Is a two-state solution still possible?
This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
A trumpeter playing sorrowful songs outside of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art seemed to symbolize the melancholy many of the proponents of the two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel feel these days.
Former Israeli Intelligence Chief Yuval Diskin was speaking at a conference on the roadmap for a two-state solution called the Geneva Accord. He told an overflow crowd at the museum, that dividing the land is still feasible.
“I know that the risks are great and that our success is not guaranteed. It is a deep seated issue, and much blood has been spilled,” Diskin said. “There are economic, mental and cultural gaps between the two sides. There are many, many years of disappointment. But I still believe that a true leadership, with a true vision and path can push this forward so that we can provide hope for a new momentum in the Palestinian and the Israeli streets.”
The Geneva Accord, which calls for a Palestinian state in virtually all of the land that Israel acquired in 1967, was crafted in the midst of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2005. Palestinians killed 1000 Israelis, mostly civilians, and Israeli soldiers killed 3000 Palestinians during violent clashes.
The Accord, released ten years ago, was meant to flesh out many of the longstanding issues between the Israelis and Palestinians in order to create an agreement independent of the political process.
Secretary of the State John Kerry is in the Middle East for the eighth time since August trying to push Israelis and Palestinians toward a deal. This time, he has brought a security plan to boost Israeli confidence after a potential withdrawal from much of the West Bank.
Some international observers believe time is running out for a two-state solution.
“This is an opportunity to capitalize on the promise of regaining peace,” said Robert Serry, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process. “I also feel that the international community is becoming increasingly impatient. That is why we stand to lose much if the talks fail again. We cannot afford to remain complacent.”
Diskin said Israel is making a mistake by focusing on Iran, rather than on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I am here because I believe that the consequence of this conflict left unresolved is much more existential than the Iranian nuclear threat,” Yuval Diskin said to a thunderous round of applause. “I know that this is not popular to say, especially these days, but I believe it with all of my heart. I believe that we must reach a resolution now before we go beyond a point to reach an agreement.”
Some of the biggest roadblocks to a two-state solution continue to be the same issues that have been sticking points for the past 20 years –the future of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
“These are very heavy decisions to make. These are decisions that touch upon the essence of both Judaism and Palestinian identity. For Israel to have Jerusalem, this is our Zionist ideal,” Professor Shmuel Sandler, a professor of political science and a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Institute at Bar Ilan University (BESA) told The Media Line.
Israeli and Palestinian officials each blame the other for the lack of progress toward a two-state solution.
“If the right position is taken, of course it is feasible. But the situation on the ground shows that the Israelis do not want there to be an agreement,” Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) told The Media Line. “The culture of impunity that Israel has continued allows it to violate international law without paying any price for its actions.”
The ongoing split between Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and the Islamist movement which controls Gaza, is also an obstacle.
“The drift away from the two-state solution politics in Israel and Palestine is one of the problems,” Ghassan al-Khatib, a former spokesman for the Palestinian Authority told The Media Line. “Every new election in Israel is bringing more right-wing politics into power. Public opinion is moving away from the two-state solution in Israel. The political reality within Palestine is no less of a problem. The split between Fatah and Hamas and the fact that the last election was won by Hamas is a problem.”
The current round of negotiations began in July after a five-year freeze. Secretary Kerry has made it clear that he is going to push both sides hard for a deal.
“I think Secretary Kerry has been very adamant and has been trying his best in order to reach peace between Israel and Palestine. And we definitely do appreciate his commitment for peace,” Abu Eid said. “I think that our side is very serious with him. We have gone along with everything we have committed to with Secretary Kerry. The other side has continued to undermine everything that Secretary Kerry has said.”
Recent polls have also shown that while both populations want a resolution to the conflict, neither side believes that the revived negotiations will end successfully.
“To recognize the right of Israel to exist, that’s the main obstacle. They have to cross a Rubicon,” professor emeritus Avraham Diskin (no relation to Yuval Diskin) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told The Media Line. “Israel is not a legitimate entity for most of the Arab world, most of the Muslim world. So to sign an agreement recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (is difficult).”
Yet many on both sides say there is no alternative to a two-state solution, and the question is not if it will be implemented, but only when.