The two-state solution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine is “way long and dead and over,” Jeff Halper, an Israeli peace activist and academic nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, told an audience gathered at the Bloor Street United Church in Toronto on Jan. 21.
Halper said that the collapse of the peace talks led last year by U.S. Senator John Kerry marked the “almost official” collapse of the two-state solution. But he said it was “a good thing because it begins to clear the air. This whole two-state solution was always in a fog. It was never going to happen.” The United Nations, the United States, the Arab League and the European Union have been pushing for the two-state solution for the last 15 years. The two-state solution requires the creation of an independent state of Palestine in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“I think we should stop talking about it because if you keep talking about a solution that is irrelevant and gone, you are simply muddying the waters,” said Halper, who is co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a human rights and peace organization dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation over the Palestinians. His stop in Toronto is part of a cross-Canada multi-city speaking tour, organized by the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel and Independent Jewish Voices-Canada, and sponsored by the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada, Canadian Friends of Sabeel, United Jewish People’s Order and Canadian Friends Service Committee
Halper noted that, in practice, there is already only one state in the area, referring to Israel. “In this whole country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there’s one government,” he said. “There’s only one army, obviously. There’s only one currency. There’s only one set of border controls…There’s only one water system, electrical system…There is one state, and it is an apartheid state.”
The fact that the occupation should end is a given, Halper said, explaining that his aim was to try to push the conversation forward and toward new possibilities.
The current situation, he said, is in some ways worse that apartheid, and more like the “warehousing” of prisoners in jails. “Apartheid at least acknowledges that there is another people,” he said. “In warehousing, there is no other side. The prisoners aren’t a side. We don’t negotiate with them. They are a bunch of inmates, who, if they don’t behave themselves, will pay the price. And that’s exactly how Israel looks at Palestinians.”
As dark as that view is, Halper suggested that there is a way forward and that there are the beginnings of a one-state movement. “Our task is clear. There is one state today. How do we take that apartheid state today and turn it into a state of equal rights for all of its citizens?”
He outlined six essential elements for any just and workable solution. A just peace must, he said: find a balance between collective rights (self-determination) and individual rights (democracy) with equality for all; conform to human rights and international law; resolve the refugee issue (right of return, acknowledgement of 1948, resolution of the issue); be economically viable; address the security concerns of Palestinians, Israel and all in the region; and be ultimately regional in scope.
Halper even offered a model of a “consociational [power sharing] democracy” for a single state that would include two houses of parliament.
Along with the right of return for Palestinian refugees, an acknowledgement of injustice is essential, he said. “There has to be acknowledgement on the part of Israel of what it did in 1947 and 1948 and on.”
Aside from Israeli resistance to that, Halper noted that the concept of “bi-nationalism” also gets immediate pushback from Palestinians who don’t want to legitimize Zionism.
As intractable as those sorts of barriers seem, Halper said he thinks that civil society is increasingly organized around the issue. “The Palestinian issue has become an issue at the level of the anti- apartheid movement.”
Andrea Mann, director of global relations for the Anglican Church of Canada, told the Anglican Journal that the church is sponsoring the tour as a part of its commitment to learn more about the root causes and ongoing causes of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. “This tour is an opportunity for church members across the country to meet a leading Israeli peace activist, and examine his views,” she said. “Dr. Halper offers a different perspective from the news and analysis provided to church members through secular media. His thinking often challenges and disturbs listeners.”