Inescapable need for two-state solution

Israelis and Arabs are mark-ing in very different ways the war launched 50 years ago today by Israel against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. For Israelis, this is an occasion to be proud of their country’s military prowess.

The Israeli air force won the war in its first hour by bombing Egypt’s war planes and military airfields at 8 o’clock on the morning of June 5, 1967, and proceeding to wipe out the air forces of Jordan and Syria. This aerial offensive enabled Israeli ground troops to capture East Jerusalem and the West Bank ruled by Jordan since Israel’s 1948 war of establishment, Gaza controlled by Egypt, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrian Golan heights. In a matter of six days, Israel doubled its territory, acquired strategic depth and, for the religious-minded, fulfilled Biblical prophecies.

For Arabs, the war was the second major military defeat at the hands of Israel since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 — not counting Israel's participation with former colonial powers France and Britain in the 1956 war on Egypt following Cairo’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal. The Arabs suffered at least 20,000 dead in comparison to fewer than 1,000 Israeli fatalities.

The Arab response to the 1967 defeat was to prepare for the next war which came in October 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched simultaneous surprise attacks on Israel.  While the Egyptians and Syrians temporarily regained territory lost in 1967 and restored Arab dignity, Israel, rearmed by the US, retook this territory.

However, Israel learned that the Arabs could be a serious foe and in 1978 agreed to negotiate peace with Egypt and to talk peace with Syria. The peace with Egypt was concluded in 1979. Talks with Syria failed.

For Palestinians, this war am­ounted to total defeat and usher­ed in an occupation lasting half a century. Although the UN Sec­urity Council adopted a resoluti­on in November 1967 calling for Israeli withdrawal from captu­red territory, Israel ignored this resolution and the international community did not compel Isra­el to abide by it. Israel remained in control while Palestinians, who had fled the Israelis in 1948, have remained in place and challenge Israel’s occupation.

In 1967, Israel completed its conquest of Palestine, a goal of the Zionist movement which created Israel since the 1880s, and gained strategic territory in Egypt and Syria. In breach of international law, Israel began to establish colonies for its citizens in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, staking a permanent claim to these areas.  Today there are some 400,000 Israelis in the West Bank and more than 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Settlers planted in Gaza were evacuated in 2005 while more than 20,000 Israelis have settled in the Syrian Golan.

During the mid-1970s, Palestinians, progressive Israelis and the international community proposed the “two-state solution,” the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This remains the main alternative to indefinite occupation, continuing colonisation of Palestinian land, repression, and denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Multiple failures

Since then, there have been multiple failed opportunities for Israel to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The most dramatic was the peace process launched after the signing on the White House lawn in Washington of the Oslo Accord secretly negotiated between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation during 1993.

This was an interim deal involving the creation of a temporary Palestinian authority to govern Palestinians living under the occupation and the withdrawal of Israeli troops. Negoti­ators were asked to reach agreement on East Jerusalem, claimed by Israel as part of its capital and claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of their state-to-be; Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlers, borders, and security.

The negotiations have stumbled and stopped. The interim agreement has become the status quo, which the Israeli establishment seeks to sustain as it rejects the “land for peace” formula, the basis of the “two-state solution.”

The current right-wing Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted all US and international efforts to restart talks while the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, has refused to negotiate unless Israel halts colonisation, which is consuming land demanded by the Palestinians for their state.

Recent polls reveal that 47% of Israelis and 47% of Palestinians continue to call for two states. This figure has dropped from 60% between 2014-16. However, the Netanyahu government is dominated by hardline nationalist and religious parties which are opposed to a Palestinian state and insist on Israel’s right to colonise all the territory it holds.

For Palestinians, this means the continuation of the half-century old occupation and life under an apartheid system which discriminates against them, denies them civic and human rights, allows Israel to appropriate their land and resources, and condemns them to poverty.  

The economic gulf between Israelis and Palestinians is striking. The Economist reports that Israeli GDP per person is $35,700, equivalent to France, while a Palestinian in the West Bank earns $3,700, about the same as an Egyptian, and a Gazan $1,700, earnings of citizens of Congo-Brazzaville. These differentials add a compelling socio-economic factor to the urgent need for a political solution based on two-states for two peoples.
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