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Peace process: Only four options left

Resolutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be reached either by agreement or evolution.

As the peace talks stumble toward their formal end point, there are essentially four scenarios for political developments between the river and the sea, excluding resurgent violence: two states by agreement, two states by evolution, one state by agreement, or one sovereign entity by evolution.

Policymakers should acknowledge these scenarios openly to assess what each one will mean for the future of the region.

I recently proposed using basic values as a guideline to assess the desirability of such scenarios: reducing violence, realizing human and civil rights, providing for collective rights, and doing so in a sustainable way. It’s also worth considering the feasibility and consequences of each possibility.

Two states by agreement. This scenario looks increasingly unlikely, largely for political reasons. Likud essentially doesn’t want it; its other half, Israel-Beitenu, claims to want it but only under unacceptable conditions, including unilateral disenfranchisement of Israeli citizenship. Jewish Home, is steadfastly opposed. Palestinians have become so disillusioned about statehood as Israel defines it that PA President Mahmoud Abbas lacks the legitimacy to make major concessions on their behalf.

Another reason is physical: land, population and infrastructure developments over the last two decades mean that a Palestinian state will be chopped up by settlements too entrenched to be vacated. Therefore, “statehood” won’t offer much greater mobility or economic freedom for Palestinians; sovereign borders might even replace military checkpoints posing much greater bureaucratic obstacles.

However, this solution could theoretically reduce violence by establishing representative political frameworks for each society, to guarantee discrete collective and civil rights. Whether that means more human rights for Palestinians than today depends on how the Fatah and Hamas authorities rule; their current record does not bode well. An agreement over two states with borders and finalized political status is probably relatively sustainable. But the lack of feasibility makes most of this assessment moot.

Two states by evolution. The lack of a negotiated agreement could make this more attractive to Palestinians. If they are to suffer the constraints of highly circumscribed statehood, at least they will not also be forced into concessions they resent as the price.

States can be defined as entities with a people, territory, government and the ability to enter into foreign relations. The Palestinians are making strong progress on that last one. Compared to other disputed states, Palestine enjoys far more recognition from sovereign countries. Even Kosovo, now generally accepted in the family of nations, has 106 recognitions and no standing at the UN, compared to the 138 UN-member countries who voted to accept Palestine as a “non-member observer state” in that body. Most of that number had extended formal recognition to Palestine long before. Abbas recently expanded efforts at international integration by applying to 15 international treaties; recognition in various forms seems likely to increase.

But the evolving two-state scenario erodes other statehood aspects. The Palestinian government remains divided. Israel will see no need to relinquish its military and settlement grip on the territory, and will justify expansion on the grounds that there is no agreement. Even the people may be increasingly divided, politically, economically and culturally between Gaza and the West Bank, as I’ve argued here.

If the Palestinians as nation pull together and embrace a total commitment to unified statehood, they could undertake massive efforts to unify their government, democratize their political life (including improving human rights) and leverage their improving foreign relations to advance their economic life. That’s what some other aspiring states – Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Northern Cyprus –  have done to prove their worth and their unresolved status has been surprisingly sustainable. A genuine sense of purpose and progress can help contain violence.

But in the local reality, that ‘sense’ will be flimsy, and peaceful streaks are easily broken. Cycles of violence will justify Israeli intervention, which is likely to deteriorate into more, not less, Israeli control – and perpetuate the current reality.

One state by evolution. This is not a scenario but the current reality. Israel is the one sovereign between the river and the sea. The Palestinians are subject to Israel’s military sovereignty, but have no political representation in the state.

There is no indication that this scenario will provide civil or collective rights for Palestinians. Since Israel does not acknowledge its political rule, it also absolves itself of responsibility for human rights except for the oxymoronic goal of being an ‘enlightened occupier.’

Israeli military authority can continue to contain violence in this scenario, especially if it entices the Palestinians to maintain security cooperation. But the security status quo favors Israelis, not Palestinians.

And one state by evolution is only sustainable according to warped terms: two people under one sovereign, with different laws and different rights by virtue of identity.

One state by agreement. As long as “one state” is based on the foolish notion that people would scrap boundaries and identity, this was either a fantasy or a nightmare, depending on one’s perspective.

The idea that two peoples in two overlapping but roughly defined territories may choose to be jointly managed in a federal or confederated system, is a little more mouthy but much less fantastic.

