[Sari Nusseibeh is a prominent advocate of the position that the
Palestinian national movement should explicitly abandon any claim to
a right of return to anywhere within the Green Line. Instead, he
argues, Palestinians should focus on demanding an independent state
with Jerusalem as its capital (shared in some way with Israel).
This is a fairly centrist Palestinian position, although Nusseibeh is
typically more critical than most of 'symbolic' solutions to the
problem of the right of return that involve e.g. a token number of
people resettled within the Green Line accompanied by an Israeli
statement 'recognizing' the right to return and appropriate
compensation for the remainder of the refugee population. His
reasoning is that Israelis is about as unlikely to recognize the
right of return as Palestinians are to accept a state without
Jerusalem as its capital.
Underlying this reasoning is the belief that Israel accepts it can
sustain itself as a simultaneously Jewish and democratic state only
by establishing permanent borders within which it has a secure Jewish-
majority population. This acceptance provides Palestinians with the
leverage to negotiate a state of their own in the remainder of the
territory; and this logic would be undermined by trying to force
Israel to accept the right of return.
It is therefore of considerable interest that Nusseibeh appears, in
this article by Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz, to be suggesting that
Palestinians can no longer aim at an independent state, but should
struggle for equal civil rights with Jews within a greater Israel
that stretches from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan river. This
struggle could start in Jerusalem (Nusseibeh is president of Al-Quds
University) where Palestinians are much more closely integrated into
Israeli life than elsewhere in the illegally occupied Palestinian
territories. He slyly hints that he might even stand for mayor of
Jerusalem in the November elections.
The single state alternative is quite often discussed these days (see
future-of-israel.html for an interesting exchange on this issue
between Illan Pappe and Noam Chomsky). But that someone like
Nusseibeh should – albeit tentatively -- advocate something like it,
someone whose engagement with Israel is based on a pragmatic
understanding of Israel's anxiety to remain a Jewish majority state,
suggests that perhaps the time has come where the two state solution
is no longer viable. It is above all the intransigent negotiating
positions of the Israeli government and the continued creation of
illegal Jewish enclaves in the proposed Palestinian state that are
undermining the possibility of a two state solution to the extent of
making even those, like Nusseibeh, who maintain friendly contacts
with top-level Israeli figures, skeptical about its chances of
success. Nusseibeh's comments should therefore serve as a subtle but
strong message to the next Israeli administration that if it does not
act soon to reach an acceptable settlement it may be faced with
Palestinian leadership prepared only to struggle for Palestinian
civil rights within a single state. Alistair Welchman]
'We are running out of time for a two-state solution'
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent
At the end of my conversation with Sari Nusseibeh at the American
Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, the highly respected president of Al-Quds
University - and cosignatory of "The People's Choice," a peace plan
that he formulated with former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon - told me he
wouldn't be surprised if one of the Palestinian residents of the city
ran for mayor in the municipal elections in November. The candidate
would not run as a representative of Jerusalem per se, Nusseibeh
stressed. Rather, he would be running on behalf of all Palestinians
in the occupied territories.
"Why don't you do it?" I blurt out. The 59-year-old son of Anwar
Nusseibeh, a Jordanian government minister, does not smile. "It's
possible," says the professor of Islamic philosophy, who briefly
replaced Faisal Husseini a few years ago as the top Palestinian
official in East Jerusalem. "Anything is possible," he adds without
batting an eyelid.
