Fayyad warns Obama: ‘A state of leftovers is not going to do it’

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New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is a liberal Zionist who is worried about the end of the two-state solution. His Palestinian horse was always Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, but Fayyad quit nearly a month ago and Cohen has now gone out to interview him. An excellent piece of reporting about what the occupation has done to the idea of two states.

Here is Fayyad complaining of American failure to confront Israel:

Then there was the “biggest problem” — the Israeli occupation, never relaxed despite a transformed security situation; in fact intensified through settlement expansion, demolitions, evictions and military incursions even into areas nominally under Palestinian control… 

“I told President Obama the shack must come before the skyscraper,” Fayyad tells me. “The Israelis have not rolled back the occupation gene. Let’s make sure our Bedouin population in the Jordan Valley has access to drinking water before we discuss final arrangements. This is a right-to-life issue for Palestinians.”

He thinks the United States, now trying to conjure direct negotiations through osmosis rather than any new ideas, should ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a straightforward question: What do you mean by a Palestinian state?

From Netanyahu’s few indications, such a state would not include the major Israeli settlement blocs, or have control over the strategic Jordan Valley (some 25 percent of the West Bank). All of greater Jerusalem would remain Israeli. Palestine would be demilitarized.

“A state of leftovers is not going to do it,” Fayyad declares.

Sensibly, Cohen says that the U.S. must recognize a unity government that includes Hamas. He picks up a point that Henry Siegman has long made:

Of course, a unity government — even one that has formally renounced violence — would pose a severe diplomatic dilemma. Hamas is committed in its doctrine to Israel’s destruction. On balance, it is in the American interest to foster Palestinian unity, provided it is on the basis of the renunciation of violence. There are, after all, members of the Israeli government committed to Palestine’s nonexistence. One does not choose one’s interlocutor in peace talks

Right, what’s the difference? Then Cohen lectures the Palestinians about getting their act together:

Palestinians have reached their “Altalena” moment. After the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, the extremist Irgun Jewish militant group resisted being folded into the Israel Defense Forces and insisted on receiving weapons being shipped from Marseille aboard the Altalena. A pitched battle ensued; several were killed. Ben Gurion declared: “There cannot be two armies and there cannot be two states.”

The analogy fails. In 1948, Zionism had won most of what its adherents set out to win; Israelis had seized control over 78 percent of the territory, and done so by employing terrorism; the remaining portion of the land the militants sought would become Israel’s 19 years later. But Palestinians have no state, no victory. They are occupied; and the people will not abandon the notion of violent resistance so long as there is a military occupation. Many Americans wouldn’t, either.

I believe that Cohen is hanging on to Israel and the two-state solution not because of his avowedly-realist approach, but because he’s a liberal Zionist. He has a core belief in the need for a Jewish state. That’s the part I don’t get about all these Diaspora Zionists. Like me, Cohen is very privileged. He’s smart, and he’s worldly: he has lived on two continents, his father came from a third continent (Africa) and his wife from a fourth (South America). He evidently feels safe in the west; that’s where he’s made his highly successful life. Zionism was premised on the idea that Jews are unsafe in the west. Everything about Cohen’s experience says there are termites in that premise. If he could save one Palestinian child’s life by giving up the dream-state he chooses not to live in, why not wake up? 

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