Have the Palestinians Despaired of the Two-State Formula?
INSS Insight No. 331, May 2, 2012
Sher, Gilead and Shalom, Zaki
Abu Alaa on the Peace Process and Two-States-for-Two-Peoples
In a recently published essay, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Alaa) called for the
Palestinian leadership to consider renouncing the two-state formula that
underlies the Israeli-Palestinian political process. As a possible
alternative, he suggests examining the idea of a bi-national state: “The
two-state plan,” he writes, “has lost its vitality and has gradually expired
after a long period strewn with hopes for a just resolution and
comprehensive peace in the region.”
Abu Alaa, the most senior Palestinian negotiator in the last twenty years,
places most of the blame on the Israeli governments of these decades,
claiming they paid lip service to the two-state vision but systematically
worked to prevent its realization, especially via the settlements. As the
person charged with the Jerusalem portfolio in the Palestinian Authority,
Abu Alaa places special emphasis on the accelerated process of “the
Judaization of Jerusalem” that is making it impossible to turn East
Jerusalem into the capital of the Palestinian state. At the same time, Abu
Alaa does not ignore the role played by Arab states that have, according to
him, shown “indifference to the needs of the Palestinians,” and that of the
international community, which demonstrates “hypocrisy” in its conduct
toward the Palestinians.
Sari Nusseibeh on Two-States-for-Two-Peoples
A similar idea was floated a few months ago by Prof. Sari Nusseibeh: "There
is no East Jerusalem any more," he stated. "East Jerusalem has already
become a misnomer. But a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its
capital is a no-no." The pursuit of two states is like a "fantasy bubble."
Half a million Israelis, he explains, currently live in the West Bank. “Can
you take away half a million people?” he asks. His answer is unambiguous:
“No, you cannot…in politics not everything is always possible.”
Unlike Abu Alaa, Nusseibeh does not absolve the PA of responsibility, and
along with blame on Israel he claims that “it took us, the Palestinians, a
long time to accept that we should recognize Israel as a state.” Now, he
stressed, the Palestinians need a farsighted and accountable leader.
Nusseibeh does not point to a possible permanent solution, perhaps because
of a reluctance to predict long term moves under current circumstances. He
proposes an interim solution ("transition") of a unified nation, whereby
“the Jews could run the country" and the Palestinians "would be allowed to
have basic rights.”
In his opinion, a proposal of this sort would be embraced by Israel, as such
a proposal was made long ago by Israeli intellectuals, the most prominent of
whom was Martin Buber. The realization of such a plan would finally allow
the Palestinians the freedom to move and work wherever they want within the
borders of a single country. They would also be able to realize the right of
return. The one-state solution would allow the establishment of Palestinian
enclaves in places where Palestinians used to live and to which Palestinians
would be able to return.
Indeed, it has been several years since Nusseibeh has been thought to have
any significant influence in the PA government. Nonetheless, his ideas and
those of Abu Alaa are by no means uncommon in the Palestinian arena. Other
figures, albeit less well-known, have expressed themselves in similar terms
with slight differences.
The Background to the Change
These remarks apparently reflect growing despair within the Palestinian
leadership regarding hope for the peace process with Israel in general and
the viability of a two-state solution in particular. This sense propelled
the Palestinian bid for international recognition of a Palestinian state
unilaterally via UN institutions rather than through negotiations.
The current situation assessment by many circles within the Palestinian
public seems to be based on the following considerations:
The hopes pinned on President Obama and his ability to force Israel to stop
construction in the settlements and accept an arrangement in line with the
Palestinian position have been dashed. The question of whether Obama cannot
or doesn’t want to impose his will is irrelevant from the Palestinians’
perspective. In practice, the result is a complete deadlock in the political
process, along with accelerated construction in the Jewish West Bank.
Under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel has succeeded in effecting dramatic
change in the global agenda. Over a year ago the Palestinian issue was high
on the American agenda: senior figures in the administration repeatedly
claimed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of the major factors
in the region’s instability. Therefore its resolution was a primary interest
of the United States and an element of great importance in enhancing the
status of the US in this region. These statements are no longer heard. The
Iranian issue currently tops the Western agenda and has pushed the
Palestinian question to the sidelines.
The "Arab Spring," led by the events in Syria and Egypt, has helped sideline
the Palestinian issue. The Arab League, which in the past was important in
raising the Palestinian issue on the global agenda, has lost much of its
power and can no longer serve as a leading actor on the international arena.
Until recently, Netanyahu’s right wing government has demonstrated
impressive survival skills. It has exhibited stability and cohesion and
seems to have persuaded many on the international arena that in light of the
upheavals in the Arab world, engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
requires a cautious, gradual approach.
Within the Palestinian leadership and other circles, a recognition that the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process cannot lead to the establishment of an
independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel is gradually
taking root. The perception that Israeli governments have paid lip service
to the two-state solution but have in fact not done much to make it happen
With Israel led to date by a right wing government, the Palestinians' sense
of helplessness in breaking the deadlock has intensified. The contours of a
Palestinian state as outlined by Prime Minister Netanyahu (including a
demilitarized state, Israeli control of the Jordan Valley, and a united
Jerusalem under Israeli control) have almost certainly added to the
Palestinian sense that a dialogue with Israel will not yield any
satisfactory results for the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, the current Palestinian leadership still clings to the
two-state vision. In an April 16, 2012 interview with al-Ayyam, Abu Mazen
stated: "Israel is making the two-state vision impossible to realize because
of the construction in the settlements…In the end, [however,] despite Israel’s
efforts, the two-state vision will continue to exist. I’ve heard many calls
for the establishment of a single state. I wouldn’t want to prevent people
from speaking freely, but I support the two-state vision."
Against this backdrop, and since the appeal to the United Nations has thus
far not led to the desired results, from the Palestinian point of view, all
that remains to be done by the Palestinian leadership is to hope that one or
more of the following ensues:
a. The Iranian problem is solved one way or another in the coming
months, which would allow the reinstatement of the Palestinian issue on the
top of the global agenda.
b. President Obama, who has demonstrated a deep commitment to settling
the conflict on the basis of the two-state formula, will be elected to a
Lacking the political constraints of a candidate seeking reelection,
President Obama could level intense pressure on Israel and force it to
soften its stances and progress toward a permanent solution.
c. The idea that maintaining the status quo and that the lack of a
settlement on the basis of the two-state solution is a scenario that
endangers the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel will
intensify among Israeli public opinion, and later, within the country’s
leadership. This idea, so the Palestinians may hope, will enjoy large public
support in the coming elections.
If these hopes are ultimately dashed, and perhaps even before that, the
Palestinian leadership, for lack of a better choice, will likely turn again
to a unilateral move. In a meeting with a Geneva initiative delegation in
early April, Abu Mazen stated that if within a month he does not receive a
positive response from Prime Minister Netanyahu to his letter, the PA will
turn to the UN General Assembly and ask to upgrade its status from observer
to non-member state.
If the unilateral move again fails to generate the desired outcome, and in
light of the PA’s stance that rules out widespread violence against Israel,
the position of Abu Alaa, Nusseibeh, and others will likely take greater
hold among the Palestinian public in general and its leadership in