The One State Ultimatum

Sep 07, 2008 Published under Israel, Mideast Negotiations, OneVoice Movement, Palestine

More and more mainstream Palestinians disenchanted with the continuing occupation are wondering if they should get behind the call for a "bi-national" "one state" approach.  Most of them prefer a Palestinian State unencumbered by Israeli Jews, and would prefer a two-state solution.  But they wonder if negotiations will ever really lead to this, and wonder if Israelis are willing to make the historic sacrifices and compromises necessary (something most Israelis wonder in parallel about Palestinians).

So many Palestinians want to use the "One State" approach more as a threat or bluff, than as a preferred course.

The Palestine Strategy Group ( just published a paper analyzing alternative options to accelerate either a two state solution or the One State approach.

While a lot of arguments in this study are compelling and make sense for Palestinians who want to end the occupation, I really worry that the movement towards this One State Threat will backfire.  Here is why.

If Palestinians start pursuing the one-state approach, to the vast majority of Israelis it will translate to “you see, they want the whole thing, a phased approach to Greater Palestine, so let’s not negotiate anything, because we are not getting any real peace in return.”

The “one-state” “threat” is a dangerous one.  On one side it may awaken some people to recognize that if they don’t move fast to end the occupation through two states, that option will disappear.  But on the other side most Israelis may be so threatened and turned off by this vision that they will assume Palestinians are not serious about a two state solution.


So, to the Palestinian people I recommend: amplify your voice of support for a two-state solution – emphasize you respect Israel’s right to exist, but demand also your liberty and dignity.  THAT WILL BE FAR MORE EFFECTIVE IN RALLYING ISRAELIS AND THE WORLD BEHIND YOU.

And to the Israeli people I recommend: get your act together and support the moderate majority of Palestinians who want a two state solution, before it truly becomes too late and we become enmeshed in an eternal battleground.  Be a credible partner by showing real progress towards establishing a Palestinian State that is vibrant and free.  This can become your formidable partner for the future.


