End of the Road Map

Everyone pooh-poohs the road map. From State Department and other “quartet” officials through the office of Ariel Sharon to international activists and the average person on the streets of Palestine and Israel, one would be hard-pressed to find a single believer in the “road map.” From the start it has been dismissed as another failed initiative, joining a long line from Mitchell and Tenet to Gunnar Jarring and the Roger’s Plan. But is it? In my view the road map possesses a significance that has been lost even on its adherents.

If The Road Map Fails: Permanent Apartheid

Looked at from the ground up, from the perspective of Israel’s completion of its three-decade campaign to create irreversible “facts on the ground,” the road map represents the last gasp of the two-state solution. This is the crunch. As anyone who has spent even a few hours in the Occupied Territories readily understands, Israel has entered in the last phase of fully and finally incorporating the West Bank into Israeli proper, of transforming a temporary occupation into a permanent state of apartheid. Sharon’s implementation of Jabotinsky’s doctrine of the “Iron Wall” establishing such massive “facts on the ground” that the Palestinians will despair of ever having a viable state of their own has reached its critical mass. The Israeli settlement blocs are so extensive, their incorporation into Israel proper by a massive system of highways and “by-pass roads” so complete and the Separation Wall physically confining the Palestinians to tiny cantons so advanced as to render any genuine two-state solution impossible and ridiculous. Given the unwillingness of the international community to force Israel’s withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and in particular the American Congress’s refusal to countenance any meaningful pressure on Israel, we may say that Israel is on the brink of emerging as the world’s next apartheid state. Only the road map, the last dying breath of the two-state solution, stands between the hope of Palestinian self-determination in their own viable and truly sovereign (if tiny) state and the de facto creation of one state controlled by Israel. Rather than merely another failed initiative on the way to yet others, we must view the road map as a watershed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its final failure will alter fundamentally the entire nature of struggle for a just and sustainable solution to the Palestinian issue.

The problem has less to do with vision, content and process than with implementation. As a document, the road map has a number of commendable elements. It is the first international document approved by the US that calls for “an end to the Occupation.” Indeed, it is the first that uses the term “occupation” at all, defying Israel’s longstanding denial that it even has an occupation. It is also the first initiative that sets as a goal the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, putting it far beyond the vague and open-ended negotiations of the Oslo Accords. The mere use of the term “viable” raised hopes that the international community had finally gotten wise to Israel’s strategy of creating “facts on the ground” that prejudice any negotiations and render a genuine Palestinian state impossible. The fact that the time-line was short and finite an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel by the year 2005 stood the road map in good stead. So, too, did the performance-based, mutual nature of the process, monitored by the Quartet rather than by the Americans exclusively, and the fact that the terms of reference included UN resolutions, agreements previously reached by the parties and the Saudi initiative. Both in its content and structure the road map is a well-conceptualized, do-able and potentially just attempt at achieving “a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

But, as everyone knew from the start, the will to make it work was lacking. Four months after its release the road map appears almost dead in its tracks. Russia and the UN never entered into the process in the first place, and Europe, as is its wont, passed all responsibility to the US. Bush, dutifully, announced in Aqaba that the US would once again assume the role as the sole mediator, acquiescing to one of Israel’s key “reservations.” While much effort was expended ensuring “reforms” in the Palestinian Authority (including the undemocratic installation of a Prime Minister with no public credibility) and while a low-ranking State Department official was dispatched to deal with “security concerns,” Israel’s campaign to finally consolidate its hold over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza proceeded unencumbered. Since no one had any illusions that the road map would produce any other result, there is no smug, self-congratulatory “I-told-you-so” attitude among its critics, nor any real sense of another missed opportunity. Instead there is a general hunkering down, a steadfast determination to continue the struggle against the Occupation regardless of how long it takes. The road map, alive only because it has not been declared dead, is on its way to being consigned to the dustbin of history, another one of the forgettable attempts to achieve a just peace in the Middle East.

