In 2006, American-Palestinian historian Edward Said argued that the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should take the form of a ‘Just Peace’. This expression stands in stark contrast to the current debate around the justification of violence in Gaza and Israel. In other words, experts, diplomats and the public as a whole seem to be focusing on the concept of ‘Just War’. Questions asked in the last days include: is Israel’s response to Hamas’ actions proportionate? Are Palestinians justified in supporting a terrorist organization like Hamas? Is the loss of life inevitable?
It is certainly true that the level of violence reached in Gaza requires that the events are reported accurately and in an unbiased way. However, a progressive eye must look beyond the day-to-day coverage, and offer a vision. Specifically, this article seeks to offer a vision for peace, a Just Peace to end the longest-running ongoing conflict.
A Just Peace, I believe, can only take the form of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There needs to be only one state for both Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, and all other religious and minority groups present in the land of historic Palestine. Shared institutions, power-sharing and a democratic constitution would ensure that both peoples can live in peace, side-by-side (as they already do in many cases). The key is to make peace sustainable in the long term. Violent confrontations like the one we are witnessing now need to be eradicated, or at least circumscribed and manageable.
But what is a Just Peace? As Said says, the histories and cultures of the Israelis and the Palestinians should be seen ‘symbiotically’ rather than in mutually exclusive terms. This is because, in order to break the cycle of violence and the need for retribution for past wrongs, a Just Peace requires the recognition of a shared identity and a common history. At the same time, however, historical memory must not be ‘abridged’. The collective and individual grief generated by the conflict must be confronted, for example, through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is futile to think that history would end, and reciprocal enmity would disappear overnight.
The Oslo Accords: A failure
Some might ask why a two-state solution is impossible. My response is historical evidence. The Oslo process has irremediably failed, and the two-state solution has been reduced to a diplomatic talking point, devoid of logic and respect for the empirical reality. The reality on the ground simply makes a two-state solution impossible to implement.
This is for three main reasons. One is the unrivalled military and strategic superiority of Israel. The Israeli Defence Force is widely renowned for its efficiency, technological know-how and lack of budgetary constraints. By contrast, the Palestinians have no army or state to speak of, and the only access to violent action that Palestinians have is through armed protest or even terrorism.
The second is the extensive presence (since the aftermath of the 1967 War) of Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank, making the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state impossible. Eviction of Israeli settlers is not an option (both ethically and practically), as it would require a resort to widespread violence.
The third is the impossibility of finding a sustainable agreement on the borders between Israel and a new state of Palestine. The partition of Jerusalem is impossible as well, and the Israeli West Bank Barrier has created a further impediment to the creation of agreed borders.
The one-state solution
What would an Israeli-Palestinian unitary state look like? The Constitution of the unitary state of Israel-Palestine would be largely based on the current Israeli basic laws (an informal Constitution), with the crucial addition that the unitary state would be the state of all of its citizens in an equal fashion: of Jews; Muslims; Israelis and Palestinians. Representation in the parliament should be proportional, (as it currently is in Israel) to ensure a feeling of full integration within the democratic functioning of the state. The Presidency and the office of the Prime Minister should rotate between an Israeli and a Palestinian, and the Cabinet should be formed of the same number of Israelis and Palestinians.
Hamas and all terrorist and anti-democratic organizations should be banned and actively disbanded. Conscription to the army should be abolished, and voluntary enlistment extended to all ethnic and religious groups. Alternatively, conscription should be extended to Arabs as well. The Law of Return should be preserved, but at the same time, the gradual return of Palestinian refugees to the land of historic Palestine must be allowed.
What is stopping this?
Yet, the European Union’s official policy is still the two-state solution to the conflict. This policy, however, is as out of date as the EU’s website on the Middle East Peace Process, which was last updated in 2019. Throughout the decades, the EU’s efforts to realize a two-state solution have been unsuccessful. The most effective measure regards the 2016 ban imposed on goods produced in the Occupied Territories. Politically, instead, the EU’s position is getting weaker by the day.
The Unit of the European External Action Service working on the Conflict has been downsized, and a growing coalition of strongly pro-Israel Member States (the Visegrad Four and Greece) is further complicating the EU’s ability to craft effective policies on the Conflict. Only a few days ago, Hungary vetoed an EU statement on the Conflict asking for an immediate ceasefire.
But there’s more.
The EU’s political inconsistency seems harmless compared to the United States’ shameless unconditional support for Israel’s disproportionate use of violence. As of today, the US is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council vetoing a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Only yesterday the US administration partially backtracked, with President Biden launching an informal appeal for a ceasefire.
This state of affairs has resulted in the triumph of Israeli unilateralism, and the failure of multilateral attempts to put into place a two-state solution. I believe that the European Union and its Member States should embrace our vision for Israel-Palestine. The only possible and ethical solution to the conflict is the one-state solution. Israel, as the strongest actor, should take responsibility for the wellbeing of all people living in the land of historic Palestine, and build a binational state.
However, the role of the international community should be central. Actors like the EU, the Arab League and the United States should help Israel and its Palestinian counterparts financially and logistically in building the unitary state. Importantly, the progressive vision offered by the one-state solution truly reflects what the European approach to foreign affairs should be. It should keep together realism and a commitment to human rights.
The current limbo of EU foreign policy-making is the worst of both worlds: it is detached from reality and does not bolster the human rights and the wellbeing of neither Palestinians nor Israelis. The EU can do better, and now is the time for a paradigm shift, and a Just Peace.