Belief in two-state solution crumbles as up to 600,000 Israeli settlers remain on occupied land
Maybe it wasn’t the wisest choice for a Palestinian activist living under the close watch of Israeli security. But Fadi Quran was obsessed and determined: he would study nuclear physics at Stanford University, The Guardian reports.
“I got stopped at the border a lot,” he joked years later of the times he passed through Israeli passport control after graduating. “To be honest, when I first started I just wanted to win a Nobel prize in physics. I was 18 years old. I loved the stuff.”
He wanted to use his physics degree to provide wind and solar energy to Palestinians. But the plan stalled. Israel delayed the import of the technology needed, he said, and Palestinian officials became interested and demanded a share of the company. “I was squashed.”
Now 30, he sits at a plush cafe in downtown Ramallah in the West Bank, with fast internet and mochas filled with chunks of chocolate. Smartly dressed 20-somethings sit smoking and typing away on laptops. A restaurant next door sells sushi. Further up the street, there is an electric car charging station next to a tourist information centre.
It’s a pleasant scene, but it’s a lie, Quran says. “If you go two miles in any direction outside the centre of Ramallah, you’ll find a [Israeli] settlement, or a wall, or a checkpoint or so forth.” Israeli military control is not immediately visible here, he acknowledges, but that’s the ingenuity of it.
Palestinians in the West Bank live in a system that was supposed to last just five years – an agreement made 25 years ago as the first step towards a self-governing country alongside Israel. Under the Oslo accords, an interim government called the Palestinian Authority (PA) was given limited control over small pockets of land, almost exclusively towns and cities, while Israel maintained control of the remainder.
But after the peace process collapsed, Israel dug in by building an extensive network of roads, military bases, settlements and quarries. Meanwhile, the PA clung to power, surviving by coordinating closely with Israeli security forces.
The PA has become a “subcontractor for the occupation”, says Quran. “The other way you could frame it is postmodern Uncle Toms – people whose personal interests have become so enmeshed with the interests of the ‘slave masters’ that they will serve them and betray their own people’s interests.”
Peace has never seemed so distant. Almost two-thirds of Palestinians want the PA’s 84-year-old ailing leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to resign, according to polls, and half believe the Authority “has become a burden”.
Palestinians live in constant bemusement as they hear world leaders and diplomats talk as if the past quarter century never happened. Last month, the European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini wrote a 3,000-word article in what read like a desperate plea for Palestinians and Israelis to keep working for a two-state solution.
Foreign governments have held tight to the two-state ideal despite drastic changes on the ground. Even as they privately acknowledge it as a fading prospect, diplomats still talk of “working towards” two states.
When polled, a majority of Palestinians do not see that as a possibility. Roughly 600,000 Israeli settlers now live on occupied land with no intention of leaving. Meanwhile, Israeli politicians in cabinet talk about annexing vast swathes of the West Bank. “Almost nobody believes in the two-state solution anymore,” Quran says.
Bassem Tamimi, from the village of Nabi Saleh, has a lifetime of resistance behind him. The 52-year-old points to a scar on his head from what he said was surgery after he was shaken into a coma by interrogators. His sister died after he says she was pushed down the stairs in an Israeli courthouse. His cousin was killed by a direct hit with a gas grenade. Now, his teenage daughter, Ahed, has risen to global prominence after she slapped a soldier and spent eight months in jail.
Tamimi sees the Palestinian struggle as one of fighting for ever tinier chunks of land. When Israel was established in 1948, Palestinians were left with 22% of the land they had lived on. Under Oslo, they agreed to work towards sovereignty over that area. Now they have limited autonomy over an even smaller fraction of that.
“I fought for the two-state solution,” he sighs. “I lost my friends, I lost my sister, I lost a lot of cousins, I lost my time in jail.”
He has since given up on the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. “Our society feels like it has lost. And this is the first time that has happened,” he says. The village halted demonstrations in 2015 as too many people were being shot. “Why should Ahed fight for the life I had?” he asks.
Tamimi now advocates for one secular state in all the land shared by Israelis and Palestinians.
It’s gaining momentum, even among Palestinian officials who helped negotiate Oslo. When Donald Trump recognised the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the senior Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat saidthe message was clear: “The two-state solution is over. Now is the time to transform the struggle for one state with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine.”
Palestinians already live inside Israel with citizenship. They are families who remained in their towns and villages while others fled or were expelled in wars surrounding Israel’s creation. But their life is not what other Palestinians aspire towards. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Sunday: “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.”
Neither does he back two independent states, leaving Palestinians in limbo.
Quran, the activist, is wary of calling himself a “one-stater”. He knows that for many Israelis, it’s a scary phrase, as it would lead to the end of Zionism in its current form. Under one state, Palestinians might make up approximately half or more of the population. That would mean Israel could cease to be a majority-Jewish country.
But his hopes appear to echo that of Tamimi. “I want everyone in this area to live under the same constitution and same social contract that provides them with freedom, justice and dignity for all.”