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When I went to sleep on Monday night, there was no reason to think Tuesday would be special, in any way. Other than a scheduled TV appearance to discuss Israeli elections, (a subject that seems to just keep giving), I expected to have a rather uneventful day. That quickly changed at 7AM with my iPhone’s exit from ‘sleep mode’, triggered by a string of non-stop notifications of missile attacks on southern Israel. It soon became apparent that although it had caught me (and the rest of the Israeli public unaware), for the first time in many years, our army had initiated the exchange of fire by killing the senior Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata.
With the my phone pinging constantly and missiles inching closer to Tel Aviv, I woke my son (who would have gotten up soon in any case) to discuss the developments. However, merely one moment later, I had to wake my wife, as sirens began to wail outside and my phone confirmed there was an incoming missile fired on Tel Aviv. We sprang to the safe area of our apartment, along with our dog, and remained there until we heard the unmistakable explosions that indicate a successful missile intercept.
The TV broadcasters promptly announced Tel Aviv schools would be closed for the day, followed by the guidance that non-essential workers were urged to stay home. Several hours later, the directive calling for the work stoppage was rescinded, but by then it was too late. The parking lots alongside the high-tech towers were empty of their usual scooters and bikes. The “Startup nation” had come to a near standstill, thanks to two very low-tech missiles which had been easily intercepted by Israel’s cutting-edge missile defense system.
I first began writing this column [Tel Aviv Diary] five and half years ago, during the summer of 2014 — the last time missiles rained down on Tel Aviv. Has anything changed during this half decade? I am afraid to say, very little. In the summer of 2005, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip (an area it had occupied since the 1967 Six Day War). Prior to the Gaza withdrawal, Israel shared control of the Strip with the Palestinian National Authority. The IDF guarded the Israeli settlements, as well as the area near the Egyptian border, nicknamed “The Philadelphia Corridor”.
Sharon maintained that the cost of protecting those Israeli settlements was too high. He believed strongly that any future peace would only be attainable/obtainable by separating Israel from the Palestinians, to whatever extent possible. In the period before the withdrawal, Palestinian terrorists regularly attacked Israeli settlements. Militants continually fired crude missiles at Israeli towns and villages near the border. Although the withdrawal was vehemently opposed by Israeli settlers in Gaza who were forced to give up their homes, the disengagement was popular within the Israeli public at-large.
Back in 2005, many (myself included) said that if Gazans continued to fire missiles at us once we got out of the Strip, we would have every right to “level Gaza”. Others dreamed that an Israeli withdrawal would give rise to a new dawn in Gaza, which would somehow transform the Strip into the Singapore of the Middle East. Sadly, the first hint things would go wrong was when the state-of-the-art greenhouses left behind by Israel were rapidly ransacked and destroyed. Second, it did not take long for the rocket fire from Gaza to resume.
Israel-Gaza relations took a sharp turn for the worse in 2007, when Hamas, the fundamentalist Islamic party (whose charter explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel) seized power in the Strip, throwing out the Palestinian Authority. At that time, the Quartet which represented the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations made it clear it would recognize the Hamas government only if it agreed to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and honor all agreements previously signed by the PLO with Israel. Hamas refused.
Since then, Israel has maintained tight control of the Gaza border and has upheld a naval blockade. Israel allows the transfer of almost unlimited food and other essential supplies into the Strip to ensure the people of Gaza possess enough essentials. Gaza’s only open border has been the one it shares with Egypt. However, except for a brief period when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, the Egyptian government has consistently looked askance at the Hamas regime — as it was closely-tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, and thus considered an enemy of both the Morsi and Mubarak governments. Consequently, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has steadily worsened under Hamas rule.
Over the years, rocket fire on Israel has led to a number of confrontations in which Israeli troops have re-entered Gaza. In 2012, one major change did take place — Israel began deployment of its Iron Dome Missile Defense System. When first introduced, Israel did not have a sufficient supply of batteries to fully defend the entire country and the system had not been perfected. During the latest round of attacks, despite 450 rockets being fired at Israel in 48 hours, Israelis suffered less than a dozen light injuries — thanks to tremendous improvements to the Iron Dome system, along with the fact that all Israeli homes surrounding Gaza now have a safe room or bomb shelter.After seizing power 12 years ago, Hamas continues to rule in Gaza. This last round of fighting was the first in which Hamas did not participate — not out of any sudden affinity for Israel, but rather, as Dr. Doron Matza stated: “Hamas found a way to fight Israel without paying a price. Israel aimed all of its fire at the Islamic Jihad.” Not only was Hamas able to back the fight without paying a price. Hamas also saw its major rival (one supported by Iran) weakened by Israel, at least in the short-run.
This brings us back to the killing of Baha Abu al-Ata. There is no question al-Ata was a terrorist, who constituted a legitimate target in Israel’s eyes. In fact, it was reported that al-Ata had also been a target two years ago. Israel’s decision to carry out the attack in the middle of coalition negotiations, in which — at the moment — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not even have the mandate to form a government has raised questions. This latest mini-war initiated by Israel has made it more difficult for MK Benjamin “Benny” Gantz to form a minority government with the support of Arab Israeli parties. In the midst of this targeted action, Netanyahu still found time to go to the Knesset and pick a fight with some of the leaders of those parties.
Leaving political questions aside, what has been accomplished during these two days? Has Israel regained its deterrence? Hardly, and the killing of one mid-level terrorist resulted in two days of rocket fire that disrupted the life of millions. Has the life of the average Gazan improved? Obviously not. Does the Israeli government have a coherent strategy on how to deal with Gaza? No. Are we any closer to either a political or military solution than we were five years ago when I first started writing this column? Sadly, that answer is also, no.
Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders stated this week: “Israelis should not have to live in fear of rocket fire. Palestinians should not have to live under occupation and blockade.” Senator, as well as most Israelis and I agree (note: we don’t occupy Gaza, but that is another matter). That being said, when you figure out how to achieve those twin goals, please let us know. So far, no one has put forth a viable solution to this intractable problem..
The two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict envisions an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, west of the Jordan River. The boundary between the two states is still subject to dispute and negotiation, with Palestinian and Arab leadership insisting on the "1967 borders", which is not accepted by Israel. The territory of the former Mandate Palestine (including Jerusalem) which did not form part of the Palestinian State would continue to be part of Israel.
In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which was rejected by Arab leaders.  In 1974, a UN resolution on the "Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine" called for "two States, Israel and Palestine … side by side within secure and recognized borders" together with "a just resolution of the refugee question in conformity with UN resolution 194".    The borders of the state of Palestine would be "based on the pre-1967 borders". The latest resolution, in November 2013, was passed 165 to 6, with 6 abstentions  with Israel and the United States voting against. 
The Palestinian leadership has embraced the concept since the 1982 Arab Summit in Fez.  Israel views moves by Palestinian leaders to obtain international recognition of a State of Palestine as being unilateral action by the Palestinians and inconsistent with a negotiated two-state solution.
It was reported in 2009 that although polls had consistently shown Israeli and Palestinian majorities in favor of a negotiated two-state settlement, there was "growing disillusionment" with a two-state solution.  A 2021 report by the RAND Corporation found that Israelis across the political spectrum opposed a two-state solution, and that Palestinians will likely require international security guarantees for any peaceful resolution. 
There have been many diplomatic efforts to realize a two state solution, starting from the 1991 Madrid Conference. There followed the 1993 Oslo Accords and the failed 2000 Camp David Summit followed by the Taba negotiations in early 2001. In 2002, the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative. The latest initiative, which also failed, was the 2013–14 peace talks.
Gaza violence proves there’s no alternate to fair solution for Palestinians: UN envoy
The most recent outbreak of violence in Gaza showed that there is no alternative to a fair solution that guarantees basic human rights for Palestinians, including access to proper jobs for a better future, the head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said this week.
