HANAN ASHRAWI Theres only one way to salvage the two-state solution: Israeli leaders must immediately demonstrate their seriousness of intent by ceasing all colony activity without conditions. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a critical stage. For more than two decades, the two-state solution has been the basis of international efforts to make peace in the region. Yet, the Israeli governments refusal to cease colony construction in Gaza, West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem will shortly render the creation of a territorially contiguous and viable Palestinian state impossible. A failure of the two-state solution will generate further instability in the region, strengthen rejectionist elements on both sides and likely mean that the conflict will drag on for generations. It will also damage US standing in the Middle East and Americas national security interests. Despite this, there does not seem to be recognition on the part of the Israeli leaders and some in the US, of the urgency of the moment. Many observers in the region and elsewhere have concluded that Israels policy of creating facts on the ground has already made a division of the land unfeasible. Colonies are not an abstract or secondary issue to Palestinians, who see the constant encroachment of Jewish-only colonies that swallow their land and their hopes for the future. There are half a million Israeli colonisers living illegally in the occupied territory, and their numbers are growing. From the beginning, one of the driving motivations behind the colony enterprise has been to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Thus, it is by strategic design that the colonies have been located in such a way as to divide and isolate Palestinian population centres from one another and the outside world. Colonies not only usurp the land on which a Palestinian state is to be created; they bring with them armed, aggressive Jewish extremists, who attack Palestinians, destroy their crops and property and desecrate their holy places. Although some major compromises were made on our part, yet they have never been fully recognised or reciprocated by Israel. Instead, the Israeli government is now asking us to compromise further, while at the same time demanding we recognise not just the state of Israel, but Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian leadership remains committed to a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the conflict with Israel based on the two-state solution, but we do not want to engage in a process that leads nowhere and lends cover to the continued colonisation of our land. Between 1993 and 2000, while we negotiated with the Israelis, the number of colonisers doubled and the situation on the ground for Palestinians worsened each year. We will not take unilateral action, but that does not mean that we wont explore all of our options and act in coordination with members of the international community and international bodies such as the UN. If Palestinians cannot safeguard their rights using peaceful means, such as popular non-violent protest or seek legal redress through international organisations like the UN and the International Court of Justice, many will conclude that a return to armed resistance is the only alternative - with tragic consequences for all. For its part, Israel wishes to avoid multilateralism and references to international law, preferring to engage in bilateral talks that reflect and incorporate the massive asymmetry in power between the two parties. It wishes to dictate terms, not negotiate them. To ensure this doesnt happen, we need serious, positive engagement on the part of the US and other international players. The Israelis cant continue ruling over millions of Palestinians. It must definitely dismantle its illegal colonies and allow for the creation of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state. Israels Prime Minister says he supports the two-state solution, but the actions of his government and the long list of conditions he has put on any future Palestinian state leave much room for doubt. If the two-state solution is to be salvaged, Israeli leaders must change course and demonstrate their seriousness of intent immediately by putting an end to all colony activity without conditions, thereby creating the space for the possibility of a genuine and lasting peace to be reached between our two peoples. Gulf News