Dimming Dream for Israelis and Palestinians

The notion that Israelis and
Palestinians can share the Holy
Land living in separate,
independent nations has been a
seductive goal for eight
decades. The vision has driven
on-and-off peace talks for 21
years. The latest round
foundered in April 2014, giving
way to a growing sentiment
that the two-state solution is
dead. But if not two states,
then what? One with Arabs and
Jews living together in a state
that is no longer Jewish? An
enlarged Jewish state in which
Palestinians are less than equal?
Anyone have a better idea?
A Dimming Dream for Israelis
and Palestinians
By Jonathan Ferziger | Updated Feb 27, 2015
5:17 AM EST
The Situation
Peace negotiations collapsed after Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party
agreed to form a unity government with the
militant Islamist group Hamas and Israel
pledged to expand Jewish settlements on land
Palestinians hope to make part of their future
state. A subsequent war focused on the Gaza
Strip cost more than 2,100 Palestinian and 71
Israeli lives. Bloodletting in Jerusalem claimed
10 more lives. Next, the Palestinians
announced they were joining the International
Criminal Court, angering Israelis because their
leaders and military commanders may be
prosecuted for war crimes. Polls show
disillusionment with peace efforts on both
sides. In a 2014 Pew survey, just 16 percent of
Palestinians and 40 percent of Israelis said
the two-state solution was viable.
The Background
The two-state solution dates to the 1937 Peel
Commission, which recommended partition of
what was then British Mandatory Palestine to
stop Arab-Jewish violence. The United Nations
embraced a different partition plan in 1947,
but the Arabs rejected both, leading to Israel’s
declaration of independence in 1948. A war
immediately after that produced more than
half a million Palestinian refugees. In a 1967
war, Israel captured, among other Arab
territories, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east
Jerusalem, putting residents under military
occupation, which bred Palestinian
nationalism. After a Palestinian uprising that
began in 1987 claimed more than 1,000
Palestinian and 200 Israeli lives, secret
negotiations produced the 1993 Oslo accords.
Palestinians gained limited self-rule as an
interim measure. The occupation, Israeli
settlement building and sporadic violence
continued, however, as the two sides
repeatedly failed to resolve issues standing in
the way of a promised final agreement that
presumably would establish a Palestinian
state. Most countries already recognize
Palestine as a state, but in the absence of an
agreement with Israel it lacks the
requirements of one, notably control over its
territory. Stumbling 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 subsequently took
over Gaza, it became a launchpad for rockets
into Israel. That has made many Israelis balk
at the idea of ceding the West Bank to
Palestinian control. Israel has constructed a
barrier in the West Bank to restrict
Palestinians from Jewish-populated areas.
The Argument
Alternatives to the two-state solution include
a single, binational state in which democratic
elections would determine who controls the
government. While many Palestinians favor
this approach, few Israelis do. Jews would
outnumber Arabs in such a state today but
perhaps not for long given the likely return of
Palestinian refugees and the higher Arab birth
rate. For Jews to be a minority would defeat
the purpose of creating the world’s only Jewish
state. Israeli Economy Minister Naftali
Bennett proposes that Israel annex the parts
of the West Bank where most Jewish settlers
live and offer the Palestinians there Israeli
citizenship, with the rest getting expanded but
still limited self-rule. Yet there is no
consensus within Israel for such a plan, which
would deepen the country’s diplomatic
isolation. No one particularly champions
perpetuation of the status quo. In the absence
of progress toward two states or a sound
alternative, however, that looks to be the most
likely outcome for the foreseeable future.
Editor David Remnick explores evolving Israeli
attitudes toward two states in The New
Scholars consider another way in “The Failure
of the Two-State Solution: The Prospects of
One State in the Israel-Palestine Conflict,”
edited by Hani Faris.
Bloomberg News reports on the computer
game PeaceMaker, which challenges players
to create a virtual end to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict.