Settler leader Dani Dayan recently stated in The New York Times that “Israel’s settlements are here to stay,” that an independent Palestinian state would be a “recipe for disaster” and that the status quo is better than any alternatives. That’s not a new position within his community. But given the moribund peace process, even some who have supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are pronouncing the option dead and questioning its logic.
Underlying 20 years of negotiations has been the assumption that the competing national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians can only be accommodated by creating two states in the land between Jordan and the Mediterranean. But since the start of the Oslo process, the stars have never aligned for a breakthrough. Examples abound: Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 derailed the process early on. The violent Palestinian intifada that began in 2000 destroyed Israelis’ limited trust. Ariel Sharon’s disengagement led to a Hamas takeover in Gaza. Leaders argued that they couldn’t face the domestic consequences of serious concessions. Repeated U.S. relaunch efforts failed.
It’s no different now. Surrounded by rising Islamist governments and intense fighting in Syria, and increasingly anxious about Iran’s nuclear plans, the Israeli public is averse to any risks. By emphasizing the regional threats, Mr. Netanyahu has managed to make the Palestinian issue virtually disappear. Meanwhile, settlement activity continues unabated.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority is floundering. While committed to non-violence, Mr. Abbas lacks any other strategy – and has little public credibility precisely because there’s been no progress. Most importantly, Hamas’s control of Gaza means he can’t speak for the entire Palestinian polity.
The international context is equally discouraging. In a U.S. election year, Barack Obama has turned away, and it’s unclear how much energy he’ll devote if re-elected. European governments pay lip service but are distracted by domestic difficulties.
Two decades of failure are spawning questions on both sides about the viability of a process described by the International Crisis Group as “low-intensity management of the conflict masquerading as the only path to a solution.” It saves face but isn’t going anywhere.
In non-governmental circles, the result is a recent spate of policy proposals. Some try to preserve the two-state paradigm. For example, the ICG suggests inclusion of religious constituencies that have been left out of talks so far, challenges Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish nation-state and calls on Israel to creatively address the Palestinian refugee issue. Israel’s Blue White Future movement proposes a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, relocation of settlers and a drawing of temporary borders by Israel pending final-status talks.
Others now despair of ever “getting to yes” and claim that the one-state option, in which Israelis and Palestinians would share governance of a binational state, will soon become unavoidable. But Israel will never formally agree because, given the demographic reality in the area, this option belies its fundamental commitment to having a Jewish majority. The equation is well-known: If a binational state remains in Israeli control, it won’t be democratic; if it’s democratic, it won’t be a Jewish state.
So if the creation of a viable Palestinian state is no longer possible, the status quo will indeed continue, but not because it’s better than the alternatives. And the conflict will fester into the future.