The Race Against Israeli Expansionism: Can the Two-State Solution be Saved?

U.S. policy is fully opposed to Israel's settlement expansion. Nonetheless, the U.S. continues to provided Israel with massive military aid and diplomatic support that undermines any chance for peace.
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Citing the foreclosure of his diplomatic options, Palestinian President Abbas announced last month that he will not seek reelection, while senior Palestinian officials spoke of dissolving the Palestinian Authority and shifting the national strategy to seeking a single democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians. The PA is sounding the alarm bell on the perishing viability of the two-state solution.

While serious analysts disagree on whether the precise "point of no return" has already passed for a viable two-state solution, most agree that Israel's incessant (and illegal) settlement expansion is systematically undermining it. With the US as the only actor capable of rolling back Israel's settlement expansion, saving the prospect for a viable two-state peace agreement is mainly a question of whether the US will act in time.

The so-called "peace process" failed for a simple reason: while Israel was supposed to be withdrawing from the Palestinian territories it illegally occupied since 1967 (a mere 22% of historic Palestine), it actually did the opposite, accelerating their takeover through settlement expansion. Indeed, Israel more than doubled the number of settlers since engaging in the "peace process." Israel's policy has been: "you keep negotiating, and we'll keep taking more land." Palestinians often say "we are negotiating the division of a pizza, while Israel is proceeding to eat all the pepperoni." Israel has also destroyed thousands of Palestinian homes, so the accuracy of that analogy is missing the act of knocking the pizza out of the mouths of Palestinians as Israel goes on eating.

The two-state solution that Israel seems to want, one of crowding Palestinians behind barriers in isolated West Bank cantons and imprisoned in Gaza while Israel keeps control of all arable lands and Jerusalem, is neither acceptable nor sustainable. The only workable solution is a real end to Israel's occupation and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

US policy, in line with international law and the international consensus, is fully opposed to Israel's settlement expansion. Nonetheless, the US continues to provided Israel with massive military aid and diplomatic support even as Israel undermines the peace process with unrelenting settlement building. The US is, in effect, supporting the very Israeli policies that it publicly states its opposition to.

Initially inspired by the promises of the new American administration to seriously pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace, and eager to regain credibility by achieving statehood for its people, the PA implemented a harsh crackdown on any violent resistance to Israel's occupation, attempting to leave Israel no excuse to circumvent its obligations. Now that the Obama Administration, overwhelmed with domestic matters, is capitulating in the face of Israeli defiance of its obligations with continued settlement expansion, the PA has effectively become nothing more than a security subcontractor for the Israeli occupation. The PA is on the verge of political collapse because its entire national strategy based on a negotiated peace is failing.

The United States' permissive policy on settlements is at odds with its stated position primarily because of the influence of the Israel lobby, a lobby deemed too politically costly to confront on matters (wrongly) considered not crucial for American strategic interests. But the grip of the Israel lobby on both US policy and Jewish-American public opinion is beginning to loosen, thanks to years of grassroots activism and public education.

Yet, the gradual positive trend in US public discourse is not moving fast enough to save the prospect for a legitimate peace agreement. With the clock on the two-state solution ticking, we cannot afford to wait years for the Obama administration to gather leverage, or the many more years it would take for the pressures of the international grassroots movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions to grow large enough to effectively pressure Israel. What is needed is immediate and decisive action by the US to hold Israel accountable by beginning to condition aspects of US support for Israel on its compliance with its obligations.

Some have questioned whether the two-state solution should be saved. The answer to that depends on whether the realistic alternative is a rapid transition towards a single democratic state that guarantees the rights of all its citizens, or many more decades of abhorrent suffering, occupation, violence, and terrorism. Were it possible to prove either speculation, that question would certainly be less divisive. But the serious possibility of condemning Palestinians to living several more decades under Israel's brutal military occupation should dissuade any moral agent from abandoning the quest for an immediate end to the occupation so long as it remains possible.

Avoiding that gamble requires all peace advocates to do everything in our power to enable and pressure the Obama administration to implement the international consensus calling on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories. It may be the last hope for saving the two-state solution.

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