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As Israeli-Palestinian talks sink, fringe ideas gain traction

As time passes and a two-state solution looks less feasible, Israelis and Palestinians are more seriously considering ideas like a binational state.

By Correspondent / January 26, 2012

People hold Palestinian flags and a placard during a demonstration against the peace negotiation talks between Palestinians and Israeli in front of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's office in Ramallah, January 21.

Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

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Tel Aviv

As another round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks faltered on Wednesday, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians say that the status quo is rapidly approaching a point at which establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is impossible or unrealistic. 

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"I still believe that two-state solution is the only solution and is possible," says Ron Pundak, an Israeli academic who started the informal peace talks with Palestinians that led to the Oslo Accords. "But I am afraid we will lead ourselves to a situation where the two-state solution is not viable, or people will think it’s not viable, which is almost as bad."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly told Jordan’s King Abdullah that a series of Amman meetings between negotiating envoys had run their course and that the Palestinians would seek the advice of the Arab League on the next step in their pursuit of statehood.

But several factors are expected to make it increasingly difficult for Israel to extract itself from the West Bank to create a Palestinian state: the rising number of Jewish settlers, eroding political will to order a painful and expensive withdrawal, and a drop in public support for a compromise.

What will come in place of the two-state solution? Suggestions range from a new Palestinian uprising, to a binational state, to a continuation of the status quo.   

No appetite for compromise in Israel

The key number regarding settler evacuation is not the more than 300,000 Israelis who live in the West Bank but the 80,000 to 100,000 of them who reside in isolated settlements far away from the future border. Though uprooting them is feasible for the Israeli government, it is unclear if there are leaders willing to clash with the settlers powerful political constituency.

"The question is not what is happening in the settlements, it’s what is happening in Israeli society in general," says Dror Etkes, a human rights activist and settlement monitor who sees Israel growing more conservative. "It's not a physical question, it’s a political question."

To be sure, a recent joint poll showed that a clear majority of Israelis and about half of Palestinians still support the outline of the two-state compromise proposed by former President Bill Clinton 11 years ago.

But they are becoming increasingly queasy about taking the risks for such a deal, and most public opinion surveys indicate that if elections were held today the new parliament would likely be run by a coalition of parties opposed to such a compromise.

"To get to a two-state solution, Israelis know exactly what kind of costs they will have to pay," says Dahlia Scheindlin, a Tel Aviv-based public opinion expert. "They don’t see the benefits outweighing the costs. They are realists. In general, Israelis fear that everything around them is turning into a radical Islamic takeover" because of Islamist electoral victories in the wake of the Arab revolutions.

Palestinians are similarly gloomy: 78 percent oppose a resuming peace talks without a freeze in settlement construction and only 17 percent believe that Israel intends to withdraw from the West Bank, according to a survey from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

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