NEW YORK - We can ask, "Who killed the road map for
peace between Israelis and Palestinians?" Or we can
start thinking through the implications of the fact that
it is dead. Either way, the Palestinian bombing Saturday
that killed 19 people in Haifa, Israel, followed by the
Israeli bombing of a site in Syria, indicates that the road
map - which the Bush administration and its allies have
pursued throughout the past year - cannot now be salvaged.
The road map's declared goal was the establishment of a
Palestinian state of undefined powers and uncertain borders
alongside Israel, in the land between the Jordan River and
Israel's ruling Likud Party never liked that idea, and it
hedged its very qualified "acceptance" of the
road map with a list of 14 formal reservations.
The Palestinian leadership - including Yasser Arafat, who
was voted president of Palestine in a US-sponsored election
in 1996, and two successive Palestinian prime ministers
- expressed unqualified acceptance of the road map.
All that is now history. The road map, which never had much
real momentum, is dead.
Its death marks not just the latest in a long series of
debacles in Washington's attempts at Israeli-Palestinian
It could also mark the end of the long-pursued concept of
a two-state solution. For if a two-state solution were to
provide the stability and security that both peoples so
desperately crave, the resulting Palestinian state would
have to be just as viable as the Israeli state with whose
fate it would always be so closely entwined.
But continued implantation of Israeli settlers and all their
supporting infrastructure into the West Bank has brought
about a situation in which the establishment of a viable
Palestinian state looks impossible.
Over the years, Israel has planted more than 400,000 settlers
into the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. All that land
- like Gaza, like Syria's Golan - has the status in international
law of being "occupied territory," and the 4th
Geneva Convention expressly states that it is illegal for
the occupying power (Israel) to transfer any of its citizens
into these occupied lands. (It would be as if the US, now
running an occupation in Iraq, should decide to move hundreds
of thousands of US citizens into Iraq in an attempt to control
the resource base and the government there forever.)
But now, most of the 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West
Bank want to stay in the luxurious communities that hefty
government subsidies have provided. Politically, it would
now be almost impossible for any Israeli government to suggest
that they move back to Israel - or to leave them where they
are under a Palestinian ruler. But if they stay where they
are, and under Israeli sovereignty, then the land left for
the Palestinians can never provide the basis for a viable
Palestinian state. As with the "Bantustans" created
by the old apartheid regime in South Africa, the Palestinian-ruled
area would be resource-starved and totally under the control
of the stronger power. No recipe there for long-term stability
- for white South Africans, or for Israelis.
This lesson in history does, however, suggest an approach
to peacemaking that might work if, indeed, there is no hope
for a two-state solution.
In South Africa, once supporters of apartheid figured out
that no amount of repressing or fencing off blacks and no
amount of punishing military raids against the country's
neighbors could bring them peace, they finally settled for
that good old standby of democracies: a one-person-one-vote
system within a unitary state.
That wasn't an easy decision for white - or black - South
Africans. On both sides there were centuries of hostility
and harm to overcome before they could accept the "other"
kind of folk as fellow-citizens. But by 1990, the situation
had become intolerable - for white as well as black South
Africans. The country's transformation to democracy was
difficult for some, and, as in all democracies, problems
remain. But in general, it was overwhelmingly successful
and deeply inspiring.
So why not in Israel/Palestine? If Israeli settlers want
to stay in the West Bank - let them stay! But if they want
to stay there and be part of a community built on long-term
peace, then they cannot refuse to give equal rights within
the whole of an expanded state of Israel/Palestine to all
Palestinians who want to be a part of it.
The end of the dream of a monocultural "Jewish state"?
Yes. But in the Holy Land, as in South Africa, it could
be the start of a hopeful new chapter in human history.
For Jewish Israelis, as for Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking
South Africans, they could still be living in a multicultural
state in which their language, their culture, and their
religion would be fully embraced.
The idea of a binational (Arab/Hebrew) state in historic
Palestine was first proposed in the 1930s by Jewish thinkers
like Martin Buber and Judah Magness. Now, increasing numbers
of intellectuals on both sides are discussing it anew.
At a time of so much despair in the Middle East, this idea
- based on the deepest concepts of human equality and respect
among peoples - might give us all fresh hope.