In one of his first interviews since the end of an 11-day bombardment, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini called on the international community to pursue a “genuine” political path to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict so that the continuous cycle of fighting every few years does not continue.
But the UN envoy also called upon the international community to shoulder its responsibility and help support UNRWA, which looks to help Palestinian refugees live as close to a “normal” life as possible.
The path towards a normal life for these refugees was dealt a severe blow during the most recent round of violence and this was evident during Lazarrini’s trip to Gaza over the weekend.
On the ground
“Should we sleep all together and in this case we will all die together, or should we be scattered in [different] apartments so if a bomb or missile hits, someone might survive?” one family told Lazzarini during his visit to Gaza, as they recounted their fears during the Israeli airstrikes.
Once again, Gaza was reduced to rubble in less than two weeks after fighting broke out between Israel and the Hamas militant group.
Both sides declared victory, while the families of over 200 civilians mourned the loss of loved ones.
“You can also feel that … people are becoming more and more affected from one round of violence to the next and that layer of resilience is eroding more and more,” Lazzarini told Al Arabiya English in a video interview from his Jerusalem office.
Lazzarini assumed his role as the UNRWA chief just over a year ago, but the agency has witnessed some of the most challenging times in recent years due to budget cuts, the COVID-19 pandemic and now the most recent round of violence.
But after this month’s fighting between, the refugee agency has proved once again why it is necessary, he said.
With over 80 percent of the population in Gaza being Palestinian refugees, “we need a strong UNRWA,” Lazzarini said.
The UN envoy criticized the “regular” attacks on UNRWA’s education system. Israel has routinely hit out at the UN refugee agency for what it claims to be teaching hateful ideology.
In an apparent reference to this criticism, Lazzarini said UNRWA’s education programs were one of the only remaining institutions providing human rights curriculum, promoting gender parity and other topics.
“This is the real antidote for the people to the tension and violence prevailing in the region, hence the need to have a healthy and predictable UNRWA,” he said.
Budget cuts and political messages
Part of the reason Lazzarini mentioned the word “predictable” was because of the Trump administration’s sudden funding cut to UNRWA.
As part of its pressure campaign on Palestinians to agree to the so-called Deal of the Century, engineered by former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the US halted its contributions to UNRWA.
This left the agency with a funding gap of more than $300 million.
Under the Biden administration, a portion of the aid has been restored. Washington announced the resumption of $150 million in assistance to UNRWA last month, and these funds have been released, Lazzarini confirmed.
Nevertheless, the funding is not back at the level it was before the Trump administration announced its cuts.
Pleading for increased aid and contributions, Lazzarini defended the work of UNRWA and the services it continues to provide to Palestinian refugees.
“None of these refugees want to be a refugee, and they’re refugees because there is no political settlement promoting lasting and fair peace,” the UNRWA chief said.
Planning for immediate aid, future reconstruction efforts Lazzarini reiterated UNRWA’s previous flash appeal for $38 million in aid to respond to the immediate needs of those impacted by the recent violence and to carry out essential emergency interventions in Gaza.
This includes helping the thousands of people seeking shelter at UNRWA schools, but the next step will be to find them temporary shelter until their places of residence are rebuilt or repaired.
Part of the urgency in vacating the UNRWA schools is due to Lazzarini and the agency’s intention of resuming classes for refugee children.
“It’s very important to help children to overcome the psychological trauma, and hence the need to open the schools,” he said.
The UN agency has just started an emergency assessment of what needs to be rehabilitated and reconstructed.
“But as you know, UNRWA will not look at the big-ticket infrastructure of the Gaza Strip. We will be looking more at the infrastructure of our premises, which have been damaged,” Lazzarini said.
Call to the Gulf
Asked what his message was to the Gulf nations, Lazzarini said: “Be part of this process to support the efforts of UNRWA and help people [Palestinians] in their desire to have a normal life.”
Elaborating, Lazzarini said this meant helping in efforts to ensure proper access to education, jobs and to “equal rights here in the region.”
“It’s time once and for all to collectively bring a solution and a future to the people in this region,” he added.
Saudi Arabia, for example, lambasted the Israeli aggressions and attacks on Palestinians throughout the 11-day conflict. “The Palestinian cause is central to our policy so that the Palestinians can regain their lands,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said during the UN General Assembly meeting called for after the United States blocked a Security Council statement on the violence three times.
UN diplomats have said that Palestinian refugees initially felt abandoned following the Abraham Accords, where multiple Arab states normalized ties with Israel. “But there is still an expectation [by the Palestinians] to be supported. And these two tracks are not contradictory with the decisions of realignment in the region,” one UNRWA diplomat told Al Arabiya English.
Despite all the work being done by UNRWA and donor countries, including the Gulf, Lazzarini said this needed to be complemented by a “genuine political trajectory, promoting peace, and equal human rights in the region.”
What Palestinians in Gaza Need
Lasting change necessitates an intersectional approach to support Palestinian families in withstanding climate change, including through connecting with other oppressed groups throughout the world to exchange tools and tactics for resistance and survival.
Climate change analysis must be mainstreamed at the government, non-governmental, and donor levels. Access to climate-related information should be accompanied by guidelines on mitigating the effects of extreme weather conditions, and it should be communicated to households.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health should issue guidelines to families on how to deal with heat-related illnesses within their homes. There must be proper documentation of heat-related illnesses by the Ministry of Health in order to clarify, with evidence and facts, the health consequences of climate change on Palestinians.
Climate mitigation measures and efforts to redistribute care responsibilities from the individual to the state must be mainstreamed in the plans, strategies, and projects funded and implemented by donors and developmental agencies in Gaza. This consideration is crucial in marginalized areas where weak infrastructure exacerbates extreme weather impacts on people’s health, and places more caregiving responsibilities on women.
The international community must increase its pressure on Israel to end its assaults on Gaza, and to lift its siege so that life-saving equipment and assistance can enter Gaza.
- This policy memo was produced with the support of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. The views expressed herein are those of the author and therefore do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
- This information is based on an announcement issued by Yousef Abu As’ad, the general director of the Palestine Meteorological Office (within the Ministry of Transport) in Ramallah, on August 27, 2020.
- To read this piece in French, please click here. Al-Shabaka is grateful for the efforts by human rights advocates to translate its pieces, but is not responsible for any change in meaning.
- Information is based on interviews conducted virtually with 40 women in Gaza regarding their coping mechanisms and their struggles during the heatwave and current conditions.
Asmaa Abu Mezied is an economic development and social inclusion specialist working with Oxfam to address issues of gender, development, and climate change in the agriculture sector. Her research interests focus on the care economy, women’s collectives organizing in economic sectors, the private sector’s social accountability, and the intersection of Palestinian political, agricultural, and environmental identities. She was an Atlas Corps Fellow in partnership with President Obama Emerging Global Leaders, a Gaza Hub-Global Shaper (an initiative of World Economic Forum), and a 2021 Mozilla Foundation Wrangler at “Tech for Social Activism” space.
The fact that Palestinian statehood was not awarded much significance in the resolution is not the outcome of deliberate sidelining rather, it is due to the political lens in which Palestine was seen at the time.
Despite the fact that Resolution 242 paved the way for negotiations, it is now “completely irrelevant”, Karmi said.
“The basic issue to resolve this conflict is return. This is the basic issue – these people [the Palestinians] are dispossessed,” she said.
But even with a series of brokered peace talks, there has been no real progress towards implementing a two-state solution, with discussions at a stalemate amid the expansion of Jewish settlements.
The soaring settlement project, which is in direct contravention of international law, has brought around 600,000 Israelis into dozens of Jewish settlements throughout the occupied West Bank. Israeli authorities expropriate Palestinian land and carry out home demolitions on a regular basis, most commonly to expand existing settlements, or occasionally to build new ones.
Checkpoints and Israel’s separation wall have further hindered Palestinians’ freedom of movement.
“Israel is totally in control of the Palestinian territories – not just the West Bank, but also Gaza,” Karmi said.
