test for states around the world to demonstrate their commitment to international law and justice. The response can no longer be a reiteration of the Oslo framework.
In the face of escalating Israeli aggression and Israel’s US-supported abandonment of the two-state solution, the international community must put forward a new narrative that acknowledges the one-state reality.
This acknowledgement does not mean turning from international law or giving up on Palestinian aspirations for political sovereignty. Rather, it accepts the fact of absolute Israeli control.
The outgoing French ambassador to the US recently described Israel as an apartheid state, and although he backpedalled after arousing the ire of Israel’s supporters, it was an important admission. It is now more imperative than ever for others to follow suit and to state the reality on the ground.
Indeed, calling Israel what it is – a single apartheid state – opens a new box of tools to tackle the power imbalance at hand, and to at last allow space for the realisation of Palestinian rights.
Yara Hawari is the Palestine Policy Fellow for Al-Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network. She completed her PhD at the University of Exeter in Middle East politics and frequently writes for various media outlets.