The significance of the road map derives as much from its timing as its content. Coinciding with the completion of Israel’s irreversible incorporation of the West Bank, only immediate international pressure to truly end the Occupation, to force Israel to withdraw fully from the territories conquered in 1967 (with minor territorial adjustments) will secure the fundamental requirement of the two-state solution: a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state. If the road map fails or, more likely, falters, the initiative never being officially declared dead we enter into a state of de facto apartheid. Israel will be permitted to continue its incorporation process, the United States enters into an extended American presidential period in which no pressures will be applied on Israel at all, and another period of a year or two elapses before the next initiative is formulated. By that time even the illusion that a viable Palestinian state can be achieved will be finally gone. By its own hand Israel will have prevented the emergence of a viable Palestinian state and have created instead a single state. To be sure, Sharon, in signing on to the road map, declared his support for the two-state solution. The great danger facing Palestinians in the limbo of a non-dead road map process is that his version of a Palestinian state a truncated bantustan with no control of its borders, no freedom of movement, no economic viability, no access to its water resources, no meaningful presence in Jerusalem and no genuine sovereignty, one that leaves Israel with 90% of the country will be “sold” by the US as a viable Palestinian state, the successful outcome of the road map. This is Sharon’s scenario. As advocates for a just resolution of the conflict we must be on guard against such an eventuality and develop effective strategies to defeat it.

The Impending Struggle for a Single State

The looming failure of the road map to prevent de facto apartheid in Palestine-Israel will fundamentally alter the entire nature of the conflict. Israel by its own hand has rendered a viable two-state solution impossible. The only Palestinian “state” that could emerge from Israel’s matrix of control is a Palestinian bantustan. Assuming this is not an acceptable “solution,” only one other possibility exists: the creation of a single state in Palestine-Israel. (I have suggested in previous writings that given the permanence of Israeli control a truncated Palestinian state might be acceptable as a part of a “two-stage” solution involving the establishment of a wider Middle East Union in which residency is disconnected from citizenship. This, however, is so unlikely at this stage, and the need to end the Occupation so acute, that it cannot serve as a plan of action for the immediate future.)

The stage is thus set for the next phase of the struggle for a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: an international campaign for a single state. Since the Palestinian and Jewish populations are so intermingled (a million Palestinians live throughout Israel while some 400,000 Jews live throughout the Occupied Territories), the feasibility of a bi-national state, with the two peoples living in a kind of federation, seems unworkable. The permanency of Israel’s presence makes it imperative to incorporate it into any workable political arrangement (though neutralizing it as an agency of control). Given this “reality” on the ground, the most practical solution seems to be a unitary democratic state offering equal citizenship for all. If that is the case, our slogan in the post-road map period will be that of the South Africans’ struggle against apartheid: One Person, One Vote.

In this indeterminate twilight of the road map, we are still in a transition from the two-state solution in which our energies are devoted to ending the Occupation to a campaign for a single state, which acknowledges that the Occupation is permanent and therefore seeks to neutralize its controlling aspects by creating a common state framework. None of the actors are yet ready for such a shift — not the Palestinians, not the international community, not the peace and human rights activists, not world Jewry and certainly not Israeli Jews. Representatives of the Palestinian Authority have even suggested that raising the issue today is counterproductive since it goes beyond calls what even the most liberal proponents of peace are currently ready to accept.

As long as the road map offers a glimmer of hope that something can be done about Israel’s Occupation, discussion of alternative scenarios will be by definition premature. Such discussion will inevitably come, however, if and when the road map process fails and the stark reality of Israel’s permanent presence sinks in. Regardless of how we feel about a single state, it is time we begin to prepare ourselves conceptually and programmatically for such an eventuality and for the struggle an anti-apartheid campaign would generate. Following are a few of the elements that would inform such an effort:

(1) In our framing of the campaign for a single state, we should stress that as much as Israel might object, it is its own settlement and incorporation policies that are responsible. Since a Palestinian “state”-cum-bantustan, the only alternative entertained by Israel, is totally unacceptable and unworkable, Israel has brought the single state solution upon itself. A two-state solution that leaves Israel intact has been proposed by both the Palestinians and by the Arab League through the Saudi initiative. Indeed, it is a basic term of reference in the road map. As in the case of South Africa, however, where apartheid was put in place by white South African governments, Israel has only itself to blame if it has created, through its own settlement and occupation policies, a single state. Despite repeated warnings from the critical peace camp, successive Israeli governments, Labor as well as Likud, have locked the country into such a dead-end situation. The Israeli public may not support the vision of a “Greater Land of Israel” (recent polls say 65% of Israelis would like “separation” from the Occupied Territories), but its support of governments pursuing such policies makes it complicit and ultimately responsible. If the road map fails, it is in large measure because of the indifference of the Israeli public to its own leaders’ subversion of the initiative. To turn around and then complain that the demand for a democratic state in the entire country is “anti-Israel” and “anti-Zionist” is downright disingenuous. When the struggle for two states becomes, as I believe it must, a struggle for one democratic state, we must make it crystal clear that this development arises exclusively out of Israel’s refusal to countenance a viable Palestinian state on even 22% of the country.