The Gaza Strip, home to about two million people, has been under siege for more than a decade. In 2007, after the election victory of Hamas and the group’s assumption of control over the territory, Israel imposed a strict land, aerial and naval blockade.
“The fact of total Israeli control of 100 percent of Palestine is precisely and fundamentally why you can’t have a two-state solution,” Karmi said.
There’s a ton of confusion surrounding whether or not peace is possible between Israelis and Palestinians, what that peace would look like, and how feasible it would be. We’ll break down the general proposals, the biggest issues these plans bring up, and what’s changed under the Trump administration.
Okay, so are there proposed solutions?
Yes. For a while these proposals generally fell under two categories: a one-state solution, or a two-state solution. More recently, talks of Middle East peace plans have shifted a bit, but we’ll get to that later. Let’s start with…
Also called the “binational state,” this would create one democratic, secular state in which both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs would live as citizens with equal rights. Those who support a one-state solution generally see separating Israelis and Palestinians into two states as just too hard. The populations are too intertwined, and reaching agreement on things like borders and Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees is too complicated (yes, we’ll get into why these things are complicated in just a bit).
As Avraham Burg, a once-prominent Israeli supporter of the two-state solution who later favored one-state, wrote, “A quarter of a century on from the Oslo Accords, the two-state solution lies in tatters. There is no peace process. There is very little hope left. And yet somehow, we must still find a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side, with equal rights within a single international border. It is time for a progressive one-state solution.”
Yet, many Israelis unfavorably view a one-state solution as one that would destroy the state’s Jewish character and undermine the security of Israel. Granting citizenship to all Palestinians would render Jews a minority and essentially eliminate the world’s only Jewish state. Plus, a one-state solution still comes with logistical problems of its own, not the least of which is who would keep the peace between two peoples who have been at war for more than a half-century.
Which is why many people favor the…
This plan would create two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine. Hypothetically, the Israel state would retain a Jewish majority, thus remaining a Jewish state, and the Palestinian state would have a Muslim Arab majority.
According to this Haaretz poll from 2019, just about ⅓ of Israelis support a two-state solution (19% support one-state, 9% a confederation (which we’ll get to), and the rest fall under “don’t know” or “other”). The majority of world powers support the two-state solution as well, as did, until only very recently, the United States and the Israeli government.
But the devil is in the details. Where would the borders be between these states? What would happen to Jerusalem, a city important to both peoples? What about all the Jewish settlements in the West Bank? What about Palestinian refugees?
Very good questions! Let’s break them down…
If there was a two-state solution, where would the two states be? What borders would define the Israeli state, and what would Palestine consist of?
There are a few maps people reference often when discussing borders:
Before and after the Six-Day War after, Israel controlled the West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and Sinai Peninsula.
Something you often hear when discussing Israeli-Palestinian peace is a return to the “‘67 borders” or the Green Line — a.k.a. the armistice lines that were drawn at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. (For example, in 2011, President Obama said, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”)
Israel after armistice agreement in 1949
Here’s where things get dicey. If you draw the border along the ‘67 lines, hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in West Bank settlements wind up on the Palestinian side. Would those people become citizens of Palestine or (probably forcibly) be made to move back to Israel proper? Few on either side want the first option, but some settlements are well-established cities, with tens of thousands of residents. One of them, Ariel, even has a university. Breaking those up would be nearly impossible.
It’s also seemingly impossible to draw a border that encompass these settlements as part of Israel, as Palestinians would not have a contiguous territory. Are Palestinians going to leave their country every time they want to travel between cities (which is basically what happens now…)? Not ideal. Some have proposed land swaps, whereby Israel would give up some of Israel-proper to compensate for pieces of the West Bank it would keep in a peace deal. But the problem of settlements that exist deep in the heart of the would-be Palestinian state still remains.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli War that established Israel’s independence. Today, they and their descendants number in the millions, and many of them live essentially stateless in refugee camps around the region (though there’s also a sizable diaspora, with many Palestinians who are citizens of Jordan, the U.S., and other countries). Palestinians call for a “right of return” that would permit them, and their descendants in perpetuity, to return to homes and villages they once fled.
Palestinians fleeing from their villages, October 30, 1948 (National Photo Collection of Israel)
In 1948, the United Nations adopted Resolution 194, which stated that Palestinian refugees who wished to return to their homes should be allowed to do so. By 1967, however, when the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242 in the wake of the Six-Day War, that language was softened significantly, calling only for a “just resolution” to the refugee issue.
Unsurprisingly, Israel is not a fan of the “right to return” — millions of refugees flooding into Israel would overwhelm the country and eliminate its Jewish character.
The Israeli position has largely been that Palestinians should have the right to return to Palestinian territory if a two-state solution is achieved. Israel and its allies have also criticized the U.N. and Arab countries for not integrating these refugees, thereby prolonging the issue in order to keep pressure on Israel. And many Israelis note that they absorbed 600,000 Jews from Arab countries after 1948, many of whom were pressured to leave and/or were forced to abandon property and leave valuables behind, and whose descendants now number in the millions.
Security is a major concern for Israel. The country, established as a haven for a people who have suffered thousands of years of oppression, has fought multiple wars for its very survival, and the memory of invading Arab armies remains strong in a nation where military service is mandatory, rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon occur regularly, and terrorism has killed or maimed thousands of Israelis.
Ceding the West Bank in its entirety would make Israel only a few miles wide at its narrowest point and deny Israel the security presence it currently maintains along the Jordan River — both of which are considered critical to maintaining “strategic depth” against any sort of terror attack. How would Israel protect itself from that threat if it withdraws from the West Bank?
Then there’s the issue of terrorism. Israel insists that a security barrier in the West Bank, combined with security coordination with the Palestinian Authority and ongoing operations targeting militants in the West Bank, have all helped to dramatically lower the terrorist threat posed to Israel. Yet Hamas militants routinely fire rockets and dig terror tunnels from Gaza into Israeli population centers. Many Israelis fear that if those rockets were fired from the West Bank rather than Gaza, no Israeli living in the country’s very heart would be safe.
Rocket attack in Sderot, Israel, June 28, 2014 (Natan Flayer/Wikimedia Commons)
Of course, Palestinians have their own security concerns, too. Israeli security forces routinely conduct operations in the West Bank, and these sometimes result in Palestinian casualties. And when Israel strikes back against rocket fire, as it has three times between 2008 and 2014, many Palestinian non-combatants die. There is also a real fear among Palestinians that they could be arrested and held in military detention indefinitely under the current framework.
Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
Aerial view of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem (Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia)
For Jews, Jerusalem is the holiest city in the world — it’s where the First and Second Temples of antiquity stood, on what Jews now call the Temple Mount, and where the Western Wall stands as a remnant and reminder of the Second Temple. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third holiest city, because it’s where Muhammad ascended to heaven — and, since the 7th century, it’s been the site of the gilded Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, which are also located on top of the Temple Mount. For Christians, Jerusalem is where Jesus was crucified and also contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which, according to tradition, contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site of the crucifixion, and Jesus’ empty tomb.
The 1947 U.N. Partition Plan called for Jerusalem to be an international city. But the 1948 Arab-Israeli War left the city divided, with Israel controlling the western section of the city and Jordan controlling the rest, including the walled Old City (where the Western Wall and al-Aqsa mosque are located).
In 1967, Israel captured the entire city of Jerusalem (along with Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights). Until then, Jordan controlled the Old City and denied Jews access to their holy sites since taking control, Israel has largely allowed free access to all faiths and agreed to give Muslims and Christians authority over their own sites. Israel does restrict access to Muslim sites, however, when a security threat is declared.
A two-state solution typically assumes some division of Jerusalem, though that concept is strongly opposed by many on the Israeli Right. A particular thorny question, even for those who favor a compromise, is what would happen with the Old City, Western Wall, and Temple Mount.