Nusseibeh's previous contention that the Oslo "house of cards" had
begun to collapse was further confirmed by this week's report in
Haaretz regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's latest peace offering
(Israel would annex 7 percent of the West Bank and compensate the
Palestinians with territory in the Negev, which would be equivalent
to 5.5 percent of West Bank land; an agreement on the future of
Jerusalem would be postponed to a later date; there would be no right
of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel; and the entire plan
would be implemented after Hamas is removed from power in the Gaza
Nusseibeh says he knows full well what happens during negotiations -
or, to be more specific, what does not happen. For over 20 years the
Palestinian leadership has been trying to persuade their people to
agree to a state along the June 4, 1967, lines, while Israel has been
destroying that option, Nusseibeh explains, adding: "You cannot
negotiate anything about final status if you don't talk about
Jerusalem. Final status consists primarily, I believe, of Jerusalem
and refugees. If you want to postpone Jerusalem, you postpone
refugees. Really, you are not dealing with the problem. You have to
discuss these issues, and that is exactly where the trade-off has to
Is Sari Nusseibeh, the secular Palestinian, the symbol of moderation,
Ayalon's guy, burying the two-state solution?
"I still favor a two-state solution and will continue to do so, but
to the extent that you discover it's not practical anymore or that
it's not going to happen, you start to think about what the
alternatives are. I think that the feeling is there are two courses
taking place that are opposed to one another. On one hand, there is
what people are saying and thinking, on both sides. There is the
sense that we are running out of time, that if we want a two-state
solution, we need to implement it quickly.
"But on the other hand, if we are looking at what is happening on the
ground, in Israel and the occupied territories, you see things
happening in the opposite direction, as if they are not connected to
reality. Thought is running in one direction, reality in the other."
Nusseibeh says the struggle for a one-state solution could take a
form similar to some of the nonviolent struggles waged by oppressed
ethnic groups in other places.
"We can fight for equal rights, rights of existence, return and
equality, and we could take it slowly over the years and there could
be a peaceful movement - like in South Africa," he notes. "I think
one should maybe begin on the Palestinian side, to begin a debate, to
reengage in the idea of one state."
'Jerusalem is out'
"We have failed in the last 15 years," Nusseibeh continues, "to
create the world we wanted to create. We were supposed to be very
clever; we convinced ourselves that we were going to be very
democratic and clean, a model for the rest of the Arab world. And
Jerusalem was supposed to be our capital. That's what we believed.
But then it turned out that all of this was total rubbish. Jerusalem
is out, all we have is Ramallah. And we lost Gaza. There is
corruption and inefficiency. This is not what we vouched for when we
sat back in the early 1980s and ideologized the two-state solution.
"It so happens that Fatah, in particular, the mainstream party and
the only viable alternative to extremes on the left or on the right,
now needs a strategy, an ideology. Because the ideology that Fatah
has adopted over the last 15 years - a two-state solution - seems to
be faltering, and with it, Fatah is faltering. So it is time maybe to
rethink, to bring Fatah around to a new idea, the old-new idea, of
one state. "
The recent "bulldozer terrorism" in Jerusalem did not highlight the
difficulties inherent in a binational state model?
"These are isolated incidents, but they do reflect a major sickness
in our Jerusalem Arab society. A sickness that has resulted in
pressure, schizophrenia, the fact that these people speak Hebrew, and
listen to Hebrew songs, go out with Israeli girlfriends while at the
same time they live in Arab neighborhoods and under the influence of
Muslim culture. There are contradictory forces pulling at them.
"What is the driving force behind a two-state solution? The fact that
it seems more acceptable to a majority of people on both sides and
therefore more applicable. The primary motivation is to minimize
human suffering. This is what we should all be looking at. If there
will be a one-state solution, it will not come today or tomorrow.
It's a long, protracted thing, not the ideal solution. Unless, in an
ideal world, people really want to be together, then it is the ideal
solution. The best solution, the one that causes the least pain and
that can actually be instrumental to a one-state solution, is to have
peace now, and acceptance of one another on the basis of two states."
Is this an ultimatum?
"That's an ultimatum. Unless a major breakthrough happens by the end
of this year, in my opinion we should start trying to strive for
equality. Back in the 1980s, before the first intifada, I was saying
there was schizophrenia in the body politic of the Palestinian
people. It was like the head was going in one direction, which was
the direction of seeking independence, national identity - but the
body was slowly immersed in the Israeli system, and I said it can't
last because it looks like it will snap. Either the body will join
the head so that there will be a civil disobedience campaign, or the
head will have to join the body, so that there will be a civil rights
campaign, to become part of the Israeli system.
