2-state so­lu­tion may be los­ing sup­port

Elec­tion may have dimmed hopes for Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict res­o­lu­tion

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Josef Fe­d­er­man

JERUSALEM — Is the two-state so­lu­tion for the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict dead?

Af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu coasted to an­other vic­tory in this month’s Is­raeli elec­tion, it sure seems that way.

On the campaign trail, Ne­tanyahu ruled out Pales­tinian state­hood and for the first time, pledged to be­gin an­nex­ing Jewish set­tle­ments in the West Bank. His ex­pected coali­tion part­ners, a col­lec­tion of re­li­gious and na­tion­al­ist par­ties, also re­ject Pales­tinian in­de­pen­dence.

Even his chief ri­vals, led by a trio of re­spected former mil­i­tary chiefs and a charis­matic former TV an­chor­man, barely men­tioned the Pales­tinian is­sue on the campaign trail and pre­sented a vi­sion of “sep­a­ra­tion” that falls far short of Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­rial demands.

The two Jewish par­ties that dared to talk openly about peace with the Pales­tini­ans cap­tured just 10 seats in the 120-seat par­lia­ment, and opin­ion polls in­di­cate dwin­dling sup­port for a two-state so­lu­tion among Jewish Is­raelis.

“The ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple in the state of Is­rael no longer see a two-state so­lu­tion as an op­tion,” said Oded Re­vivi, the chief for­eign en­voy for the Ye­sha set­tler coun­cil, him­self an op­po­nent of Pales­tinian in­de­pen­dence. “If we are look­ing for peace in this re­gion, we will have to look for a dif­fer­ent plan from the two-state so­lu­tion.”

For the past 25 years, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has sup­ported the estab­lish­ment of a Pales­tinian state on the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — lands cap­tured by Is­rael in the 1967 Mideast war — as the best way to en­sure peace in the re­gion.

The logic is clear. With the num­ber of Arabs liv­ing on lands con­trolled by Is­rael roughly equal to Jews, and the Arab pop­u­la­tion grow­ing faster, two-state pro­po­nents say a par­ti­tion of the land is the only way to guar­an­tee Is­rael’s fu­ture as a democ­racy with a strong Jewish ma­jor­ity. The al­ter­na­tive, they say, is ei­ther a bi­na­tional state in which a demo­cratic Is­rael loses its Jewish char­ac­ter or an apartheid-like en­tity in which Jews have more rights than Arabs.

Af­ter decades of fruit­less ne­go­ti­a­tions, each side blames the other for fail­ure.

Is­rael says the Pales­tini­ans have re­jected gen­er­ous peace of­fers and pro­moted vi­o­lence and in­cite­ment. The Pales­tini­ans say the Is­raeli of­fers have not been se­ri­ous and point to Is­rael’s ever-ex­pand­ing set­tle­ments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, now home to nearly 700,000 Is­raelis.

The ground fur­ther shifted af­ter the Ha­mas mil­i­tant group took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and left the Pales­tini­ans di­vided be­tween two gov­ern­ments, with one side — Ha­mas — op­posed to peace with Is­rael. This on­go­ing rift is a ma­jor ob­sta­cle to ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­rael, and has also left many Pales­tini­ans dis­il­lu­sioned with their lead­ers.

Since tak­ing of­fice a decade ago, Ne­tanyahu has largely ig­nored the Pales­tinian is­sue, man­ag­ing the con­flict with­out of­fer­ing a so­lu­tion for how two peo­ples will live to­gether in the fu­ture.

Af­ter clash­ing with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for most of that time, he has found a welcome friend in Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whose Mideast team has shown no in­di­ca­tion of sup­port­ing Pales­tinian in­de­pen­dence.

Ta­mar Her­mann, an expert on Is­raeli pub­lic opin­ion at the Is­rael Democ­racy In­sti­tute, said the elec­tion re­sults do not nec­es­sar­ily mean that Is­raelis have given up on peace. In­stead, she said the is­sue just isn’t on peo­ple’s minds.

