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Two-State Chimera, No-State Solution

By Cameron Hunt

24 May, 2007

There has been much commotion in the press recently about the Arab League’s relaunch of its March 2002 ‘Arab Peace Initiative’, but rest assured, there is absolutely no chance of any progress towards the settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the basis of this Initiative. The ‘Riyadh Declaration’ closing the League’s 19th Summit reaffirmed the five-year-old Initiative, unaltered, by calling for a “just and comprehensive peace … in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative … based on the principles and resolutions of international legitimacy, and the land-for-peace formula”.

The League Initiative calls for: (a) “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines”; (b) “Achievement of a ‘just solution’ to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 194”; and, (c) “The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state ... in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital”. In return, “the Arab countries” would “Establish normal relations with Israel”, and “Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended”.

The Initiative falls into that category of proposals usually referred to as a ‘two-state solution’, yet to speak of such proposals as a possible ‘solution’, is to ignore those real-world facts that guarantee there can never be a resolution to the conflict on the basis of two-states. Although several such facts exist, two key facts should be enough to demonstrate why two-states, although representing a ‘framework’ – or at best a ‘vision’ – do not and cannot represent a solution. The first of these facts is Palestinian refugees.

Although the League Initiative calls for “a ‘just solution’ to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon”, on the basis of UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 194, it is not at all clear that the Palestinian refugees themselves – those often involved in violence against Israel – are quite so willing to negotiate a ‘just solution’ to their circumstances. One stated contention being that their 'Right of Return', as an established principle of international law, is not up for negotiation. Indeed, on the opening day of the March Summit, the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, repeated that this right should not be negotiable.

What has the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had to say in recent weeks on affording the Palestinian refugees this Right of Return? “I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the [Palestinian] refugees. Full stop… I'll never accept a solution that is based on their return to Israel, any number.” On the basis of these words alone, we can safely say that Israel – currently led by an unpopular ‘centrist’ Party – has again rejected the Initiative. This really shouldn’t surprise anybody. For the ‘Jewish state’ to allow back a significant proportion of what is now around four million Palestinian refugees, would quickly see that state lose its ‘Jewish identity’. An existential threat according to many inside Israel.

A second fact-on-the-ground guaranteeing a perennial stalemate under the two-state framework, and one even more intractable than the Palestinian refugee issue, is East Jerusalem. The Arab League Initiative demands “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967”, and “a sovereign independent Palestinian state … with East Jerusalem as its capital”. This is, above all, a call for Israel to withdraw from the ‘Old City’ of (East) Jerusalem – location of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – and for it to fall under Arab sovereignty.

For those that are unaware, what Jews call the ‘Temple Mount’, and what Muslims refer to as the ‘Haram al-Sharif‘, is that compound within the Old City of Jerusalem that houses the Wailing Wall – the holiest site in Judaism – as well as both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock – making it the third holiest site in Islam. Can anybody believe that the Jewish state will ever agree to a “Full Israeli withdrawal” from East Jerusalem? This demand alone, ignoring the West Bank and Golan Heights, will simply never be met. You might recall that Israel flatly rejected a full withdrawal to the lines of 1967 when this same Initiative was first announced five years ago, that it has long opposed the inclusion of East Jerusalem in any Palestinian state, and that its (and US) leaders have made numerous declarations in the past about the ‘unity’ of Jerusalem (under Israeli sovereignty). If all of this still sounds a little equivocal, you need only listen to the very recent words of Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev: “East Jerusalem is not occupied land, it is part of Israel.” And what had the Palestinian head of negotiations, Saeb Erekat, had to say on the topic of East Jerusalem only a few days prior to these words: “severing East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank … [will] mean no viable Palestinian state, no Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and thus no viable two-state solution.”

Let’s just pretend for a second that the Jewish state agreed to withdraw from the holiest site in Judaism, and that the Old City then came under Arab sovereignty. One has to ask if it would be placed under the sovereignty of Sunni Muslims, or Shia Muslims? This sort of question is precisely the reason why the UNGA, in authorizing the partition of historic Palestine (‘cis-Jordan’) into "Independent Arab and Jewish States”, by its resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, also called for – in the same sentence – a “Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem". Yes, the Riyadh Declaration reaffirmed “the option of just and comprehensive peace … based on the principles and resolutions of international legitimacy”, but one cannot help but wonder if the League meant only those “resolutions of international legitimacy” that it likes? Should the Arab League wish play that game, why shouldn’t (the more powerful) Israel?