But it’s not just the Old City. West Jerusalem is mostly Jewish, and Eastern Jerusalem Arab. But some key Israeli institutions, including The Hebrew University, are in Eastern Jerusalem, as are a number of Jewish neighborhoods and holy sites.
Are there other proposals that don’t fall under one-state vs. two-state?
There sure are! Let’s talk about a few:
Confederation: Basically, think of Israel and Palestine as sort of a mini-European Union. Each side would have its own government, but would work together on resources, security, and economic issues. There would be free movement and even residency between the two states, but citizens on each side could only vote in their own elections.
Autonomy-Plus: Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Israeli politician, calls for “upgrading” Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank in the areas already under Palestinian control. The Palestinians would hold their own elections and maintain their own schools and services, but would not control their own borders and would not be allowed to have a military. Israel would also annex West Bank territory already under its control. Palestinians consider this deal a non-starter.
Federation: This variant on the one-state solution applies Israeli law to the entire West Bank and gives full citizenship and voting rights to all the Palestinians living there. However, the resultant country would be divided up into smaller provinces or cantons in ways calculated to maintain a Jewish political majority (think gerrymandering).
Expulsion: Some on Israel’s far-right have insisted the only solution is to expel or “transfer” Palestinians from the entire West Bank. The idea horrifies most Jews and Arabs alike, who consider it nothing less than ethnic cleansing, even if it could somehow be carried out without bloodshed.
So what’s Trump’s plan?
Trump administration officials have been silent about what exactly is in their Middle East peace plan, but many suspect it will not accommodate a Palestinian state or full sovereignty. Instead, it would include continued Israeli security control in the West Bank and expanded economic opportunities for Palestinians. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the plan’s principal architect, says it will address all core issues — including Jerusalem, borders, and Palestinian refugees. Beyond that, very little is known.
And what’s the history of peace talks?
We suggest checking out this timeline from BBC news if you’re curious as to what’s been going on since 1967. Spoiler alert: It’s messy!
And if I’m a visual learner?
The 1948 war was a conflict fought between the newly established State of Israel and a coalition of Arab armies. Israel regards the conflict as its War of Independence while Palestinians refer to it as the Nakba, or “catastrophe.”
The Oslo Accords were a series of agreements signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization aimed at achieving a peace treaty between the sides and a final resolution of the conflict.
The Six-Day War was a war between Israel and multiple Arab states in 1967 that resulted in Israel vastly expanding the territory under its control, including the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There is No Clear-Cut Solution for Gaza
T. Belman. Yes there is. Read Memo to Kushner,.
By the way I suggested to Yoram Ettinger that Amidror was way off with his 2 million plus Arabs in Gaza. He said more like 1.5 million.
Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror, JISS
There are plenty of nice plans for Gaza, but none that will change the core truth: Hamas will continue to seek Israel’s destruction, and Israel will continue to defend itself.
To understand the future of the Gaza Strip, it is necessary to consider the origins of the most recent round of fighting. Hamas’s missile barrage on Jerusalem began during a week fraught with tension. Two events and three significant dates—each of which with potential to raise the temperature—coincided in a very short period of time, creating a perfect storm.
- On April 30, the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas canceled the parliamentary and presidential elections that had been scheduled for May and July, respectively. Hamas, which had expected to do well in these elections—and even hoped it could replace Abbas in the presidency and gain a parliamentary majority—was left frustrated and embittered. Abbas and his supporters called off the elections precisely because they agreed that Hamas was likely to achieve electoral success. While Hamas’s frustration was in no way related to the events in Jerusalem, it became a catalyst and perhaps even a decisive factor in determining the terrorist group’s subsequent behavior in Gaza.
- For some time now, property disputes in Jerusalem have contributed to a volatile atmosphere in the city. These disputes involve lawsuits by Jews to evict Palestinian families from homes where they (or their families) have been living since before the 1967 war. The Jews claim that the properties in question were bought by Jews before the 1948 War of Independence. On Thursday May 13, Israel’s Supreme Court was expected to announce its decision about the eviction case against a number of families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. This is a mundane property dispute and ought to be resolved, as appropriate in a country subject to the rule of law, by the courts.
- No one in the legal system seemed to notice that May 13 was also the end of the month of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, a major Muslim holiday. The final week of Ramadan is always a sensitive time throughout the Muslim world, and violent outbursts are not uncommon. In Israel, tension is often highest in places that are already fraught, especially the Temple Mount. The high attendance at public prayers during this week routinely results in violence in the West Bank, and especially in Jerusalem.
- Monday, May 10 was Jerusalem Day, which commemorates Jerusalem’s liberation by the IDF. (The convergence of this day with the final week of Ramadan only occurs once in a dozen years). On this day, thousands participate in a colorful procession with flags and songs that passes through both the eastern and western parts of the city, thereby reminding the Palestinian residents and the Arab world in general of their failure in 1967 and of Israel’s continued possession of a united Jerusalem.
- To add more fuel to the fire, Saturday May 15 marked “Nakba Day” (the “Day of Calamity”), on which Palestinians mourn the results of the 1948 war. While Ramadan is determined by the Muslim lunar calendar, and Jerusalem by the Jewish one, this date follows the anniversary of Israel’s creation on the Gregorian calendar. This week, therefore, would have been tense even without the Sheikh Jarrah verdict and the Palestinian elections.
The Israeli police’s questionable decisions, especially its moves to limit access to the area near the Damascus Gate and—based on intelligence reports about planned demonstrations—to prevent Israeli Arabs from entering the Temple Mount for prayers, apparently contributed to the tension among the locals and may also have been used by others as an excuse to fan the flames.
Only a few months before these events, Hamas had emerged from a complex internal election in which Yahya Sinwar, who is regarded as a relative moderate willing to reach agreements with Israel in exchange for Gaza’s development and prosperity, won by one vote. Hamas now looked despairingly at Abbas’s cancelation of the elections, through which it had hoped to take control of the PA and thus of the West Bank. Under these circumstances Hamas’s leaders decided to prove to Palestinian society, and perhaps to the entire Arab world, that they are the ones who set the Palestinian agenda. They delivered an ultimatum to the Israeli government, stating that they would respond with rocket fire if Israel would not change its behavior in Jerusalem.
Hamas, in short, tried to leverage its position in Gaza to present itself as “the defender of Jerusalem.”
As expected, the ultimatum was rejected.
True to its word, Hamas broke the understandings with Israel that had been reached in the wake of previous rounds of fighting and fired rockets at Jerusalem. This resulted in Israel launching operation Guardian of the Walls.
Israel faced three areas of conflict:
- Jerusalem. Here local unrest was harsher and on a larger scale than in the past.
- Gaza. Hamas fired around 4,400 rockets and missiles, along with mortar fire, and Israel responded by destroying the organization’s infrastructure, targeting its commanders, and collaterally damaging civilian structures that served the organization or were adjacent to its facilities.
- Within Israel. Israeli Arabs tore apart the fabric of coexistence that had obtained across the country in riots in which Jews were murdered, synagogues burned, Jewish homes vandalized, and a great deal of Jewish property destroyed. In response, there were a few (yet very dangerous to Israeli society) incidents of fringe groups of Jews who viciously attacked Israeli Arabs.
The attempts to incite mass protest marches in the West Bank or to instigate a confrontation in the north by firing a few Katyusha rockets from Lebanon, and the piloting of an (apparently Iranian) drone through Jordan did not achieve their desired outcomes. The West Bank remained relatively calm, and no serious confrontation ensued at Israel’s borders.
