The United States, and in particular John Kerry, the Secretary of State, deserve considerable praise for having brought about new negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, after years of stasis – and for taking on a hands-on role to keep them going.
There is some reason to hope and believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, now genuinely recognizes that sooner or later there need to be two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – that he is not merely humouring the Americans and other Western powers.
A single binational state would be a disaster for the whole Zionist project; demographic trends would not be likely to result in a Jewish majority. Or, if Palestinian Arabs were to lack full political rights in such a state, the false, defamatory – and often malicious – claims that Israel is an apartheid regime could begin to take on a certain degree of truth.
Mr. Netanyahu’s apparent change of mind is not as clear or forceful as that of Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister, in the period from 2003 to 2005 – and he may or may not have the resources (or resourcefulness) to bring about a reconfiguration of the spectrum of political parties in Israel. He is not on the best of his terms with his own Likud party – hardly a sustainable state of affairs.
Many Israeli parties have come and gone; a new centrist coalition is entirely possible and viable. The Israelis are justifiably determined to hold a referendum to ratify any major agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Popular support for a sensible and desirable agreement would be more likely if there were an alliance of moderate parties.
The greatest conundrum of the current negotiations is that the most likely favourable outcome is an incomplete agreement, with some major issues unresolved – while any such interim agreement could all too easily be interpreted as a permanent arrangement in disguise, which would then be rejected by the Israeli or Palestinian public or both.
Asher Susser, a historian at Tel Aviv University, has shrewdly argued that the word “solution” in the phrases “one-state” and “two-state solution” is overambitious: “For me, the word ‘solution’ is just too fantastic, too big.” He proposes instead a “two-state dynamic,” an armistice-like state of affairs in which even the borders might not yet be settled: “We have to create a reality on the ground, where we, the Palestinians and the world will recognize that two states is a possible, viable solution.”
The negotiations in Washington can be successful if both the Israelis and the Palestinians can live with a few more decades of ambiguity. A full treaty is probably a long way off.