Building an independent state: Six steps the Palestinians still need to take......

Published: 13 September 2011
Briefing Number 299

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Summary and key messages: This Briefing outlines six steps which the Palestinian leadership and people need to take to establish and sustain a viable, independent Palestinian state.  If they take these steps, they will find an Israeli nation ready to partner with them in building two states which live side-by-side, in stable and secure long-term coexistence.

The Palestinian people demand statehood.  And virtually every country in the world (including Israel) supports their right to statehood. 

However, United Nations recognition of statehood is largely a symbolic act. 

To establish an independent Palestinian state in meaningful, practical terms, will require tough, complex negotiation with Israel and a long-term agreement.

And that agreement will require major concessions and changes of attitude by the Palestinians. So far, the Palestinians have avoided facing up to those changes, and that is a major reason there has not been agreement until now. 

Below are six steps which the Palestinians will need to take as part of a future agreement. 

The Israeli people yearn for peace, and are ready to make far-reaching concessions to achieve peace (see Beyond Images Briefing 271).  If the Palestinians can take these steps, they will find an Israeli leadership and people who are ready to partner with them in building two states which live side-by-side, in stable and secure long-term coexistence.   
People mistakenly believe that building a two-state solution is all about forcing Israel out of the West Bank - by a mixture of diplomatic pressure, economic leverage, non-violent protest, grassroots advocacy, legal action and moral sermonising. 

In fact, the real power to achieve a viable two-state solution, and Palestinian national self-determination, lies not with Israel but ultimately with the Palestinians themselves. 

The Palestinians don’t yet have an independent country.  But that’s not because of Israeli attitudes towards a Palestinian state. It’s because of Palestinian attitudes towards the Jewish state.

To date the Palestinians have simply not faced up to the tough decisions they need to make.  The following six steps will require them to make those tough decisions.  

And supporters of Palestinian national rights around the world need to be encouraging the Palestinian people to take these tough steps.
You cannot build a Palestinian state by demonising the Jewish state.  You will build a Palestinian state by taking tough steps, and making the real-world compromises which recognise the rights and legitimacy of Israel as the future neighbour of an independent Palestinian state.  

STEP 1: Recognise Israel as a Jewish state

Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people.  Just as Israel recognises the concept of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians need to recognise the concept of a Jewish state – a technically small but symbolically massive act.  Yet the Palestinians adamantly refuse to do so (see Beyond Images Briefing 272).  For as long as they withhold that recognition, they cannot really be said to have accepted the concept of a two-state solution – two states for two peoples.  This persistent refusal indicates that they wish to keep the door open to future Palestinian Arab claims within Israel itself: indeed, they have said so.  Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was never spelt out under past agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians, because it was so obvious it was taken as assumed. The Palestinians now need to make that recognition explicit and clear: the Jewish people are not a race, or a religion, but a nation, with the national right of self-determination.  It is a major Palestinian self-interest to recognise this fact (see Beyond Images Briefing 288); and such recognition would be a huge building block to peace (see Beyond Images Briefing 286).         

STEP 2: Publicly acknowledge that it will not be possible to exercise the Palestinian ‘right of return’ into Israel

The Palestinian leadership continue to demand an unconditional ‘right of return’ for Palestinian Arabs into Israel (see Beyond Images Briefing 290).  It may be presented in seemingly reasonable terms - as the quest for a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee question “in accordance with UN Resolution 194”, or in some other way.  But however the demand is framed, it is completely inconsistent with a sustainable two-state solution.  Palestinian political culture and public life constantly reinforces the idea of ‘return’ into Israel, and that Israel is an artificial state: see Beyond Images Briefing 289).  The Palestinians are going to have to face up to a massive change of attitude here: (see Beyond Images Briefing 276).  The formula they need to embrace is: Jews have a right to live in Israel; the Palestinians have a right to live in the future state of Palestine, but no automatic entry right into Israel.  Over the last 20 years Israeli society has gradually moved away from the maximalist vision of control over the whole of the territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.  Its leaders have educated the Israeli people – in Hebrew and on the TV screens – on this new reality.  Palestinian society needs to go through a similar process, and in Arabic: to relinquish its maximalist vision – which, in their case, means the ‘right of return’ into Israel.  As long as their ‘moderate’ leaders doggedly claim the ‘right of return’, they cannot be taken seriously when they claim to support a two-state solution.  Their claim for absolute justice is in fact a formula for absolute stalemate.          