Perhaps the realization of where Israel is headed will finally impel its Jewish public to reject policies, parties and leaders that maintain the Occupation. In that case the two-state option may be revisited. Until that happens, however, the priority of a campaign for a single state has been dictated by Israel itself.

(2) We must shift the focus of our efforts from ending the Occupation (which, when the road map fails, we must all admit will never happen) to achieving a democratic state. The slogan “One Person, One Vote” should provide a common mobilizing call for an international movement that must reach the scope and effectiveness of the campaign against South African apartheid. Indeed, the emergence of a single state as an agreed-upon goal something we lack today will make organizing much easier. On the way we must continue, of course, to oppose the Occupation and all its manifestations, including the ongoing repression of the Palestinian people. We might even advocate certain intermediate steps, such as an international protectorate over the Palestinian areas, in order to freeze Israel’s ongoing process of incorporation while protecting the civilian population. We must prepare ourselves nevertheless for the most likely upshot: a campaign against apartheid and for a single democratic state.

(3) We should couch our campaign in the language and requirements of human rights and international law. A campaign for a democratic state is intended to secure the rights of all the country’s inhabitants; it is not against the Israeli people or seeking in any way to delegitimize Israeli society or culture. Upholding the notion that the security and well-being of all the peoples of the region is guaranteed only through a political solution that addresses every people’s human rights and that national self-determination will have to find its expression through a regional Middle East Union we must present the single democratic state as a vehicle that will facilitate collective and individual rights rather than posing a threat. The fact that occupation and apartheid constitute fundamental challenges to a world ruled by human rights and law should also be a central message. Since the Israel-Palestinian-Arab conflict is emblematic to the Arab and Muslim worlds, certainly the notion that the international system will never find stability (including a response to terrorism) unless this issue is resolved will help raise wide concern over the effects of the conflict.

(4) We should call on the Jewish public Israeli and diaspora to avoid the suffering witnessed in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and engage pro-actively in this best chance for a just, secure and positive resolution to an otherwise irresolvable conflict. More than anything else, Zionism was about Jews taking responsibility for their own fate. A Jewish state has proven politically and, in the end, morally untenable. It is time we salvage the good parts of Israel its vibrant national culture, society, institutions and economy and let go of that which cannot be saved: exclusive “ownership” of a country in which the Jews will soon be the minority.

(5) We must recreate an international movement similar to the anti-apartheid one. This will be difficult; Israel has far greater credibility and support than apartheid did. But we find a way to link the many disparate NGOs and activist groups into a coherent and coordinated network focusing on the issue of the democratic state itself, and then forge them into a worldwide movement that goes far beyond our various groups and networks.

The Unitary State of Palestine/Israel: Fears and Opportunities

Although the establishment of a single democratic state in Palestine was long the program of the PLO, it is a truly wrenching option for many Palestinians today. Even if it acquires a Palestinian majority, a single state will have to incorporate a strong Israeli-Jewish society, culture, institutions and economy which, as in the case of the Europeans in South Africa, will not merely disappear. Besides having to share a state with others, thus not achieving full self-determination, some Palestinians fear that they may become a subordinate underclass in their own country. Thus, despite their grave doubts over implementation, many Palestinians are reluctant to abandon the road map or to contemplate the demise of the two-state solution.

For the Israelis, too, the prospect of a single state is obviously wrenching. Indeed, since a Jewish-Israeli state already exists, its transformation into a single state including a Palestinian majority is far more threatening to them. It means the end of Zionism, the end of a Jewish state qua Jewish state. But the Israeli public has only itself to blame. Despite repeated warnings from intellectuals in the critical peace camp, it allowed successive governments, Labor as well as Likud, to lock it into such a distressing situation. The “two-state” solution envisioned by all Israeli governments since 1967 a cantonized Palestinian mini-state affiliated or not with Jordan is simply unacceptable, not only to Palestinians but also to the international community. Not only does it fail to address fundamental Palestinian needs, thus leading to continued conflict, but also as apartheid system involves by its very nature massive violations of human rights and international law. Although we, as members of the international civil society must be prepared to fight Israeli apartheid, just as we led the struggle against apartheid in South Africa despite support for the regime from the US and other governments, we must proceed from the assumption that a new apartheid situation will not be countenanced by the international community and cannot serve as a political “solution.”

