MARK COLVIN: Middle East peace negotiations are in something of a holding pattern at the moment, as Binyamin Netanyahu tries to form a government in Israel, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton start trying to re-position the US after the Bush years.
That hasn’t stopped the opposing Palestinian factions from getting together in Cairo to start a meeting on whether they can create a national unity Government.
That’s a big task in itself because there’s a wide gulf between Fatah, which runs the West Bank, and Hamas, which is in charge in Gaza.
Nonetheless, that gulf is still nothing like as wide as the one between the Palestinians in general and the Israelis.
The peace activist Dr Jeff Halper, who’s the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, is in Australia at the moment and I asked him about the long-term prospects for a two state solution.
JEFF HALPER: The two state solution seems to be gone. In other words, if we’re talking about a real genuine Palestinian state in the occupied territories, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, people have to understand that the occupied territories are only 22 per cent of historic Palestine. So it’s a very small area and the chances of Israel actually withdrawing its settlements and the Palestinians actually even getting a state even in that 22 percent, seems to be very, very slim.
MARK COLVIN: Is that another way of talking about returning to the 1967 boundaries?
JEFF HALPER: That’s right. In other words, if the Palestinians forget the West Bank issues, East Jerusalem and Gaza, it’s a small area but they could have a shot at a viable state. You know, they’d have borders with Jordan and Egypt, they’d have a sea port in Gaza, they’d have an airport in Gaza. There’d have to be a connection between Gaza and the West Bank and imagine having Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a tourist attractions which is a pretty significant thing.
So I think they could make a go of it but the problem is that they’re not going to get that territory.
MARK COLVIN: Because why? because Israel will never return to the ’67 boundaries, because of the settlements?
JEFF HALPER: That’s right, that’s right. Because of the settlements, there are half a million Israelis living in the occupied territories. You know, settlements is misleading word cause people have the idea of a couple little cabins on a hillside but in fact some of these are satellite cities of 70-80,000 people.
MARK COLVIN: But some people thought that Israel would never withdraw from Gaza and they did.
JEFF HALPER: Well, they sort of withdrew. First of all, there were only 7,000 Israelis in Gaza. In addition, Israel really didn’t really get out of Gaza. In other words, it’s true it withdrew its settlers and troops but Israel retains effective control.
MARK COLVIN: But still they kicked settlers out. I mean, we all remember seeing the news footage of the settlers being kicked out, so it is possible for that to happen isn’t it?
JEFF HALPER: Well it’s possible. On that little scale of 7,000 people it’s certainly possible. But if you’re talking about against cities in which we have major urban populations – you know there are more Israelis living in East Jerusalem than there are Palestinians – you’re talking about a much, much larger evacuation of populations and I don’t see an Israeli Government, either to the right or the left who would ever have a mandate to really dismantle settlements in the West Bank, it’s just doesn’t seem to me possible.
MARK COLVIN: So is that a council of despair?
JEFF HALPER: No, No, but what it means is that we have to think of other options.
MARK COLVIN: Such as?
JEFF HALPER: Because if in fact the two state solution is finished, I mean the other logical alternative is a one state solutions. Now that’s something that really scars Israelis because it means the end of Zionism, it means the end of Israel as a Jewish state but you know, Israel is sort of trying to play it both ways. I mean, it’s trying to resist the idea of a genuine Palestinian state because it wants to keep its settlements but the same time, it simply won’t even entertain the idea of one democratic state of everybody.
So where it’s going is apartheid actually.
MARK COLVIN: So you can see where there might be resistance can’t you, given that the alternatives look like Fatah, which is fairly corrupt and incompetent and Hamas which is authoritarian? There isn’t really an attractive alternative for Israelis in a one state solution is there?
JEFF HALPER: Well, except that we have to understand that Israel’s responsible for that. You know we’re at now about 20 or 30 years into a systematic campaign of assassination of Palestinian leaders.
I mean every Palestinian leader, Palestinian leader that was competent, is either dead or in prison. There aren’t any outside, so if we have poor Palestinian leadership, which we certainly have today, that’s an intended result of this kind of a campaign and we’re arguing in the Israeli peace movement that there has to been alternative because we don’t want to remain occupiers forever.
MARK COLVIN: Do you see any way that it’s going to improve from your perspective?
JEFF HALPER: The only way it’s going to improve I think and that’s why I’m in Australia, not that this is the most strategic place to be, but is through international pressures. I think that the world, I think they’re beginning to understand this, even in the United States, that this is a global conflict.
I mean you know, James Baker called the Palestinian conflict the epicentre of instability in the entire Middle East and if you want to stabilise the Middle East, it you want to deal with Islamic fundamentalism, if you want to deal with Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Arab regimes that are teetering today, you’ve got to deal with the Palestine issue because this is around Jerusalem, which is tremendously important for Muslims, and the idea that Israel is Judaising Israel, which Israel says it is doing, is really something that’s creating a theological conflict that’s going to be very dangerous.
But in addition to that, I think the idea that this is an American-western occupation in which an Arab people is being suppressed and oppressed by a western country and Israel’s not even seen as the main actor. I think most Muslims see this as an American occupation, not an Israeli occupation. I think the west has to understand that the west is not going to get on to business as usual and stabilise the Middle East and the whole global system as long as this conflict continues.
And that’s really our message, you know, that we’re going to have to impose a solution. From the outside, Israel’s not going to like it but for the good of everybody, including Israelis, this is got to be done and it’s got to be done from the outside.
MARK COLVIN: Dr Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.