Let us pretend that Israel was one day happy to negotiate a ‘just solution’ to the Palestinian refugee question – perhaps on the basis of a ‘Haram-for-Right of Return’ formula – and to withdraw in full from “all the territories occupied since 1967”, the result being a “sovereign independent Palestinian state … with East Jerusalem as its capital”. This outcome would not only weaken the value and prestige of UN resolutions generally, and by way of it the UN overall, but it would also do irreparable damage to the very concept of international law. Under international law, Jerusalem must be made a “Special International Regime”. Under international law, Palestinian refugees have a ‘Right of Return’; not a right to a ‘just solution’.

Pushing aside the bothersome notions of UN resolutions and international law for the time being, another important question that advocates of any two-state proposal need to ask themselves is whether they are in fact advocating two ‘states’. In the case of any future Palestinian state, it seems almost certain that its existence will be conditional upon it not having an army, and not having control over its borders and coast lines. Hardly the stuff of a sovereign ‘state’. In the case of Israel, at least according to the US Congressional Research Service: “Israel is not economically self-sufficient, and relies on foreign assistance and borrowing to maintain its economy.” Again, hardly the stuff of a sovereign state. A ‘state’ that “relies on foreign assistance and borrowing to maintain its economy”, also relies on foreign assistance and borrowing to finance its own defence.

By now, I hope you have lost all belief that there can ever be a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict on the basis of the two-state framework. Not because I am a sadist, but simply because it is time to move on to the actual solution: the ‘no-state solution’. Under this solution, all lands of historic Palestine would be internationalized, and would become part of a new United Nations ‘Trust Territory’ (UNTT). The UN Charter would represent the constitution of that Territory, and the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court – both supra-national bodies – would represent the Territory’s highest courts. The Territory’s UN delegation would act as its executive, and the delegation’s head would act as the Territory’s president. The UN Trusteeship Council would serve as the forum for managing all cross-border UNTT affairs that were not more properly dealt with by the UN General Assembly. The UNTT would be barred from entering into any bilateral agreements, such as mutual defence pacts, and all its dealings would take place through UN organs and agencies. Any UNTT defence force would be restricted to possessing solely defensive weaponry, with the ICJ able to veto related spending bills, and any other UNTT legislation, found to contravene the principles of the UN Charter – the Territory’s constitution. Why have I gone into so many specifics at this early stage? Well, whilst there has been talk of a (cool-sounding) ‘no-state solution’ for several years, it seems that the solution has not thus far been given sufficient thought, or explanation.

Some of the more obvious benefits of this solution, my space being somewhat limited, are that it would ensure respect for all UN resolutions pertaining to the conflict, thereby enhancing the stature of the UN, and reducing the likelihood that we ever arrive at this point again – contrast this with the Arab League Initiative - Palestinian refugees would see their Right of Return fulfilled, and Jerusalem, in its entirety, as well as all other religious sites in the area – such as Hebron, Nazareth and Bethlehem – would rightly be declared international property.

Another benefit of this solution not available to us (i.e. the world) under the two-state framework, would be the complete dismantlement of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, which would soon after be followed by a UNGA resolution declaring the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free-zone. For those who believe that Iran is currently busy developing the bomb in order to ‘wipe [the state of] Israel off the map’ – although it is still a little unclear as to how Iran hopes to perform this feat without harming any of the more than three million Muslims that live within Israel’s professed borders, and without causing any damage to Islam’s third holiest site – they should of course find solace in this plan, if they care about the people of Israel more than they care about the State. Iran, for its part, would ratify the IAEA’s Additional Protocol - which it signed in 2003 - in order to facilitate the IAEA’s ability to certify the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. If it didn’t, sanctions would be stepped-up with the full support of the international community. In any case, I doubt it would be a stretch to assert that if Iran does indeed have a covert nuclear weapons program, that this is in very large part a response to Israel’s own nuclear weapons stockpile; the only such stockpile (currently) in the Middle East. Something that would be decommissioned under the no-state solution.

Although it is quite easy for those of us on the outside to suggest that historic Palestine be internationalized, more details will need to be expounded in order to assure each party to the conflict of the solution’s suitability. To facilitate this end, I shall suggest that the UNTT would be divided into semi-autonomous cantons, as per the Swiss model – which was itself the outcome of a civil war. These cantons would operate upon the principle of ‘subsidiarity’, meaning for one thing, that they would hold all powers not specifically reserved for the territorial/federal government. The Swiss tools of ‘direct democracy’ – the referendum, popular initiative, and ballot – would all be enshrined in the UNTT’s Trusteeship Agreement, as adopted by the UNGA. A UNTT would have a Territorial Parliament, Territorial Court, Territorial Police Force and Territorial Defence Force – modelled on the Swiss militia-system. Each canton would likewise have its own parliament, executive and courts. Again, all of this modelled upon the Swiss Confederation, or more accurately, upon the Swiss federation of cantons. It is important to make the point at this stage that not all Swiss cantons are single-territory enclaves. Schaffhausen, for example, consists of three separate components, which are at places separated by German lands. Also worth pointing out is that several cantons entered into the Swiss Confederation at a time when they were autonomous entities, owing to the benefits that federation offered them. As in Switzerland, it would be possible to reorganize cantons in the proposed UNTT on the basis of a popular vote.

