"The Answer to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is a Two-State Solution."
In an ideal world, yes, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen.
In the 18 years since the signing on the White House lawn of the Oslo Accords, which laid the groundwork for a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the idea of a two-state solution has gained wide acceptance. According to a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll from March 2010, 57 percent of Palestinians support it; among Israelis the percentage is even higher -- 71 percent. In both Europe and the United States, it's seen as the natural end point of this six-decade conflict. As U.S. President Barack Obama said in May, the "United States believes that negotiations should result in two states -- with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine." Nonetheless, we have reached the point where the ideas of two independent states and a negotiated resolution to the conflict reside on life support.
The short explanation for this conundrum is that for much of the past 18 years, the momentum of obstructionism has been far more powerful than the momentum of progress. This has been consistently true since the earliest days of the Oslo process, as the forces that oppose peace have demonstrated a deadly effectiveness at thwarting it. From Baruch Goldstein's horrific massacre of Palestinians at Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994 to the subsequent Palestinian suicide bombing attacks of 1994-1995 and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; from the targeted killing of Hamas leaders to the terrible violence of the Second Intifada against Israeli citizens, bloodshed has been a constant tool utilized by both sides to erode trust and strengthen the forces of irredentism.
Beyond the use of violence, the lack of political will on both sides has been most catastrophic. As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami recounts in Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, even the architects of the Oslo peace process -- Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin -- initially rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, believing that some middle ground between statehood and the status quo was possible. Even as the path to statehood seemed clear, the country's leading doves were unwilling to reconcile themselves either publicly or privately with such a potentiality. In addition, the growth of Israeli settlements, in violation of the spirit if not the letter of Oslo, and the unwillingness of the Israeli government to halt them, have become an almost insurmountable barrier to a workable two-state solution.
On the other side, Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority, never publicly accepted the idea of peaceful reconciliation with Israel. He refused to countenance painful concessions on Jerusalem and the right of return, continued to view political violence as a tool for wrangling concessions out of Israel, and offered far too many public hints that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza was only the first step in a two-stage process of Palestinian liberation. The continued acceptance of violence as a viable means for achieving political goals, particularly by Hamas, has not surprisingly undermined Israeli enthusiasm for territorial concessions.
Finally, each public has demonstrated an unwillingness to fully recognize and integrate the attitudes and fears of the other. Israelis are either blissfully unaware of, or not bothered by, the humiliation that is the hallmark of Israeli occupation. Hours spent at checkpoints, searches by Israeli soldiers, and transit roads that restrict movement and turn what should be quick trips into daylong excursions are just a few examples of the minor degradations that are a daily part of Palestinian life. At the end of Ramadan, last month, I attended a nonviolent demonstration at an Israeli checkpoint at Qalandia, where Palestinians were seeking to pass so that they could worship at the al-Aqsa mosque. As it was, such access was restricted to men over 50 and women over 40. For many Israelis, such indignities could be happening on the other side of the globe.
Conversely, Palestinians have limited sympathy or appreciation for the trauma created in Israel by living in a state of constant siege and fear of terrorist attacks. Add all these various factors together and the result is that while most Israelis and Palestinians believe a two-state solution is in the best interests of both peoples, the region is likely further away from that reality than at any point since Oslo. The Palestinian Authority's preparations to go to the United Nations and seek recognition as an independent state is compelling evidence that at least one side in the dispute sees no hope for a negotiated resolution.
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