The relationship between Arabs and Jews as it relates to the modern State of Israel has always been examined through the lens of land, given the theological bond both peoples have to the land itself and how they define themselves. Since 1937, most thinkers on the topic saw the idea of the two-state solution revolving around the concept of partitioning the land between two indigenous peoples: Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Since the creation of the State of Israel the debate began to focus on the question of coexistence between a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state.
This model is the one advocated by most of the international community, spearheaded by Washington. Furthermore, its attainment is the official policy of both the government of Israel and the Palestine Authority under Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.
Enter Prof. Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. In his latest book, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative he tackles the notion of the two-state model and its relevance today. Susser has done extensive research on Jordan and the Palestinians and was the only Israeli academic in 1994 to accompany then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to his meeting with King Hussein of Jordan for the signing of the Washington Declaration before the US Congress. In addition, he authored a political biography of Jordan's prime minister Wasfi al-Tall.
Susser makes it clear that this model of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians is far from perfect. He writes, "For both Israelis and Palestinians, a two-state solution was not an ideal, but the lesser evil. The positions of both sides fractured the perfect symmetry of the two-state paradigm." Moreover, he underscores that the notion of "land for peace" that grew out of the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 was intended for state actors like Egypt, Syria and Jordan, not the Palestinian state-to-be.
This is a critical point as many outside pro-Palestinian observers of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict like to argue that the concept also applies to them. This despite the fact that today even that is a farce, as most Palestinians have deviated from the two-state model in favor of a one-state solution – a Palestinian state that would replace Israel.
Yet the paradigm was widely embraced by virtually everyone except the Arabs, who instead decided to go to war rather than accept the existence of any Jewish state in their midst. Moreover, Arabs believe that the notion of an Egyptian state for Egyptians and a Jewish state for Jews is simply unrealistic due to "Zionist aggression."
The dictum of "a land without a people for a people without a land" is one of the most oft-cited phrases in Zionist literature – and perhaps the most challenging.
Anti-Zionists cite the phrase as a perfect instance of the fundamental injustice of the Zionist movement: that early Zionists believed Palestine was uninhabited, that they denied and continue to reject the existence of a distinct Palestinian culture, and validate the fact that Zionists designed a plan for ethnic cleansing of the Arab population.
The late Palestinian academic and activist Edward Said used to quote the phrase to deny Israel's right to exist on the grounds that the Zionist claim to the land was made under the false premise that Palestine was "a land without people."
Notwithstanding, the push for Oslo was done on every possible level within Israeli circles, socially, politically and militarily, and reached a point where being "anti-Oslo" connoted being anti-Israel. There was a lack of understanding that no matter what former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat voiced in English, there was really no room or desire in him to compromise, and now Abbas continues to prolong his legacy.
We did witness some change in 2009, when PA Prime Minister Fayyad announced his program, "Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State," a.k.a. the Fayyad Plan. Its essence was to build a de facto Palestinian state with a functioning government, judicial and municipal institutions. While the plan started off well, the Fayyad Plan's Achilles' heel was that he had no domestic political base, only an internationally acclaimed one. Moreover, the growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah reinforced the Nakba narrative rather than state building.
A closer look at the idea of the two state-solution model reveals that it is actually camouflage, as it allows the Palestinians to be perceived as compromising when in reality they don't need to. This is why they cite Resolution 242; a superficial reading seemingly places Palestinian/Arab brokers of peace in a position of strength. For Arabs, this "legal" prerequisite emphasizes the give and take: If Israel valued peace, it would return land. If Arabs wanted land, they would give peace.
Susser rightfully acknowledges that Oslo's failure weakened the applicability of the two-state formula. He also concludes that less friction between Israelis and Palestinians with or without a state is the preferred tactic. Yet the rise of Islamism in the region at large and specifically Hamas in the Palestinian areas guarantees more friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and will ultimately increase the violence between the two peoples.
Asaf Romirowsky is a Philadelphia-based Middle East analyst, and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum.