Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa

The Two State Solution is Dead: Time for New Perspectives on Israel/Palestine

By Aman Madan

Israel posses an irrevocable right to exist. It possess this right—a right denied to the region’s indigenous peoples—not out of any legitimate grievances, but because of a persistent co-optation of colonial powers on the part of Herzl, the Jewish National Fund, and the World Jewish Congress. Israel exists today as a direct consequence of what can broadly be described as the Zionist project and the force of Western powers against the Arab peoples. It’s consistent denial of rights to Israeli Arabs, Palestinians in the West Bank, and seemingly unstoppable settlement projects have all contributed to a slow but steady consolidation of Israeli authority in the region. From a Weberian perspective, states exist once they have monopolized control over the legitimate use of violence. Israel has achieved exactly this, and therefore the world, because it has stopped caring, trying, or some mixture of the two, has allowed Israel the dignity of a modern nation-state.

 

Without delving into a deeply complex history—one which illicits deep passion on both sides of the debate—the question of Israel, its status as a Jewish and democratic state, and whether or not it has a moral legitimacy [not one achieved through violence or colonialism] have resurfaced in contemporary discourse. Much of this can be attributed to a newly inaugurated American administration whose views on the regional conflict have departed from long held US policy. For the first time in US politics, an American president, standing side by side with Israeli Prime Minister, claimed that the United States would prefer a peace deal desired by both parties—whether that be a single state or multiple states. The statement incited anger and shock throughout the Middle East, not because the statement itself was controversial, but because, once contextualized, appeared to be highly biased toward the Israeli state—particularly given Mr. Trump’s warm relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Many news reports, particularly throughout the Arab World, categorized Mr. Trump’s departure from a forceful defense of a two-state solution—common US policy regardless of partisan leanings—as a tacit endorsement of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ultimate goal of annexation of the West Bank.

 

While his implication that “suddenly the long-proposed solution of two states did not really matter,” seemed to be a direct affront to the Palestinian cause, a one state solution might be a much needed change in the direction of resolving the conflict. For decades, the premise of the two state solution—the ultimate goal of a sovereign Palestinian state—has locked the Middle East into a perpetual state of inaction and at the least, external belligerency; many states have for years pursued a quiet relationship with Israel, but have done so at the expense of popular domestic support, where support for Israel still remains dreadfully low.

 

Israel is here to stay. To not acknowledge this gruesome reality is to either be wholly naive or ideologically pure—both are ironically counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. While the suggestion of a singular Israeli state appears radical—particularly in Lebanon from where I pen this piece—“it is simply the recognition of the uncomfortable reality that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories already function as a single state.” According to Michael Tarazi, both territories share the same road systems, the same water supply, and even the same international borders. As a former advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, he contends that the parallel reality of the interconnectedness and the simultaneous marginalization of the Palestinian population can cease with the emergence of a one state solution. The Palestinians should now push for a binational state with equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated an inclination toward this idea, arguing for a “state-minus” status for the West Bank. For the first time, a majority of Palestinians do not support the two state solution. In fact, 56% of Palestinians no longer view an independent Palestinian state as a viable future outcome. With thousands of new Israeli settlements already constructed in the West Bank and a new Israeli law allowing for a retroactive legalization of illegally seized Palestinian land, many Palestinians have warmed to the prospect of full integration into a binational state. Perhaps more importantly, with the increasing popularity of the Israeli right—the likes of Naftali Bennet who argue for a full annexation—many Palestinians are fearful that such a move may necessitate a complete removal from their land. With that nightmarish option looming as not-too-unlikely possibility, full integration and co-equal citizenship carry with it a certain appeal previously not associated with the idea.

 

Mr. Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, argues that such an idea would only be a legitimate alternative if the entirety of the Palestinian population was given the vote. Full Palestinian integration comes at a significant cost. It “means that Jewish democracy in the land of Palestine is not possible.” With a full annexation of Area A, B, and C, Israel will gain approximately three million Palestinians, meaning that Israel will be unable to retain the Jewish character of its state, undoubtedly inciting serious questions of Jewish and Israeli identity. If Netanyahu and his coalition ultimately seek a singular state, they must determine the essence of the state they seek—not an easy task given the heightened partisan divide within Israeli politics. Certainly, it is not out of the question that Israel allows for an integration of Palestinians, but refuses equal rights to the new population. Israeli Jews will certainly resist ceding rights perceived to be exclusive theirs, deepening an apartheid state—which to be frank, is already manifesting itself in the West Bank. The onus then, should be on international intermediaries, particularly Mr. Trump who has now “opened the door to this conversation.” It is unlikely that Mr. Trump sides with the Palestinians, eyeing an Israeli domination of the ‘peace process’ as a relatively simplistic way to ‘finally’ end this decade long conflict. Mr. Trump has always had an affinity for reductionist approaches, particularly in the foreign policy realm. We should not expect any significant deviation from this approach in regard to this conflict.

