The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

The two-state paradox



Among those of us who are concerned about the need to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace process actually taking place there is great fear that we are moving toward the third intifada. The concerned parties include those of us who have made great efforts to study and understand the many reasons for the failure of the Oslo peace process. Among us are four senior US officials who directed the peace process for many years: Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Aaron Miller and Rob Malley. Our collective assessment is that there seems to be a general lack of political will among all to make the decisions necessary to ensure that a real peace process emerges.

Israel is too burdened by the disengagement to pay any attention to the "day after" and recent analyses of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategy seem to lend support to the idea that he has no real intention of entering into a negotiated process with the Palestinians. His agenda seems to be focused on possible further Israeli unilateral steps.

The Palestinians are busy trying to advance political, security and economic reforms that concur with their road map responsibilities. The Palestinian Authority has made it clear that it opposes the idea of a Palestinian state within provisional borders as another interim agreement. The Palestinian leadership fears that there will be no advances beyond another interim agreement and they believe Sharon is setting a permanent border through the completion of the separation barriers.

The US has apparently agreed not to advance any new negotiations as long as Israel is carrying out the disengagement plans. There is no real pressure coming from Washington on Israel regarding outposts or settlements. Israel understands the message that it can continue expanding settlements on the Israeli side of the separation barrier, including plans for massive building in Ma'aleh Adumim and Modi'in Ilit.

The other members of the Quartet have been virtually silent in the last months. Even the high- profile visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the region did not really convince anyone that the Quartet is an effective body for mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Quartet should be meeting to plan present and future steps. It should be insisting on monitors and verifiers on the ground to ensure Israeli and Palestinian compliance with their road map obligations. It should already be discussing and planning for the creation of the Palestinian State in Phase II of the road map. None of this is happening.

THERE IS a real sense of stalemate. Mahmoud Abbas has been showing encouraging signs of implementing important new policies in the PA regarding the consolidation of the security forces, the retirement of old officers and old PLO ambassadors. The legislative process is advancing with several essential laws such as the elections law being almost complete. The next round of local government elections will take place on May 5 covering tens of towns and cities in the West Bank and Gaza. Legislative elections are scheduled to take place on July 17 as scheduled.

The Palestinian leadership has apparently come to a decision that if there is an option to create a Palestinian state with provisional borders in the road map, then, by logic, there is also a real option not to create a Palestinian state with provisional borders. Their preferred option is to go directly to permanent status negotiations. They claim that the issues are all known and that the parameters of peace are also known these include a Palestinian state in 22% of the Mandatory borders of Palestine (based on the 1967 lines with agreed-upon territorial exchanges on a one-to-one basis); the Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state; the Haram a Sharif/Temple Mount under Palestinian sovereignty, the Western Wall, Jewish Quarter and the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty; and a practical solution to the refugee problem based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194, with most of the refugees settling in the Palestinian state but Israel acknowledging historical responsibility for the refugee problem.

The Palestinians say it is not practical to speak of a state with "attributes of sovereignty," as stated in the road map; they understand this to mean "severe limitations on the sovereignty of the Palestinian state." They assert they will accept any limitations on their sovereignty that Israel would also be willing to accept. The Palestinians demand full control over their air space, land and water resources, external borders, etc.

IT SEEMS impossible today to imagine that negotiations between Israel and the PA under these terms could succeed. Even if Sharon was willing to enter into negotiations now, which he is not, and even if the US, together with the other members of the Quartet, were to play the role of honest and evenhanded broker, which they are not, there is, practically speaking, no chance that such negotiations could produce an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

In recent Israeli-Palestinian talks I participated in a very strange paradox appeared. The Israelis involved, not all of them left-wingers, were trying to convince the Palestinians to accept a Palestinian state now, and the Palestinians were saying that they weren't at all sure they wanted a Palestinian state now.

Some of the Palestinians who participated in the discussions were Palestinian Authority officials. The parameters that the Israelis spoke about included a Palestinian state with provisional borders covering about 90% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza, with an agreed link between the two areas. It included a Palestinian capital in the Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, but left the issue of the Old City of Jerusalem and the refugee issue off the agenda until permanent status negotiations were held at a later time.

Most of the Palestinians basically rejected the idea. The Israelis did their utmost to convince them of the logic of creating a situation whereby future negotiations on the final issues would take place on a state-to-state basis. It was clear that many people on the Palestinian side were reconsidering the viability of a Palestinian state with provisional borders on less than 22% of the Mandatory borders of the land, and with limited sovereignty.

Israeli plans to build in the E1 area connecting Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem are viewed by Palestinians as the final death blow to the viability of a Palestinian state. If this plan is implemented, I see it as Israel disconnecting the north and the south of the West Bank and detaching Jerusalem from its Palestinian hinterlands. The territorial contiguity that President George W. Bush speaks about would no longer be possible in reality without engineering all kinds of tunnels and bridges that the Palestinians completely reject.

Under this scenario, Palestinians say: Let us forget about the two-state solution and let Israelis continue to expand and take more of our land. Within a very short time it will become clear to the international community that there is no longer such an option and the world will eventually impose the one, binational state solution on Israel. This was the original Palestinian preference anyway.

As the creation of the Palestinian state is becoming more a part of the Israeli strategic vision, it is losing its appeal on the Palestinian side.

The time clock on the two-state solution is definitely ticking; the question is, will time run out before it is implemented. And if that happens, what remains of peace options for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?


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