Escalating confrontations in Jerusalem centred on the al-Aqsa Mosque, 1500 more homes to be built in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and a sharp deterioration in Israel’s relations with Jordan have yet again raised many questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One less commonly asked but highly relevant question is about the sincerity of the Israeli government’s commitment to a two-state solution.
Sweden recently became the most important Western country to recognise Palestine formally. The UK, Irish and Spanish parliaments have voted in support of recognition. France and other European states are set to vote on similar measures. This recognition could eventually have policy implications if these states then treat Israel as a violator of Palestinian sovereignty.
Palestinian factions are continuing to form a consensus on a two-state solution by establishing a unity government committed to international preconditions for recognition: non-violence, recognition of Israel and commitment to previous agreements between the Israel and the PLO/Palestinian Authority.
Palestinians, not unfairly, have long asked for Israeli reciprocity in terms of the conditions for recognition demanded above. It is clear that Israel has not renounced violence as a tool of statecraft. In 2002, then-Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon also publicly renounced the Israeli government’s commitments to agreements signed with the PLO, essentially ending the peace process centred on the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Whether or not Israel has recognised the notion of Palestinian state is perhaps a little more open to conjecture given some of the public statements of Israeli leaders. So what have Israeli politicians and political parties, both past and present, had to say about the matter?
Much has been made of the essentially defunct Hamas charter calling for the liberation of all of historical Palestine, including what is today recognised as Israel. However, the official positions of Israeli political parties have attracted surprisingly little attention.
Perhaps this is due to neo-Orientalist tropes that position Israel as part of the “civilised Western world”, assuming it is open to compromise and negotiation, whereas Arabs are “backward” and prone to dogmatic absolutes.
Likud’s 1977 founding document reveals its position that:
… between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.
Of course, this was written in 1977 – but critics of Hamas don’t afford it this concession vis-a-vis its 1988 charter. While this Likud statement doesn’t possess the racist sentiments of the Hamas charter, the practical implications denying the possibility of two states co-existing are more or less the same.
Lest we think that the Likud’s 1977 position is anachronistic, its 1999 electoral platform reiterates that:
The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.
Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem.
The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.
This platform has never been rescinded. Current Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also exposed in a 2001 video bragging that he “stopped the Oslo Accords” after receiving US guarantees that Israel would not be required to withdraw from “specified military locations” – chosen by himself, including the whole of the Jordan Valley/eastern border of the West Bank – in exchange for signing the 1997 Hebron Agreement.
And then wasn’t it the case that the Likud split over Sharon’s proposal to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005? Didn’t Sharon form a new “centrist” party, Kadima, committed to “disengagement” (that is, the unilateral demarcation of permanent borders) with Palestinians? However, far from being a move towards a just peace, Dov Weiglass, then a senior aide to Sharon, candidly explained that:
The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.
More recent times
Nevertheless, didn’t Netanyahu commit to a two-state solution during his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University?
In this speech, Palestinians were told that those who fled or were expelled in 1948 and 1967 would have to renounce their right to go home. The idea of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital was swept from the table. Existing settlements were to remain and allowed to flourish organically. The Sydney Morning Herald described it as the “barest of opening bids”.
Whether or not Israel has offered Palestinians an independent state depends on your definition of a state. Successive Israeli offers have pointed to a demilitarised Palestinian “state” without control of its borders, airspace, trade and treaties with other entities. This is not an independent sovereign state. A sovereign state constitutes a defined territory in which the government exercises supreme authority and the right to non-interference in internal affairs.
And what do Netanyahu’s Likud colleagues think of his modest proposals for a Palestinian state? According to Likud Knesset member (MK) Tzipi Hotovely, Netanyahu’s speech was merely “a tactical speech for the rest of the world” while reassuring supporters that West Bank settlements would be protected.
Netanyahu’s father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, offered a similar explanation of his son’s position on a Palestinian state:
He does not support it. He supports such conditions that they [the Palestinians] will never accept it.
Likud MK and then-deputy foreign minister Danny Danon similarly reiterated this analysis and revealed:
There was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution … If you will bring it to a vote in the government – [and] nobody will bring it to a vote because it’s not smart to do it – you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.
A sizeable majority of Likud MKs reject Netanyahu’s assertions. Ze’ev Elkin, the current deputy foreign minister, contends that “only two or three” Likud MKs back Netanyahu’s position on the matter.
Nonetheless, isn’t it true that Netanyahu recently reiterated his commitment to the two state solution during a meeting with US president Barak Obama in early October? Housing minister Uri Ariel, a Jewish Home MK, said:
No official Israeli institution, and certainly not in the government or the Knesset or the Likud, has sanctioned the prime minister’s comments on two states for two peoples. This remark does not obligate the State of Israel, and it will never happen.
All of this rings true with the Israeli public in light of a recent poll showing that 74% of Israelis are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.
None of this is to say that the Likud or other parties are incapable of change. But given the furore surrounding Hamas’ charter in particular, the Israeli government’s position on a two-state solution must also be held to the same level of scrutiny.