 

The two state solution is now inviable. To remain in pursuit of this objective does not positively contribute to the ‘Middle East Peace Process.’ If Jared Kushner—Mr. Trump’s appointed intermediary between Israelis and Palestinians and his son-in-law—seeks a sustained peace in the region, he must acknowledge that a singular state with equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis is the only way to effectively resolve this conflict. In the words of Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, “we’ve left the two-state solution long behind. God forbid we leave the one-state behind, too.”

We are all Mouhcine: The Death of a Fish Vendor Sparks Protests Across Morocco

By Catherine Cartier

In late October, major protests swept through Moroccan cities and towns, prompting some to call these demonstrations “the second Moroccan Spring.” Mouhcine Fikri, a fish seller in al Hoceima, a city in northern Morocco, was crushed to death when he climbed into the back of a garbage truck to retrieve his fish. Fikri’s catch swordfish, estimated to be worth $11,000, was confiscated by the police due to a seasonal ban. Videos of Fikri’s death circulated the internet on Friday evening, causing Al Hoceima, Marrakesh, Rabat, and other cities to burst into protests the following day. The king—who was out of the country at the time of Fikri’s death—ordered an immediate investigation.

In the streets, Moroccans chanted slogans such as “We are all Mouhcine” and “Down with the Makhzen.” The term makhzen refers to the political elite in Morocco, who center around King Mohammed VI. Some Moroccans view Fikri’s death as a willful act of police brutality, and many have used the term hogra, which describes abuses by the authorities such as violence and bribe taking, to describe the incident. The protests also targeted broader issues in Moroccan society. An activist in Al Hoceima commented that the people want more than investigation—they demand a change to prevent similar events in the future. Another activist commented, “tomorrow it could happen to me or anyone else.”

Reports indicate that many protesters waved the flag of the Amazigh people, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. Notably, Al Hoceima, the city where Fikri lived, is in the Rif region, a mountainous region with a majority Amazigh population.

Historically, the monarchy has struggled to maintain control of the Rif—in the 1950s, the late King Hassan II (King Mohammed VI’s father) violently crushed a rebellion for Riffian independence. During his time on the throne, he marginalized the region by neglecting its economic development. For instance, investment in the region is minimal compared to neighboring areas in the north, and poverty rates are among the highest in the country. As Abdeslam Maghraoui, a political scientist at Duke University and North Africa expert, explains, “The Rif has been structurally and symbolically severed from the rest of other regions in Morocco.” The recent protests reflect the legacy of this division.

Protests, especially in major cities, are not uncommon in Morocco. However, these protests are the biggest since those seen in the 2011 February 20 movement, the Moroccan manifestation of the Arab Spring uprisings. In Morocco, the February 20 movement demanded constitutional reform and a change in government, and resulted in nominal changes to the constitutional monarchy. The protests following Fikri’s death share similarities with their Arab Spring predecessors—the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi (who sold vegetables) in Tunisia ignited local protests which spread across the region. Like Fikri, Bouazizi came from an impoverished region where he faced unemployment and a daily struggle to make a living. Tunisia experienced a change in government: Ben Ali stepped down and the first round of elections since 1956 took place in 2014. But the political climate in Morocco today is different from that of the 2011 protests. War torn places such as Syria and Iraq are a reminder to Moroccans that while the power remains concentrated in the King, the situation could be far worse. The regime benefits from the instability of these countries, and many Moroccans attribute their stability to the gradual reforms promised by the King.

In last month’s elections, the majority party, Parti du Justice et du Developpement, remained the largest party and gained additional seats. Under Morocco’s system, the winning party must form a coalition, and Prime Minister Abdellah Benikrane faces a tough task in doing so. The new government is a player in the political landscape of Morocco as it navigates the calls for change echoing from the streets.

Since the incident, eleven officials have been arrested, eight have been jailed, and a public inquiry has been launched into the incident. Fikri’s death brought Moroccans into the streets, calling for justice and change, yet there is a lack of clarity on what this change should look like. In 2011, protestors in Tunisia unanimously called for Ben Ali’s resignation. In Morocco, protestors first called for a democratic constitution, but then shifted to push for a parliamentary monarchy. A protestor in Rabat comments, “This way of killing people by the police, our grandfathers are used to it, but we should not be used to this. We cannot accept this kind of treatment any more.” While it’s unlikely that these protests will lead to a significant power shift or a “Moroccan Spring,” the king, the newly elected government, and the Moroccan people will continue to grapple with the protests and their demands in the coming months.

Featured image from The Associated Press