STEP 3: Curb incitement against Israel, the glorification of suicide bombers, and the justifications for past terrorism

Incitement against Israel is deeply rooted in Palestinian public life.  This incitement occurs in Palestinian media, schoolbooks, mosques sermons, political speeches and elsewhere.  And it creates a climate ‘on the street’ which makes meaningful peace impossible.  Yes, there are grassroots voices for respectful coexistence too: but they are mostly drowned out.  The incitement can take many forms: denial of Israel’s right to exist; depiction of all of Israel as part of Palestine; demonistion of Jews and Israelis via words and images; portrayal of Palestinian children as legitimate combatants; glorification of past Palsetinian suicide bombings; maps, photographs and cartoons which erase Israel altogether; naming of summer camps, schools and public squares after terrorists; and refusal to acknowledge and educate about the Holocaust (see Beyond Images Briefing 292). This package of ideas is impossible to reconcile with a two-state solution.  The recent Stan Greenberg survey of public opinion among Palestinians has shown the devastating and negative impact of incitement on Palestinian attitudes “on the street” (see Beyond Images Briefing 293).  The Palestinian people need to take far-reaching measures to curb such incitement if peace is ever to stand a chance.  With its settlement policies, Israel is accused of creating ‘facts on the ground’.  But via incitement, the Palestinians  create ‘demons of the mind’.   And those demons are harder to uproot.  The Palestinian climate of hate needs to be replaced, steadily, by education for peace.  This is another step on the journey to a real two-state solution.    

STEP 4: Repudiate the narrative of Jewish history, which denies the Jewish connection to the land of Israel and, particularly, Jerusalem  

The denial of Jewish history, and the Jewish peoples’ connection to the land of Israel, is deeply-rooted in Palestinian politics and culture. It is not just Hamas which considers Israel to be an artificial state: academics, journalists, and media pundits close to the Palestinian Authority apparently believe this too.  There is persistent denial of the legitimacy of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish nation, and denial of Jerusalem’s history (see Beyond Images Briefing 275).  Israel continues to be portrayed as a state cruelly imposed on the innocent Palestinian Arabs as a result of European crimes in World War two.  As long as this narrative prevails, there cannot be peace and there cannot be a two-state solution.  Instead there is a perpetual sense of victimhood and injustice, which feeds terror and resentment.  Palestinian moderates may have distanced themselves from actual violence.   But they continue to embrace the narrative of naqba and of victimisation which fuels that violence.   Change in this area cannot come overnight, but by a steady programme of re-education and cultural adjustment across Palestinian society, supported and encouraged by the Palestinians’ many friends around the world (see Beyond Images Briefing 276).

STEP 5: Take account of the legitimate security needs of the Israeli people by agreeing to a demilitarised future state

Israel faces many adversaries which are well-armed, promote ideologies of confrontation, and refuse to recognise its right to exist under any circumstances: notably Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah.  The Israeli people have experienced sustained attacks directed against their civilians – women, children, the elderly, and men – going back decades.  This has involved suicide bombing from the West Bank, and more recently rocket and missile attack from Gaza.  This assault has caused horror, trauma and devastation.  Past territorial withdrawals by Israel (eg from Gaza in 2005) have triggered more, not less, violence. And, on top of all of this, there is huge uncertainty following the Arab Spring among heavily-armed Arab neighbours such as Egypt and Syria. Israel has to plan for this, too. Any government has a responsibility to protect the life and well-being of its citizens, and Israel’s government should be judged in this regard by the same standard as any other country’s government.  Just as the Israelis need to take account of future Palestinian needs, the Palestinian people need to take account of Israel’s legitimate security needs in forging a state of their own.  And in particular, that Palestinian state needs to be demilitarised, to ensure that it is not used as a future base for strategic assault on Israel.  Of course, this is not easy for the Palestinian people to accept.  But it is a demand forged out of generations of violence; and it is the best long-term guarantor of stable two-state coexistence.   The Palestinians and their supporters aspire to build a successful, respected and viable state; not a forward base for Iranian strategic ambitions, or a safe sanctuary for Islamist terror groups.  A demilitarised Palestinian state, committed to meaningful security guarantees to Israel, would enable this to happen.  This is another, tough step which the Palestinians need to take.          

STEP 6: Stop criminalising Israel’s West Bank settlements, and start working towards a viable, and pragmatic territorial solution

The West Bank was not sovereign Palestinian territory before 1967 (see Beyond Images Briefing 247).  Israel entered it as a legitimate form of self-defence in a war which was forced on it by its neighbours (see Beyond Images Briefing 103).  International law and UN Security Council Resolutions do not require Israel to withdraw from all the West Bank territories; and in addition, withdrawal has to be in the context of negotiated peace.  Many of the Jewish settlements predated 1948; and the Jewish connection to the land is literally thousands of Years old. Publicly, the Palestinians describe all Israeli settlements as criminal, and refuse to contemplate land swaps (see Beyond Images Briefing 273).  But this is an ideological, not a practical, stance. To build a Palestinian state, they need to  forge workable and practical compromises involving the major settlement blocs.  This is another building block to a two-state solution.  And it is another step which the Palestinians have yet to take.