Bibi is wrong, Obama is right

A two-state solution will have to be based on a Palestinian Jerusalem alongside an Israeli one

By David Aaronovitch, March 25, 2010

As a general proposition, the following is true: democrats around the world prosper when an American president succeeds. The strengthening of Barack Obama as a consequence of his victory on health care reform, for example, will help him almost as much in Afghanistan as in Arkansas.

So we should badly want him to win. How strange then, in the wake of the administration's recent falling-out with the Israeli government, to find usually level-headed Jews taking the side of the right-wing coalition in Jerusalem, rather than that of the leader of the free world.

There is a fantasy involved here, and one that has played to the long-term advantage of the rejectionist element in Israeli politics.

It is that you can continue to build essentially Jewish developments on territory occupied in 1967, and still move towards a two-state solution. This is as much a fantasy when applied to East Jerusalem as when applied to the West Bank.

Its surreal nature could be gauged from the interview given in London the other day by the mayor of Jerusalem (or, rather, the mayor of Jewish Jerusalem) Nir Barkat. Look, Mr Barkat told his interviewer, Jerusalem is just another city like London or Paris, and it needs to grow and develop just like they do. This utterly absurd proposition does not survive a second's scrutiny. London is not disputed territory, half of which is recognised by the entire international community as belonging to someone else; a half which is expected to form the capital - at some point - of another state.

London is not disputed territory, half of which is recognised as belonging to someone else

The Netanyahu formulation is that "everybody knows that these (East Jerusalem) neighbourhoods will be part of Israel in any settlement. Therefore building in them in no way precludes a two-state solution." Think about the logic of this for a moment. It says: before we go into any negotiation about issues such as the right of return (the Palestinian rock on which all could founder) and the status of the West Bank settlements, or the contiguity of Palestinian territory, we are telling you that these disputed areas are automatically ours. End of story. Take it or leave it.

This is not a negotiating position - it is, just as moderate Palestinians have always feared - the continuation of the process of de facto annexation, of creating new realities on the ground. The fact that it has continued under governments of different stripe may explain the initial insouciance with which the Israeli authorities treated the unfortunate proximity of a Biden visit to a building announcement. They've all done it, and they've all been wrong.

Underneath, the fundamentals have not changed. A two-state solution will have to be based on a Palestinian Jerusalem alongside an Israeli one, and may well require there to be Jewish areas in the Palestinian polity just as there will be Arab populations in the Israeli one.

Anyone who rules out this possibility, in effect rules out any hope of a settlement, as surely as does someone who insists on a full right of return. Anyone who, by taking certain decisions now, makes such an outcome more difficult, might just as well sign a concordat with Hamas.

And so we come to it again. Do we really believe that the Israeli right is convinced of either the possibility or the desirability of the two states?

I, for one, am not so convinced. For Jews around the world, for moderate Israelis and, above all, for their children, the process which is supported by President Obama, needs to succeed. It is perverse for anyone who genuinely envisages an end to Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the avoidance of massive future bloodshed, to lend support to Netanyahu and deny it to Barack Obama.

As ever, the fate of the man in the White House is central to the fulfilment of our greatest hopes and the assuaging of our greatest fears.

Last updated: 3:51pm, May 21 2010



Tue, 03/30/2010 - 10:12

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Well my perspective is that of someone who supports a two-state solution in principal, but only if it will lead to peace for Israel.

I think anyone that seriously envisages that a two-state solution will lead to peace, particularly given the deep and violent divisions between Palestinian factions, is driven by wishful thinking instead of reality. A rushed attempt at forming a Palestinian state at the current time will lead to more bloodshed, for which Israel will undoubtedly be blamed by many.

Netanyahu has called for direct, face to face negotiations between Israel and Palestinian representatives, repeatedly over the last six months. Abbas has refused at every point.

The whole point of the moratorium was to encourage Abbas to the negotiating table. That was in addition to dismantling checkpoints and boosting the Palestinian economy. Abbas knew however that if he refused and continued to make demands of Israel, eventually the US would fold and support his demands. That is what is happening now.

I do not consider myself particularly right wing, and Netanyahu heads a coalition government elected by a large majority of the Israeli population. To describe Netanyahu's position on Jerusalem as extremist or unpopular is inaccurate.

Netanyahu should stand firm. Refuse to halt construction in Jerusalem and continue to press for direct face to face talks. That will strengthen his position domestically and bolster the government. And he must convince Obama that he's right.

Obama is not the leader of the free world. He is the President of one country. Just because that country is bigger and more wealthy than Israel does not mean that he is justified in making demands on where they can and cannot build homes.


Tue, 03/30/2010 - 14:35

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Incidentally I wrote to the FCO back in November to labour this point, as I could not for the life of me understand why Western governments were not applying more pressure to the PA to resume peace negotiations:


HM Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have followed events in the Middle East for some time with great interest. As a pluralist, liberal democracy Israel deserves Britain’s support. That said it is right that we should maintain pressure on the Israeli government to work towards a permanent situation that is amenable to all people in the region and I congratulate the Government on its efforts to bring this about, which I appreciate is a fine balancing act.

It seems that now, more than ever before, there is a unique and historical opportunity for a lasting and just peace to be forged between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. On the one hand there is a Palestinian Authority that is hugely dependent on Western assistance and that remains unwilling to resume negotiations. On the other there is an Israeli government that is repeatedly calling for peaceful negotiations “without preconditions”. This, combined with record support amongst the Israeli populace for a resumption of peace talks, represents a window of opportunity that we have seldom seen before.

Given these facts it seems extremely clear to me which party the West should be applying pressure to in this unique situation. Were the UK and US governments to appeal to Mr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to take their place in history, to lead their people to independence, self-determination and dignity, great things could be accomplished. Within our lifetimes we could see the creation of an independent Palestinian State that enjoys peaceful relations with Israel and the backing and goodwill of the vast majority of people on this planet. Such a message would undoubtedly strengthen moderate forces within the Palestinian Authority, and indeed within the Hamas as well.

This opportunity will not last forever. I doubt very much that the passage of time will make such negotiations any easier, and the current respite from violence will not be a permanent state of affairs.

And yet, I read this morning that the Foreign Office is once again criticising the Israeli authorities for allowing the building of apartment blocks in Jerusalem, while apparently doing little (at least publicly) to pressure the Palestinian Authority to resume talks. To me this seems utterly counterproductive – it reinforces Mr Abbas’s claim that Jewish building is the principle obstacle to peace, when to any objective observer it would be much fairer to say that Mr Abbas’s refusal to enter peace talks is the principle obstacle to peace talks.

I applaud your continued efforts in this difficult and emotive area of foreign policy, and I understand fully that there are many aspects which need to be considered, not least of which is the negative effect that violence in the Middle East has on our own country and community relations here.

I implore you to concentrate on publicly and vociferously appealing to Mr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to enter peaceful negotiations with the Israelis.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Pryor

jose (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 07:12

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I understand that pressure must be put on all sides. The problem is that pressure is on one side only. While Abbas can still believe he will get everything without negotiating, why should he do so?
Similarly, why should we anticipate of the outcome of negotiations, such as the fate of Jerusalem.
Do we really want to see a separation wall in the middle of Jerusalem, in the event of a partition of the city? Should I remind you that the Old City of Jerusalem and the holiest site of Judaism (Temple Mount), are in East-Jerusalem, a part that Palestinians claim as theirs? Should I remind what Jordanians and Palestinians did to the Jewish Quarter in the Old City when they seized that part in 1948?


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