Is the Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution still on the table?

Despite 16 years of failed negotiations and lost opportunities, the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel still has widespread support

Nabil Shaath, former Palestinian foreign minister,  with then taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2004. Mr Shaath argues the US could have achieved a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the global balance of power shifted in Washington’s favour after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-90. Photograph: The Irish Times

Nabil Shaath, former Palestinian foreign minister, with then taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2004. Mr Shaath argues the US could have achieved a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the global balance of power shifted in Washington’s favour after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-90. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Palestinians, Israelis and the international community still cling to the two-state solution, the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as the means to provide self-determination for Palestinians and end the Israeli occupation of territories conquered 50 years ago during the war launched on June 5th, 1967.

Once a Palestinian state became a reality, Israel and the Arabs could declare peace and establish relations, ending the cycle of conflict that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948.

During his recent visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, US president Donald Trump promised the “mother of all deals” to resolve the conflict without specifying how this would be achieved.

Former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath told The Irish Times that in his view Mr Trump “has no idea what this entails”. He contrasted Mr Trump’s performance with that of former president Barack Obama “who understood the issues” but failed to achieve progress in negotiations.

A European diplomatic source briefed by participants says Mr Trump arrived unprepared for meetings he had with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Consequently, the US president did not address the key issues.

He made it clear, however, he had deferred taking a decision on shifting the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an election campaign pledge, arguing this could have a negative impact on peace talks as the status of Jerusalem is meant to be negotiated. Israelis claim the whole of the city as their exclusive capital while Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem their capital.

The Green Line

Palestinians seek a state based on the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border, comprising 22 per cent of the territory of historical Palestine, and including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinians are prepared to accept Israeli major settlement blocs built in East Jerusalem and the West Bank but demand territorial compensation. Israel seeks to annex the main settlement blocs and argues that Israelis in other settlements should be given the option of living in a Palestinian state.

In Mr Shaath’s view, the US could have achieved the two-state solution when the global balance of power shifted in Washington’s favour after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-90.

Palestinian and Israeli teams came close to a final deal, says Shaath, in 2001 during negotiations at Taba in Egypt, in which he took part. The Israeli team, led by veteran peacemakers Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben Ami, was determined to reach a deal which could have been presented as a fait accompli to then prime minister Ehud Barak.

The teams reached agreement on Jerusalem, security, refugees, the return of Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian state, and compensation for Palestinian losses due to the creation of Israel. Before the deal could be proclaimed, Mr Barak called an election and lost to Ariel Sharon. The deal was not revisited.

In spite of this lost opportunity and 16 years of sporadic, fruitless negotiations, the two-state solution remains an “important element of our political struggle,” states Mr Shaath, “138 states have recognised Palestine within the borders of 1967. We are creating state institutions”.

Peace Now movement

No one wants to to abandon the two-state solution. The latest Israeli poll shows 47 per cent of Israelis support the emergence of a Palestinian state based on the border of 1967 – keeping the major settlement blocs – while 39 per cent are opposed.

The number of those who favour the two-state solution has, however, declined since 2014-2016 when support was 59-60 per cent. On Saturday, May 27th, 15,000 Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv to call for two states. The rally was organised by Israel’s centrist Peace Now movement, which faded from the Israeli political scene for several years but is making a comeback.

Palestinian polls show support for the two-state solution has also fallen to 47 per cent due to the lack of progress in negotiations and fear over concessions they would have to make to achieve a state.

While the two-state solution remains on the table, neither Mr Obama nor, so far, Mr Trump have been able to bring the sides to the table. Former Palestinian labour minister Ghassan al-Khatib says that during his highly-publicised visit to Saudi Arabia, Mr Trump failed to persuade the Arabs to take steps to normalise relations with Israel to create a better atmosphere for the resumption of talks.

The Arab leaders would not budge from the decision taken by the Arab summit in March to recommit to the 2002 Arab peace plan calling for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory occupied in 1967 before establishing relations with Israel.

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