Mose Apelblat

Europe finds itself very close to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and shows an increasing interest in contributing to a sustainable and just solution to the conflict. Last December the European Parliament voted with overwhelming majority for a resolution supporting in principle the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state resolution.

The Parliament added, to Israel’s satisfaction, that it believes that such a solution should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks. However, no talks are in the horizon – at least not before the elections in Israel on 17 March.

The elections will be followed by weeks of talks on forming a coalition government. However, coalition governments in Israel are not strong governments capable of both taking desirable decisions and implement them effectively. The result will probably be ungovernability.

The deteriorating situation on the ground makes it extremely difficult to implement the two-state solution. Still, it is the only feasible and fair solution.

Recently, another important meeting took place in the European Parliament. The second biggest party group in the European Parliament, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, organized a round table on partition and its alternatives, in cooperation with the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue.

Unsustainable status quo

The meeting took place against a general frustration felt at the current deadlock in the peace process. What is worrying is that the mainstream political parties in Israel seem to favor status quo. Any solution to the conflict, incl. the two-state solution, is seen as a jump into the unknown and therefore considered as a threat.

But how can complacency with the status quo be right? Israel would receive peace in return for land, provided that the two parties to the conflict will agree on a mutually acceptable solution. The intention is that the Palestinians will agree to end all claims and give up the right of return of the refugees.

Israel would insist on reliable security arrangements in any future withdrawal from the West Bank. In return Israel should evacuate the settlements without destroying them, leaving them for the development of the Palestinian state.

The alternative to a change of status quo is recurrent wars, as has been the case until now. Nor is the status quo stable. It deteriorates because Israel is continuing its colonization of the West Bank with more settlement building.

Huge amounts are spent on subsidizing the settlements at the expense of the economic-social development in Israel. The occupation, which was supposed to be temporary, has become a permanent formal or factual annexation of the territories.

Still there is hope for change as was shown in the recent mass rally in Tel Aviv where tens of thousands turned up under the banner “Israel wants change”.

One-state solution no option

The speakers at the conference in Brussels argued that Israelis and Palestinians cannot be separated since they share the same small piece of land. What is needed according to them is to break the Israeli monopoly of power and accord equal rights to every inhabitant irrespective of nationality or ethnicity.

But no-one in the conference addressed the question how such a unique solution would work in practice. For the speakers it was sufficient to argue that there is a need for “rethinking” and to call for a new “paradigm” or even a new “grammar” on how we discuss the conflict.

The Israeli future researcher David Passig published already in 2008 a book (“The future code”) where he discussed the disadvantages of a binational state. Such a state would hardly manage to develop a new common identity.

Disagreements between the two communities would have to be solved by an external arbitration body which quickly would become a forum for mutual complaints. The army would become politicized and ineffective.

The Jews in a binational state would soon become a minority at which point the Palestinian majority might abolish the democratic institutions. The development in Lebanon, where the population is divided by religion and sect but share the same national identity and language, doesn’t bode well.

Ironically the key note address at the conference was delivered by the famous Lebanese author Elias Khoury. He claimed that he was dispelling myths about the conflict while refusing to acknowledge that there are two narratives. Not a word about the Lebanese failure as a multi-ethnic state.

In fact the Palestinian panelists were themselves deeply divided between those who accept a two-state solution, provided that the borders are open, and those who advocate a return of the Palestinian question to 1948. In the latter scenario the one-state or binational solution would mean the erosion of Jewish identity and the end of Jewish national self-determination.

European lessons learned

So why should Israel and its friends in Europe support the one-state solution? According to Avraham Burg, a maverick former speaker of the Israeli parliament and the most prominent Israeli participant in the conference, colonial borders in the region are collapsing. Apparently he thinks that we can get rid of the Israeli borders as well.

Burg believes that there are no nation-states in Europe and that no minority problems exist there. He is of course totally wrong. The European Union is made up of sovereign nation-states which have agreed to pool their resources and transfer some of their decision-making to common institutions.

There is an internal market in the European Union with free movement of goods and people. Borders between the Member States can be easily passed but the external borders against third countries remain and are protected. So why should Israel, of all countries in the world, be the first one to abolish itself and experiment with binational state-building?

Luckily for Israel, the leaders of the S&D party group who chaired the conference, with all their openness for new ideas and their desire to promote a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, didn’t seem convinced about the feasibility of the one-state or binational solution. Such a solution is based on false assumptions and will lead to disastrous consequences.

Gianni Pittella, the current president of S&D party group, assured the audience that hosting the conference doesn’t prejudge the S&D position. The party group is still committed to a two-state solution. Hannes Swoboda, the former president of S&D, proposed to learn from Europe and establish common institutions in vital areas for both sides in a two-state solution.

But Israel shouldn’t tempt them too much. We can expect the European Parliament to pressure Israel to engage in constructive talks with the Palestinians in order to break the unsustainable status quo. Israel’s response to this must be to initiate such measures in its own interest and not wait until it will be forced to change the status quo on less favorable conditions – or worse, until the status quo overwhelms it.

(A version of the article has also been published in The Brussels Times.)

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  1. In my opinion a two-state solution is possible. The final status agreement has been very close at least since Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings/agreement/plan (1995) where nearly all issues were agreed. The Olmert proposal (2008) was probably the last serious try. (both plans can be found from my document library – ).

    My forecast is that if centre-right wing government continues after elections so nothing will change in peace process, the same is if there will be Likud/Zionist Union coalition government. If centre-left government will be established there might be a slight chance to go forward. In this case there is no need to start everything from the beginning as Mrs. Livni was participating to long negotiations during Olmert’s time.

    If peace negotiations don’t start or they fail again so there allways is another option : unilateral actions; e.g. Israel could annex main settlements from West-bank inside the security fence and return to negotiations about other than so solved border issue when both parties feel need to make a long term deal. Not so bad option anyway from my perspective.

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