Nation in Waiting

An Interview with Robert Danin

More recently, under Sinwar, Hamas has tried to find an opening to Egypt. And Cairo has said, “Okay, we can explore a possible modus vivendi under certain terms and with certain arrangements.” Egypt is now more willing to discuss with Hamas the opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza that had been the lifeline for Gazans to get out of Gaza and into the Arab world and beyond. You have a willingness of Egypt to talk about trade and allowing economic development to take place.

Of course, Egypt has its own interests and its own desire for doing this. It's less to do with the Gaza and more to do with the situation in Sinai where there is now this very militant cadre of ISIS and other jihadist groups that Egypt sees as even more of a threat. So in essence, the quid pro quo that Egypt is looking for is a tougher approach by Hamas towards these more militant groups, both inside Gaza and in Sinai, in exchange for, let's say, improved conditions on the ground and a lifting of some of the most stringent elements of "the siege."

Hamas is not necessarily of one mind about all this. You have one part of Hamas now talking to Dahlan in Cairo, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. You have others within Hamas -- particularly those still among the outside leadership and embodied by Khaled Meshaal’s former deputy, Mousa Mohammed (Abu Marzook) -- who don't like this at all. These “outsiders” still very much see Hamas’s natural alignment as being with the other elements in the Arab and Muslim world: Qatar, Turkey, and to some extent Lebanon. So now you have had an extreme hardliner from Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, leave Qatar and go to Lebanon. In short, there still remain different power centers within Hamas, between those based in Gaza and others based elsewhere in the Arab world.

OR: Given all this, do you see the two-state solution as still viable?

Danin:  I think there is a difference between the idea of the two-state solution as the best possible outcome on the one hand, and the viability of pursuing, advancing, and realizing that goal right now. When it comes to the general idea of a two-state solution, you must look at the conflict between the Zionist national movement and the Palestinian Arab national movement -- ongoing since at least the 1880's. You have two national movements which claim the same territory for themselves. And every outside or international effort to address this conflict, from the Peel Commission in 1937 through the U.N. in 1947 onward, has come to the same conclusion.

Namely, that the only way these two national movements are going to realize their aspirations is through some form of partition. Today, partition means two states, Israel and Palestine. If you accept the idea, which I do, that these two national movements cannot live together and that there is not a political outcome that would reconcile these two national movements in one political entity, then the only alternative is separate political entities. It means that there is no such thing as a one-state solution. There may be a one-state outcome, but that is a recipe for enduring conflict.

So if you believe in partition, or in two states, then the question becomes: what are those separate entities? There’s been an evolution in the political thinking on both sides. From the Israeli side you had acceptance of the November 1947 United Nations General Assembly partition resolution calling for two states within the historic land of Israel or within the Palestine Mandate as designated by the League of Nations. The Palestinian national movement and the neighboring Arab states rejected it, but they have subsequently come significantly closer to accepting it. You now are in a situation where you still have a majority of Israelis and Palestinians who believe that the two-state solution is the best outcome. The polls suggest 53 percent of Israelis and 52 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution -- a slim majority on both sides.

The problem today is that at the same time you have 70-some-odd percentage of Palestinians and almost equal percentage of Israelis who think that such a two-state outcome will not be realized in the next five years. So there’s the idea of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security, which President Bush identified as the goal for American foreign policy and as the best outcome for this conflict in 2002. And there’s the question: how do you get there?

We have two sets of realities that make the realization of this two-state goal very difficult. You have the respective political realities on both the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side, in which you have deep internal divisions. Both the Israelis and Palestinians share a lack of urgency and willingness to make the truly painful compromises that may be necessary in order to realize a conflict-ending solution. And given the respective internal divisions, we are in a situation today where it's very difficult to imagine an overlap between the most flexible, forward-leaning, compromising Israeli position and the most flexible, compromising Palestinian position. That's a huge political problem.

There's also a reality problem, an on-the-ground problem. The 1993 Oslo Agreement launched a process of negotiating a final status agreement between the two sides. The core issues to be resolved include borders, territory, Jerusalem, refugees, and security arrangements. The landscape has changed dramatically in the period since those negotiations began. We've had the emergence of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and parts of the West Bank on the one hand; on the other, we've had the subsequent fracturing and weakening of Palestinian politics and the division of Gaza from the West Bank. Meanwhle, we’ve seen dramatically changing demographic realities, such as the growth of settlements and increased settlers beyond the green line. It raises the question: is there a point at which the two national movements become so intermixed that a line of partition cannot be envisaged or, if envisaged, politically implemented?