Former President Jimmy Carter recently returned from his fourth journey to the Middle East in the past 16 months. On this most recent trip, he traveled as part of a group of "Elders" that also included Mary Robinson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In an op-ed published Sunday in the Washington Post, Carter writes:
A majority of the Palestinian leaders with whom we met are seriously considering acceptance of one state, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By renouncing the dream of an independent Palestine, they would become fellow citizens with their Jewish neighbors and then demand equal rights within a democracy. In this nonviolent civil rights struggle, their examples would be Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Carter further states that "[a] two-state solution is clearly preferable and has been embraced at the grass roots."
He notes that:
We saw considerable interest in a call by Javier Solana, secretary general of the Council of the European Union, for the United Nations to endorse the two-state solution, which already has the firm commitment of the U.S. government and the other members of the "Quartet" (Russia and the United Nations). Solana proposes that the United Nations recognize the pre-1967 border between Israel and Palestine, and deal with the fate of Palestinian refugees and how Jerusalem would be shared. Palestine would become a full U.N. member and enjoy diplomatic relations with other nations, many of which would be eager to respond. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad described to us his unilateral plan for Palestine to become an independent state.
Still, he concludes, "a more likely alternative to the present debacle is one state[.]"
Both of his suggestions I find intriguing. A de facto declaration of an independent Palestine in those territories occupied by Israel since 1967, recognized by the United Nations, would preserve the notion of two states. But, like Carter, I believe it to be the less-likely alternative. The democratically elected government of Gaza, Hamas, opposes Fayyad's solution. Neither does it seem likely that such a plan, without years of wrangling, could proceed to UN approval.
What, then, would happen if, as Carter suggests, Palestinians in the occupied territories were simply to announce they had renounced the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and say to Israel that they wished to be absorbed into an Israel that would encompass all that territory "between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea"? That they wished to "become fellow citizens with their Jewish neighbors," with "equal rights within a democracy"? And that they wanted to give all that up, and "come home" as fellow Israelis, well, now?
The occupation is not forever, though sometimes it seems like it might be. Setting aside all bickering about its lawfulness, it is not just. And it benefits neither the Palestinians, nor the Israelis; it retards the growth and development of each. It is a constant irritant to both peoples, like a sore that itches like hell, and will not heal. A sore that is also constantly inflamed and picked at by peoples in the surrounding region, and peoples around the world . . . all the way to people on this site.
Yet Israel has not exactly moved with alacrity over the past 40-some years in relinquishing the occupied territories to the Palestinians for the establishment of an independent, robust state. The latest proposal from Israel for a Palestinian state acceptable to Israel's current potentates is of a sort of feeble, fetal entity, without the right to control even its own airspace.
So what of this third way? If Palestinians were to say: we are home, we are Israeli, our borders and your borders are one? Much of "the right of return" would be resolved, because the Palestinians of the occupied territories would at that moment be returned, to a land that becomes theirs, as equal citizens of the same state. The status of Jerusalem would be resolved, becoming a city within a state populated, on equal terms, by peoples of all faiths. Any domestic "existential threat" is obviated by the Palestinian resolve to, if a "civil rights struggle" is in some area deemed necessary, conduct such a struggle via the nonviolent "examples [of] Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela." Any existential threat from abroad evaporates, as no foreign power would be motivated to attack, invade, or attempt to obliterate a state in which Israelis and Palestinians are as one.
If the Palestinian people of the occupied territories were really to say, we renounce our dream of our own state, we wish to join you in yours: how, really, could Israel say no? And on what grounds?