Palestine and Israel: One state, or two?


USCPR Executive Director Yousef Munayyer appears on Aljazeera English’s Upfront with Mehdi Hasan

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MEHDI HASAN: “The time is running out but [a two-state solution] is still the only available option.” How do you respond to that?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: I think one of the problems with the “time is running out” narrative is that it creates a false sense of urgency when the situation on the ground could not be more desperate and could not be more urgent. We’ve been hearing “time is running out” for years, from administration after administration, and yet the window never seems to close. And that creates the impression that this sense of urgency is manufactured, and it’s not real, and it sends the message to the Israelis that there will always be patience for their policies, instead of the reverse. So deadlines need to exist, and time does need to run out. And I think it has in fact run out. The reality is that many people who support a two-state solution support it as a solution to a different problem: this problem of Israel’s identity crisis, this notion that Israel wants to be both a democracy and at the same time is ruling over millions of people who have no right to vote. I don’t see that as the problem. That might be a problem, that might be Israel’s problem, but the fundamental problem here is the ongoing denial of Palestinian rights which predates 1967 and the 1967 lines and involves the majority of Palestinian stakeholders who are refugees, who are our claimants to territory inside 1948, without whom we cannot talk about a solution…

LARA FRIEDMAN: I don’t understand why because I believe a two-state solution should be where we go, why that somehow undermines my ability to challenge bad policies

MUNAYYER: Yeah, I’d be happy to explain why. I think this problem of the never-closing window is precisely the reason why. You have this constant conversation around the two-state solution being the goal, and that keeps open this idea of negotiations. And these negotiations, as we’ve seen, have only resulted in an opportunity for Israel to say to the world “Look, this is only a temporary condition. Occupation is a temporary condition. One day this is gonna be over, bear with us. It’s just a matter of negotiating this out with the Palestinians, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” And at the same time, they’re creating realities on the ground that are making that impossible. So actual advocacy around a two-state solution without a deadline and without an insistence that Israeli behavior change, and I’m not just talking about rhetoric, but actual change in policy that translates to change in Israeli behavior, is in fact cover for the Israeli Occupation…

HASAN: Yousef Munayyer, is it not a problem for you, as it is for Gideon, that the position you’re advocating, to give up on the two-state solution, that time has run out, is a minority position on the Palestinian side?

MUNAYYER: When we talk about a two-state solution, people understand different things. Many Palestinians, you look at the polling numbers and you’ll be able to say they support a two-state solution. But what is the two-state solution, the parameters of a two-state solution that Palestinians support, Palestinians, at least those that are polled in the West Bank and Gaza, vs. that which the Israelis support? Both sides support this token notion of separation, of separation of identities, but along what parameters? Palestinians support a two-state solution that includes a just and agreed upon resolution to the right of return in line with international law, the Israelis don’t. Palestinians support a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital along 1967 lines, the Israelis don’t. Palestinians support a two-state solution along that territorial compromise that does not include the vast majority of Israeli settlements, Israelis don’t.

HASAN: So we’re not even talking about the same thing here.

MUNAYYER: No, they’re definitely not talking about the same thing. When we’re talking about the rights of Palestinians, there is a political outline for that that I think can fit in both frames…

HASAN: Yousef Munayyer, Hanan Ashrawi is saying it’s not the two-staters who are giving the Occupation a pass, it’s the one-staters.

MUNAYYER: Yeah, obviously I think for the reasons we discussed earlier in the show, that’s not correct. What we have today, as Gideon pointed out, is a one-state problem, not a two-state problem. We have one state where the conflict that exists exists because there is a fundamental denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people. An end to those denials is how it works. This means equality for people before the law in the entirety of the territory, and a just solution for Palestinian refugees. It’s not rocket science. You end the denials of Palestinian human rights, you will not have the grievances of the Palestinian people and this conflict…

HASAN: For a lot of Israelis, there’s gonna be a lot of fear about this idea of “We’re already debating about whether we’re going to end the Occupation or not for ‘security perpective’ “, the idea of living in one state with people who they say support stabbings against us, want to suicide bomb us, you accept that’s a huge obstacle, and a legitimate fear on the part of many Israelis?

MUNAYYER: And a necessary question that they must confront. They are living in a situation now where, from the river to the sea, they control all the territory and deny equal rights to millions of people who are there. It is important for Israelis to question the impact that Zionism has had on the land, on Palestinians and come to terms with it, and begin to wrestle with it if there’s ever going to be peace. Look, equal rights before the law regardless of one’s religion or ethnicity or background or whatever should never be presented as a unicorn. That is the very basic that every person is entitled to, and I think we do a disservice to the resolution of this conflict when we characterize that as something that is impossible to achieve. Everybody that has looked at this conflict over the past hundred years when they’ve sent various commissions to go study the land has said “If you divide this territory, there is going to be conflict.” Even after the 1947 partition plan, the Americans pulled out and reversed their position because they understood what would take place. The land of Israel-Palestine is one of the few territories in the region that has natural borders on all sides. This land has been one for a very long time. Efforts to divide it have consistently failed, and I wanna push back because I believe it’s very important: this notion that somehow secular Israelis and Palestinians could get along but religious Israelis and Palestinians could not, the implication here, this is what I understood from this idea of Ramallah-Viv that you mentioned, the implication here is that the issue is this religious extremism. Even among religious populations, if there is equality before the law, then there is no reason that there should be conflict.