Nonetheless, the events in Jerusalem and Gaza managed to incite Israeli Arabs to lash out violently against their Jewish neighbors. Even though the degree of Hamas’s involvement remains unclear, there is no doubt that the rocket fire from Gaza and Israel’s response contributed to the unrest. Now that a ceasefire has been reached and the riots and protests in Israel have abated, the relationship between the state and its Arab citizens must be examined anew. It is likely that Israel’s Jews will not rush to return to their previous relationship with the Arab minority, which had appeared to be moving decisively in the direction of economic integration. For example, the health system has many Arab professionals (25 percent of the doctors and 30 percent of the nurses), an Arab runs the country’s oldest and second-largest bank, and many large shopping centers are staffed by Arab saleswomen in traditional dress. In the political arena as well, there is expanded acceptance of Arab involvement. These riots began just as the Israeli political system showed unprecedented willingness to bring an Arab party into the government, even if this was the result of eagerness to escape political deadlock.
Arab society was hit hard during the coronavirus crisis, in part due to relatively limited governmental economic aid, in turn a result of Israeli Arabs’ relatively high proportion of unreported income. At the end of the day, Israel is apparently also paying the price of its failure to rid Arab society of its high rates of crime and violence. The majority of this violence is perpetrated by, and plays into the hands of, organized-crime families who have taken control of Arab neighborhoods another part of the violence is cultural in the sense that some issues, such as clan disputes or violations of sexual taboos, are still resolved violently –meaning revenge killings as a means of restoring family honor. In this respect, Israeli Arabs are not different from other Arab societies in the Middle East, which are all violent in one way or another.
This does not excuse the failure of Israel’s police to eliminate the crime families’ influence on the Arab street the police must confiscate the vast number of weapons that have accumulated in the homes of Arab citizens as part of a culture in which possession of arms is viewed as honorable. Unfortunately, the failure to overcome the crime families and gangs stems in part from Arab society’s lack of cooperation with the police and its political leaders’ insistence upon defending violence directed at Jews or the state’s institutions. Arab citizens are correct that the police are not doing enough, but the police’s claim that Arab leaders, in their unwillingness to be part of the solution, are worsening the problem is even more justified.
It appears that the best way forward involves both the investment of resources toward improve the living conditions of Israeli Arabs and the significant bolstering of the police force in order to rein in crime. Without a doubt, this undertaking will increase the friction between the Arab population and the state. However, the dangers of such friction must not deter the police from confiscating weapons, or from eradicating the criminal organizations threatening Arab citizens—and, as it has turned out, Jewish citizens as well. That being said, it is important not to make the common mistake that improving the Arabs’ quality of life and safety will cause them to look favorably upon the existence of a nation-state of the Jewish people. It is best to be modest in our expectations. Achieving these goals may render it easier for them to live in such a state without internal violence and in coexistence with their Jewish surroundings, but in light of the recent events, it is difficult to envision a significant change in the near future regarding the Arabs’ acceptance of the Israel’s existence as an undisputed fact.
The challenge of forming good relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel is difficult and complex, and apparently will be with us for a long time to come. The riots were the biggest surprise of operation Guardian of the Walls, in which Hamas failed in all its attempts to surprise Israel. Rising nationalistic emotions, religious sensitivities over Jerusalem, and Israel’s inability to deal with lawless elements in Arab society have combined to precipitate violence between Jews and Arabs, and will likely do so again in the future. While one might wish it otherwise, many of Israel’s Arab citizens are deeply discomfited by the very existence of a sovereign Jewish state. It is a state that provides them with a higher quality of life than any Arab country, yet it is not theirs and it is difficult for them to identify with it.
While the challenge presented by the actions of Israel’s Arabs is clear, even if the solution to it is complicated, the results of the operation in Gaza are more complicated still and it is difficult to predict where they will lead. It is hard to determine who won the last round of fighting, in part because the two parties can be said to have conducted separate operations, each striving for different goals. Unlike a conventional military operation, where, for instance, one side wants to dislodge the other from a particular hilltop, and the other wants to maintain its position, Hamas and the IDF fought not so much against each other but in parallel.
Hamas fought on the strategic and diplomatic level. Its goal was to take advantage of the tension in Jerusalem to prove itself the city’s defender through indiscriminate fire against Israel. This battle took place in the realm of public relations, unrelated to achievements on the ground. Thus, the operational goal was to cause the deaths of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians. It is important to realize that Hamas benefits from the death of Palestinian civilians no less, and perhaps even more so, than from the death of Israeli civilians. After all, each Palestinian death increases sympathy for Gaza both in the Arab world and in the West, and shows, through twisted logic, that only Hamas can defend Palestinians from the Jews’ assaults.
By contrast, Israel focused on more concrete and tangible operational objectives which it hoped would translate into strategic gains. The mission was to weaken Hamas’s military capabilities, while making it hard to rebuild these capabilities afterward—with the aim of incurring enough damage to deter the organization from acting against Israel in the future. In practice, this meant destroying infrastructure and armaments and eliminating Hamas commanders and operatives.
Since the two sides were fighting different wars, it is unsurprising that both sides claimed victory.
As a result of the operation, Palestinians and the Arab world see Hamas as a group that sacrificed a great deal to defend Jerusalem. Israel is seen as a failure because it had no public-relations achievements. After all, Hamas leaders walk freely in Gaza’s streets and large numbers of rockets were still being fired at Israel until the very last moment, making clear that not all of them had been destroyed.
Still, Israel is justifiably satisfied with the operation. Over 90 percent of the rockets were downed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, minimizing the damage. The IDF also succeeded in foiling all of Hamas’s other attacks, from the attempted sabotage of its oil rigs with miniature submarines to the use of tunnels to send fighters into Israel. Moreover, Israel severely damaged Hamas’s infrastructure and its ability to produce rockets and missiles and killed many of its operatives, including mid-level commanders. It is clear to the Gazans that Hamas may claim to be the defender of Jerusalem but lacks the ability to protect Gaza.
In light of this strange situation where both parties consider themselves victors and ostensibly are satisfied with the operation’s results, Israel must act to restore its aura of invincibility, on which its stature in the region depends. Israel lost some of that stature as a result of the operation’s visible results. But in the Middle East, it is prudent to distinguish between those results that are immediately evident and unseen results that may come into view in the future. In this case, for example, the Hamas leadership may conclude that it can no longer risk the extensive damage to its abilities that would come with a similar conflict with Israel. After the Second Lebanon War of 2006, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah publicly declared a “divine victory,” but ultimately let it be known that, had he been aware of the results in advance, he would not have initiated it. In this respect, Israel has the advantage over Hamas, since Hamas cannot undo the tangible results that the IDF achieved on the ground. By contrast, Israel can (and in my opinion, must) change the attitudes and feelings of Palestinians and the Arab world.
Israel should not wait for the Hamas leadership to realize it made a mistake and admit as much in public, which may never happen. Instead, Jerusalem should make its victory clear on both the diplomatic and the military levels. The following two steps would be a good start:
- Israel must demonstrate that Hamas failed to change the status quo in Jerusalem at all. To do so, Israel must reinstate its previous policies on the Temple Mount, including the admittance of Jews (which has already resumed), maintaining a police presence, and even using force on the Temple Mount against any Palestinian aggression. At the same time, it must prepare for difficult scenarios that may arise as a result of court verdicts to evict Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods. To this end, Israel must significantly strengthen its police force—which must, in turn, avoid antagonizing local residents while remaining ready to respond forcefully to any disturbance of the peace. Experience teaches us that the presence of large forces before trouble begins significantly reduces the risk of a situation deteriorating to the point where live fire becomes necessary, thus also preventing further escalation. Israel can nullify Hamas’s ostensible strategic success through a series of relatively simple actions in Jerusalem, with the understanding that these could potentially lead to a local crisis, but that such a crisis is still better than rewarding Hamas. If it does not become clear very soon that Hamas has achieved nothing in Jerusalem, the terrorist group’s appetite for fighting (next time, no doubt, presenting itself as a “defender” of some other Palestinian interest) will only grow.