"Fifty, 100, 200 years down the road there will be some kind of
conclusion. Sometime in the future - however far away this future is
- I believe we'll be living at peace with one another, in some way or
another. I am not sure how, whether in one state or two states, or in
a confederation of states, but people finally will come to live at
peace. In the meantime, we will simply cause pain to one another.
It's tragic. It is very tragic, because we know we can do it now.
That today it is possible with some guts, leadership, vision, we can
make it happen today, we can reach a peaceful solution today. [The
Arab Peace Initiative proposed in 2002] is a fantastic chance. The
Palestinians have adopted it, they'll go with it all the way. It is a
perfect chance. It doesn't even mention right of return. It is even
better than the Ayalon- Nusseibeh plan, but I am willing to accept it."
Asked why he - who realizes so well how complicated it will be to
reach a fair and logical solution regarding Jerusalem - is opposed to
Olmert's idea of postponing discussion on that issue, Nusseibeh says
he hopes that the prime minister is not repeating the same mistake
made by Ehud Barak at Camp David, and that the idea of postponement
was broached strictly for public relations purposes.
"Because for Israel, however important Jerusalem may be, the primary
factor is the Jewish character [of the state]. And however important
the refugees might be, what is more important for the Palestinians
and Muslims is Jerusalem. It is the issue over which the most
extremist of refugees will be willing to make a sacrifice. Let's hope
this is not where [Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas]
are disagreeing. If that is what they're disagreeing about, then
there's no hope. We have to do everything now, we have to put
everything on the table.
"The facts on the ground are making [the situation] irreversible,"
Nusseibeh warns. "Take the Clinton parameters - Palestinian
neighborhoods are Palestinian sovereignty, Jewish neighborhoods are
Jewish sovereignty. They are acceptable in principle, but with
realities on the ground, like the expulsion of Arab families from
their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the inhabitation
of those areas by Jewish settlers, it's going to be unacceptable on a
practical level. That's why we don't have time."
You ruffled some feathers among the Palestinian leadership when you
recently asked the Europeans to halt financial aid to the Palestinian
Authority. Someone even wondered whether you would be willing to give
up the aid provided for Al-Quds University.
"Ramallah's reaction was a bit worried. They called me a few times, a
Nusseibeh adds that the PA is still dogged by corruption - different
from the corruption of which Olmert is accused - whereby donor states
subsidize thousands of salaried employees at nonprofit organizations.
This creates what he sees as an unhealthy dependency on foreign
"We have a terrible situation. Our political bible, our platform, our
moral values - we need to be brought together again. If not for
creating a state, then for our own sanity and for own values as a
people. Apart from in Ramallah, everybody is living under very bad
conditions. The occupation is terrible. The siege is everywhere.
Pressure. As it is, the Europeans are financing the occupation. And
the Europeans are happy, because they feel they're doing something,
it cleans their conscience. And the Israelis are happy because
they're not paying for it. And the Palestinians are happy because
they are getting their wages paid. It keeps the economy going, and
people are getting complacent about it. It's dead money [going] after
Nusseibeh mentions the recent meeting he had with British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown at the British consulate in Jerusalem, together
with four other Palestinians, during which the premier stated he
would like to assume a role in the peace process more central than
that of a cash register. "I said, I want to tell you what you can do
to transform yourself from a payer into a player: Make your money
payments conditional on tangible progress in the peace process."
Not long ago, the professor continues, "I was in Brussels. I gave a
talk and I said to the Europeans: If you want to pass on money, do it
only on the condition we build a state, in which case it makes sense
for you to spend money to build us an international airport. But if
in the end there isn't going to be an independent Palestinian state,
why waste your money? Waste your money, if you need to, on
integrating us into Israeli society. Makes more sense. Pay the money
for us to become part of Israel, to have equal rights. Raise our
level of education, bring our standards of living up. But to have the
PA taking all this money, creating all this debt, makes no sense.