“Most Is­raelis would say the sta­tus quo is prefer­able to all other op­tions, be­cause Is­raelis do not pay any price for it,” she said. “They don’t feel the out­come of the oc­cu­pa­tion . ... Why change it?”

While the two-state prospects seem dim, its pro­po­nents still cling to the be­lief that the sides will ul­ti­mately come around, sim­ply be­cause there is no bet­ter choice.

“Ei­ther Is­rael de­cides to be an apartheid state with a mi­nor­ity that is gov­ern­ing a ma­jor­ity of Pales­tini­ans, or Is­rael has to re­al­ize that there is no other so­lu­tion but two states,” Pales­tinian Prime Min­is­ter Mo­hammed Sh­tayyeh told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Un­for­tu­nately the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter is po­lit­i­cally blind about these two facts.”

Sh­tayyeh noted the twostate so­lu­tion con­tin­ues to en­joy wide in­ter­na­tional back­ing. Peace, he in­sisted, is just a mat­ter of “will” by Is­rael’s lead­ers.

Dan Shapiro, who served as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s am­bas­sador to Is­rael, said the two-state so­lu­tion “is cer­tainly get­ting harder” af­ter the Is­raeli elec­tion but is not dead.

Get­ting there would re­quire lead­er­ship changes on both sides, he said, point­ing to the his­toric peace agree­ment be­tween Is­rael and Egypt 40 years ago, reached by two lead­ers who were sworn en­e­mies just two years ear­lier.

“We know what’s pos­si­ble when the right lead­er­ship is in place,” he said. “So that puts us sup­port­ers of it in a mode of try­ing to keep it alive and vi­able for the fu­ture.”

That may be a tall task as the Is­raeli elec­tion re­sults ap­pear to re­flect a deeper shift in pub­lic opin­ion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Is­rael Democ­racy In­sti­tute, which con­ducts monthly sur­veys of pub­lic opin­ion, sup­port for the two-state so­lu­tion among Jewish Is­raelis has plum­meted from 69% in 2008, the year be­fore Ne­tanyahu took of­fice, to 47% last year. Just 32% of Is­raelis be­tween the ages of 18-34 sup­ported a two-state so­lu­tion in 2018. The in­sti­tute typ­i­cally sur­veys 600 peo­ple, with a mar­gin of er­ror of just over 4 per­cent­age points.

At­ti­tudes are chang­ing on the Pales­tinian side as well. Khalil Shikaki, a prom­i­nent Pales­tinian poll­ster, said 31% of Pales­tini­ans seek a sin­gle bi­na­tional state with full equal­ity, a slight in­crease from a decade ago. His poll sur­veyed 1,200 peo­ple and had a mar­gin of er­ror of 3 per­cent­age points.

Al­though there was no break­down by age group, Shikaki said the young are “cling­ing less to the twostate so­lu­tion be­cause they lost faith in the Pales­tinian Author­ity’s abil­ity to pro­vide a demo­cratic state” and be­cause the ex­pand­ing set­tle­ments have cre­ated a new re­al­ity on the ground.

Amr Marouf, a 27-yearold restau­rant man­ager in the city of Ra­mal­lah, said he main­tains his of­fi­cial res­i­dence in a vil­lage lo­cated in the 60% of the West Bank that Is­rael con­trols, just in case Is­rael an­nexes the ter­ri­tory. That way, he be­lieves, he can gain Is­raeli cit­i­zen­ship.

“I think the one state so­lu­tion is the only vi­able so­lu­tion,” he said. “We can be in Is­rael and ask for equal rights. Oth­er­wise, we will live un­der mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion for­ever.”

Ne­tanyahu is ex­pected to form his new coali­tion gov­ern­ment by the end of May, and he will come un­der heavy pres­sure from his part­ners to keep his prom­ise to an­nex Is­rael’s West Bank set­tle­ments.


Is­rael’s elec­tion this month may have dimmed hopes for a two-state so­lu­tion with the Pales­tini­ans.

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