- Israel must take pains to create and maintain deterrence in Gaza by responding forcefully to any instance of Hamas aggression, even those that it has previously ignored or responded to tepidly. Hamas must not be allowed to harass the Israeli citizens of the area adjacent to Gaza with incendiary balloons and protests that cross the border. If Hamas does carry out such actions, they must be met with significant strikes on its leaders and infrastructure. Israel must abandon its principle of “proportional response,” which usually involves returning fire while avoiding hitting targets, or other similar half-measures. This approach plays into Hamas’s hands by signaling that low-grade attacks are worth the risk of retaliation. Instead, the IDF must strike back hard, knowing that Hamas is likely to respond with rocket fire for an extended period. Only then can Israel make clear that it is willing to pay this price to achieve real deterrence, which will be manifest in complete quiet around Gaza. So long as Israel appears unwilling to risk confrontation, Hamas, rather than be deterred, will understand that it has deterred the IDF.
In the negotiations towards an arrangement with Gaza that are taking place with Egypt’s help, Israel must make clear that it will not allow Hamas’s rearmament. Otherwise, Israel will encounter a much stronger enemy in the next operation a few years from now. In a long-term settlement, Israel must also demand the return of the remains of IDF soldiers as well as the two living civilians apparently held by Hamas. These demands will complicate the negotiations and cause them to drag on, but Israel must stand firm so that the humanitarian achievements important to Hamas, in the form of opening up of Gaza to allow rebuilding, will be balanced by a humanitarian achievement that is important in Israel. If Hamas demands in return the release of over 1,000 terrorists imprisoned in Israel, Israel must calculate the advantages and disadvantages, and possibly refrain from a long-term settlement.
It is important to remember: Any such arrangement will not solve the basic problems in Gaza. It will remain overpopulated (over two million people in less than 200 square miles), and its inhabitants will still be dominated by a terror organization seeking to rebuild its power to harm Israel rather than focusing on providing a better life for its subjects. The only advantage to a long-term truce will be delaying the next operation, which will take place as soon as Hamas either feels it is strong enough to fight Israel or needs to prove its significance. Quiet on the Gaza front will allow Israel to focus on preparations for the real challenge: the combination of the Iranian nuclear threat along with the ongoing increase of accurate long-range weaponry possessed by Iran and Hizballah. Gaza will remain an open wound that will one day bleed even more profusely than during this recent round of fighting.
If, either after the ceasefire or a negotiated arrangement, Israel has an opportunity to eliminate senior Hamas or Islamic Jihad officials or munitions-manufacturing facilities in Gaza, then the decision-makers will face a difficult choice of whether to be the first to break the ceasefire. Doing so would most likely bring about another long round of violence with the attendant attacks on Israel in the international arena. However, refraining from acting will enable Hamas’s rearmament and place Israel in a difficult position the next time fighting breaks out. This question of a preventative attack was and will be the most difficult decision for Israeli leadership, because of the negative repercussions both of restraint and of taking initiative.
None of these dilemmas is likely to go away anytime soon, and I would not be surprised if Jerusalem were weighing the same questions ten years from now. There are those who argue that the current situation is untenable, and have proposed dramatic attempts to change the status quo: either through taking harsher military action to achieve “victory,” trying to restore the Palestinian Authority’s control of Gaza, or granting Hamas significant economic concessions. Such proposals are unlikely to succeed in the foreseeable future. Hamas, most likely, will continue to be a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s total destruction, and Israel will have to continue to use force to contain and deter it.
Israel-Palestine: the real reason there’s still no peace
S cattered over the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea lie the remnants of failed peace plans, international summits, secret negotiations, UN resolutions and state-building programmes, most of them designed to partition this long-contested territory into two independent states, Israel and Palestine. The collapse of these initiatives has been as predictable as the confidence with which US presidents have launched new ones, and the current administration is no exception.
In the quarter century since Israelis and Palestinians first started negotiating under US auspices in 1991, there has been no shortage of explanations for why each particular round of talks failed. The rationalisations appear and reappear in the speeches of presidents, the reports of thinktanks and the memoirs of former officials and negotiators: bad timing artificial deadlines insufficient preparation scant attention from the US president want of support from regional states inadequate confidence-building measures coalition politics or leaders devoid of courage.
Among the most common refrains are that extremists were allowed to set the agenda and there was a neglect of bottom-up economic development and state-building. And then there are those who point at negative messaging, insurmountable scepticism or the absence of personal chemistry (a particularly fanciful explanation for anyone who has witnessed the warm familiarity of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators as they reunite in luxury hotels and reminisce about old jokes and ex-comrades over breakfast buffets and post-meeting toasts). If none of the above works, there is always the worst cliche of them all – lack of trust.
Postmortem accounts vary in their apportioning of blame. But nearly all of them share a deep-seated belief that both societies desire a two-state agreement, and therefore need only the right conditions – together with a bit of nudging, trust-building and perhaps a few more positive inducements – to take the final step.
In this view, the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s would have led to peace had it not been for the tragic assassination of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The 1998 Wye River Memorandum and its commitment to further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank would have been implemented if only the Israeli Labor party had joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to back the agreement. The Camp David summit in July 2000 would have succeeded if the US had been less sensitive to Israeli domestic concerns, insisted on a written Israeli proposal, consulted the Arab states at an earlier phase, and taken the more firm and balanced position adopted half a year later, in December 2000, when President Clinton outlined parameters for an agreement. Both parties could have accepted the Clinton parameters with only minimal reservations had the proposal not been presented so fleetingly, as a one-time offer that would disappear when Clinton stepped down less than a month later. The negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 were on the brink of agreement but failed because time ran out, with Clinton just out of office, and Ehud Barak facing almost certain electoral defeat to Ariel Sharon. The two major peace plans of 2003 – the US-sponsored road map to peace in the Middle East and the unofficial Geneva accord – could have been embraced had it not been for a bloody intifada and a hawkish Likud prime minister in power.
And on it goes: direct negotiations between the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu in 2010 could have lasted more than 13 days if only Israel had agreed to temporarily halt construction of some illegal settlements in exchange for an extra $3bn package from the United States. Several years of secret back-channel negotiations between the envoys of Netanyahu and Abbas could have made history if only they hadn’t been forced to conclude prematurely in late 2013, because of an artificial deadline imposed by separate talks led by secretary of state John Kerry. And, finally, the Kerry negotiations of 2013–2014 could have led to a framework agreement if the secretary of state had spent even a sixth as much time negotiating the text with the Palestinians as he did with the Israelis, and if he hadn’t made inconsistent promises to the two sides regarding the guidelines for the talks, the release of Palestinian prisoners, curtailing Israeli settlement construction, and the presence of US mediators in the negotiating room.
E ach of these rounds of diplomacy began with vows to succeed where predecessors had failed. Each included affirmations of the urgency of peace or warnings of the closing window, perhaps even the last chance, for a two-state solution. Each ended with a list of tactical mistakes and unforeseen developments that resulted in failure. And, just as surely, each neglected to offer the most logical and parsimonious explanation for failure: no agreement was reached because at least one of the parties preferred to maintain the impasse.
The Palestinians chose no agreement over one that did not meet the bare minimum supported by international law and most nations of the world. For years this consensus view supported the establishment of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines with minor, equivalent land swaps that would allow Israel to annex some settlements. The Palestinian capital would be in East Jerusalem, with sovereignty over the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary or al-Aqsa mosque compound, and overland contiguity with the rest of the Palestinian state. Israel would withdraw its forces from the West Bank and release Palestinian prisoners. And Palestinian refugees would be offered compensation, a right to return not to their homes but to their homeland in the State of Palestine, acknowledgment of Israel’s partial responsibility for the refugee problem, and, on a scale that would not perceptibly change Israel’s demography, a return of some refugees to their pre-1948 lands and homes.
Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat watch as Shimon Peres signs the Oslo peace accords at the White House in September 1993. Photograph: J David Ake/AFP/Getty Images
Although years of violence and repression have led Palestinians to make some small concessions that chipped away at this compromise, they have not fundamentally abandoned it. They continue to hope that the support of the majority of the world’s states for a plan along these lines will eventually result in an agreement. In the meantime, the status quo has been made more bearable thanks to the architects of the peace process, who have spent billions to prop up the Palestinian government, create conditions of prosperity for decision-makers in Ramallah, and dissuade the population from confronting the occupying force.
