I WAS shocked when I read the headline in Haaretz. It quoted Sari Nusseibeh as saying "There is no Room for Two", meaning two states between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan.
What? Has Nusseibeh abandoned his support for a solution based on coexistence between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine?
I read his long interview with Akiva Eldar and calmed down. Calmed down and immediately got angry. Because the heading was a gross distortion. It had no bearing on what was said in the interview. And since many people read only the heading and do not bother to study the text underneath, this is a deception.
How do such things happen? In Haaretz, as in most other newspapers, the rule is that the headings are not composed by the writers, but by the page editor. This may lead to utterly misleading headings – either through ignorance, negligence, or malice.
This time the matter and the person are too important to pass over in silence.
* * *
FAIR DISCLOSURE: I like Sari Nusseibeh very much. We once walked arm in arm at the head of a demonstration in the Old City of Jerusalem. We shared a peace prize in Germany (the Lev Kopelev Prize of 2003, named after the exiled Russian human rights activist.)
I knew his father, Anwar Nusseibeh, a true Palestinian aristocrat, who served during the Jordanian occupation as a Jordanian Minister of Defense and ambassador to the Court of St. James. Soon after the start of the Israeli occupation, I asked him in confidence whether he would prefer to go back to Jordanian rule or have an independent Palestinian state. He told me in no uncertain terms that he preferred the latter.
Sari enjoyed a British education along with the Palestinian. Some people see him as aloof, even overbearing, but I know him as a sensitive, modest person. He is very courageous, both morally and physically, frequently voicing very unpopular views. As a result he has been beaten up several times.
Five years ago, in cooperation with the Israeli Admiral (and current minister without portfolio) Ami Ayalon, he published an unambiguous peace plan, envisioning the establishment of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, with the border based on the Green Line and with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. The plan was not very different from the earlier Gush Shalom peace plan or the later Geneva Initiative.
Therefore I was shocked when I saw the headline. Could it be that Nusseibeh has forsaken the central plank of his outlook?
* * *
IN THE interview, Nusseibeh says something entirely different. Not only does he not say that "there is no room for two", but on the contrary: he lauds the Two-State Solution as the best practical solution. However, he adds a warning to the Israelis: because of the rapid expansion of the settlements, time for the realization of this solution is running out. He even fixes a time limit: the end of 2008.
This amounts to an ultimatum: If the Israelis miss this opportunity, which is still there, and if they continue to accelerate the settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Palestinians will turn their backs on this solution. Instead, they will accept the annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories to Israel, i.e. Israeli rule over the entire country between the sea and the river, and struggle for equal civil rights within this state. He calls this a "default alternative".
Nusseibeh is holding the demographic pistol against the temple of the Israeli public. He is telling them, in effect: the Palestinians will be a large minority in such a state. Their struggle for equality will compel Israel, in the end, to accord them full citizenship. Within a few years the Arab citizens will constitute the majority. Exit the Zionist dream. Exit the Jewish State. (Tzipi Livni, by the way, is saying much the same thing.)
Nusseibeh knows the Israelis well. He knows that the demographic obsession drives them mad. The demographic demon pursues them in their dreams. The frantic discussion of this subject dominates the Israeli discourse. He believes, therefore, that this threat will compel the Israelis to hurry and agree to the Two-State Solution. That is the main objective of the interview.
* * *
WITH ALL due respect and friendship for Nusseibeh, I believe that this tactic of his is unwise. Very unwise.
In his eyes, and in the eyes of some intellectuals on both sides, there are only two possibilities: the "Two-State Solution" or the "One-State Solution". A Palestinian state alongside Israel or a bi-national State, where equality between all the citizens, Jews and Arabs, is assured.
That is a dangerous misconception.
The "One-State Solution" is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The One-State idea is not a solution, but an anti-solution. It is a recipe for an ongoing bloody conflict. Not a dream, but a nightmare.
There is no chance at all that the Jewish public will agree, in this generation or the next, to live as a minority in a state dominated by an Arab majority. 99.99% of the Jewish population will fight against this tooth and nail. The demography will not stop haunting them, but on the contrary, it will push them to do things which are unthinkable today. Ethnic cleansing will become a practical agenda. Even moderate Israelis will be driven into the arms of the fascist right-wing. All means of oppression will become acceptable when the Jewish majority adopts the aim of causing the Arabs to leave the country before they have a chance of becoming the majority.
True believers in the bi-national state idea will say: OK, let it be. We shall have one or two generations of bloodshed, of a state of civil war, but in the end we shall persuade or compel the Jews to accord the Palestinians citizenship and equality. But what normal people would take such a risk?
The real choice is, therefore: the "Two-State Solution" or the "Ethnic Cleansing Solution".
In the best case, the bi-national state is impractical. I assume that Nusseibeh, too, knows this. In his eyes, the threat is a tactical move. He goes even further and suggests carrying out the threat at once in Jerusalem.
The Arab residents of East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens and cannot take part in Knesset elections. However, they have the right to vote in municipal elections. Until now they have boycotted these elections, because participating would imply recognition of Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.
Nusseibeh raises the possibility of the Arab residents ending the boycott and putting up an election list of their own. They amount to roughly a third of the city’s population, and the Jewish majority is divided between the orthodox and the secular, so the Arabs would be able to decide who would be the next mayor. Nusseibeh does not reject the idea of running for the job himself. He believes that this would frighten the Jews out of their wits.
* * *
THE REAL danger inherent in this tactic is not that it would convert people into accepting the bi-national state idea. The danger is far greater and much more immediate.
The main danger is this: If the whole country is about to become a bi-national state anyway, there is no further reason to restrict Jewish settlement anywhere at all.
Nusseibeh argues that time for the Two-State Solution is running out because of Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, and especially in East Jerusalem. But it is precisely the One-State idea that opens the floodgates to unrestricted Jewish settlement. In theory, it also allows the Palestinians to adopt this option – but even mentioning this possibility reveals its absurdity.
The real struggle today is about the settlements. It is being waged all over the country, for every settlement, every "outpost", every by-pass road, every housing project. It is a titanic struggle that is being fought out everywhere, from the "Har Homa" settlement in Jerusalem to the "Separation Wall’ (which is nothing but a means for enlarging the settlements, as even the Israeli Supreme Court now admits.)
The Nusseibeh tactic pulls the rug out from under all those of us who fight against the land grab and settlements – from the courageous activists who are daily demonstrating and being injured in the struggle against the Wall, to our friends abroad, who address public opinion in their own countries.
The "vision" of the bi-national state belongs to the far future, but the immediate result of campaigning for it is to remove all obstacles to the settlement effort.
* * *
THIS IS also the objective which Ehud Olmert, with his devious maneuvering, has in mind. He proclaims loudly that he is in favor of the Two-State Solution, but only a fool would take him seriously, considering what he is doing on the ground.
Two weeks ago, his people leaked the peace plan which he is submitting to the Palestinian Authority. An innocent, even positive plan.
Its main ingredients: Israel will return all the occupied territories to the Palestinian state, except 7% of the area, where the settlement blocs are located. In return, Israel will turn over to the Palestinians areas of Israel proper, equal to 5.5% of the West Bank. In addition, Israel will allow the Palestinians the use of a passage to be opened between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. That will make up for the difference between the areas of the land swap.
So where is the sting? The devil, as the saying goes, is hiding in the small details. The accord would be a "shelf agreement". It will be implemented in the future. When? Ah, well…
The occupied territories in the West Bank will be returned to the Palestinians when the Palestinian Authority proves that it is able to control them. Who will decide? We, of course.
The Israeli areas that are to be turned over to the Palestinians, in return for the areas which will be annexed to Israel, are located alongside the Gaza Strip. When will they be turned over? After the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip has been overthrown and the Palestinian Authority asserts itself there. The same applies to the Gaza-West Bank passage. When will that happen? As the ancient Romans said: "ad calendas graecas", on the Greek Calends. (In the Roman calendar, the Calends were the first days of the month – the Greek calendar had no Calends.)
The real sting became apparent when Olmert’s "confidants" explained that immediately after the acceptance of the "shelf agreement" by the Palestinians, Israel will start to accelerate the settlement activities, since – according to the agreement – the settlement blocs will in any case become part of Israel. Even the Americans could not object to that, after the Palestinians themselves have agreed to the annexation of these areas to Israel.
Simply put: all these agreements are empty words, and only one thing is practical and immediate: the settlements will be ceaselessly expanded.
* * *
IN CHRISTIAN mythology, the devil has a cloven hoof. Sometimes this hoof shows under his long robe, giving him away.
Our devil’s hoof is the settlements. While scrutinizing any idea or plan, one should lift the hem of the robe and see what it is standing on.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.