Not just Romney: Many in Middle East are losing faith in a two-state solution, too

But Palestinian reasons differ dramatically from US presidential nominee Mitt Romney's secretly videotaped comments.

By , Staff writer

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    In this July 29 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
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A newly leaked video shows presidential hopeful Mitt Romney questioning the longstanding US road map for peace in the Middle East – and, in fact, if the Palestinians want peace at all.

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way,” he said, according to Mother Jones, which publicized the video taken at a private fundraising event.

Mr. Romney is not alone in his pessimism; many Israelis and Palestinians have also lost hope in the two-state solution outlined in the 1993 Oslo Accords. But Palestinians warn that blaming the stalemate squarely on their people risks damaging what little credibility the US has left in the Middle East.

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“[Romney] has done everything possible in order to show himself not only [in support] of Israel but also of the most right-wing extremist parties in Israel,” says Qais Abdul-Karim, a veteran politician and a leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. “I think that this tendency to stand in the camp of the right-wing … plays with the future of the United States and its position in the region, which is already fragile and shaky. Such a policy will completely be devastating to whatever credibility the States still have in the eyes of the public in the Middle East.”

Israelis, Palestinians lose faith in peace

Israeli faith in negotiations to deliver a peace deal is now at the lowest level since 2003, according to the Negotiations Index, part of a monthly public opinion survey published by the Israeli Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. The August index stands at 40.7, a significant drop even since April, when it stood at 49.5.

And even in April, 58 percent of Jewish respondents and 51 percent of Israeli Arab interviewees "saw no chance of ending the conflict in accordance with the 'two states for two peoples' formula at the present time," according to the monthly survey, known as the Peace Index.

Hopes are also flagging on the Palestinian side, with well over half a million Israelis now living over the 1967 borders that are widely seen as the basis for any eventual peace deal. The evacuation of the West Bank outpost of Migron last month underscores the enormous, if not insurmountable, challenge posed by the settlements to an eventual peace deal. The Israeli government, armed with a Supreme Court ruling and promises to build the residents new homes to the tune of some 33 million shekels ($8.7 million, or $187,000 per family), still faced stiff resistance in uprooting the tiny community.

Many Israelis and their leaders see the settlements as providing a security buffer for Israel and as fulfilling biblical claims to the land.

But Palestinians argue that the spread of settlements, and the roads connecting them, are whittling away at the land that could feasibly become a Palestinian state – already divided between the landlocked West Bank and the coastal Gaza Strip.

“If you look at the West Bank now, it’s like Swiss cheese,” says Hamas official Ghazi Hamad, who is deputy foreign minister in Gaza. “I don’t know what is left for negotiation.”

Now Palestinians and Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority are becoming increasingly vocal about giving up the two-state solution in favor of a “one-state solution” – in which higher Arab birth rates and the absorption of Palestinians would tip the demographic scale in their favor.

But Mr. Abdul-Karim says that is a bad idea.

“The situation is either a two-state solution or an apartheid state that controls all the lands of historical Palestine and in this case there will be … a more ferocious conflict that may go on for more decades and that this is not a solution in actual fact,” he says. “This is a recipe for prolonged and protracted war.”

US wearing Israeli glasses?

So who is to blame for the stalemate that has prevailed since autumn 2010? Israel’s government has repeatedly invited the Palestinians to come to the peace table with no pre-conditions, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted on an Israeli freeze on settlement building before returning to talks.

But Israel, which enforced a 10-month settlement freeze in 2010, has refused another freeze.

Mr. Hamad and Abdul-Karim both say the Palestinians have showed a lot of concessions, by retreating from their original demand for a Greater Palestine to a state on about 22 percent of that land.

Now, says Hamad, it’s up to Israel.

“The solution is in the hand of Israel – settlements, borders, refugees, Jerusalem – everything is in the hand of Israel.”

But he says the winds of change in the Arab world can benefit Palestinians, who are already enjoying more support from Egypt. It’s a trend the US would do well to heed, instead of seeing everything through the prism of Israeli security, he says.

“I think we have to put forth a new strategy and US should understand that time has changed,” says Hamad. “They should take off the glasses of Israel from their eyes.”

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