Yossi Mekelberg
Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme
A complete lack of trust, the absence of true statesmanship and the building of settlements have rendered a viable Palestinian state impossible.
A man waves a Palestinian flag following a protest against settlements in Ramallah on 19 September 2014. Photo by Getty Images.A man waves a Palestinian flag following a protest against settlements in Ramallah on 19 September 2014. Photo by Getty Images.

Consensus is a rare commodity between and among Israelis and Palestinians. An unwelcome consensus has emerged, and is quickly taking hold, among many that the window for a two-state solution is either already hermetically sealed, or at best slightly ajar. This consensus derives from a complete breakdown of trust in each other that in return leads to deep despair in both societies.

A new UN report warned, in a rather understated fashion, that the two-state solution is in danger – one might argue that the UN has fallen asleep on guard and this warning has already been overtaken by events. The discourse is already shifting toward other options some more realistic than others. Some of these options are a one-state solution, a confederation, unilateral withdrawals, management of the conflict without solving it or even escalation of it to break the stalemate. These have all been sounded on different domestic and international forums.

Long before the total collapse of the Oslo process that was supposed to reach a final status agreement by 1998, the alarming signs were already present. Too much constituency management of both sides allowed the extreme fringe to dictate the agenda, and never entirely abandoning the old paradigms left the peace process in tatters. The failure has been as much conceptual as operational. Ideologically, both sides have never rid themselves completely of the dream of sole sovereignty over the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

As they were negotiating they were, at least conceptually, fighting the 1948 war all over again. There is little doubt in my mind that the Israeli leadership and a critical mass of the Israeli public were reluctant to part with the spoils of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It is also the myth that has evolved among Israelis that their concessions are tangible (e.g. land) in exchange for an abstract 'piece of paper' through which the Palestinians would agree for peace.

While this is technically correct, it ignores the very asymmetric nature of this conflict. Furthermore, there was never recognition that a majority of the Palestinian leadership and people accepted, though reluctantly, less than half of the territory assigned to them in the 1947 Partition Plan. An enormous and painful sacrifice, regardless if their policies contributed to this outcome.

Missed opportunities

One could dwell on missed opportunities, incompetent and self-serving leadership, the allowing of violence and extremism to take over, the oppressive occupation and many other misgivings. It all amounts to a dreadful failure in overcoming a complex conflict—no confidence has been built between the two people, nor has a peace agreement been reached which is based on mutual recognition of the right to self-determination. Indeed significant progress has been made on the issues of borders, security, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees or even Jewish settlements.

However, at no point could both sides agree on all of these issues at the same time and be courageous enough to embark on a new and peaceful chapter in their history.

The fast disappearing two-state solution can be attributed, in my opinion, to three main aspects of the current conflict: a complete lack of trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the absence of true statesmanship and the building of settlements which has rendered a viable Palestinian state with contiguous territory impossible. Yet another variable in this equation is the reluctance of the international community to make its full weight count during the peace process and push both sides over the finishing line.

One of the most depressing features of the current situation is the total collapse of belief, on both sides, that a two-state solution is feasible. A recent survey conducted among Palestinians, by the Ramallah-based Policy and Survey Research Institute, indicates that only a slim majority of 51 per cent support a two-state solution, but a much larger majority of 63 per cent would like to discard the Oslo Accords altogether.

More worrisome is that similar support exists for stabbing attacks on Israelis and the return to an armed intifada, which some believe would better serve Palestinian interests. Public opinion in Israel is as paradoxical and confusing, and at times a mirror image of that of the Palestinians. Just above 52 per cent of the Jewish public is in favor of the two-states-for-two-peoples solution, according to the Peace Index opinion poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute.

However, even this support is offset by the fact that only one-tenth of the Jewish population can foresee a two-state solution materializing within the next decade. Instead they are entrenched in their distrust of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, criticize the Netanyahu government for not being tougher with the Palestinians, and 45 per cent would like the Israeli government to annex all the occupied territories. Those figures leave an insurmountable task for whoever dares to try to negotiate a two-state solution.

If these opinions reflect the grave state of mind of both Israelis and Palestinians, the reality of the Jewish settlements and their expansion in the West Bank render a viable Palestinian state impossible to achieve. If any group in Israeli society can look back, and I say this with great regret, with a sense of accomplishment, it is the Settlement movement. It has managed to hijack the political agenda and sabotage a peace agreement based on separation into two independent states.

This could not have happened without active and explicit assistance by Israeli governments since the 1970s. This left the West Bank interwoven with Jewish settlements and security walls and fences. Half a million settlers, including those who live in occupied East Jerusalem, represent a determined intention to never allow for Palestinian self-determination.

When, more than if, the two-state solution is pronounced officially dead and buried, it might be time to move to a different paradigm of resolving the conflict. Such a paradigm should be more rights- than territorially-based; a paradigm that underlines that everyone living in Israel and Palestine is entitled to the same political and civil rights.

This article was originally published in Al Arabiya.

To comment on this article, please contact Chatham House Feedback