August 2008
· The current negotiations in the ‘Annapolis’ peace initiative have
reached a critical point. On the sixtieth anniversary of the Nakba, after
twenty years of fruitless negotiation for a Palestinian state on the basis
of the historic recognition by the PLO in 1988 of the existence of the
State of Israel, it is time for Palestinians to reconsider this entire
strategic path to their national objectives. Although already greatly
inflated beyond the original 57% allotted in UN General Assembly
Resolution 181 in 1947, Israel shows no sign of accepting even the
78% of historic Palestine that lies within the 1967 borders, but
continues to encroach beyond them in order to create new ‘facts on the
ground’ that will progressively render an independent Palestinian state
on the remaining 22% inoperable. A weak Israeli government is
confronted by strong internal resistance to any compromises
whatsoever, while a divided Israeli public is not ready to take the
necessary risks. Indeed, Israel refuses formally and consistently even
to accept the fact that it is an occupying power with concomitant duties
in international law. Instead Israel calculates that a negotiated two state
outcome on the 1988 basis is permanently available, and supposes
that it can perpetually hold out for better alternatives to a negotiated
agreement. The Israeli position rests on the assumption that
procrastination will continue to tilt the strategic balance increasingly in
Israel’s favour. In short, Israel is not a serious negotiating partner.
· The central proposal in this Report is that Israel’s strategic calculations
are wrong. Israeli strategic planners overestimate their own strength
and underestimate the strategic opportunities open to Palestinians.
There are four main perceived alternatives to a negotiated agreement
that are attractive to Israel and therefore prevent Israel from reaching a
final settlement on the terms offered. It is a key strategic aim of
Palestinians to make clear to Israel why these four alternatives are
simply not available.
* First, the default option of prolonging negotiations indefinitely by
pretending that ‘progress has been made’ and that suspensions are
temporary as during the past twenty years, with ongoing
encroachments and military incursions, few burdens, and
considerable financial and other benefits from continuing
* Second, a pseudo provisional ‘two state agreement’ with a
strengthened but severely constrained PA masquerading as a
Palestinian government while Israel disaggregates and picks off the
‘historic issues’ and retains permanent control.
* Third, a unilateral separation dictated by Israel.
* Fourth, a control of the occupied territories by Egypt and Jordan.
· But these four alternatives are unacceptable to Palestinians. They do
not take Palestinian national aspirations seriously. Indeed, they aim to
undermine Palestinians’ national identity and rights altogether. So, if
Israel refuses to negotiate seriously for a genuine two-state outcome,
Palestinians can and will block all four of them by switching to an
alternative strategy made up of a combination of four linked
reorientations to be undertaken singly or together.
* First, the definitive closing down of the 1988 negotiation option so
long abused by Israel. This blocks the first two preferred Israeli
alternatives to a genuine negotiated agreement.
* Second, the reconstitution of the Palestinian Authority so that it will
not serve future Israeli interests by legitimising indefinite occupation
and protecting Israel from bearing its full burden of the costs of
occupation (it may become a Palestinian Resistance Authority).
This also blocks the first two preferred Israeli alternatives, and also
helps to block the third.
* Third, the elevation of ‘smart’ resistance over negotiation as the
main means of implementation for Palestinians, together with a
reassertion of national unity through reform of the PLO, the
empowerment of Palestinians, and the orchestrated eliciting of
regional and international third party support. The central aim will be
to maximise the cost of continuing occupation for Israel, and to
make the whole prospect of unilateral separation unworkable.
* Fourth, the shift from a two state outcome to a (bi-national or unitary
democratic) single state outcome as Palestinians’ preferred
strategic goal. This reopens a challenge to the existence of the
State of Israel in its present form, but in an entirely new and more
effective way than was the case before 1988.
Is this what Israel wants? Israel cannot prevent Palestinians from a
strategic reorientation along these lines. Does Israel really want to
force Palestinians to take these steps?
· The result of a reorientation of Palestinian strategy will clearly be much
worse for Israel than the negotiation of a genuine two state outcome on
the basis of the existing 1988 offer. Although many Palestinians may
still prefer a genuine negotiated two state solution, a failure of the
present Annapolis initiative will greatly strengthen those who argue
against this. Most Palestinians are then likely to be convinced that a
negotiated agreement is no longer possible. What is undoubtedly the
case is that a reversal of the 1988 offer and the adoption of an
alternative strategy is much preferable for Palestinians to any of the
four preferred Israeli alternatives to a negotiated agreement. So, if
current negotiations fail, Palestinians will be driven to replace the 1988
offer by a new strategy, not just rhetorically but in reality. The
negotiated two state outcome will then be definitively cancelled.
Palestinians will ensure that Israel is seen to be responsible for the
closure of their 20 year offer. Israel will have lost an historic and nonrecurrent
opportunity to end the conflict and to secure its own future
survival on the best terms available for Israel.
· In short Palestinians are able to block all four of Israel’s best
alternatives to a genuine negotiated outcome via a fundamental
reorientation of strategy. Israel is not able to block this
reorientation. The result of such a reorientation would be far
worse for Israel than that of a genuine negotiated outcome. The
result of such a reorientation would be far better for Palestinians
than any of Israel’s best alternatives to a genuine negotiated
outcome. Therefore, when Palestinians calculate that a genuine
negotiated outcome is no longer available, they undoubtedly will
reorientate their strategy, not only rhetorically but in reality, and
will finally close down their twenty year 1988 offer.
· Palestinians, therefore, have three main immediate parallel strategic
tasks, which it is the central purpose of this Report to outline.
· The first strategic task is the detailed working out of a fundamental
reorientation of Palestinian strategy along the lines outlined above,
including the new preferred strategic path, and the full range of means
of implementation. All of this is commented upon in the main body of
the Report. This task must be undertaken in all seriousness and on the
assumption that present negotiations will fail. Even if only used as a
strategic threat in order to force Israel to negotiate seriously, the
intention must still be to implement the new strategy should
negotiations fail. An empty threat is strategically no threat. A mere bluff
does not work. So it is now an urgent priority for Palestinians to agree
and work out in detail their alternative to a negotiated agreement and to
communicate this as soon as possible and as forcefully as possible to
Israel. This must be the immediate focus of unified national strategic
planning that includes all Palestinians, from different backgrounds,
generations, genders, and political affiliations, both those living in the
occupied territories and those living elsewhere.
· The second strategic task is to make sure that Israel understands the
terms on which the 1988 offer is still held open by Palestinians and is
clear about what Palestinians can and will do should these terms not
be met. Has a national movement ever made a concession on a similar
scale to that made by Palestinians in 1988? In negotiations Israelis
repeatedly say ‘we do all the giving and the Palestinians do all the
taking’. This is the opposite of the truth. Palestinians continue to
demand no more than 22% of their historic land. It is Israel that has
done all the taking through continuous government-backed settler
encroachment on this remaining 22%. The second strategic task for
Palestinians, therefore, is to spell out the minimum terms acceptable
for negotiating a fully independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders,
and to explain clearly why this is by far the best offer that Israel will
ever get, including guarantees for Israel’s future security from
neighbouring Arab states. Palestinians will set out a clear timetable for
judging whether this has been attained or is attainable. It is
Palestinians who will judge ‘success’, and it is Palestinians who will
decide how long to persist in negotiations and when the moment has
come to change strategy entirely.
· The third strategic task is to ensure that it is the Palestinian discourse
that frames international discussion of the Palestinian future. This is
elucidated in the Report. The aim is to make clear to regional and
international third parties that in all this it is not Palestinians who are
lacking in commitment to a negotiated outcome, but Israel. Palestinians
have persisted for twenty years with their historic offer of 1988. Israel
has refused to honour it. That is why Israeli protestations are no longer
credible to Palestinians. Israel has given Palestinians no option but to
look elsewhere for fulfilment of their national aspirations. Israel bears
full responsibility should negotiations fail.
· In conclusion, it needs to be understood clearly that we Palestinians
will never allow Israel to continue its encroachments and domination
under the pretence of insincere negotiations, nor to go on imagining
falsely that there are better alternatives available to Israel. Israel will
have to decide whether to accept the time-limited negotiation offer that
is evidently in its own best interest, or not. And we Palestinians will
then act accordingly at a time and in a way of our own choosing.
It is now up to us as Palestinians to regain the strategic initiative and to
take control of our own national destiny. Israel, regional partners, and
international actors, must understand definitively that Palestinians will
not be divided in their strategic objectives, and that the Palestinian
people, steadfast and determined, will never give up their national

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