OR, if you prefer, the phony Israeli-Palestinian peace process continues unabated.

Lawrence of Cyberia never disappoints. Her analyses of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are never far from the mark as in this essay about Jerusalem and the difficulties Israel is experiencing being or becoming a “Jewish state,” when a considerable number of its citizens and the people it keeps under military occupation are not Jewish, but Palestinian, mostly Muslim at that. What a conundrum. Now you have it, now you don’t, i.e., a Jewish state.

Forget the two state solution. Israel is so far beyond that possibility that the sale of West Bank homes in New Jersey is probably the best real estate bargain out there.

The title of Lawrence’s essay is Losing Jerusalem First, reproduced here by permission (for references, go to the original):


I’m not a big fan of initiatives designed to “shake things up” in Palestinian/Israeli negotiations. In such a volatile situation, initiatives with no clearly defined endgame tend to lead to some place other than what was intended, and it’s usually a worse place than where things started from or were supposed to end up. Another reason for trying to make progress within the status quo, no matter how sucky and lop-sided it may be, is that the I/P status quo is not easily reconfigured. Trying to get everybody working off the same page is like trying to herd cats. The Arab League vision of a two state solution might look different from the two state solution of the former Likudniks at the head of the Israeli government, but it is no mean feat that both of them are actually talking in terms of a two state solution. It took decades to build even the current degree of consensus, and that makes me a bit wary of jumping on the bandwagon that says the two state solution is dead, but never mind because the default is the binational state. I’m not convinced that in the absence of a two state solution the binational state is the default alternative to the status quo; I think other far less attractive alternatives await the failure of the two state model, that should maybe make us think long and hard before giving up on it.

Having said all that, you have to admit the two state solution is looking sickly.  The late Elias Freij, formerly mayor of Bethlehem and one of the first Palestinian leaders to call publicly for a two state solution, warned at the very outset of the peace process that you simply can’t have a two state solution if one of the states takes all the land.  He said that 16 years ago, and the settlements have ballooned dramatically since then.  In fact, if there is one thing we have learned for sure just since Annapolis, it is that Israel will not stop colonizing the West Bank eg here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.  You can argue whether Olmert wants to stop settlement expansion but can’t because his coalition will collapse, or whether he really doesn’t want to stop and is simply following the example of his predecessors and using negotiations as a cover for expansion. But it doesn’t really matter. The end result is that Israel will not stop colonizing the West Bank.  And you still can’t have a two state solution when one state has taken all the land. So perhaps this is after all a good moment to shake things up, if only to give Israelis pause to consider – before they definitively flush away the two state solution – whether they really like the alternatives any better.

Several senior PLO officials have commented lately that in view of the apparently impending failure of Bush’s “vision” of a two state agreement before he leaves office, Palestinians are “considering all their options”.  There have been suggestions that for Abu Mazen these options might include resignation, or a return to armed resistance, or calling “time” on a peace process that Israel clearly does not intend to ever lead to independence by dissolving the Palestinian Authority and forcing Israel to take formal responsibility for governing the millions of Palestinians it already exercises de facto control over.

The Palestinians have other options too, such as nonviolent mass actions (nonviolent on the Palestinian side at least), and making use of the limited access they have to the Israeli electoral process.  And who among us could object to that? After all, bringing democracy to the Arab masses is the whole purpose of our current engagement with the Middle East, so where better to start than with the Arab masses under the rule of our friend and ally, Israel? [1]

The obvious difficulty in changing the Palestinians’ situation through the electoral system is that most Palestinians can’t vote in Israeli elections. Jewish Israelis can vote in national-level elections regardless of where they live in Israel or the Occupied Territories, but when it comes to the Palestinian population, Israel suddenly finds a use for the Green Line. Zionists might like to call all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean “Israel”, but they absolutely can’t afford to call all the people who live there “Israelis”, because sooner rather than later the majority of those people – being Palestinian – will simply vote Israel free of Zionism. So the Palestinian people within the Green Line are allowed to have the vote (seeing as they have been so ethnically reduced by expulsion in 1948 and 1967 that they can’t significantly change their situation by voting anyway), while those in the Territories don’t get to vote for the government that actually rules over them, but instead vote for an ersatz government in Ramallah that issues postage stamps and collects garbage. But even under the current Separate But Equal electoral system, there are possibilities for Palestinians to participate imaginatively in the electoral system, in ways that give a sneak preview of what a genuinely representative democracy in Israel-Palestine is going to look like.  

