How long should one stick to a strategy that overturns rather than helps? Among Palestinians in the West Bank, few believe in a two-state solution, and the Oslo Accords are seen as a tool for Israeli annexation rather than peace.
- Two-state solution?
Abu Irfan, in whose taxi I spend three hours between the cities of Ramallah and Hebron, laughs at the horse while waving one hand behind his ear. It looks like he's trying to knock out a fly.
- The Oslo agreement was the worst thing that could have happened to us. Before, we traveled freely between Jerusalem, Gaza, Haifa and Eilat. Now we go through roadblocks every day at the same time as more and more settlers are taking over our homes.
In October, Ann Linde became the first Swedish Foreign Minister to visit Israel in ten years. She called the trip "A political breakthrough" and emphasized the importance of a two-state solution.
But what happened? The Oslo Agreement, where the main Palestinian goal was to end the occupation and form a Palestinian state? Almost 30 years later, most Palestinians believe that the situation has only gotten worse.
Talking about a Palestinian state is like talking about a manicure on Maslov's stairwell
In 2019, I was an observer at the West Bank Ecumenical Companion Program to document violations of international law. One of the most important lessons I take with me is how little importance a state has for many Palestinians. Many would embrace the opportunity, but the goal remains secondary.
During my time at the West Bank, I have witnessed the military seize school children at random. I have witnessed armed settlers burning olive trees while Israeli soldiers watch. I have witnessed how farmers have been abducted from their lands, how shepherds have had their sheep and goats confiscated and how Palestinian families are forced to demolish their own houses, sometimes for the third or fourth time. The Palestinians I live with are struggling, first and foremost, to have their fundamental rights met in everyday life. Talking about a Palestinian state without addressing the basic problems is like talking about a manicure on Maslov's need ladder.
I call Khaled on WhatsApp. He lives in Silwan east of Jerusalem. When I mention Ann Linde's visit and her belief in a two-state solution, he just shakes his head. He points out the window, behind him where an Israeli flag is waving in the wind.
- It was a Palestinian family that lived there three years ago. Then a resident family came and just moved in. How is it compatible with a Palestinian state? Israel says one thing and then does another. They take everything from us, step by step. They have already won.
During her visit, Ann Linde also spoke with President Mahmoud Abbas and other high-ranking representatives of the leading Palestinian party, Fatah.
Abu Masen (Mahmoud Abbas, editor's note) is not a representative of the Palestinian people. His party is our second occupation. They refuse to relinquish power and let Israel do anything as long as they can live in luxury, says Khaled.
The statements of Abu Irfan and Khaled are not the result of surging emotions. They are conclusions based on sober logic. And they are not alone. Virtually every Palestinian I talk to in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem says the same thing. Since the Oslo agreement, everything has only gotten worse. Two states is the solution that is discussed at large tables in conference rooms - it is not a solution that is rooted among ordinary Palestinians.
In practice, Palestine was annexed a long time ago
Israel must show that it is taking concrete steps towards a two-state solution if the alternative is to be seen as credible, but this is not the case. The Oslo process has been used as a tool for annexation rather than peace. In practice, Palestine and Israel are already a common state. But there is a reason why Israel has not implemented a full-scale annexation of the West Bank. This is not about a lack of military capacity. Rather, it is about demographics. Israel would in all probability be able to quickly conquer large parts of the immediate area. For Israel, the problem is about legitimacy in the eyes of the world.
Israeli journalist and author Gideon Levy, one of Israel's most outspoken critics, has expressed hope to full-scale annexation of the West Bank should be started as soon as possible because it would "make the reality for Palestinians a political reality". In practice, an annexation has already taken place a long time ago. An official annexation would be more about consolidating the oppression of the whole world to view than about concrete change for Palestinians in everyday life.
Israel calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East and at the same time claims to be a state for the Jewish people. An annexation of the West Bank would draw these seemingly incompatible target images to the forefront and mean that Israel either wholeheartedly embraces a political system of ethno-religious segregation, or gives Palestinians in the annexed areas the opportunity for Israeli citizenship.
The actors who want to see peace and equality for both Israelis and Palestinians must rethink and adapt to reality. When redrawing the game plan, we must discern the strategic opportunities that exist to make the best of the situation. The most important component is to support the actors in Israel and Palestine who want to work together for a just peace for both peoples and at the same time throw off the yoke that prevents new solutions.
* Palestinians who have been mentioned by name in the text are actually called something else.