Maybe the Europeans should link the aid they are giving us to real
progress in peace talks, so that both the Israelis and the
Palestinians will be shocked out of their complacency, or lack of
What do you make of the growing support among Palestinians for the
dismantlement of the PA?
"The PA has no use. If we fail to reach a peace agreement by the end
of this year, I believe it would be best to go back to the period
when we were living happily under occupation. We had a small civil
administration, they were paying back some $20 million a year to the
Israeli treasury, so they were making money off us. Today, we are
creating, year after year, bigger deficits. We are spending billions,
we have 160,000 employees, half of them are security personnel, who
give us no security whatsoever, we are spending masses of money on
guns, which we only use against each other and which provide us no
security. The whole thing is a mess."
Nusseibeh says that to this day, the Palestinians have opposed taking
part in the Jerusalem municipal elections because they feared doing
so would sever the link between Jerusalem's Arabs and the
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Now, given the diminishing
likelihood of a two-state solution, perhaps it is time for the
Palestinians to reconsider.
"People in Jerusalem - why should they attach themselves to the
Muqata, to Ramallah? There is no reason. There's nothing. The
municipal election in Jerusalem [could serve as a launching point for
seeking equal rights in a binational state]. We begin with Jerusalem,
not as a separate part, but as a spearhead of the entire Palestinian
body. Why not? Why not turn the weakness into a strength?
Are you disappointed by the Israeli peace camp? Did your partner, Ami
Ayalon, who joined the same government you now accuse of distancing
itself from your proposal, betray you?
"I respect Ami Ayalon. He is a very honest person, that is something
that has always attracted me to him. It is not a betrayal of me
personally. I look upon it as the ultimate submission by the
individual to the wheels of history. You reach the point where you
feel no longer able to do what you want, to steer the wheels in the
direction you want them to go. And you submit, and become a part of
the machine. So it's not really a betrayal. It's rather an expression
of weakness. I am sad more than surprised. I recognize it as part of
"I was still hoping because, before he went to the Labor Party, he
came and spoke to me. I like this about him. I knew what he was
doing. People were pushing him for a long time, trying to get him
into the system, and he resisted. But then at one stage, I think he
made up his mind: 'Maybe I can lead the Labor Party, and then this is
the best place for me to be.' I said, fine, do it. I was unhappy
that ... he became marginalized as minister without portfolio."
Nusseibeh says he lost touch with Ayalon since the latter became a
Asked if Abbas would be able to muster Palestinian support for an
agreement like "The People's Choice," Nusseibeh says both the
Palestinian president and Olmert need to courageously take on their
respective opposition camps. For instance, if Abbas "would come to
the Palestinian people and say, 'I initialed such a document. I want
to dissolve the legislative council and run for election and this is
going to be my political platform. Not only for me as a president,
but also as leader of Fatah.' Let us assume that he does this and
then he creates a debate in our society. It will be a very far-
reaching, democratic debate, in which he will be looked upon as
presenting his project. [This would] mark the beginning of a process,
of a struggle.
"I believe that on Israeli side, Olmert could do the same. We don't
know whether both leaders will be reelected, but it's worth doing,
even if they're not, because at least we know we've given this peace
agreement a chance."
Ami Ayalon says, in response: "I agree with Sari Nusseibeh that time
is running out for the two-state solution. He voices the frustration
and desperation of the Palestinians, and we have to consider that. If
a man like him, a son of a Palestinian refugee who relinquished his
right of return and was bodily attacked because of it, comes to the
conclusion that the two-state solution is no longer an option, it
means that the whole pragmatic Palestinian approach is crumbling.
"I share his view that Olmert missed a chance to get an agreement due
to efforts to insure his own political survival. The Labor Party will
not succeed in getting back in power by attacking the other parties,
but only by raising the common banner of security and political
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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