A Divide Among Palestinians on a Two-State Solution
Source Joseph Catron
Date 14/03/24/01:01


RAMALLAH, West Bank — When President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority visited the White House this week, he again heard dire warnings that the current moment could be the last chance for a two-state solution through negotiations with Israel.

Back home in Ramallah, Mr. Abbas’s own son has been telling him that last chance is already long gone, the negotiations futile. The son, Tareq Abbas, a businessman who has long shied away from politics and spotlights, is part of a swelling cadre of prominent Palestinians advocating instead the creation of a single state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in which Jews and Arabs would all be citizens with equal rights.

“If you don’t want to give me independence, at least give me civil rights,” Mr. Abbas, 48, said in a rare interview at his well-appointed apartment here as his father headed to Washington. “That’s an easier way, peaceful way. I don’t want to throw anything, I don’t want to hate anybody, I don’t want to shoot anybody. I want to be under the law.”

President Abbas, in a separate interview last month, said Israel’s continued construction in West Bank settlements made it impossible to convince Tareq that the two-state solution was still viable.

“I said, ‘Look, my son, we are looking for two-state solution and this is the only one.’ He said, ‘Oh, my father, where is your state? I wander everywhere and I see blocks everywhere, I see houses everywhere,' ” the elder Mr. Abbas, 78, recalled. “I say, ‘Please, my son, this is our position, we will not go for one state.’ He says, ‘This is your right to say this, and this is my right to say that.’ Because he is desperate. He doesn’t find any sign for the future that we will get a two-state solution, because on the ground he doesn’t see any different.”

Such intergenerational arguments have become commonplace in the salons of Palestinian civil society and at kitchen tables across the West Bank as the children and grandchildren of the founders of the Palestinian national movement increasingly question its goals and tactics.

In a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 65 percent of people over 50 said they supported the two-state solution, compared with 47 percent of those 18 to 34. Khalil Shikaki, the center’s director, said that about a third of all Palestinians expressed interest in the one-state alternative, but that its backing among those under 45 is more solid and “cannot be satisfied by a two-state solution.”

“Just ask my son,” Mr. Shikaki, 60, wrote in an email. “He will tell you that my generation has failed and should exit the stage and take its mainstream paradigm, the two-state solution, along with it.

“The views of my generation were formed during the heyday of the Palestinian national movement; his views were formed during the failed years of Oslo, the days of perceived Palestinian Authority corruption and tyranny, the Internet and social media,” Mr. Shikaki added, referring to the 1990s Oslo accords, which laid the two-state groundwork. “We are pragmatic; he is idealistic. We demand independence and sovereignty; he demands equal rights.”

Some Palestinian one-staters raise moral questions about Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state. Others are ideological, contending that historic Palestine should not be divided. (This view is echoed by right-wing Israelis who refuse to yield biblical sites in the West Bank.) Then there are pragmatists like Tareq Abbas, who simply see no chance of Israel’s ever allowing two states, and figure that one state is better than none.

While such a binational state is a nightmare for the vast majority of Jewish Israelis, Palestinians are comforted by demographics. There are already nearly as many Arabs as Jews living between the river and the sea, plus millions of Palestinian refugees, and generally higher Palestinian birthrates.

Natalie Tibi, the 16-year-old daughter of Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s Parliament, said she did not care what the future state would be called, only that her grandmothers be allowed to return to their original homes in Jaffa and the village of Meiser, now part of Israel.

Natalie, a 10th grader who aspires to be a human rights lawyer, said she saw a one-state petri dish at her Jerusalem school, Hand in Hand, one of the few where Arabs and Jews share classrooms.

“We know this feeling of living together with no problems,” Natalie said. “In a one-state solution, I see equality, I see peace. We shouldn’t cut the country in sides and stuff. Everyone should get their rights, live in their lands, that’s the most important thing.”

Mr. Shikaki’s son Ibrahim, 29, who teaches economics at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, said he was certain that the future would someday bring one state, but “it’s not very clear what does that mean exactly.”

“That’s the problem right now — there hasn’t been any internal discussion between Palestinians around the one-state solution,” Mr. Shikaki said. “Does that mean settlements stay where they are? Are people going to go on trial for crimes they did on both sides? Is it going to be a South Africa type of thing where we’re going to have reconciliation?”

Tareq Abbas, vice president of the Arab Palestinian Investment Company, said he became a one-state convert about two years ago, fed up with life under occupation. Israel cites security concerns to restrict materials needed by a Coca-Cola plant and an aluminum factory in the West Bank. Foreigners wanting to do business in the West Bank need Israeli permits. Checkpoints slow productivity.

“I believe they have 30 genius people, they meet every morning and there is only one topic on the agenda: how to make the life of the Palestinians miserable today,” Mr. Abbas said of the Israelis. “And they always surprise us, by the way. We always say, ‘How can it get worse?’ They do surprise us.”

Born in Qatar, Mr. Abbas, the youngest of the president’s three sons — the eldest died in 2002 — grew up abroad and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Eastern Washington University, in Cheney, Wash. A twice-divorced father of three, he moved in 2000 to a new building in Ramallah’s Al Tireh neighborhood, where four exercise machines, a Coca-Cola refrigerator case and yet-to-be-used gas grill give a bachelor-pad feel.

A painted portrait of President Abbas adorns the entry. Tareq, who plays squash and soccer, said his father was not around much during his childhood, and the two do not share hobbies, but they meet every week or two for lunch, where the conversations about one state versus two unfold.

“Of course he is extremely democratic with the Palestinian people, so he has to be a little bit democratic with me,” the younger Mr. Abbas said. “He does not try to convince me otherwise.”

He and his brother, Yasser, sued news organizations for suggesting that their companies won United States government contracts because of family connections. (The New York case against Foreign Policy magazine was dismissed in September; two months later, a Jordanian court ordered Al Jazeera to pay $600,000 in damages.) His Facebook posts are mostly apolitical, silly YouTube videos, though he recently posted pictures of Israeli settlers briefly held captive by Palestinians with the comment: “They deserve.”

Like many Palestinians, Tareq Abbas thinks his father should abandon the American-led peace talks and press for statehood instead through international organizations. He believes that President Abbas should dissolve the Palestinian Authority, forcing Israel to take full responsibility for the West Bank, as a pressure tactic. He opposes extending negotiations.

“Of course I say my opinion, definitely I say my opinion, but it’s not advice,” Mr. Abbas said of their father-son chats. “I don’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ Who am I to tell him this? Even as a father I can’t talk to him like this, you want me to say to the president like this?”

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