Israel, for its part, has consistently opted for stalemate rather than the sort of agreement outlined above. The reason is obvious: the deal’s cost is much higher than the cost of making no deal. The damages Israel would risk incurring through such an accord are massive. They include perhaps the greatest political upheaval in the country’s history enormous demonstrations against – if not majority rejection of – Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem and over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary and violent rebellion by some Jewish settlers and their supporters.
There could also be bloodshed during forcible evacuations of West Bank settlements and rifts within the body implementing the evictions, the Israeli army, whose share of religious infantry officers now surpasses one third. Israel would lose military control over the West Bank, resulting in less intelligence-gathering, less room for manoeuvre in future wars, and less time to react to a surprise attack. It would face increased security risks from a Gaza-West Bank corridor, which would allow militants, ideology and weapons-production techniques to spread from Gaza training camps to the West Bank hills overlooking Israel’s airport. Israeli intelligence services would no longer control which Palestinians enter and exit the occupied territories. The country would cease extraction of the West Bank’s natural resources, including water, lose profits from managing Palestinian customs and trade, and pay the large economic and social price of relocating tens of thousands of settlers.
O nly a fraction of these costs could be offset by a peace agreement’s benefits. But chief among them would be the blow dealt to efforts to delegitimise Israel and the normalisation of relations with other nations of the region. Israeli businesses would be able to operate more openly in Arab states, and government cooperation with such countries as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would go from covert to overt. Through a treaty with the Palestinians, Israel could attain the relocation of every Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem, and receive additional financial and security benefits from the US and Europe. But all of these combined do not come close to outweighing the deficits.
Nor have the moral costs of occupation for Israeli society been high enough to change the calculus. Ending international opprobrium is indeed important to the country’s elites, and as they find themselves increasingly shunned, the incentive to withdraw from the occupied territories will likely increase. But so far Israel has proven quite capable of living with the decades-old label of “pariah”, the stain of occupation and the associated impact on the country’s internal harmony and relations with diaspora Jews. For all the recent fretting about decreasing American Jewish support for Israel, the conversation today is not so different than it was at the time of the first Likud-led governments decades ago. Similarly enduring – and endurable – are the worries that occupation delegitimises Zionism and causes discord within Israel. More than 30 years ago, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti wrote of growing numbers of Israelis who had doubts about Zionism, “expressed in the forms of alienation, emigration of young Israelis, the emergence of racist Jews, violence in society, the widening gap between Israel and the diaspora, and a general feeling of inadequacy”. Israelis have grown adept at tuning such criticisms out.
It was, is, and will remain irrational for Israel to absorb the costs of an agreement when the price of the alternative is so comparatively low. The consequences of choosing impasse are hardly threatening: mutual recriminations over the cause of stalemate, new rounds of talks, and retaining control of all of the West Bank from within and much of Gaza from without. Meanwhile, Israel continues to receive more US military aid per year than goes to all the world’s other nations combined, and presides over a growing economy, rising standards of living and a population that reports one of the world’s highest levels of subjective wellbeing. Israel will go on absorbing the annoying but so-far tolerable costs of complaints about settlement policies. And it will likely witness several more countries bestowing the State of Palestine with symbolic recognition, a few more negative votes in impotent university student councils, limited calls for boycotts of settlement goods, and occasional bursts of violence that the greatly overpowered Palestinians are too weak to sustain. There is no contest.
T he real explanation for the past decades of failed peace negotiations is not mistaken tactics or imperfect circumstances, but that no strategy can succeed if it is premised on Israel behaving irrationally. Most arguments put to Israel for agreeing to a partition are that it is preferable to an imagined, frightening future in which the country ceases to be either a Jewish state or a democracy, or both. Israel is constantly warned that if it does not soon decide to grant Palestinians citizenship or sovereignty, it will become, at some never-defined future date, an apartheid state. But these assertions contain the implicit acknowledgment that it makes no sense for Israel to strike a deal today rather than wait to see if such imagined threats actually materialise. If and when they do come to be, Israel can then make a deal. Perhaps in the interim, the hardship of Palestinian life will cause enough emigration that Israel may annex the West Bank without giving up the state’s Jewish majority. Or, perhaps, the West Bank will be absorbed by Jordan, and Gaza by Egypt, a better outcome than Palestinian statehood, in the view of many Israeli officials.
It is hard to argue that forestalling an agreement in the present makes a worse deal more likely in the future: the international community and the PLO have already established the ceiling of their demands – 22% of the land now under Israeli control – while providing far less clarity about the floor, which Israel can try to lower. Israel has continued to reject the same Palestinian claims made since the 1980s, albeit with a few added Palestinian concessions. In fact, history suggests that a strategy of waiting would serve the country well: from the British government’s 1937 Peel Commission partition plan and the UN partition plan of 1947 to UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the Oslo accords, every formative initiative endorsed by the great powers has given more to the Jewish community in Palestine than the previous one. Even if an Israeli prime minister knew that one day the world’s nations would impose sanctions on Israel if it did not accept a two-state agreement, it would still be irrational to strike such a deal now. Israel could instead wait until that day comes, and thereby enjoy many more years of West Bank control and the security advantages that go with it – particularly valuable at a time of cataclysm in the region.
Donald Trump and Mahmoud Abbas at the White House earlier this month. Photograph: APA/Rex/Shutterstock
Israel is frequently admonished to make peace in order to avoid becoming a single, Palestinian-majority state ruling all the territory from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea. But that threat does not have much credibility when it is Israel that holds all the power, and will therefore decide whether or not it annexes territory and offers citizenship to all its inhabitants. A single state will not materialise until a majority of Israelis want it, and so far they overwhelmingly do not. The reason Israel has not annexed the West Bank and Gaza is not for fear of international slaps on the wrist, but because the strong preference of most of the country’s citizens is to have a Jewish-majority homeland, the raison d’être of Zionism. If and when Israel is confronted with the threat of a single state, it can enact a unilateral withdrawal and count on the support of the great powers in doing so. But that threat is still quite distant.
In fact, Israelis and Palestinians are now farther from a single state than they have been at any time since the occupation began in 1967. Walls and fences separate Israel from Gaza and more than 90% of the West Bank. Palestinians have a quasi-state in the occupied territories, with its own parliament, courts, intelligence services and foreign ministry. Israelis no longer shop in Nablus and Gaza the way they did before the Oslo accords. Palestinians no longer travel freely to Tel Aviv. And the supposed reason that partition is often claimed to be impossible – the difficulty of a probable relocation of more than 150,000 settlers – is grossly overstated: in the 1990s, Israel absorbed several times as many Russian immigrants, many of them far more difficult to integrate than settlers, who already have Israeli jobs, fully formed networks of family support and a command of Hebrew.
As long as the Palestinian government and the Oslo system are in place, the world’s nations will not demand that Israel grant citizenship to Palestinians. Indeed, Israel has had a non-Jewish majority in the territory it controls for several years. Yet even in their sternest warnings, western governments invariably refer to an undemocratic Israel as a mere hypothetical possibility. Most of the world’s nations will refuse to call Israel’s control of the West Bank a form of apartheid – defined by the International Criminal Court as a regime of systematic oppression and domination of a racial group with the intention of maintaining that regime – so long as there is a chance, however slim, that Oslo remains a transitional phase to an independent Palestinian state.
C ontrary to what nearly every US mediator has asserted, it is not that Israel greatly desires a peace agreement but has a pretty good fallback option. It is that Israel greatly prefers the fallback option to a peace agreement. No tactical brilliance in negotiations, no amount of expert preparation, no perfect alignment of the stars can overcome that obstacle. Only two things can: a more attractive agreement, or a less attractive fallback. The first of these options has been tried extensively, from offering Israel full normalisation with most Arab and Islamic states to promising upgraded relations with Europe, US security guarantees, and increased financial and military assistance. But for Israel these inducements pale in comparison to the perceived costs.
