Two state solution does not depend on words


'Two state' ribbonThe recent controversy about whether the Australian government regards East Jerusalem as Occupied, occupied, or disputed, at least made it clear that the Australian government still supports the ‘two state solution’. Now is the time to do something positive to bring the second state into existence. Mahmoud Abbas has announced that the Palestinian unity government has begun the process that will lead to Parliamentary and Presidential elections before the end of this year. 

The US and Israel should welcome the opportunity that Palestinian elections will preaffsent. Instead of pausing, the US government should redouble its efforts. As is clear from their efforts to join UN agencies and other international bodies, the Palestinians want international recognition of their state. Under US law, the President by himself, without needing the concurrence of Congress, has power recognise a foreign state. President Obama should announce that as soon as certain reasonable conditions are met the US will recognise a state of Palestine and sponsor its admission to the United Nations. Australia and other countries should urge the President to make this offer and should make the same offer themselves. The conditions should be such as to encourage the Palestinians to do what is needed to give Israel a reasonable assurance of security, in the hope that the remaining points of difference would then be easier to resolve. 

What should the conditions be? First, that the proposed elections actually take place. Second, that the newly-elected government undertake to abide by the obligations that international law imposes on all states equally, including the obligation not to make attacks on other recognised states, including explicitly Israel. Third, that the new government produce a credible plan (credible in the judgment of the countries making the offer) for achieving control over its territory; for this they may require external assistance. No other conditions should be imposed. The Palestinians should not be asked to affirm that Israel is a Jewish state

The offer needs to be made as soon as possible. If the US simply pauses, an important opportunity will be lost. An offer made before the elections would encourage the emergence of candidates in favour of meeting the conditions. If there is no hope of recognition on reasonable terms the elections will be dominated by hard-liners. The next few months are critical.

Once Palestine is recognised as a state and has been admitted to the United Nations as a full member, negotiations between Palestine and Israel will resume over borders, the return or compensation of refugees, the status and future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and so on. Negotiation will have a much better chance of success if the question of statehood has already been resolved and the Palestinian state is credibly committed to peaceful relations with Israel. 

Offering recognition on reasonable terms would not involve countries making the offer in negotiations with Hamas, or with Fatah, or with Israel. The Palestinians would work out among themselves whether and how to meet the conditions. In the final stage, when the Palestinian government presented its plan for achieving control over its territory, discussion with the countries offering recognition might be needed to determine whether the plan would be effective, but the discussion would be with representatives of an elected Palestinian government already pledged to accept the obligations of international law. 

The suggested approach—recognition first, then negotiation—is quite different from the approach the US has been following for so long. Resolutions of the US Senate and House of Representatives threaten sanctions if the Palestinians seek recognition except through negotiation with Israel. This gives Israel a veto over Palestinian statehood, which is surely the intention. Those who insist that there can be no recognition until Israel consents, knowing as they must that Israel will not consent, are in fact saying that there can never be a state of Palestine. If the US and its allies genuinely want a “two state solution” (and there is no Plan B), then they must break out of this framework and reassert their right to give recognition with or without Israel’s consent. 

Though many Israelis support the two state solution, Israel’s government are against a Palestinian state under any circumstances. Mr Netanyahu said in 2002 in relation to a Palestinian state, ‘Not today, not tomorrow, not ever’. At Bar Ilan in 2009 he did speak of a Palestinian state, but it would be a ‘state’ subject to conditions that are incompatible with statehood. Mr Netanyahu’s coalition colleague Naftali Bennett is very clear: ‘I will do everything in my ability, forever, to prevent a Palestinian state’. There is much more to the same effect. The ‘peace process’ conducted as a never-ending series of bi-lateral negotiations simply buys time while Israel colonises the rest of what might have been Palestine. 

The ideal resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would be two multicultural states, one predominantly Jewish but with protection for Arab and other minorities, the other predominantly Arab but with protection for Jewish and other minorities. The boundaries need not and should not attempt to divide Jews neatly from non-Jews, there should be no transfer of population, and no one should be deprived without their consent of any citizenship they now have. 

The ideal solution may not happen. At some future time Arab-Jewish relations may be even worse than they have been. The best that can be done now to improve the chances of a better future is to encourage the emergence of a well-governed state of Palestine pledged to peace and the rule of law. A conditional offer of recognition is the first step. The offer should be made without delay. 

