Following the words and efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Sharm el Sheikh, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah one gets the feeling that she was on a hard-sell campaign trying to convince the majority of Israelis to accept the concept of the two-state solution. For now, Palestinians are more interested in the end of the decades-old occupation of their lands.
Secretary Clinton's pleading with Binyamin Netanyahu to adopt the international consensus on the two-state solution is misplaced. She should instead focus on the choices Israel has. Namely, share the land of Palestine/Israel with the Palestinians in two states or agree to share power among all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
The two-state solution has been on the books for years. Palestinians have demanded an independent state alongside Israel since the 1970s, but this became official PLO policy within months after the relatively nonviolent first intifada began. The November 15, 1988 declaration of a Palestinian state alongside Israel replaced the PLO policy which called for a secular state on all of historic Palestine.
The two-state solution was adopted by the Arab League at its Beirut Summit in 2002 and following that was unanimously supported by the Organization of Islamic States, which includes states such as Iran, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
President George W. Bush gave the two-state solution public support most prominently in the last year of his second term when he promised that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state would see the light before the end of his term.
Consecutive Israeli governments have given it mixed responses. The recent Olmert/Livni government gave lip service to the two-state solution even though exclusive Jewish settlement construction has continued in areas earmarked for the Palestinian state. An effort to depopulate East Jerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants has not stopped since Israel occupied and then unilaterally annexed the Arab populated section of the city. The international community has never recognized this annexation. Clinton, questioned in Ramallah about Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, noted that the practice is "unhelpful" and declared the United States would take it up with the Israelis.
The poll results that followed the assault on Gaza appeared to shift Israeli opinion to a more hawkish position contrasting sharply with the more dovish shift in the U.S.. Some expect that a Netanyahu government will be on a collision course with the Obama administration. Hence Clinton has been pleading with the right-wing Israeli leader to accept the two-state policy that even the pro-Israeli Bush-Cheney tandem adopted.
With the shift to the hawkish right in the recent Israeli elections, many Palestinians believe that the true nature of the Israeli ruling elite is coming into focus. Netanyahu, who has been tapped to form a coalition government, has publicly refused to accept the two-state solution.
As Israelis backtrack from the two-state solution, some Palestinians are arguing in favor of creating one state for all the people living in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
But the choices that should be made clear to Israel are not whether they should accept the two-state or one-state solution. Instead, Israeli leaders and the Israeli people must be made to understand that the key issue is the need to end the occupation. The international community has made this crystal clear since 1967. In the preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242, the binding resolution stresses "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."
Being wedded to the two-state solution, the U.S. has been forced to deal with the day-to-day actions of the Israeli army and government in the occupied territories. U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell set up office in Jerusalem with knowledgeable security and political staff whose job it will be to monitor the situation in the occupied territories. This is a positive development. But what is needed is more strategic. Instead of pleading with the Israelis to accept the two-state solution, the US should simply ask the Israelis to end their military control of Arab lands occupied in June 1967.
Such a strategy would require the international community to help Palestinians and Israelis in the transitional period. This might mean the introduction of international troops into the occupied territories in place of the Israeli army.
To carry out the strategy, the U.S. ought not beg the Israelis to accept this or that solution. Instead, the U.S., as the leader of the international community, must place a clear challenge to Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, and all Israelis: set a date for the withdrawal of occupation forces and begin negotiating a responsible pullout. Two states or one is not the pressing issue. Rather, to paraphrase a presidential candidate who later became deeply involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, "It's the occupation, stupid."