As I wrote about last week, violence is once again exploding between Israelis and Palestinians. Over the last several weeks, tensions have risen and outbreaks of violence have rocked the occupied territories. So what ever happened to the two-state solution?
The much talked about but never carried out plan is as old as the conflict itself, yet reports over the last few years have suggested diminishing hopes for its implementation. In July, the Middle East Envoy addressed the Security Council at the UN, saying that steady violence and division — or what they termed “a thousand cuts” — were destroying the possibility of a two-state solution. Nickolay Mladenov stressed “the need to end unilateral activities in the West Bank.”
The lack of literally any progress on this is pretty astounding, given how much support it’s had over the years. Since the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict, international consensus has leaned overwhelmingly towards the creation of a Palestinian state and the UN has annually attempted to pass resolutions in favor of it. Despite the recent violence, majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians support a deal that results in the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the current Jewish one.
Yet out of the nearly 200 countries in the UN charter, there have always been a small coalition of nations that routinely reject the establishment of a Palestinian state.
So who are they?
It’s all Nauru’s fault
This may come as a surprise, but most of them are tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
One is the Republic of Nauru — an island subsidiary of Micronesia (affectionately titled “the Pleasant Island”) with an estimated population of 9,000 people and an area of just 8.1 square miles (about the size of Washington, D.C.). There’s also the Marshall Islands — a constellation of islands to the North of Australia with a four-digit population. And another is the scenic island of Palau: an excellent destination for sport fishing, favored tourist spot and firm two-state solution rejecter.
By now I’m sure you’re wondering why in God’s name these paradisical, pipsqueak islands in the middle of the Pacific give the slightest of bothers about whether the Palestinians have their own country (especially given most of them can hardly be construed as countries themselves). It’s a good question, and the answer demands a small digression.
Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands, are all members of a special club that used to be called the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. These lucky little nations were fortunate enough to get “conquered” by the U.S. during the aftermath of WWII. During the war, the islands had been taken by Japan as strategic vantage points, and the inhabitants were tortured and executed en masse. Under the U.S., they didn’t fare much better: the decade after the war they were used primarily for nuclear testing — a process that has likely been responsible for the islands’ record-high cancer rates. The Trust Territory lasted until 1986, at which time they entered into a Compact of Free Association (COFA). Under COFA, they are basically still conquered territories (though the U.S. refers to them as “sovereign nations”), and are used primarily for geopolitical advantage and resource mining. At present, none of the islands have any armed forces. The U.S. is fully responsible for them militarily and economically. Their economies are largely sustained via a grant-based program, which means the U.S. pours millions of dollars into these tiny islands annually just to help them with basics like education, healthcare and infrastructure.
The Honest Obstructor
This is all to say the majority of the “countries” you’ll see rejecting the two-state solution aren’t really doing so of their own volition: they’re legally mandated to follow the United States’ lead in international affairs. By dictating the foreign policy of these tiny islands, the United States becomes the biggest obstructor of the two-state solution. We’ve voted against (with the occasional abstention) every single draft resolution to establish a Palestinian state, despite our stated support for the two-state solution, and we’ve brought along a cadre of nations legally required to agree with us on every vote. Out of the other countries in the UN charter, Canada and Australia are the only other ones that routinely reject a two-state compromise. The reasoning behind the opposition from these larger nations is based, predominantly, in their economically and politically entwined histories with Israel. Yet neither of them (nor any country in the world) has had the same gung-ho, full-thrusters, not-a-chance-in-hell style of obstructionism as we have.
Not that all other countries in the UN charter are totally innocent of obstruction. A number of countries often abstain from voting on the conflict — which is essentially a way of Pontius Pilate-ing the whole thing, washing their hands of the affair and saying “it’s on you guys” to the rest of the world. The reasoning behind these occasional abstentions are clearly political to the nation in question on a case by case basis.
But again, nothing holds up to our level of obstruction. In February, I wrote a piece on the U.S.’s role in fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through its massive subsidization of Israeli military initiatives. The myth that we are somehow “The Honest Broker” — an impartial mediator simply trying to coax both sides into getting along — is consistently pushed by the national media, but it doesn’t hold up after just 10 minutes of reading through America’s security council veto history. Yet it’s not just that the U.S. is not impartial; it’s that we’re literally the ringleader of a hobnob gang of superpowers and pipsqueak island subsidiaries who stand in total defiance of international consensus on one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history.
How does the U.S. explain all these “no” votes to the U.N. while still maintaining that its official stance is in favor of a two state solution? Usually through the most unconvincing and lazy of platitudinal excuses. For decades, we have engaged in various blather about how “now is not the right time” or “to do so would endanger the peace process” (for some recent examples check out this Security Council rejection last year from U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers). Yet the thing is there really has to be a peace process for you to endanger one; and as of now, America has kept it in a state of perpetual stagnation.
Why is the two-state solution dying? Mostly because America wants it to.