For those who periodically tune in and tune out of the Israel-Palestine situation, the events of recent days and weeks might seem like a replay of a movie they have seen before: Palestinians are being forced from their homes; Israel drops bombs on Gaza; Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza; Israel destroys most of the rockets with an air defense system that is largely paid for by American taxpayers.
All familiar. But the truth is, this moment is different. And it may prove a transformational one in the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
Before the world’s attention shifted toward pushing for a cease-fire, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, inside Israel and in the diaspora had all mobilized simultaneously in a way unseen for decades. They are all working toward the same goal: breaking free from the shackles of Israel’s system of oppression.
Reacting to growing Israeli restrictions in Jerusalem and the impending expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinians across the land who identified with the experience of being dispossessed by Israel rose up, together. Even now, as bombs fall on Gaza, they continue to do so. Palestinians are protesting in huge numbers in cities and towns throughout the land; hundreds of thousands took part in a general strike.
With this unified movement, Palestinians have shown Israel that they cannot be ignored. For years, Israelis have made peace with the notion that they can manage, however brutally, their relationship with Palestinians instead of resolving it. This has been aided by a process of walling off the ugliness of their rule: Gaza, caged and besieged, might as well have been on a different planet; Israelis could drive throughout the West Bank practically uninterrupted by the sight of Palestinians; Palestinian citizens of Israel have largely been relegated to neglected, concentrated areas.
Out of sight, out of mind. Or so Israel seemed to hope.
But as Palestinians took to the streets in recent weeks, defiantly raising their national flags and chanting against their subjugation, Israelis awoke to the reality that for Palestinians, the divisions between Gazans, residents of the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel do not exist. Palestine is not “over there” but is everywhere around them. With their bodies and their feet, Palestinians were acting out the lines of the famed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: “I am from here. And here I am. I am me. And here is here.” They have reasserted that they are all Palestinians, with one flag and one struggle.
That is precisely why, in the weeks and months to come, Palestinians should not be forced back to a paradigm that divides them with calls for a two-state solution.
The so-called peace process, which has supposedly worked toward a two-state solution, was born in the 1990s, at a time when the Palestinian political leadership, in the form of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was in exile. Wanting to return home, the P.L.O. was lured into a trap: In exchange for being allowed to return to the occupied West Bank, Palestinian political leaders agreed to engage in negotiations. Instead, Israel has used these talks — mediated by the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally — as a cover to persist with its settlement expansion.
Nearly 30 years later, it should now be clear that the process is going nowhere. And so the Palestinian people are moving on, whether or not their leadership comes with them.
To be clear, all Palestinian factions — including Fatah, which dominates the P.L.O. — are part of the Palestinian body politic. They will be necessary parties to whatever comes next. But the Palestinians who can most shape the future now are in the streets and squares, speaking to one another and the world directly, and making clear that the “green line” that divided Israel and the occupied territories was an instrument of division, not liberation.
The energy of this moment represents an opportunity to wed Palestinian aspirations with a growing global consensus. According to a 2018 poll by the University of Maryland, 64 percent of Americans would support equal rights in a single state if the two-state solution fails. That number climbs to 78 percent among Democrats. Among scholars and experts on the Middle East, one recent poll found, 66 percent say there is a one-state reality. There is also a growing shift in mainstream organizations that have been hesitant to call for greater change: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently released a report calling for a break from the two-state approach.
Many diplomats and analysts around the world I have spoken to in recent years understand that the two-state solution is dead. Israel has killed it. When I ask why they don’t call for equal rights for Palestinians to end what is increasingly obviously a de facto apartheid system, they point out the official Palestinian position remains for a separate state. When they ask me what the Palestinian leadership is waiting for, I have no good answer.
The two-state peace process has acted as a convenient excuse for third parties who would rather pretend it presents a viable path to peace — no matter how clear its failures have been — than ever hold Israeli leaders to account. But the curtain is falling: The Palestinians have moved on, and many people in America and around the world are ready to do so, too. Now Palestinian officials should do the same. They would be far from the first to abandon the two-state paradigm — after all, Israel buried it under settlements long ago. But there are also no prizes for being last.
Eventually, the bombs and rockets will subside, and this “familiar” round will appear to be over. Israel, Washington and some Palestinian officials might try to pretend that nothing has changed, but make no mistake: Something has.
Yousef Munayyer (@YousefMunayyer) is a writer and a scholar at the Arab Center Washington DC, a research organization.
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