Israel revives hope for a Palestinian state

The long-ignored idea of equal states for the two people builds on demands in the Mideast for greater equality.

Prime Minister of Israel Yair Lapid addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 22

In a speech today at the United Nations, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, revived an idea that many Israelis and Palestinians have long abandoned. It is to set up a Palestinian state alongside Israel, or what he called “two states for two peoples.” While the details of creating a “two-state solution” remain as difficult as when the concept was more viable decades ago, Mr. Lapid’s offer seems shaped by an emerging recognition in the Middle East of equality among all peoples.

Since 2020, four Arab states have normalized relations with Israel, joining Egypt and Jordan. Other Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, could soon join them. Within Israel itself, the 1 in 5 citizens who are Arab supported a ruling coalition in 2021 put together by Mr. Lapid (but which fell apart June 30). As he seeks to remain prime minister after a Nov. 1 election, the former TV anchor told the U.N. that the “cultural mosaic” of Israeli society reflects “full civic equality between Arabs and Jews.” 

Peace between foes, he said, is not a compromise but rather “the victory of all that is good.”

Mr. Lapid may have used the stage of the U.N. General Assembly to declare support for a Palestinian state because so much else in the Mideast depends on progress in providing Palestinians with a secure and prosperous homeland. Saudi Arabia is withholding recognition of Israel for now while talks to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions are at a critical stage. Israel is also eager to end cycles of violence with Islamic militants in Gaza and Lebanon as well as attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank.

One alternative to a two-state solution is for Israel to somehow accept Palestinians into its society as equals, or what is called a one-state solution. Opposition among Jewish Israelis is strong against that idea, which has led to a proposed third alternative. Earlier this year, a group of prominent Israelis and Palestinians suggested a “confederation” in which Israeli settlers in the West Bank could live in a Palestinian state while groups of Palestinians could find a home inside Israel.

In each of these concepts, the core issue is an acceptance of equality – between the “land” of each people or between the peoples themselves. For its part, the Biden administration seeks “equal measures of freedom, security, dignity, and prosperity” for both sides.

If Mr. Lapid is serious about his offer, the next step would be a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Such a meeting would send a signal that equality is possible between the two peoples, something the Mideast has long sought.

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