WASHINGTON – Relations between Israelis and Palestinians have reached such a low point that many on both sides are increasingly despairing of peace efforts. The rationales vary, as do the proposed implications, but the diagnosis is similar: The two-state solution, the formula that most Israelis and Palestinians support as a compromise-solution for their conflict and that is the official policy of the United States and the international community, is no longer viable.
Moreover, groups that consider the two-state solution as the cornerstone of their vision for a secure and lasting peace are increasingly dismissed as passé, unrealistic. "It's over," many are saying from within those communities.
Is it really over?
Not even close. A negotiated separation agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that would allow both to live in their sovereign states, with peace and security, can work. True, there are challenges to achieving this goal, including the Israeli settlement enterprise, the question of Hamas, regional spoilers and absentee U.S. leadership. But the alternatives are either unacceptable or unrealistic.
One alternative is perpetual conflict. Israeli and Palestinian hard-liners say there will be peace only when the other side is defeated. Surrender is not an option for either side, as we have seen in 20 years of on-again-off-again violence. But repeated Israeli attempts to defeat the Palestinians militarily have not brought Israel security. And Palestinian violent resistance has hurt the Palestinian economy, people and cause rather than forced Israel to end the occupation. Neither side can defeat the other, make the other disappear or drive the other away.
The other alternative is propounded by those, mainly on the Palestinian (and Israeli) far left, who support a "one-state solution", the revival of the old chimera of a binational Israeli-Palestinian state. This two-headed monster is as unrealistic and undesirable today as it ever was. A binational state means, for all practical purposes, dismantling the state of Israel. Would Israeli Jews ever accept that? Would Palestinians - or anyone else, for that matter - ever be able to impose it? Why should Israelis give up on their dream and why should Palestinians give up on their yearning for a national homeland? And how would the two communities share in government and administration?
A binational state, too, is a recipe for perpetual conflict.
But it's not just a matter of bad alternatives. It's a matter of real, feasible opportunities, which can make compromise easier for both sides.
The two-state solution stipulates a historic compromise, a grand deal that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians have repeatedly said they support. It involves an end to Israeli territorial claims in the West Bank and an end to Palestinian claims inside Israel. It requires a Palestinian recognition that those refugees from the 1948 war choosing to return will largely do so to a new Palestinian state rather than to what is now Israel, and an Israeli recognition that a fulfilment of the right they believe they have to settle in the West Bank will be either in a Palestinian state or as part of a negotiated minor West Bank land swap. It requires complex compromise-formulae to both divide and share the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of two states, to divide and share resources such as water.
We are used to dynamics on the ground making it increasingly difficult for both sides to consider such compromises. But that is not always the case. Now, for example, the League of Arab States is urging Israel to consider a substantial incentive for compromising: full peace and normal relations with all 22 members of the Arab umbrella-organization, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied 40 years ago. Senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his defence and foreign ministers, have lately expressed interest in exploring the Arab League's initiative.
The question is not whether a two-state solution is attainable. The question is whether Israelis, Palestinians and Americans will exercise the political will to make it happen.
Ori Nir is the Spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. Rafi Dajani is the Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine.
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