Palestine: What Now?

Huffington Post UK 24/9/11

With a week of non-stop op-eds offering different views of the goings on in Turtle Bay, it’s time to focus on practical, real-world solutions if we are still dedicated to the Two State Solution.

As the high stakes diplomacy at the UN starts coming to an end, we need to re-focus on tangible actions that each side can take to solidify the Two State Solution on the ground. Normally this discussion quickly morphs into confidence building measures (CBMs) that each party can do in order to demonstrate how serious they are about the solution.

The inability to get negotiations started these past two years has rested on the fact that these CBMs could not be agreed upon and were held up as pre-conditions to the negotiations themselves. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of some of the demands, the process froze and it will now take some creative thinking about how to solidify the end point- a Two State Solution- in ways that can work alongside bilateral negotiations but are not dependent upon them.

There are actions each side can take within their own societies and in their own interests that will, by their very nature, help the Two State Solution be realised.

In 2010, house prices in Israel went up a huge 16.4%. The high cost of housing in particular started off the largest social-economic protests in Israeli history this past summer. The #j14 protest movement managed to get over 5% of the entire population of the country marching.
Lack of housing is a serious issue, but no one worked out what another 30,000-70,000 people (lowest estimate) with government compensation would do to the market. These 30,000-70,000 people are those settlers who would, even according to Prime Minster Netanyahu, not be able stay where they are in the event of a Two State Solution.

The experience of those evacuated from Gush Katif (84% in 2010 still not in permanent housing) has lead to skepticism among West Bank settlers of the Israeli government’s ability to relocate their communities successfully. While certainly not happy to move, many would be far more comfortable talking about leaving if they knew where they would have a place to go.
Even if one goes by the lowest estimates of settlers who would have to move, 30,000, this still is more then triple the amount of people who were evacuated from Gush Katif. These communities need somewhere to go.

Meanwhile Israel is worried about areas in the North and South of the country. In the Galilee and the Negev there is systemic underdevelopment and demographic worries that the high percentage of Arab and Bedouin populations could lead to secession issues. Rather than population swaps (or in its post cold war terminology – ethnic cleansing) as has been proposed by Israel’s Foreign Minster, Israel could start building communities in these areas ready to house these settlers.

These communities would solve the concerns that some in the Israeli policy sphere have without the need to transfer or swap anyone. It would also offer a great opportunity to develop these two regions and lengthen Israel’s strategic economic zone away from just its narrow coastal plane.

This development is necessary regardless of the demands of the peace process, but it would certainly help, as these communities would be proof of Israel’s real intent to move settlers out of the West Bank to make way for a future Palestinian state. It shows the settlers that the government cares and thinks of them as people as well as pawns on the negotiation table and it shows the Israeli left that the government is doing something to make the Two State Solution more of a reality.

The costs of building these communities- it is more then just houses, but schools and transportation links- could be met in part by the new leviathan gas field that has been discovered just off the Israeli coast.

This is just one of many steps both sides must do to make the Two State Solution a reality in the region. While these steps can never be replacements for bilateral negotiations, they need the encouragement of the international community just as much. While the focus on September was necessary, we need to also start on the long-term infrastructure necessary to realize the will of the peoples of the region and the world.

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