Bahour & Klug’s New Idea on Ending Occupation

Bahour & Klug’s New Idea on Ending Occupation

Sam Bahour
Dr. Tony Klug

Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour (who met with our visiting delegation to Ramallah in 2012) and British-Jewish peace activist and Mideast policy analyst Tony Klug have co-authored an article in the English Edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, “If Kerry fails, what then?” They propose an international ultimatum to Israel for a three-year period for its decision on how to resolve its relationship with the Palestinian Territories. We are not endorsing this idea, but only sharing it for the purpose of discussion.  This is an abridged version of the article, with some additional comments beneath it:

. . .  Our proposal takes as its starting point the need to resolve two crucial ambiguities regarding Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza: its rule over the Palestinians and the colonization of their land.  . . .
First, is it, or is it not, an occupation? The entire world, including the US, thinks it is, and therefore considers the Fourth Geneva Convention and other relevant provisions of international law to apply. The Israeli government contests this on technical grounds, . . .
Israel has maintained that the Geneva Convention does not strictly apply, and therefore it is not legally forbidden from annexing, expropriating and permanently settling parts of the territory it captured during the 1967 Arab-Israel war.
But at other times, the Israeli authorities rely on the Geneva Convention to validate its policies, particularly with regard to treating Palestinians under Israel’s jurisdiction but outside its sovereign territory differently from Israeli citizens, citing the provisions that prohibit altering the legal status of an occupied territory’s inhabitants.
This ambiguity has served the occupying power well, enabling it to cherry-pick the articles of the Geneva Convention and have the best of both worlds, while the occupied people has the worst of them.
Our contention is that the occupying power should no longer be able to have it both ways. The laws of occupation either apply or do not apply. If it is an occupation, it is beyond time for Israel’s custodianship — supposedly provisional — to be brought to an end. If it is not an occupation, there is no justification for denying equal rights to everyone who is subject to Israeli rule, whether Israeli or Palestinian.  . . .
The Israeli government should be put on notice that, by the 50th anniversary of the occupation, it must make up its mind definitively one way or the other. A half a century is surely enough time to decide. This would give it until June 2017 to make its choice between relinquishing the occupied territory — either directly to the Palestinians or possibly to a temporary international trusteeship in the first instance — or alternatively granting full and equal citizenship rights to everyone living under its jurisdiction.
Should Israel not choose the first option by the target date, it would be open to the international community to draw the conclusion that its government had plumped by default for the second option of civic equality. Other governments, individually or collectively, and international civil society, may then feel at liberty to hold the Israeli government accountable to that benchmark.
The three-year window would be likely to witness vigorous debate within Israel and induce new political currents that may be more conducive to a swift and authentic deal with the Palestinians over two states, probably within the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative for which there is polling evidence of growing support among the Israeli population.
We need to break free of the divisive and increasingly stifling one-state-versus-two-states straightjacket that tends to polarize debate and in practice ends up perpetuating the status quo — which is a form of one state, albeit an inequitable one. The aim of our proposal is to bring matters to a head and to enable people to advocate equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis, in one form or another, free of the implication that this necessarily carries a threat to the existence of the state of Israel.
To be clear, this is not a call for a unitary state. How Israelis and Palestinians wish to live alongside each other is for them to decide and the indications still are that both peoples prefer to exercise their self-determination in their own independent states.  . . . It would remain open to the Palestinians to continue to agitate for sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, for a future Israeli government to relinquish these territories and, in extremis, for the Security Council to enforce the creation of two states through the UN Charter’s Chapter VII mechanism.  . . .

Regarding Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter“Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression,” including provisions for the use of military force.  Bahour and Klug also demand equal treatment for five million stateless Palestinians living in Arab countries, but do not lay out an enforcement mechanism.

Their proposal obviously depends upon a high degree of resolve within the international community—usually not known for being resolute—to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A peremptory demand of this nature might produce a backlash among Israelis to resist international finger-pointing; but it may also, as indicated, increase the likelihood of a new governing coalition committed to peace. Even now, without new elections, there is the theoretical possibility of a majority configuration within the Knesset for a government led by Labor and/or Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, with the support of Livni’s Hatenuah faction, Meretz, the predominantly Arab parties, and—critically—the ultra-Orthodox parties.

The option of Israel relinquishing the Palestinian Territories to an international trusteeship, as mentioned, was actually broached by a former leader of Meretz, Yossi Sarid, during the darkest days of the Second Intifada.  A temporary arrangement of this nature, as a transition to independence, was implemented most recently in East Timor (from 1999 to 2002).

This proposal still probably leaves open for negotiations the questions of Jerusalem, settlements, the exact final boundaries and refugees—among others—but if this strategy were embraced by the international community (a big “if”), it could conceivably break the logjam in a positive way.

By | 2014-04-10T12:10:00-04:00 April 10th, 2014|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Anonymous April 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Bahour and Klug are on the right track – Israel must no longer be allowed to have it both ways. But they’re mesmerized by the symbolic, but arbitrary, ’50 years of occupation’ deadline. Three more years is way too long.

    They also assume that the US will get on board this idea, because if it doesn’t, it won’t succeed. Over the last 20 years, the US has shown zero willingness to get tough with Israel. The authors don’t offer any ideas how to make that happen now.

