Middle East Peace Delegation Finds Diminishing Hope for Two-State Solution

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Posted June 26, 2013

Interview with Shelly Altman, a software developer from New Haven, CT, delegate on Interfaith Peace Builders trip, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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During the six months of President Obama’s second term administration, his appointee, Secretary of State John Kerry has traveled to Israel and Palestine four times over the past three months to try to restart peace talks. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas insists that he won't come to the bargaining table until Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, insists on negotiations without pre-conditions, even as his government is developing plans for more West Bank settlement construction.

As Secretary Kerry was about to make his fifth trip to the region, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the controversial decision to visit a West Bank Jewish settlement to dedicate a new elementary school there. Meanwhile, a growing number of right-wing ministers in Netanyahu’s government have declared their profound opposition to a Palestinian state and have pledged to block negotiations to establish one.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Shelly Altman, who just returned from a two-week trip to the Middle East as part of a delegation organized by a group called Interfaith Peace Builders. Peace Builders takes participants to both Israel and the West Bank to meet people from the region who are working for peace with justice. Here, Altman discusses the chances of achieving a two-state solution, which continues to be the official position of the U.S., Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while commenting on the role of the U.S. in brokering any future peace agreement.

SHELLY ALTMAN: Really, among all the people we spoke with, in both Israel and Palestine – and this was people from all walks of life, grassroots folks, activists, clergy, government officials – no one thought the two-state solution was even realistic or feasible, at this point. Other than we did have an off-the-record meeting with a U.S. government official who still was espousing a two-state solution, but that person was the only one who considered that as a possibility. The problem with the two-state solution, it's partly what Israel has done with the settlements and the separation wall and the allocation of resources. It's really been a conscious policy of Israel to manage the West Bank in a way which precludes there ever being a separate state in the West Bank.

There's an older version of this policy and a newer version. In 1948, I think, David Ben-Gurion said, when the partition was being done, "We'll take what they give us now and we'll fight for the rest." In my mind, that was an early statement of what the Israeli intent was. If you fast-forward to where we are right now, Israel has a policy of what they had been calling "Judeaization," although they stopped using that term because it wasn't a very popular term. But what it really refers to is the attempt to increase the Jewish population and decrease the Palestinian population throughout Israel and the West Bank, so there's a definite Jewish majority in the Holy Land. And Israel's actions – whether it be the settlements, which are illegal under international law, the use of the resources within the West Bank, especially water resources. So, according to the Oslo Accords, there's a water commission which is supposed to manage the water resources in the West Bank, and the West Bank does have significant water resources; there are at least two large aquifers, and the water from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. The settlements basically have unrestricted use of water, whereas in the Palestinian towns and cities there is severe restriction of water. The Palestinians use on average 70 liters of water per person per day; in the settlements it's about 300 liters per person per day. The World Health Organization feels that 100 liters per person per day is a healthy use of water. And that's just an example of Israeli management of the situation, so really, it's not feasible for there to be a two-state solution. The way they've built the settlements is to make the Palestinian lands that are still under control of Palestinian owners discontiguous, so it's really impossible to have a state there.

There are two separate road networks, one of Palestinians, one for Israelis. The Palestinians do not have control over their air space. There are any number of things the Israelis have done to preclude there being a separate sovereign state in the West Bank.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Shelly Altman, you traveled to Israel and Palestine in the midst of Secretary of State John Kerry's stepped up campaign in the second Obama administration to get the so-called peace process started again. Do you think the U.S. can be an honest broker when it obviously tilts so far in Israel's direction?

SHELLY ALTMAN: I think, in order for the U.S. – or for anyone for that matter – to be an honest broker, they have to have credibility. And at the moment the U.S. doesn't have a whole lot of credibility in the Occupied Territories. The U.S. is very well aware of Israel's policies, but it's really turned a blind eye to them. Between the illegal settlements and the management and misallocation of resources and restrictions of movement of the Palestinians, and the use of military law versus civil law and the indefinite detention, and I could go on and on – the U.S. is well aware of these, but really hasn't done anything and continues to give Israel more foreign aid and more military aid than any other country on earth. So it's really hard for the Palestinians to see the U.S. as a credible broker. The other thing is that Kerry's come up with this $4 billion economic aid approach to Palestine, to the Occupied Territories, and that's kind of hard to understand, because, for one thing, it's implying that their main problem is poverty, I think. And while economic aid is critical, I think the main problem is human rights, and the Palestinians absolutely feel this way – that until they have their human rights, until they're not treated as an occupied people, the economic aid is really just a buy-out.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus participated in a similar Peace Builders delegation in November 2011 and interview Shelly Altman about his trip. Learn more about Interfaith Peace Builders at http://ifpb.org.