Palestinians query viability of two states - BBC
- Palestinians query viability of two states
By James Reynolds
BBC Jerusalem Correspondent
The accepted international solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be very clear
- two states side by side. But the Palestinians are
now questioning this.
They say that continued Israeli settlement expansion
and road building inside the West Bank may kill off
the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
They accuse Israel of trying to join the dots between
settlements, of trying to encircle and cut off
Palestinian Liberation Organisation legal advisor
Michael Tarazi believes that new Israeli outposts,
settlements and roads in the West Bank may have a
fatal effect on the possibility of a two state
"The danger here is that the Israelis have become so
successful in changing the demographics and the
geography on the ground that anything left to the
Palestinians won't be viable," he says.
"The idea of two states is now being seriously
reconsidered by the Palestinians because we don't want
a state that's simply a glorified Indian reservation."
Terje Larsen, the UN special co-ordinator here, echoes
some of these views.
"We in the UN share these concerns about settlements
and roads which will make it difficult if not
impossible to establish a viable, contiguous state."
But Israeli officials reject the assertion that
settlements are expanding to the point of threatening
a future Palestinian state.
Join the dots
"The demographics over the past two years have hardly
changed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," says
Mark Sofer, a senior official from the Israeli Foreign
"I really take issue with the assertion that it is the
settlement issue which is preventing a solution to the
Israeli Palestinian conflict.
"Just two years ago we had a solution on the table
proposed by the United States, endorsed by the
international community, which called for this two
state solution and exchanges of territory in that
respect. And the Palestinians walked away from it."
There's one group of settlements in particular that
the Palestinians have highlighted - the Binyamin bloc
outside the Palestinian town of Ramallah.
Click here to see map of settlement expansion plans.
The Palestinians say the Israelis are attempting to
isolate Ramallah from the rest of the West Bank.
To check this, I went to see the Mayor of the Binyamin
Bloc, Pinhas Valerstein. I showed him a map prepared
by the Palestinians - outlining the projected
expansion of his settlements.
"No, it's much bigger, for sure," the Mayor told me,
pointing to the expansion area the Palestinians had
drawn. He believes that the Palestinians have actually
underestimated his ambitions.
His plans to encircle and cut off Ramallah go much
further than the Palestinians have predicted.
Pinhas Valerstein is one of many settlers who believe
that there should not be a Palestinian state in the
He's doing his best to make sure that his settlements
expand and cut off Palestinian areas.
A government freeze on new settlements appears to make
very little difference to his plans. He simply goes
ahead and starts new buildings anyway.
"Does the government try to stop you or not?" I asked
"They cannot stop me. No-one can stop you in your land
if you have a plan."
There are 145 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza
400,000 people live in settlements, including 11
settlers quarters in East Jerusalem
Almost 40,000 houses have been built in settlements
since the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993
Source: Peace Now
Many here believe the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon is with the settlers - despite his government's
claimed settlement freeze.
Since Mr Sharon came to power a year and a half ago,
left wing groups say that settlers have started up
dozens of outposts - or makeshift settlements - in the
West Bank. They say that only a tiny fraction have
Many observers find it hard to reconcile Mr Sharon's
support for the settler movement with his publicly
stated belief that there should, in the end, be a
Palestinian state. Many believe he can't have it both
According to the leading Israeli left wing politician
Yossi Beilin, Mr Sharon's vision of a Palestinian
state is "a joke rather than a state".
The Palestinians believe that Mr Sharon is helping the
settlers to prevent the creation of a meaningful
PLO legal advisor Michael Tarazi says that because of
this, the Palestinians are now having to consider
abandoning support for a two state solution.
Palestinians burn a model of a Jewish settlement
The alternative, for them, is a one-state-for-all plan
- a single binational country encompassing Israel, the
West Bank and Gaza.
"Our ultimate strategy will be based on whether or not
the international community decides to intervene," he
"Whether or not responsible Israelis get a hold of
their senses and actually stop what their government's
"But if that doesn't happen we certainly will be
forced to consider re-evaluating our position and
moving from a movement of equal nationhood to equal
That's something that Israel would not accept. A
single state would, within a few years, have an Arab
majority - destroying for Israelis the concept of a
Israeli officials believe the Palestinians are trying
to find a pretext with the settlement issue to avoid
having to consider a two state solution.
"I cannot exacerbate enough the fear in Israeli
society that the Palestinians are finding every excuse
under the sun to walk away from the table - as they
did two years ago," says Mark Sofer.
But as Israel continues to expand its presence in the
West Bank, Palestinians see the land they hope will
make up their state shrinking and the possibility of a
two state solution receding.
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