The two-state solution illusion
National Post Canada, May 27, 2009
While Ottawa’s political leaders were meeting on Parliament Hill Tuesday with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, a group of businessmen (no women, for some reason) met for lunch in downtown Calgary with Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab-born West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. And while the Conservatives condemned Israel’s settlements as an obstacle to a peaceful "two-state solution", with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Abbas also mouthing support for the same vision for Israel and the Palestinians, Toameh couldn’t help but chuckle. “I laugh when they talk about a two-state solution,” he said. “It’s unreal. It’s not going to work. But we all have to say we support it, maybe because that’s what [U.S. President Barack] Obama wants.”
Toameh—in town as a guest of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy—doesn’t dismiss the idea for the same reasons as Hamas, which considers Israel a temporary, alien cancer to be mercilessly excised from the Muslim Middle East, not co-existed with. He dismisses it because, as those living in the territories well know, the Palestinians cannot even co-exist with themselves, let alone with Israel. Since Yassir Arafat died—“the only good thing he ever did,” Toameh says—life for the average Palestinian has gone from miserable to worse; the territories descended into low-intensity civil war, with 2,000 Palestinians killed in the last three years amidst the political and revenge-motivated attacks of Hamas on Fatah and Fatah on Hamas, as well as the marginal mayhem of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. For the first time, more Palestinians are killed from internecine violence than in conflicts with Israel. Election promises first by Abbas and then by Hamas of an end to corruption, lawlessness, poverty, and failure have all proven lies, Toameh points out: each has assumed power—Fatah in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza—only to show themselves to be as abusive, crooked and ineffectual in building a civil society as Arafat was. Neither party enjoys credibility or actually governs in any real sense the anarchic territories, where unemployment exceeds 60%—though Hamas is at least closer to legitimacy, enjoying far more popular support than Abbas does (Palestinians see Western support for Fatah as Zionist meddling, he says, driving them further into the arms of Hamas and other jihadists). “Abbas doesn’t even have power in downtown Ramallah, where he works and lives,” he says.
A two-state solution sounds pleasant to Western ears. It seems the proper thing for Canadian politicians to say. Certainly the media would pillory Harper and Ignatieff were they to refuse to play along. But were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to endorse the plan tomorrow—as Barack Obama wants as precondition to helping Israel resist Iranian nuclear agression—it would be utterly meaningless. “There is no partner on the Palestinian side,” Toameh says. Israel’s West Bank settlements are no obstacle, he adds; they are a red herring: a minor issue that Jerusalem will easily handle—based on its readiness to dismantle its settlements in the past—when the moment is right. That time is not now, and is not coming soon. Because, in today’s environment, whatever proposed peace agreement is backed by Abbas would only be instantly rejected by Hamas, and any deal with Hamas—were any possible—reflexively rejected by Fatah. And neither group has much validity in citizens’ eyes, he reports. In fact, Toameh mischievously suggests Netanyahu might be clever to try what Obama wants and publicly back a two-state plan immediately, if only to put the Palestinians and international peace-plan backers “in a corner” by revealing to all how truly impossible implementing anything of the sort would be under the current circumstances.
The international community’s error, says Toameh, is that it seems to think statehood is something to be handed to Palestinians, like a gift. It is, he believes, an undeserved one. “I believe a state is not something we should be given, it is something we should earn,” says the West Bank-born journalist. Far from demonstrating a capability to create a functioning, responsible civil society, he says, Palestinians have only proven their willingness to tolerate chaos, mob-rule and terror. They watched as, instead of building hospitals and schools and infrastructure with the billions sent to Ramallah and Gaza, Arafat lined his own pockets, Fatah fattened its cronies, and Hamas purchased weapons. On the one hand, Palestinians have fallen again and again for rotten leadership, which in turn, do their best to suppress the emergence of more responsible alternatives. On the other, Toameh seems to suggest that the Palestinians are getting the government they deserve. “Everything is going in the wrong direction, largely because of the failure of Palestinians to hold [their] government accountable,” he says.
This is not a happy fact for Toameh. He’s convinced that with the right leadership following the death of Arafat’s terror-minded kleptocracy, and with so much enthusiasm on the part of the international community—including Israel—to help create a modern, functional Palestinian state, there is no reason that, with the implementation of democratic, transparent and accountable institutions, the Palestinians could not have built themselves a new Hong Kong or Singapore. Were Western donor countries to insist upon those very elements in exchange for all their aid dollars, they could have helped make it so. Instead Canada, the U.S. and Europe have merely sponsored one lousy dictator over another. And instead, the Palestinians have opted to make for themselves a new Afghanistan, a savage playground of corrupt warlords and Islamist fanatics. The world already has enough states like that. And any so-called solution that proposes to create another is no solution at all.
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