‘State-minus’: Biden’s Palestine solution

Three decades after the Oslo Lie, neither the US nor the EU are in any position to dangle the promise of a Palestinian state.

Is it sadly ironic that the issue of Palestinian statehood – unresolved for over 75 years – has resurfaced only after Israel’s wholesale carpet-bombing of the Gaza Strip, killing over 30,000 civilians, injuring tens of thousands more, and destroying significant swathes of the territory’s infrastructure.

University of California (UCLA) historian James Gelvin states the case plainly:

“There would have been no serious discussion of a two-state solution without [the events of] 7 October. As a matter of fact, putting the Palestine issue back on the front burner of international and West Asian politics was one of the reasons Hamas launched its operation.”

As Gelvin explains it to The Cradle, Hamas has already scored several victories since its Al-Aqsa Flood operation: “The Palestine issue is back on the international agenda, it is negotiating the release of its captives as an equal partner to Israel,” and has demonstrated that it is “more effective in realizing Palestinian goals than its rival, Fatah.”

New ‘Biden Doctrine’

While the unprecedented, brutal Israeli military response has indeed illustrated the urgency for establishing a Palestinian safe haven, it is impossible to ignore that western state backers of the 1993 Oslo Accords – which laid out the essential framework for the establishment of a Palestinian state – have then so assiduously ignored and neglected that responsibility.

Even greater hypocrisy emerges from the fact that these western powers, led by Washington, have now decided to force the discussion of Palestinian statehood in the midst of Gaza’s carnage, with an Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is infamously opposed to it.

So, why is this debate possible now? Why was it ignored before 7 October – or even prior to Netanyahu’s return to the prime ministership?

After enormous public and international pressure, US President Joe Biden has, at least rhetorically, reopened the issue of Palestinian statehood. According to the New York Times, the Biden White House’s new doctrine would “involve some form of US recognition of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in return for strong Palestinian guarantees that their institutions could never threaten Israel.”

In addition, the US president’s plan also envisages Saudi–Israeli normalization and a tough military stance against Iran and its regional allies. However, many analysts have already raised questions about the viability of a plan that does not reflect current ground realities.

While Netanyahu rejects the very notion of a Palestinian state, the ‘Biden doctrine’ and its offering of some limited-sovereignty version of a demilitarized Palestinian state is nothing less than humiliating for Palestinians.

Dr Muhannad Ayyash, Professor of Sociology at Mount Royal University, observes that there is no fundamental change of approach by the US on this issue. In short, the Biden administration refuses to clarify what it means by a ‘Palestinian state.’ Its initiative appears mainly to advance a form of a two-state solution that would be palatable to Israel.

Ayyash points out that the key issues related to Palestinian statehood are left unanswered, including the issue of sovereignty, Jewish settlements, the status of East Jerusalem, a necessary West Bank/East Jerusalem with the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian right to return, and so forth.

As Israel has firmly insisted on retaining full security control over the entire territory west of Jordan – meaning, over all the territory likely to come under Palestinian (self-)rule – many experts fear that Israel would have the right to militarily enter those territories at will, without Palestinian consent, with the latter banned from assembling its own military force.

This version of ‘statehood’ is not remotely on par with that of other UN member-states, who are entitled, under the UN Charter, to exercise full sovereignty and defend their territorial integrity. Biden’s ‘solution’ of a Palestinian state with limited sovereignty is nothing more than the legalization of Israel’s perpetual occupation of Palestine.

A Palestinian ‘empty shell’

The revived debate on Palestinian statehood is also intricately connected to a big western public relations dilemma. The Atlanticists’ unconditional support for Israel’s illegal, disproportionate military assault against mostly female and child populations has deeply impacted their image and capacity to maneuver in West Asia and beyond.

This is especially true for Washington’s foreign policy objectives in the region, which are facing major, direct resistance on the ground in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

The revival of a two-state solution is, therefore, a “desperate act to salvage some of the credibility or legitimacy of these regimes (both Arab and Western governments),” argues Dr Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Professor and Abdulaziz Said Chair for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the American University in Washington, DC.

For decades, the US has capitulated to Israeli demands on pretty much everything Tel Aviv has ever asked for. In recent years, as Gelvin describes it, the US has mainly focused “on bribing various Arab governments – the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan – to normalize relations with Israel” through the “Abraham Accords,” which, in effect, took the Palestine issue off the table.”

Meanwhile, Arab states managed regional expectations by continuing to pay lip service to Palestinian issues while scuttling any opportunities behind the scenes. With few Arab state allies left, Palestinians themselves had no cards left to leverage – until 7 October.

Now, Israel is doing all it can to negate that day’s gains. Says Ayyash:

“Netanyahu wants to dispense with all pretension about the establishment of the Palestinian state and use this moment to establish full Israeli Jewish sovereignty from the river to the sea, whereas the Biden administration prefers a quieter approach that pretends to care about the aspirations of the Palestinian people in order to maintain its close ties with Arab regimes across the region.”

The two-state solution, according to Professor Abu-Nimer, is, therefore, nothing other than a “fig leaf” to resuscitate the west’s crashing image and should not be viewed as a serious US initiative. The proposed plan is “a skeleton or an empty shell which lacks of any serious form of sovereignty.”

Nathan Brown, an American scholar of Middle Eastern law and politics at George Washington University, largely concurs:

“This is not a step toward statehood but only reviving some provisions of the Oslo Accords. Even at a maximum, it would produce what would have been called a ‘protectorate’ in the nineteenth century, not a state.”

A Palestinian state is not on the cards

Although the US and the EU could exercise immense leverage over Israel to revive the Oslo agreement and fast-track its provisions, they are doing nothing of the sort.

Today, there is a unique opportunity for Tel Aviv’s western allies to play this hand, given the utter collapse of Israel’s image worldwide and the mass public demand for the protection of Palestinians.

Instead, the Biden administration thinks that it can resurrect the two-state idea by mediating a grand regional deal – one that will deliver everything Israel wants, by dangling the promise of a rump Palestinian state.

The White House believes that the reward of normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia will offset for the Netanyahu government a reversal on the question of Palestinian statehood and withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories.

Gelvin dismisses the plan, saying it simply won’t work on so many levels. For starters, “if Netanyahu commits to a Palestinian state and withdrawal from the occupied territories, his government will collapse and he will go to jail.”

Don’t expect anything spectacular from the European Union either. Although EU High Representative for Foreign Relations Josep Borrell has said that a Palestinian state may need to be imposed from the outside without Israel’s agreement, realistically, the range and reach of European foreign policy is minimal or non-existent. According to Gelvin, “the EU has no more leverage against Israel than Costa Rica.”

Abu-Nimer likely speaks for the majority of regional observers – who have seen this game play out before: these top-down western statehood formulas do not work without genuine engagement with Palestinian political representation – in this case, Hamas and other Palestinian resistance organizations.

Thirty-one years after the Oslo Accords promised a Palestinian state, Israel is ethnically cleansing Gaza and swallowing up the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Almost five months after the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, some of the leverage is back in Palestinian resistance hands, and they are unlikely to trade their gains for an unsovereign rump state which diplomats are privately calling a ‘state-minus.’

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