Time to Abandon the Two-state Solution
The peace process reached an impasse over four years if not a decade ago. The PA has refused to negotiate without receiving major concessions in advance. President Obama was not able to kick-start negotiations even though he came out in favor of a settlement based on '67 lines plus swaps. Nor could Israel do so, notwithstanding her ten-month settlement freeze.
The prestigious Herzliya Conference, which just took place in Israel, included a panel discussion on the question, "Is the Impasse Breakable?"
A keynote to the discussion was delivered by Tzipi Livni, who will be Israel's Justice Minister and chief peace process negotiator. The tenor of her remarks was that it is very much in Israel's interest to achieve a final status agreement and that she was dedicated to the task. But most Israelis disagree.
Most experts on the panel agreed that a final status agreement will not be reached in this generation, yet they were not prepared to abandon efforts to achieve one. They believe that as long as Israel continues to build settlements such an agreement won't be achieved in any generation. Thus great pressure is put on Israel not to take unilateral action i.e., build settlements, arguing that it is proscribed by the Oslo Accords. Not so. They proscribe taking unilateral actions which "change the status of the territories". Certainly the action by the PA to get recognition from the UN as a state is clearly such an action, but building settlements isn't.
The discussion focused on what should be done in the interim to manage the conflict and preserve the status quo. Danny Ayalon, Israel's former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, made a novel suggestion: that Israel should recognize the Palestinian State that both he and Israel was vehemently against when the UN did so, in exchange for a recognition by the PA of Israel as a Jewish state. The chances of such a deal being cut are negligible. The PA wouldn't entertain it because it equates such a recognition with giving up on the "right of return". The PA has also stated it is against any interim agreements. We must remember that staying with the two-state solution has lost opportunity costs.
No one, except Dani Dayan, former Chairman of the Council of the Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, discussed the impasse and what it would take to break it. There was an unspoken assumption that Israel would have to make major concessions to break the impasse.
Dayan put them back on their heels by arguing that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was desperate for a deal and was one of the most moderate Israeli leaders, was not able to reach a deal with Abbas, who is recognized, so we are constantly told, as a great moderate leader. Livni, who conducted negotiations during the Annapolis Process, likewise did not succeed.
Conditions will never be as good, what with the Islamic Winter and the bloodbath in Syria.
Although these experts kept making reference to recent polls that suggest that most Israelis want peace, they ignored other aspects of the polls (here and here) that show what Israel's reject the concession expected of them.
Israelis by large majorities are not willing to share Jerusalem, give back the Golan, or uproot the settlement blocs including Ariel and Maaleh Adumin. A plurality of Israeli Jews (45%) is even against creating a Palestinian state.
The impasse exists because keeping these assets including defensible borders are more important to Israelis than "peace". The Palestinians, on the other hand, have no incentive to cede Jerusalem or the right of return. Nor do they have economic necessity. They are unwilling to compromise to get their state. Although money is tight for them, they can always count on the U.S. and the EU providing them with their needs, no questions asked. Furthermore they can always count on the EU, the UN, and the U.S. to pressure Israel to make the necessary concessions. So the status quo for them is just fine.
In effect, paradoxically, this PA support insures that the impasse will not be broken. But for Western support of the PA, the problem would have been long solved.
Thus if the West wants to break the impasse it should do two things:
1.) Accept Israeli construction east of the fence. The window of opportunity is fast closing for the two state solution to be possible. That is, a solution based on dividing Jerusalem. With such construction, the window will close within a year or two at the most. Thus the PA would be forced to cut a deal on Israeli terms if they wanted a state.
It is unlikely they would do so, preferring to shift their battleground to achieving a bi-national state. Israel would never accept such a state so such a battle would be fruitless.
The interests of Israel and the PA mitigate against an agreement, and they are not the only actors. Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and the refugees would be against it. Abbas would be assassinated and Hamas would take over the new state of Palestine. An agreement would not bring peace but renewed violence and terrorism.
The most realistic alternative is for Israel to have sovereignty over the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, Gaza excluded, and the Arabs to have autonomy only where they live.
2. Unwind UNRWA. Insist that all refugees as currently designated be resettled, as all other refugees are, in other countries. Maintaining their status as aggrieved, stateless persons is one of the biggest impediments to breaking the impasse. No one really expects Israel to take them in nor do they expect "Palestine" to take them in. To do so would be extremely destabilizing for all concerned.
Yuval Zuliouk attended the AIPAC conference this year and had this to say:
"My only criticism of the Conference was the lack of discussion about the TSS (Two States Solution). AIPAC does not support one policy or another. However, it is clear to me that at least half of the delegates at the Conference were against the TSS, yet all one could hear from the stage was support of that debunked idea. Clearly, AIPAC's leaders decided not to have even one speaker who is against TSS. By this decision, AIPAC went against its own policy of not to appear partisan.
"Like a broken record, almost all speakers repeated the TSS mantra. To use a metaphor, it felt like they were beating a dead horse. When a horse is wounded, one shoots it out of its misery. The TSS has been dead for quite a while, yet all the speakers were desperately trying to resuscitate it."
Similarly, the speakers at the Herzliya Conference repeated the mantra. This must change. All options must be on the table. New paradigms must be considered. The two-state solution must be buried.