Fundamental to this solution is the fact that the current UN Charter can serve as the constitution of any new UNTT, without amendment. In fact, it is interesting to note that the clauses of the UN Charter pertaining to what is termed the ‘International Trusteeship System’, take up both more Chapters as well as more Articles of the Charter, than either the General Assembly or the Security Council. However, this is not to say that some tweaking of the Charter might not be appropriate in the future. Above all, the UN Charter would ideally be amended, after the UNTT has taken shape, to allow for UNTT membership in the UN, as a semi-autonomous entity; UN membership currently being restricted to “peace-loving states”. The rationale for this amendment would be that such a restriction fails to draw an adequate distinction between nations and states, which for too long have been idealized as the same thing - according to Article 1 of the UN Charter, the UN’s four stated purposes include: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on … self-determination of peoples”. Until this shortcoming is addressed, a UNTT could at best be granted ‘Observer Status’ by the UNGA, as is the case with the ‘Palestine Liberation Organization’ (PLO) today.

It is likely to be asserted that unless the ‘no-state solution’ is accompanied by a realistic programme of action, then the level of true advocacy for the cause of peace in the Middle East has not been reached. Fortunately, such a programme exists. This programme includes many independent courses of action, one such step being to challenge the legality of US aid to Israel, under US law, in US courts. As has already been stated, “Israel is not economically self-sufficient, and relies on foreign assistance and borrowing to maintain its economy”. The outcome of ending US aid to Israel should therefore be obvious, and not just for the US taxpayer. Although several grounds exist for challenging the legality of this aid, one pertains to Israel’s extensively documented use of torture. According to the 1961 US ‘Foreign Assistance Act’: “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights … [such as] torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, … and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty or the security of person.”

Another, parallel step would be based upon the UN Charter stipulation that membership in the UN is only open to “peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations” - one pertinent Charter obligation being that: “Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council”. Just such a Security Council decision can be found in Council resolution 242, of 22 November 1967, which demanded “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict [of June 1967]”. It was the UNGA that, by its resolution 273, of 11 May 1949, Decided that “Israel is a peace-loving State which accepts the obligations contained in the Charter and is able and willing to carry out those obligations”; membership in the UN being “effected by a decision of the General Assembly”. This decision, made in operative paragraph 1 of resolution 273, must be reviewed by the UNGA in light of Israel’s most recent invasion of Lebanon, and in light of any impending attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In fact, the UNGA should revoke operative paragraph 1 of resolution 273 immediately, and should ask the International Court of Justice – the ‘principal judicial organ’ of the UN – for an Advisory Opinion on the legal consequences for Israel’s ongoing participation in the various organs of the UN. Please note, this question is about more than Israel’s participation in the UN. It is about what sort of UN we want, and about asking if there is any point in having a UN made up of Members that won’t act to uphold the Organization’s Purposes and Principles.

The need for us all to rethink our ideas on the United Nations will be made even more pressing by the US withdrawal from Iraq in the coming years. For one thing, the withdrawal will create a major power vacuum in Iraq that will either be filled by the UN, or not at all (although Iran should be very well placed to step in after a few years of civil war). Needless to say, given that the state of Israel represents the most consistently cited gripe of Islamic militants the world over, by resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict permanently, and forcefully, the UN would make its own job that much easier in stepping into this vacuum. Those UN Members not willing to take significant steps towards resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict before the US withdrawal from Iraq should take heed of the fact that the Riyadh Declaration also announced the League’s decision to “Consolidate effective Arab solidarity” through, in part, the “revival of collective Arab security protection institutions” – the League’s ‘Plan B’ perhaps? In this regard, they should probably also take heed of the claim by the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia – the country that sponsored both the League Summit and the Initiative – that if Israel rejected the Initiative again, matters would pass to the “lords of war”. A claim that is made even more worrying in the context of the Arab 'Gulf Cooperation Council’ December 2006 announcement of its plan for the joint development of nuclear technology. Given all this, it was perhaps with good reason that the Arab League warned against “a dangerous and destructive race of nuclear armament in the region”.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives as its second definition of ‘superpower’: “an international governing body able to enforce its will upon the most powerful states”. A unipolar world needn't be such a bad thing.

Cameron Hunt is the author of Pax UNita – A novel solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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