In the complex situation in which Palestinians and Israelis currently find themselves, two things seems equally evident: First, a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel is an absolute prerequisite for a just and lasting peace; and second, Israel needs a Palestinian state. Without a Palestine state Israel faces what it considers as two unacceptable options. If it annexes the Occupied Territories and grants citizenship to their three million Palestinian inhabitants, it creates de facto a bi-national state of 5 million Jews and 4 million Palestinians (not counting the refugees), an option that would end the Zionist enterprise. If it continues its Occupation, it inevitably creates a system of outright apartheid, an untenable option in the long run. A Palestinian state thus appears to be indispensable for both Israel and the Palestinians.
So what’s the problem? Why did a decade of negotiations from Madrid and Oslo to Camp David and Taba end in such dismal failure, indeed, in an Intifada? What, indeed, must be done, not only to “restart the peace process,” but to ensure that it concludes with a just peace offering not simply security for Israel but also a truly sovereign and viable state for the Palestinians? Putting the issue of the refugees aside for the moment, the answer to these questions depends on whether the Palestinians succeed in dismantling the Matrix of Control Israel has laid over the Occupied Territories since 1967. The issue before us, the issue separating a just peace from an imposed one, a sovereign Palestinian state from a bantustan, has to do not only with territory but with control. One indisputable fact that has accompanied the entire “peace process” is that Israel will simply not relinquish control voluntarily over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It will not relinquish the core of its settlement system, or control of the West Bank aquifers, or sway over the area’s economy or it “security arrangements” extending over the entire Palestinian area.
From Israel’s point of view, then, the trick is to find an arrangement that would leave it in control, but “relieve” it of the Palestinian population — a kind of occupation-by-consent. This was the essence of the “take it or leave it” offer Barak and Clinton made at Camp David (the Palestinians left it), as well as that of the Taba negotiations in January, 2001. The popular impression has it that Barak made a “generous offer” of 95% of the West Bank, plus considerable parts of East Jerusalem and all of Gaza, and that the Palestinians made an “historic mistake” in rejecting it. This has let Israel off the hook in terms of repressing Palestinian resistance. It has become fashionable, even among the moderate Israeli left, to blame the Palestinians for “spoiling” the peace process. They, after all, spurned Barak’s “generous offer” of 95% and reacted with “violence.” We, the Israelis, did our part. We were forthcoming. They are not ready for peace, do not want peace, are not “partners” for peace. We are OK; they are to blame for everything. They deserve anything they get. We are not responsible.