As an Israeli, I must say that the prospect of a single state encompassing our two peoples challenges rather than threatens me. Even without the Occupation, the notion of a Jewish state is demographically impossible, and Israel faces a fundamental transformation. Most Jews some 75% of them never came to Israel. Wherever they had a choice, most Jews preferred to migrate elsewhere. The Jewish majority stands at only 72% and is dwindling in relation to the growing Palestinian-Israeli population, the influx of some 400,000 non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and large-scale emigration (it is estimated that up to a half million Israeli Jews live permanently abroad). Maintaining a “Jewish” state on such a narrow base is becoming increasingly non-sustainable. The measures Israel must take to ensure its “Jewish character” are becoming progressively more repressive. By law “non-Jews” are forbidden to buy, rent, lease or live on “state lands” 75% of the country. The Palestinian citizens of Israel, almost 20% of the population, are confined to 2% of the land. Only a few weeks ago the Knesset enacted a law preventing Palestinian citizens of Israel from bringing their spouses from the Occupied Territories to live with them in Israel. An Israel belonging to all its citizens and beyond that, a democratic state of Israel-Palestine will finally release us from the preoccupation with the “demographic bomb” and lead us into a productive involvement in the wider region. This “homecoming,” after all, was a cardinal aim of Zionism, as was the creation of an Israeli culture and society that will only flourish under conditions of regional development. The Saudi offer of regional integration indicates that such an eventuality is indeed possible.

As cultural Zionists like Ahad Ha-am, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes argued, Jewish national identity does not require a state of its own, only a cultural space where it may develop and flourish. For all its shortcomings, the state of Israel provided that cultural space. The vitality of Israeli culture, society, polity and economy is no longer dependent upon a state structure, a kind of political “greenhouse.” “Israeliness” has reached a stage of maturity that it no longer needs the protection of a state and, indeed, is being held back by it, since the conflicts that state generates prevents healthy social and cultural development. A true homecoming in which Israeli “natives” engage with their neighbors in a peaceful and prosperous Middle East marks, if you will, the ultimate triumph of Zionism (“triumph” in its own terms, not over anyone else).

Still, two major reservations of Jews to a single state must be noted and addressed. First, the issue of self-determination. For nationalist Jews, the issue of cultural development was subordinated to the perceived need to control their destiny, to never again be dependent upon others given the Jews’ history of persecution. Since the vast majority of Jews chose to settle abroad and not in Israel (including a considerable portion of Israeli Jews themselves), this issue seems to be moot. It is doubly moot given the fact that the Jewish majority in Israel is dwindling, and that exclusive control cannot be reconciled with democracy. For better or worse, the internal contradictions between control of one’s destiny and living as a minority among others become too great to reconcile. Those of us in the Israeli peace movement would argue that Jewish security is best protected in an inclusive world order based on the enforcement of human rights and international law. The other objection to a single state revolves around the issue of refuge. Where could Jews find refuge in a time of need a pertinent question given the Jewish experience (including recent ones of Ethiopian Jews). If the vision of a single state is founded on the belief that Israeli Jews and Palestinians can live together in peace and mutual respect, then this concern could be addressed by an article in the new state’s constitution specifying that both Jews and Palestinians possess the right of return to the country, and that members of both peoples in need of refuge will be automatically accepted. The very enactment of such a law would go a long way towards assuring each people of the good intentions of the other.

For Palestinians, too, the prospect of a single state need not appear a concession to the idea of self-determination in a state of their own. A single state would give Palestinians access to the entire country and would resolve absolutely the issue of refugee return. Since the Palestinians will become the majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean within a decade, they will exert a considerable measure of self-determination and will, to a large extent, set the tone for the country. The issue of Palestinian national expression still remains outstanding, however. Since 1948 the very character of the Palestinian people has been changed from a people living on its native land to a diaspora nation comprised of refugees, the “internally displaced” and those who have made new lives abroad. The vital Palestinian Diaspora will certainly play a key role in developing the Palestinian sector as well as the state as a whole, and will provide a counterweight to internal Israeli hegemony.

Although the failure of the road map marks the end of two nationalisms Israeli Jewish and Palestinian the prospect of a unitary democratic state offers integration, security, development, a mode of life far more conducive to the modern world than narrow sectarian states. If the road map fails and with it the two-state solution, it is hoped that Israel will finally realize the futility of pursuing the path of domination and apartheid, and will pro-actively seize the opportunity to create for itself and its neighbors a peaceful Middle East in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians together will be among the leading forces for democratization and development.

JEFF HALPER is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the author of An Israeli in Palestine (Pluto Press: forthcoming). He can be reached at icahd@zahav.net.il


Jeff Halper is an anti-colonial Israeli anthropologist, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a founding member of the One Democratic State Campaign. He is the author of  War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification. (London: Pluto, 2015). His latest book is Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism and the Case for One Democratic State (London: Pluto, 2021). He can be reached at jeffhalper@gmail.comHe can be reached at jeffhalper@gmail.com.