Israel came into being over six decades ago. Since then there has been no progress in resolving the legitimate grievances of the displaced Palestinians. There is no doubt that Jewish people suffered horrendous injustices over the centuries; mainly at the hands of Europeans. After Hitler and his followers exterminated some six million innocent Jewish persons it became patently obvious that a solution was needed and the creation of a home in Palestine was the answer. The idea was already on the books as seen in a famous letter of 1917 that later became known as the Balfour Declaration. It was addressed to Lord Rothschild; representing the Zionist Federation, and it is useful to recall its relevant section:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The first part is well remembered but the second; about the rights of existing people, is often forgotten or ignored. Certainly there has been little evidence since 1948 that the leading powers and successive Israeli governments are much concerned with that element of the declaration. There have been lengthy ‘negotiations’ but these have been closer to theatrical events than attempts to reach a just settlement. What was the main impediment? Basically, ‘negotiations’ were taking place between two highly unequal sides. Israel is all-powerful and supported by equally powerful allies on all sides, while the Palestinians are weak and backed; if that is an appropriate word, by weak, unreliable, and divided allies. With advisors to successive US and UK administrations with acknowledged leanings towards Israel it is easy to see the futility of such farcical meetings.
Arabs, including the Palestinians, have lost the international public relations game in a big way. They were never good at playing that game in the first instance. Their leaders’ appalling behaviour during the so-called Arab Spring has made matters infinitely worse. Like it or not, they are now seen by most of the world as erratic and bigoted fanatics who have reverted back to the middle of the first millennium. Worse, they demonstrated that they excel at killing each other. In addition to being unable to help the Palestinians, they have actually compromised that project in a big way.
Predictably perhaps, matters have worsened for the Palestinians over the decades. There is little incentive for Israel to reach a settlement that is remotely just for the other side. In fact it would be illogical as things stand for Israel to do so. As seen by the Zionists, Israel at the moment is an unfinished project. Settlements in the occupied territories are progressing relentlessly and these are concrete facts on the ground that cannot be undone. What is left is disjointed territory that would be practically impossible to administer even if the Israelis were to relent and agree a settlement. Is there any point in further negotiations? Not at all and this it seems is the conclusion reached by the Palestinian negotiators at the end of the 2014 round of fruitless talks. War; possibly favoured by Israel, is also out of the question for obvious practical reasons.
The Palestinian authorities have taken a sensible approach in leaving the cul-de-sac of negotiations as well as violence. They are pursuing their aims through international venues and organisations following their success at becoming an ‘observer state’ at the UN. They have also belatedly decided to try to mend past disputes among themselves. Some limited success might be gained in this way. These efforts are excellent as diplomatic manoeuvres, but they are unlikely to yield tangible results.
However, there is a further step they could take which I would argue would be seen by some factions in Israel as the ‘nightmare scenario’. The Palestinians could declare that they now want to become citizens of Israel and live in peace as ordinary subjects of that country. Radical concept I readily accept and one that will no doubt be met with shrieks of irritation throughout the Arab world and amongst the Palestinians themselves. However, I peg all objectors to indulge me for a while longer.
Considered from the Israelis point of view the idea would be even more unacceptable. Their objections are obvious. The Palestinians would have given up the struggle and chosen to live in peace with their Jewish compatriots! Most of the Israeli propaganda machine would be derailed. There are other objections. Israel is for Jewish people and, worse still, acceptance of the idea would mean there might well be a majority of Arab citizens in the state of Israel. What could be done about that? Separate development along the line tried in South Africa?
What would be the response to the ‘give up’ option? Basically, the Palestinians would have played the ultimate peace card. The Israelis would have to reject peace or accept radical change in religious, political and racial terms. The idea seems mad but then previous strategies have produced continuing benefits to Israel and nothing for the Palestinians. The one state solution is not a new idea but it is worth another look.
Who knows, it might even convince the Israelis that there is another possibility that is even worse for Israel than acceptance of Palestinians modest demands that they have consistently rejected in negotiations so far.