How Can a Two-State Solution Calm Our Troubled Region?

“As the wider Middle East continues to be gripped by a relentless wave of extremist terror, Israelis and Palestinians have an opportunity to restore hope to a region torn apart by intolerance and cruelty.” —Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General

It was more than fascinating coincidence that last week both the French government and the UN secretary general called for serious and urgent international action to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through a negotiated agreement that leads to the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace adjacent to Israel. Both gestures were dramatic, and deserve our full attention, because they affirm the pivotal link between the unresolved status of Palestine and the continued deterioration of conditions across the Middle East.

I say this in the echo of the powerful statements last week by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, with the French government going beyond rhetorical exhortations by saying it would organize an international conference for this purpose by the summer, and if this fails it would recognize the state of Palestine. These two very serious men and their institutions, the United Nations and France, capture the elusive global commitment to the two factors that, above all others, must be activated to achieve a just and lasting peace: the primacy of the rule of law, and the need to be even-handed in supporting the legitimate rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The absence of this crucial legality and equity in the lives of hundreds of millions of Arabs finally led our Middle East region to its present violent and fracturing condition, which plagues other countries in the form of illegal migrants, terrorism, and waking up the once buried ghosts of xenophobic, fascistic, and Islamophobic hatreds in some Western societies.

The link between resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict through a two-state solution and winding down sectarian polarization and rampant violence across the Middle East is both symbolic and practical. It starts by acknowledging that the Middle East’s modern legacy of sectarian and national polarization due to political violence, ethnic cleansing, population transfers and expulsions, and the sustained use of political violence started with the conflict between Zionism and Arabism in Palestine in the early decades of the twentieth century—and it has continued and become worse ever since.

Ban Ki-Moon was on to something important when he said last week at the Security Council and in a follow-up op-ed in the New York Times: “Some may say the current volatility across the region makes it too risky to seek peace. I say the greater peril is not seeking a solution to the Palestinian question. As the wider Middle East continues to be gripped by a relentless wave of extremist terror, Israelis and Palestinians have an opportunity to restore hope to a region torn apart by intolerance and cruelty.”

Yes, we can restore hope to the region if we recognize that the current deadly political and sectarian dynamics very often can be traced back to the early days of the Zionism-Arabism conflict, and must be reversed in order to end this nightmare of human suffering across our region. These include most notably: political violence carried out by individuals and organized groups, including governments; ignoring and trampling on the rights of ordinary men and women in this region, by sacrificing their national integrity and well-being to the greater political priorities or narrow sectarian demands; the rise of ethno-religious nationalism; the large-scale flow of refugees and the reality of multi-generational refugeehood; the active involvement of foreign powers in reconfiguring our national arrangements, with an almost total and criminal disregard for the wishes and rights of the indigenous Arab inhabitants; the incompetence and other failures of Arab governments in addressing Palestinian rights and resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict peacefully and justly for all sides (this contributed to the growing illegitimacy of Arab leaderships that culminated in the mass citizen uprisings of the past five years); the marginalization or misuse of existing international organizations like the UN to promote justice, peace, and security; and, the comprehensive sidelining of the international rule of law in dealing with local conflicts such as Israel-Palestine.

This frightening catalogue of negative political dynamics and ethnical shortcomings still defines the Zionism-Arabism war that has lasted over a century now, and is reflected in so many other Mideast conflicts today. So a concerted international effort with active Arab and Israeli participation to reach an equitable two-state solution would be both a symbolic and a practical reversal of all these destructive trends. A negotiated agreement that ends Palestinian refugeehood, secures Israel’s acceptance in the region, ends Zionist colonialism and expansion, and offers millions of Palestinians a normal life would be a tremendous boost for precisely the forces we need to counter the region’s current deteriorations.

These positive forces include resolving conflicts through negotiations, achieving peace and security by applying the rule of law to all people, treating people equally regardless of their national or sectarian identity, reviving the efficacy and legitimacy of Arab governments, restoring the credibility of foreign powers in their actions in the Middle East, and reaffirming the applicability of international institutions like the UN.

A two-state solution does not immediately end the conflicts across our region; but if it were achieved through negotiations among Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and world powers, working through the UN Security Council, it would send a powerful message that we have regained our composure, rationality, and humanity by recognizing the primacy of law, tolerance, and justice as the foundations of the secure statehood that is the long-denied right of Israelis and Palestinians.

Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.

Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global