John KilcullenJohn Kilcullen is Senior Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University.

Ribbon image by Shutterstock



Topic tags: John Kilcullen, Palestine, Israel, Julie Bishop, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas



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An excellent and sensible article, John. The problem I see is the illegal settlements which make a viable Palestinian state problematic. The extremists who live there will do anything to prevent Palestine becoming a state. All the liberal, honestly well intentioned Israelis tend not to live in the settlements but in Israel proper. They are as horrified by the settlers as are the Palestinians. This is an issue Israel needs to deal with. If they do not show equal and proper justice operates with the killers of Mohammed Abu Kdher they will have lost a golden opportunity to bring both sides together. I weep for decent, honest Jews and Arabs there. It is they, and their innocent children, who suffer needlessly.

Edward Fido | 08 July 2014  

Is it realistic to recognise Palestine as a state before there is sufficient unity within Palestine to ensure peace between Fatah and Hamas? And, while intransigence from the present Israeli government is effectively a show-stopper, surely the equally intransigent attitude of Hamas towards peace with Israel is also a road-block to a viable 2-state solution. Recognition of the State of Palestine, in its current divided reality would be a travesty of the whole concept of international recognition of statehood.

Ian Fraser | 08 July 2014  

Thanks, John Kilcullen. Another of the illuminating and positive articles for which Eureka Street has been so valuable a source over the years. Much to think on. Have you sent a copy of it to Obama?

Joe Castley | 08 July 2014  

In justice, there must ultimately be a two state solution for Israel - Palestine. It's integrity and viability, however, rest on a number of imponderables and one, almost insurmountable. The Palestinians must resolve their ideological differences for their own sake and they must recognise the State of Israel unequivocally; Israel must totally dismantle the 'settlements in the occupied territories, withdraw to the pre-1967 international border and permanently muzzle the vexatious Russian, South African, American and Australian 'settlers.' They belong to the thug extreme of Zionism and will never assist the peace process. Finally, both Israelis and Moslem Palestinians will have to come to terms with the prospect of establishing their identities without occupying the whole of the land, even though both have 'divinely' inspired promises that it all belongs to them both. Then there's Balfour all over again, but if wisdom and sense prevail, a mini-EU type arrangement with Israel, Palestine and Jordan might offer some real hope for lasting peace and prosperity.

David Timbs | 08 July 2014  

One aspect that no one seems to consider is the entrenched and outdated religious traditions that seem to give every one a one-eyed view of their position. During the American civil war, someone said to Abraham Lincoln, "God is on our side." Lincoln replied, "My concern is that I should be on God's side." If everyone shared his concern, perhaps there would be a better prospect of a just and peaceful outcome.

Robert Liddy | 08 July 2014  

My concern is with the second condition, i.e. that the newly-elected government undertake to abide by the obligations that international law imposes on all states equally, including the obligation not to make attacks on other recognised states, including explicitly Israel. That should be expected - But ... Israel has flouted international law and UN resolutions for years and all we have done is to sit on our hands and do nothing, at best. (The fact that we get an Israeli slant on most of our news from the Middle East could be taken as positive action against a solution.) The recent controversy might have indicated that Australia still supports a two-state solution but it also indicated Australia stepping further away from any action that might make any sort of solution possible. So my question is, can we make that demand, i.e. Kilcullen's second condition, of Palestine without taking Israel to task at the same time?

Margaret Callinan | 09 July 2014  

Dear Professor, I'm 64 & still waiting. I wish I could share your optimism. I'm an Armenian who grew up in Cairo & was taught by Palestinian nuns. I adored them, it was an Italian order. My dream like all other Palestinians has been to see a "FREE PALESTINIAN STATE" Not in my lifetime ...they just keep encroaching into more Palestinian Territories ...& the suffering will continue. Regards Maro

Maro Manuel | 09 July 2014  

Thank you for a very thoughtful, important, and informed article that I want to ponder further. I think it is helpful to suggest, as this article does, a distinction between fully recognising Israel as a state but not as a "Jewish state".whatever that precisely means. Israel of course has a significant Arab Muslim and Christian minority, at present in some respects second class citizens. Ideally, a Palestinian state would also fully include Jewish people and the exodus of Christians from Palestine would greatly slow - but "ideally" is still the word.

John Bunyan | 11 July 2014  

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