The notion that Israelis and Palestinians can share the Holy Land living in separate and independent nations has been a seductive goal for eight decades. The vision prompted intermittent peace talks for more than 20 years. The last round failed in 2014, giving way to a growing feeling that the two-state solution is dead. But if they are not two states, then what? One with Arabs and Jews living together in a state that is no longer Jewish? An expanded Jewish state in which Palestinians are less than equal? Does anyone have a better idea?
U.S. President Donald Trump said he would like to negotiate a peace agreement, but his December 6 announcement that the United States recognized Israeli sovereignty in the disputed city of Jerusalem made him an unlikely interlocutor with regard to the Palestinians. At the beginning of his term, Trump had said he was not committed to the idea of a Palestinian state, a goal of US diplomacy for two decades, although he said later that he would support a two-state solution if both sides accepted it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to rule out a Palestinian state during his 2015 re-election campaign, saying later that he meant that this result could not be achieved today. In the absence of progress towards independence, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to abandon agreements previously signed with Israel. In a 2016 survey, only 43 percent of Israeli Jews said it was possible for two states to coexist peacefully. In a survey of the same year, two-thirds of Palestinians said that such a solution was no longer viable. A wave of stabbings, shootings and attacks of hitting and fleeing since October 2015 has left dozens of Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians, most of them aggressors, dead. The latest direct peace talks collapsed after Abbas' Fatah party agreed to form a unity government with the Islamic militant group Hamas and Israel pledged to expand Jewish settlements on lands Palestinians hope will form part of their future state.
the two-state solution dates from the 1937 Peel Commission, which recommended the partition of what was then British Mandatory Palestine to stop Arab-Jewish violence. The United Nations adopted a different partition plan in 1947, but both were rejected by the Arabs, which led to Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. An immediate aftermath produced more than half a million Palestinian refugees. In a 1967 war, Israel captured, among other Arab territories, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, putting residents under military occupation, which engendered Palestinian nationalism. After a Palestinian uprising that began in 1987 claimed more than 1,000 Palestinian lives and 200 Israeli lives, secret negotiations produced the 1993 Oslo Accords. The Palestinians gained limited self-government as a temporary measure. The occupation, the construction of Israeli settlements and the sporadic violence continued, however, as the two sides failed to resolve the problems that hampered a promised final agreement that would presumably establish a Palestinian state. Most countries already recognize Palestine as a state, but in the absence of an agreement with Israel it lacks one's requirements, especially control over its territory. The problematic blocks in the negotiations included where to draw borders, how to share Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees. Israel acted alone in 2005, withdrawing its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. When Hamas took over Gaza, it became a rocket launching platform for Israel. That has caused many Israelis to refuse to cede the West Bank to Palestinian control. Israel has built a barrier in the West Bank to restrain Palestinians from areas populated by Jews.
Alternatives to the two-state solution include a single binational state in which democratic elections would determine who controls the government. While many Palestinians are in favor of this approach, few Israelis do. The Jews would outnumber the Arabs in such a state today, but perhaps not for long given the possible return of the Palestinian refugees and the higher Arab birth rate. For Jews being a minority would defeat the purpose of creating the only Jewish state in the world. Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home political party, proposes that Israel annex the parts of the West Bank where the majority of the Jewish settlers live and offer the Palestinians Israeli citizenship, while the rest will be expanded, but will still have limited self-government. However, there is no consensus within Israel for a plan of this kind, which would deepen the diplomatic isolation of the country. No one in particular defends the perpetuation of the status quo. However, in the absence of progress towards two states or a solid alternative, that seems to be the most likely outcome for the foreseeable future.
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To contact the writer of this QuickTake: Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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