Perhaps the most practical possibility is the one proposed a couple of weeks ago by Walid Awad, who pointed out that there is one area in particular where a high proportion of Palestinians in the population means that a united Arab vote has the potential to make a striking statement, and that is – despite every effort to dislodge the Palestinian population through the racist application of planning laws and systematic under-investment in services to the eastern sector – Jerusalem. In illegally-annexed East Jerusalem, Palestinian residents have the right to vote in Israeli elections at the municipal level. So far, they have chosen not to exercise that right, but Awad suggests the elections of November 2008 might be a good time for them to start:

Should Israel persist in its current anti-peace policies, causing the collapse of President Abbas’ Authority by the end of 2008, or early 2009, Palestinians, as many do now, will turn to the apparently unavoidable option and demand a one state solution for two equal peoples.

It is possible that a start in this direction could begin in November when the Jerusalem municipality council elections are due to take place. The 250,000 Palestinians in Arab East Jerusalem eligible to vote in the municipal elections may make a (u) turn and decide to participate in the elections, casting their votes for representatives of their own on the Jerusalem municipality city council. If the Palestinian leadership so choose, Palestinian Jerusalemites could constitute one third of the municipal council board. The implications of such a move are wide-ranging and will have consequences. Let’s not forget that up to 1948, the vast majority of Jerusalem mayors were Palestinian Arabs. The last Palestinian mayor of Arab East Jerusalem was forced to vacate his position by Israel’s occupation troops in June 1967.

Opportunities should not be missed. This applies equally to both Israelis and Palestinians.

— Missing the opportunity for a two state solution; by Walid M. Awad, Ma’an News, 23 Apr 2008.

Awad is right that Israelis might well find some pause for thought in seeing one-third of the seats in their “undivided and eternal capital” held by Palestinians, but I think his idea has even bigger implications than he suggests.  Because the population of Jerusalem is interesting not only due to its comparatively high proportion of Palestinian Arabs, but also because of the unusual divide in the composition of its Jewish Israeli residents.  Compared to the rest of (secular, Zionist) Israel, the Jewish population of Jerusalem is disproportionately Religious and, as a result, it is disproportionately non-Zionist.

Already in 2003, Moshe Amirav (former Likud City Council member for Jerusalem, and subsequently director of the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya College) noted the interesting fact that: Jerusalem is gradually losing its Zionist and national character. The non-Zionist haredim and the Arabs have for several years been the majority. These political processes reduce the political-Zionist center (the Labor and Likud parties) and strengthen the margins – the haredim. In the last elections haredim seized all positions of political power in the city, including mayor. They hold all the important portfolios. The haredi community does not hide its goal of turning Jerusalem into a “holy city” free from the influence of secular Israel. The continued growth of the haredi community (from 20 percent a decade ago to 30 percent today) ensures its cultural hegemony in a city that is no longer Zionist. [2]

So the non-Zionist majority in the areas under Israeli rule might not yet be able to democratically express its will on a national level, but in Jerusalem municipality at least there is a non-Zionist majority that has the vote. How appealing does a non-Zionist local government for the “eternal and undivided” capital sound to the average Jewish Israeli? Better yet, how about a non-Zionist local government which, thanks to the divided Jewish vote, is led by an Arab mayor? Amirav continues:

Were they willing, the Arabs could, as early as 2008, control the capital’s municipal council and elect an Arab mayor…

The growth rate of the city’s Arabs is 3.5 percent today, while the growth rate of the Jewish residents is only 1.5 percent. The continuation of current trends will lead within 25 years to an Arab majority in Jerusalem. Actually, the Arabs can, in the coming election, already become the ruling party and elect an Arab mayor. An organized vote by the Arab minority, which comprises 33 percent today, can give it a majority of over 50 percent in the city council as early as 2008.

The scenarios I describe above have been explored for years by researchers and Jerusalem experts. Our conclusion was and still is, even more resolutely: If we don’t divide Jerusalem, we are going to lose it.

Of course, in 2003 Amirav was describing a purely hypothetical situation, because everyone knows of course that the Arabs of East Jerusalem don’t recognize Israel’s annexation of their city, and don’t participate in the electoral process that springs from it. Enter Walid Awad…

The interesting thing is that Walid M. Awad is not some pseudonymous blogger engaged in idle speculation. He’s a former aide to Mahmoud Abbas, who currently serves as spokesman for the Central Media Commission in Ramallah.  When senior, well-connected officials from Fatah, the last bastion of the two state solution on the PA side, start telling you the nuts and bolts of how the binational state of Israel-Palestine will be created, it is safe to assume that the Palestinians – whose military inferiority leads us to (mistakenly) believe they have no choice but to cling to the “peace process” no matter how phony we make it – really are considering all their options, including options we never thought they had.



[1] I am being ironic here.
[2] Divide Jerusalem, Or Lose It by Moshe Amirav; Jerusalem Post, 16 Dec 2003.

The best thing one can say about these non-state developments is that they may actually move Israel into a Jim Crow solution that affects not only Israel, as it now does, but the Palestinian territories as well. Then what? Shall we enter a new phase of this “managed conflict,” as Jeff Halper likes to put it, which calls for defending a return to an Israeli  version of South African Apartheid?