The second option is to make the fallback worse. This is what President Eisenhower did following the 1956 Suez crisis when he threatened economic sanctions to get Israel to withdraw from Sinai and Gaza. This is what President Ford did in 1975 when he reassessed US relations with Israel, refusing to provide it with new arms deals until it agreed to a second Sinai withdrawal. This is what President Carter did when he raised the spectre of terminating US military assistance if Israel did not immediately evacuate Lebanon in September 1977. And this is what Carter did when he made clear to both sides at Camp David that the United States would withhold aid and downgrade relations if they did not sign an agreement. This, likewise, is what the US secretary of state James Baker did in 1991, when he forced a reluctant Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to attend negotiations in Madrid by withholding a $10bn loan guarantee that Israel needed to absorb the immigration of Soviet Jews. That was the last time the United States applied pressure of this sort.
The Palestinians, too, have endeavoured to make Israel’s fallback option less attractive through two uprisings and other periodic bouts of violence. But the extraordinary price they paid proved unsustainable, and on the whole they have been too weak to worsen Israel’s fallback for very long. As a result, Palestinians have been unable to induce more from Israel than tactical concessions, steps meant to reduce friction between the populations in order not to end occupation but to mitigate it and restore its low cost.
Forcing Israel to make larger, conflict-ending concessions would require making its fallback option so unappealing that it would view a peace agreement as an escape from something worse. That demands more leverage than the Palestinians have so far possessed, while those who do have sufficient power have not been eager to use it. Since Oslo, in fact, the US has done quite the reverse, working to maintain the low cost of Israel’s fallback option. Successive US administrations have financed the Palestinian government, trained its resistance-crushing security forces, pressured the PLO not to confront Israel in international institutions, vetoed UN Security Council resolutions that were not to Israel’s liking, shielded Israel’s arsenal from calls for a nuclear-free Middle East, ensured Israel’s military superiority over all of its neighbours, provided the country with more than $3bn in military aid each year, and exercised its influence to defend Israel from criticism.
The wall separating Israel and the West Bank at Bethlehem. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty
No less importantly, the United States has consistently sheltered Israel from accountability for its policies in the West Bank by putting up a facade of opposition to settlements that in practice is a bulwark against more significant pressure to dismantle them. The US and most of Europe draw a sharp distinction between Israel and the occupied territories, refusing to recognise Israeli sovereignty beyond the pre-1967 lines. When the limousine of the US president travels from West to East Jerusalem, the Israeli flag comes down from the driver-side front corner. US officials must obtain special permission to meet Israelis at the IDF’s central command headquarters in the Jerusalem settlement of Neve Yaakov or at the Justice Ministry in the heart of downtown East Jerusalem. And US regulations, not consistently enforced, stipulate that products from the settlements should not bear a made-in-Israel label.
Israel vehemently protests against this policy of so-called differentiation between Israel and the occupied territories, believing that it delegitimises the settlements and the state, and could lead to boycotts and sanctions of the country. But the policy does precisely the opposite: it acts not as a complement to punitive measures against Israel, but as an alternative to them.
Differentiation creates an illusion of US castigation, but in reality it insulates Israel from answering for its actions in the occupied territories, by assuring that only settlements and not the government that creates them will suffer consequences for repeated violations of international law. Opponents of settlements and occupation, who would otherwise call for costs to be imposed on Israel, instead channel their energies into a distraction that creates headlines but has no chance of changing Israeli behaviour. It is in this sense that the policy of differentiation, of which Europeans and US liberals are quite proud, does not so much constitute pressure on Israel as serve as a substitute for it, thereby helping to prolong an occupation it is ostensibly meant to bring to an end.
Support for the policy of differentiation is widespread, from governments to numerous self-identified liberal Zionists, US advocacy groups such as J Street that identify with centrist and centre-left parties in Israel, and the editorial board of the New York Times. Differentiation allows them to thread the needle of being both pro-Israel and anti-occupation, the accepted view in polite society. There are of course variations among these opponents of the settlements, but all agree that Israeli products that are created in the West Bank should be treated differently, whether through labelling or even some sort of boycott.
What supporters of differentiation commonly reject, however, is no less important. Not one of these groups or governments calls for penalising the Israeli financial institutions, real estate businesses, construction companies, communications firms, and, above all, government ministries that profit from operations in the occupied territories but are not headquartered in them. Sanctions on those institutions could change Israeli policy overnight. But the possibility of imposing them has been delayed if not thwarted by the fact that critics of occupation have instead advocated for a reasonable-sounding yet ineffective alternative.
Supporters of differentiation hold the view that while it may be justifiable to do more than label the products of West Bank settlements, it is inconceivable that sanctions might be imposed on the democratically elected government that established the settlements, legalised the outposts, confiscated Palestinian land, provided its citizens with financial incentives to move to the occupied territories, connected the illegally built houses to roads, water, electricity and sanitation, and provided settlers with heavy army protection. They have accepted the argument that to resolve the conflict more force is needed, but they cannot bring themselves to apply it to the state actually maintaining the regime of settlement, occupation and land expropriation that they oppose.
S ince the end of the cold war, the United States has not so much as considered using the sort of pressure it once did, and its achievements during the past quarter-century have been accordingly meagre. US policymakers debate how to influence Israel, but without using almost any of the power at their disposal, including placing aid under conditions of changes in Israeli behaviour, a standard tool of diplomacy that officials deem unthinkable in this case.
Listening to them discuss how to devise an end to occupation is like listening to the operator of a bulldozer ask how to demolish a building with a hammer. The former Israeli defence minister Moshe Dayan once said: “Our American friends offer us money, arms and advice. We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice.” Those words have become only more resonant in the decades since they were uttered.
'Our Palestinian territory'
The plan wouldn't come up again until 1980 when the European Community recognized Palestinian self-determination and advocated for a two-state solution. Still, it would take over two decades before the UN Security Council accepted the term in 2002.
In 2003, George W. Bush became the first US president to adopt the idea, and Israelis and Palestinians picked up on it in that year's Geneva Accord.
Rapprochement was made possible by the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized Israel's existence, albeit implicitly and not expressly. In 1988, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat said the organization was dropping its previous plan to establish a Palestinian state across the entire territory, but rather "on our Palestinian territory with its capital, Jerusalem." Thus, the PLO limited its future state to the 1967 boundaries of the occupied territories.
Hamas had said in a 2017 paper that it could foresee a national discussion about a Palestinian state based on the borders that were in place before the Six-Day War in 1967. But the very same paper also said there was no alternative to a fully sovereign state spanning the entirety of Palestinian territory, with Jerusalem as the capital. The latter would practically rule out coexistence with Israel.
What happens if there is no solution?
A common prediction, as Mr. Kerry stated, is that Israel will be forced to choose between the two core components of its national identity: Jewish and democratic.
This choice, rather than coming in one decisive moment, would probably play out in many small choices over a process of years. For instance, a 2015 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 74 percent of Jewish Israelis agreed that “decisions crucial to the state on issues of peace and security should be made by a Jewish majority.” That pollster also found that, from 2010 to 2014, Jewish Israelis became much less likely to say that Israel should be “Jewish and democratic,” with growing factions saying that it should be democratic first or, slightly more popular, Jewish first.
Many analysts also worry that the West Bank government, whose scant remaining legitimacy rests on delivering a peace deal, will collapse. This would force Israel to either tolerate chaos in the West Bank and a possible Hamas takeover or enforce a more direct form of occupation that would be costlier to both parties.
This risk of increased suffering, along with perhaps permanent setbacks in the national ambitions of both Palestinians and Israelis, is why Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, told me last year, “Perpetuating the status quo is the most frightening of the possibilities.”