    Also, what if the gauntlet was thrown down and Israel simply finessed it: Most likely, Israelis would sign on to the Naftali Bennett plan – annex 60% of the WB that doesn’t have a lot of Palestinians living there, and declare the rest occupied. Voila, paradox resolved. Would that satisfy Bahour and Klug?

    The international community must lay down the ground rules, not let Israel call the shots.


  2. Alexander August 13, 2014 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Alas, I find nothing new here. It’s a re-hash of the old two-state solution, which cannot likely succeed. It also naively ignores certain complexities of the situation.

    Most people would agree that as long as there are ideologues who are opposed to a peaceful resolution, then a peaceful resolution will be very difficult, if not impossible.

    E.G., Hamas, who believe on religious grounds (Hamas Covenant) that the only just outcome would be an Islamic government over the entire Land (see also the Hamas Website: which you can translate at Google Translate — articles there make it clear that they are committed to a one-state Islamic solution without compromise). Have you noticed how rockets and other attacks increase whenever the peace process appears to be advancing, and decrease when there is no perception of progress?

    So the first step has to be to neutralize the power of such people, which does not appear to be likely within the next couple decades in Gaza.

    But let’s assume that this first step somehow occurs. Then:

    1) No outcome can be imposed.
    The best that a charismatic outsider can do is get everyone talking. But the final outcome must come from the players themselves. Otherwise it won’t work.

    2) Everyone thinks that a 2-state solution is the fairest, justest outcome. I think that most people believe that the bottom line is that these two groups of people just cannot live together in peace, so let’s separate them into two separate states.

    I respectfully disagree. There are two other possibilities, one of which has been mentioned but not fully appreciated, and the other of which has never been mentioned.

    First, why not a 2-state solution?
    The main objection is the lack of contiguity between Gaza and West Bank. I’m not aware of any country in the world that has successfully existed without territorial contiguity. I’m not saying that it is impossible, but it seems too great an obstacle, given that there are viable alternatives. Another objection, from the perspective of realpolitik, is the risk of creating a fundamentalist Islamic power that might increase rather than decrease belligerency once it has the full power of statehood.

    ALTERNATIVE A – the 1 State Solution.
    This has been rejected by others as non-viable because it would put Jews in the unacceptable (to them) position of being a minority.

    First, this is not necessarily true, I have seen credible claims that the Palestinian populations have been exaggerated because their UN funding is based on population. Only a new, independent census will tell. We need this fact-finding before any solutions get put on the table.

    Second, even if the demographics favor the Jews, that doesn’t help much because it may be unacceptable to the Palestinians. Moreover, what is true today may change tomorrow.

    Third of all, if the parties agree and the international community supports this process, an incentive could be created for members of one group to emigrate. Let’s say, for instance, that Palestinians were offered $1,000,000 cash and citizenship in one of 5 countries (eg Norway) where they would have first-rate schools, health-care etc. Completely voluntary. Would many take it? You bet they would.

    However, regardless of the demographics, a 1-State Solution can work to everyone’s reasonable comfort if the state is set up in a way that protects everyone. Let’s face it, who cares about majority status? The reason they care is because of the fear – if we’re in the minority, maybe the majority will pass laws to our disadvantage. This fear can be easily prevented by creating a state where the majority is simply unable to pass such laws. The best model for this is the system of Cantons of Switzerland. In our 1-State Solution, let’s call it the Republic of Western Asia (RWA), the canton districts would probably require some Gerrymandering.

  3. Alexander August 13, 2014 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Advantages: The disputed land is so tiny!

    It’s so small that everyone living there – regardless of how many formal states they have – are going to have to cooperate with resources (water, energy, transportation, etc). Therefore, a federalist system with lots of local autonomy and strict protection of minorities would enable the maximum efficiency. It also has the advantage of solving the Jerusalem conundrum. Jerusalem would be everyone’s capital, no one will feel left out of the holy city. It also has the advantage of giving both sides the opportunity to save face and say, “We got what we really wanted, which is a single state where we can live freely and autonomously as Jews/Palestinians.”

    Disadvantages: It would require Jews giving up the name “State of Israel” and changing many national symbols like the national anthem and flag. Jews who have a religious feeling about the state will object and try to block. The Law of Return will probably have to stay on the books, which won’t please Palestinians, but that’s how compromise works. (Note: I stated above “reasonable comfort”. That means something everyone could live with despite giving up certain emotionally-important symbols like the current Israeli and Palestinian flags.)

    ALTERNATIVE B – the 3-State Solution

    This alternative has never (to my knowledge) been put on the table. It simply formalizes the current status quo: Gaza, Israel, West Bank.

    Advantages: It doesn’t have the contiguity problem of the 2-state solution. As it preserves the status quo, it doesn’t require significant structural changes, and may be viable in the short-term.

    Disadvantages: It requires Palestinians and pan-Arab nationalists and pan-Islamic nationalists elsewhere to give up their dream of a “liberated Palestine” and accept the status quo permanently. It also doesn’t resolve the Jerusalem issue. As it is unlikely that the belligerent ideologues can be neutralized per the introduction to this answer, this solution may be at best temporary.

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