Most of the international community favour a two-state solution: in a non-binding and contradictory way. The European Union continues to half-heartedly demand – and undermine – Palestinian statehood. But why not confront today’s realities and fundamental human rights abuses instead,? asks guest author Omran Shroufi
Hardly a week passes without some statesperson or official reiterating their supposed commitment to the two-state solution. Yet, on closer examination, one has the impression that much of this support is void of any real meaning. Take the EU and its member states. On the one hand, their actions not only fail to support Palestinian statehood, but in fact, undermine it. Yet at the same time, every setback or challenge is simply brushed to one side; as long as we are “working towards a two-state solution”, everything will be okay, “hopefully, one day, inshallah”. But what if the reality on the ground suggests otherwise? Though zealously pursuing a two-state solution is certainly a ‘means’, empty rhetoric alone will provide no meaningful ‘end’. As a matter of fact, it serves as a harmful distraction.
Settlement produce and the EU
To get an idea of the EU’s contradictory support of the two-state solution, consider how it has failed to follow its own trade guidelines, effectively improving its trade relations with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. To allow goods, produced in settlements deemed illegal under international law, to be sold in the EU, is surely not the conduct of an international institution keen to see a vibrant Palestinian economy develop. What perhaps causes most confusion is that these goods are often eligible for the same trade benefits as those originating in Israel proper: Israeli efforts to hide the place of origin, coupled with the fact that goods are rarely ‚produced‘ in one single location, mean that nearly a third of all Israeli exports to the EU have been fully or partially made in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is particularly significant as the EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner.
The New Settlement Guidelines – Back to where we should have started?
Others argue that, regardless of what previously happened, accusations of inaction no longer hold true, particularly with regards to the EU’s new settlement guidelines. The EU recently announced that as of January 2014, EU funds would no longer be allocated to Israeli entities that operate inside the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. In order for a Palestinian state to exist within its internationally recognised borders (the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip), it would hardly be useful to help fund foreign entities illegally occupying the same pieces of land.
Yet, what is intriguing is how the announcement exposes the active involvement of the EU in Israeli settlements projects and businesses thus far. In a sense, the EU has made it clear that it has previously not taken steps (in this regard) to prevent the expansion of Israeli enterprises in the occupied West Bank, expansion that clearly works against Palestinian national aspirations. The guidelines also fall short of actually banning settlement produce in the EU. Though they are certainly a step in the right direction, this tells us more about the EU’s previous lack of orientation than anything else. Admittedly, recent events suggest that officials in Britain, Holland and Romania are not just paying the guidelines lip service. If this continues to be the case, perhaps the EU can begin to recover some of the credibility it has lost.
Some may contend that settlement industries positively contribute to the Palestinian economy, providing around 20,000 Palestinians with employment. While there may be some truth to this, others, such as the Palestinian Authority, have long called for a boycott of settlement produce, believing complete sovereignty over the Palestinian territories would provide many more Palestinians with their subsistence – an argument also made by organisations such as the World Bank.
Member states acting out of sync
The EU, it must be remembered, is not a fully-fledged federal union. Many of its guidelines are simply that, and member states are left to execute them in their own fashion. To this effect, individual member states have contributed to the EU’s own two-state ambiguity. In Germany for instance, in response to a request last year from the German Green Party in the Bundestag to have settlement produce from the West Bank correctly labelled as such, in accordance with both EU and German trade regulations, Ex-Minister of Development Cooperation Dirk Niebel was so outraged that he claimed a hatefulness within the Green Party had been exposed, reminiscent of dark times gone by. The United Kingdom and Germany recently blocked Palestine’s bid to join what must be one of the world’s least controversial groups, the International Olive Council. In 2012, twelve EU member states abstained from the United Nations General Assembly vote to accord Palestine with non-member observer status. The Czech Republic went even further and was one of only nine countries to outright reject the proposal. And, if rumours are to be believed, the Czech Republic is even considering moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in what would be an unprecedented move in support of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.
Time for a wake-up call
This general lack of inconsistency is not necessarily to be understood as vindictiveness against the Palestinians. In the absence of firm decision-making, hollow support for the two-state solution has been an adequate way for the EU and many of its member states to delude themselves. The European External Action Service continues to claim “[t]he EU’s objective is a two-state solution with an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel and its other neighbours”.
Yet, rather than admitting they are unwilling or unable to force Israel to accept a Palestinian state on its internationally recognised borders, it has become much easier for European states to offer empty words of support for the ‚Peace Process‘ or the ‚two-state solution‘ and keep their fingers crossed. Yet the path they blindly follow has been largely defined by the disastrous Oslo Accords. To most – including many senior EU officials – the Accords have metamorphosed from a promising interim process into a devastating permanent one, drawing new lines in the cartography of the West Bank and thus creating the previously unheard of (and rather dystopian) Area A, B and C – Palestinian ’sovereignty‘ is to be found only in Area A, around 20 per cent of the West Bank.
Teaching the old dog some new tricks
So instead of mechanically parroting empty sentiments in endless press conferences, the EU has another choice. It could choose to no longer view every one of its actions through the prism of the ‘all-encompassing’ two-state solution. Why not leave this to one side and concentrate on today’s real injustices and fundamental human rights abuses? In a sense recognise the unfortunate fact that, to date, no Palestinian state exists. Accordingly, it is little use to keep alive the illusion that Israel’s responsibilities are limited to its internationally recognized borders, or that we are dealing with two separate independent entities. The Palestinians’ own ‚government‘ cannot offer them any real protection, and it is the Israeli government that dictates how they live, where they live, and whom they marry. The current interconnectedness of life in Israel and the Palestinian territories leaves little other choice.
Consider the current legal discrepancy between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank. While one group – the Israeli settlers – are offered the full protection of Israeli civil law, the other – the Palestinians – fall under military law. The resulting disparity allows a small number of settlers the freedom to torment and bully Palestinians, destroy their lands, and block road access, in the knowledge that they will never face the same harsh punishment delved out on their Palestinian neighbours. A report by Haaretz highlighted that 99.74 per cent of the cases heard by the military courts – thus involving Palestinians – end in conviction. In comparison, only nine per cent of the investigations into settler violence between 2005 and 2011 ended with a guilty verdict. The EU should seek to undermine such inequality wherever it can. As Al-Haq recommends, the EU has a responsibility to ban known violent settlers and settler organisations from entering its territories. Such actions, though clearly not enough, could serve as a valuable leverage to pressure Israel on the unjust application of the law.
This is not to say the two-state solution is impossible, but it is rather a call for the abstract and lacklustre pursuit of ‘two states’ to be replaced with concrete demands for equal rights. If such an alteration paves the way for a more open discussion on the possibilities of a one-state solution, this should also be welcomed. It would be hard to argue that the current two-state discourse has led to much success, and as such, it hardly deserves to be held on a pedestal.
Omran Shroufi, 30, studiert im MA Politikwissenschaft an der Freien Universität Berlin. Die Konsequenzen des Konflikts spürt man seiner Wahrnehmung nach auch in Europa im Kleinen: Anfeindung zwischen muslimischen und jüdischen Gruppen in England oder Frankreich zum Beispiel.