Don't Give Up on Mideast Peace
The current focus of leaders in Washington and Jerusalem on Iran has obscured the near-death of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the inevitable catastrophe toward which Israel is now moving.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have been establishing more and more settlements in Palestine on confiscated land. While they profess their support for a “two-state solution,” their actions all aim to create a “Greater Israel,” from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Washington has voiced opposition to these steps, but has not made any strong efforts to prevent them.
Since 1967, the consensus in the international community and among the majority of Israelis has been that there would be two political entities, with Israelis returning to their pre-1967 borders except for some small land swaps along the border. The Camp David Accords of 1978, accepted by Israel, called for the withdrawal of political and military forces from the occupied territories, and President George W. Bush specifically endorsed a Palestinian nation in this area. As late as May 2009, President Obama accepted this concept as the basis for peace. This strategy has been abandoned as Israel tightens its control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, now populated by more than 2.5 million Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
There is a profound difference between “two-states” and “one-state.” The former contemplates two nations with citizens living side by side in peace under terms to be negotiated between leaders of the two principal parties. Other world leaders have almost universally acknowledged that strong help and influence of the United States will be necessary, and all the Arab nations have offered to support such an agreement.
In the case of the “one-state” outcome, if granted the full rights of citizenship, Palestinians would play a major role in the new nation with a possible majority in the future. If deprived of these rights as inferior and second-class dwellers on the land, this will be a system of apartheid that will not be accepted by the international community.
As former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in 1999, “Every attempt to keep hold of this area as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic or a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state.” Eight years later, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that if the two-state solution collapsed, Israel would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”
During my last conversation with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before his stroke, he discussed with approval the “small land swaps” along the 1967 border. His proposal was that Israeli settlers living near Jerusalem should remain, with Palestinians given a land corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, on which a highway and railroad could be established. He had earlier said that the “occupation” of Palestinian territories was “a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians and can’t continue endlessly.”
Shaul Mofaz, the new leader of Israel’s Kadima party, said recently, “The greatest threat to the state of Israel is not nuclear Iran,” but that Israel might one day cease to be a Jewish state, because Palestinians could outvote Jews. “So it is in Israel’s interest that a Palestinian state be created.”
The people are already greatly mixed. About 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians, although living under severe restrictions. The number of Israeli settlers in Palestinian territories has grown from about 5,000 when I left office in 1981 to about 525,000.
However, the overall region is changing. Past efforts by Egypt, the Carter Center and others to bring about reconciliation among Palestinian factions, leading to another democratic election, have been frustrated by differences among them, exacerbated by opposition from Israel and the United States and acquiescence from former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The newly elected leaders in Egypt are determined to use their influence to reconcile Fatah and Hamas and press for a final status agreement including peace with Israel. With international support, such an agreement is entirely possible.
It is heartening to realize that “peace in the Middle East,” based on the two-state solution, is still feasible — but not for much longer.
Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, is founder of the Carter Center, which works to advance peace and health worldwide.