Pakistan is likely to be confronted with a very tough foreign policy question and that too not in a distant future. The question concerns the fulcrum of Islamabad’s Middle East policy—Palestine. Our policy has always been very clear: Palestine historically belongs to the people of Palestine and West’s attempt to graft Israel on the Arab land was illegal. We did, however, went along rather reluctantly with the proposed two-state solution as most of the Middle East had acquiesced in it, largely under the influence of the US, the ardent supporter, promoter and protector of Israel.
But the developments that are taking place very fast in the region dictated by the US, indicate that soon the two-state solution is expected to be abandoned. And in its place the influential world led by America would be pushing for one state solution. Pakistan, therefore, needs to start looking at this development rather closely and frame a policy of our own with regard to the proposal. We need to start consulting other Muslim countries to formulate a unified policy in this regard preferably by debating the issue at the OIC level.
President Donald Trump is seemingly all set to declare the two-state solution for resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict as dead. Therefore, time is said to have come for all interested parties to instead consider the only alternative with any chance of delivering lasting peace: equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians in a single shared state. What Trump has in mind has become clear in the years that have followed, as he and his team have approved a right-wing Israeli wish-list aimed at a one-state outcome—but one that will enshrine Israeli dominance over Palestinian subjects, not one that will grant the parties equal rights.
Under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel had abandoned any pretense of seeking a two-state solution, and public support for the concept among Israelis is said to have steadily dwindled. Palestinian leaders, however, had continued to seek a separate state. But after years of failure and frustration, most Palestinians are said to no longer see that path as viable.
The simple truth is that over the decades, the Israelis had developed enough power and cultivated enough support from Washington to allow them to occupy and hold the territories and to create, in effect, a one-state reality of their own devising. The question, then, is said to be not whether there will be a single state but what kind of state it should be. Will it be one that cements de facto apartheid in which Palestinians are denied basic rights? Or will it be a state that recognizes Israelis and Palestinians as equals under the law?
According to Yousef Munayyer (There Will Be a One-State Solution—But What Kind of State Will It Be? Published in Foreign Affairs magazine November/December 2019) for the better part of a century, Western powers—first the United Kingdom and then the United States—have repeatedly tried to square the same circle: accommodating the Zionist demand for a Jewish-majority state in a land populated overwhelmingly by Palestinians.
This ‘illogical project’—Israel— is said to have been made possible by a willingness to dismiss the humanity and rights of the Palestinian population and by sympathy for the idea of creating a space for Jews somewhere outside Europe—a sentiment that was sometimes rooted in an anti-Semitic wish to reduce the number of Jews in the Christian-dominated West.
In 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, outlining the goal of creating a “national home” in Palestine for the Jewish people without infringing on “the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish” population. This formulation contained a fundamental flaw, one that would mar all future partition plans, as well: it conceived of the Jews as a people with national rights but did not grant the same status to the Palestinians. The Palestinian population could therefore be moved around and dismembered, because they were not a people deserving of demographic cohesion. In 1948, as British rule over Palestine came to an end, Zionist militias began to create a Jewish state on the ground by force, relying on the UN partition plan to legitimize their aims. In the war that followed, the majority of the land’s Palestinian inhabitants were forced out or fled ahead of Israeli incursions; they were never allowed to return. Their land was seized by the new state, their villages were razed, and their urban homes were given to Jewish newcomers. They became refugees, their lives thrown into limbo. Palestinians refer to this historical moment as the nakba—the “catastrophe.”
None of the great powers who had ruled over the territory—the Romans, the Byzantines, the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the crusaders, the Ayyubids, the Mameluks, the Ottomans, the British—had ever divided Gaza from Jerusalem, Nablus from Nazareth, or Jericho from Jaffa. Doing so never made sense, and according to Munayyer, it still doesn’t.
Israel likes to consider itself a democracy even as it rules over millions of subjects denied basic political rights. Endless negotiations have only obscured that fundamental fact. Actual progress in the talks would threaten Jewish control of the land, something that has proved more important to Israel than democracy.
It appears that the Trump administration would not embrace the concept of equal rights for all inhabitants, including the Palestinians. But in the opinion of Munayyer American voters might. A poll conducted last year by the University of Maryland found that Americans were roughly evenly split between supporting a two-state solution and supporting a one-state solution with equal rights for all inhabitants. Yet when asked what they preferred if a two-state solution were not possible (which it isn’t), the status quo or one state with equal rights, they chose the latter by a two-to-one margin.
The new constitution of one state, it is hoped, would recognize that the country would be home to both peoples and that, despite national narratives and voices on either side that claim otherwise, both peoples have historical ties to the land. It is further hoped that it would acknowledge paramount importance of ensuring that all citizens, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or national origin, have a right to safety and security. And, hopefully it would also recognize the wrongs done to Palestinian refugees and begin a process to repatriate and compensate them.
A new constitution could, hopefully offer citizenship to all the people currently living in the land between the river and the sea and to Palestinian refugees and would create pathways for immigrants from elsewhere to become citizens. All citizens would, hopefully enjoy full civil and political rights, including the freedom of movement, religion, speech, and association. And hopefully all would be equal before the law: the state would, hopefully be forbidden from discriminating on the basis of ethnicity or religion.
Munayyer insists that the idea of equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians in a shared state has been around for decades, perhaps as long as have efforts to partition the land.
“But it has always been cast aside to accommodate the demands of Zionism, even at the expense of peace. Countless lives have been lost, and generations have had their rights denied, all while partition has become less and less realistic. Neither side can afford to go on this way. Now is the moment to adopt the only genuine way forward: equal rights for all.”
— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.