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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.

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Binational state gaining support

Following the talks yesterday, Israel, Jordan, and the European Union expressed hope that the Palestinians would return to the month-old exploratory dialogue aimed at setting up a basis for real negotiations. The liberal Israeli paper Haaretz reported that for the first time, the Israeli side laid out a general vision for a border with the Palestinians, but the newspaper didn’t give specifics. 

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Expectations for the talks are already low for the rest of 2012. The Obama administration is likely to be wary of wading into thorny Arab-Israeli mediation during an election year. And observers believe that the gaps between Mr. Abbas and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is heavily influenced by a far-right contingent, are too wide to bridge. 

Some Israeli doves are starting to talk about a binational state with the Palestinians, which would require both nations to give up on visions of self-determination.

Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli parliament, recently suggested that such a solution would be preferable to the status quo. Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat, says that some are mulling the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation.

Prominent Palestinian leaders like chief negotiator Saeb Erekat have suggested the possibility as well, but many see it as a foil to pressure the Israeli public.

"One state is a brilliant and pretty solution, but it doesn’t mean that brilliant and pretty solutions will come about," says Kadoura Fares, a prominent member of the Palestinian Fatah party.

'Beyond the point of no return'

In the short- to medium-term, the more likely outcome is a continuation of the status quo, in which Israel retains control over the West Bank. Israel might grant the Palestinian enclaves greater autonomy and freedom of movement in an effort to deflect the inevitable international criticism allegations of an apartheid-like situation and the possible isolation.

Naftali Bennett, the former director general of the settler’s umbrella group Yesha Council, says Israel should annex settlements and open areas in the West Bank while granting Palestinian cities and villages enhanced autonomy. He says he hopes that eventually Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority, would agree to extend citizenship to West Bank Palestinians.

"The whole two-state approach is very 1990s. I don’t think any serious person believes there’s going to be a Palestinians state west of the Jordan [River]. We’re way beyond the point of no return," Mr. Bennett says.  

For the foreseeable future, there isn’t any significant pressure on Israel to compromise. For the first time since perhaps the 1980s, there are no negotiations, no violent uprising or war, and no international pressure for a deal.

But those conditions could eventually give way to a new phase of daily conflict, say experts.

"Maybe we need to do something that will to wake up the world that it can’t remain like this," says Mr. Fares. "There wont be a vacuum here."

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