If there is an agreement, leaders on both sides may be motivated to avoid violence, to prove they are capable of implementing a policy they led. Of course Oslo quickly deteriorated, but the security cooperation at present could continue. The public appetite for violence has changed: both sides are embittered by its effects. An agreement would hammer out the thorny issue of collective rights, while civil rights would be a given.

Human rights for Palestinians would improve with removal of military law and establishment of shared courts and common laws at least in some aspects. It would be easier for human rights advocates on both sides to form alliances and lobbies against oppressive institutions such as Hamas, rather than fighting occupation.

Is it sustainable? Bosnia, Belgium, Lebanon and Canada show that these systems are flawed, threatened and shaky but possible. Do they need to be reformed and revised over time? Probably. Will violence periodically threaten to derail such an arrangement? Definitely. But that is the case now anyway.


The bottom line is that the most realistic development right now appears to be the non-agreement-based scenarios. But they are also the least sustainable and the most unfair. If a classic two-state agreement is not possible, there’s no point in denying that a modified, mouthy form of joint authority over two separate people is.

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    1. shachalnur

      Ultimately there will be one country with 3 independent states.

      A Union of Jordan,Palestine and Israel(1948 borders or less),without internal borders.

      Palestinians will have the right of return or will be paid for the loss of their land and houses since the Nakba.

      All land under the ILA will be taken away(nationalized) from the European Bankerfamily that stole 80% of the land in Israel.

      This land will be returned to Palestinians or sold to Jews(not leased for 49 to 99 years).

      If a Jew wants to live in all of Eretz Yisrael Shlema,he can,but outside Israel proper he will stay Israeli,living in a Palestinian or Jordan State,only able to vote for municipal elections.

      He will be able to vote for the Knesset where ever he lives.

      The same applies for Palestinians and Jordanians,where ever they wish to live.

      If Jews are afraid to live with Arabs as equals they should return to Europe or the US,because this region is the Middle East,not Scandinavia.

      Israel should keep their Nuclear arsenal,and invite every country or state in the region under her nuclear umbrella,because the London Bankers will be livid after this Union will come into being.

      Egypt and Saudi-Arabia, Iran and Russia will have no problem with this solution ,because this new country will create a buffer between Shia and Sunni and will make it impossible for the London Bankers to play everybody against one another.

      Who cares what Europe thinks,they have no oil and gas,only debts.

      Jordan knows that without US presence and more than half the population Palestinian,an unviable isolated State of Palestine will overthrow the Jordanian King within a week.

      Will all these people be able to live in peace with one another?

      I have no doubt they will,Jews and Arabs/Muslims have lived in peace and mutual respect for thousands of years,and because the alternative is unthinkable.

      Will Israeli’s agree?

      Ofcourse they will,they are Jews,aren’t they, and will patiently wait for the Meshiach so they can finally rule over all the land of Israel.

      Changing that narrative is not Judaism,and won’t be accepted by any Muslim,or Orthodox Jews ,for that matter..

      This solution will come about as soon as the US/Europe/London Bankers will be kicked back where they came from by BRICS and the rest of the world.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rehmat

      “PA President Mahmoud Abbas lacks the legitimacy to make major concessions on their behalf.”
      Now that’s what I call “Chutzpah”.

      Mahmoud Abbas’ “legitimacy” ended in January 2009. But Shimon Peres called Abbas “trusted friend” last year. Last month Peres called Mahmoud Abbas “Gandhi”. If my memory serves me right, someone on this website called “Palestinian traitor”.


      Reply to Comment
    3. Rab

      The author’s position that what currently exists is “one state by evolution” is untrue. The Palestinians have been governing themselves for 20 years. The majority of Palestinians are already living in the Gaza pseudo-state and the remainder live in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. This Authority, like the Gazan pseudo-state, has governing mechanisms such as ministries, diplomatic relations, police and even military.

      Gaza is essentially already a Palestinian state. Israel is entirely out of there.

      Areas A and B are predominantly already a second Palestinian state.

      Area C is the territory that remains in limbo because Israel dominates it and the Palestinians have not succeeded in establishing a toe-hold despite significant efforts.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Steve

      Unconditional surrender is the fifth, the author forgot that one. “the occupation will continue, land will be confiscated from its owners to expand the settlements, the Jordan Valley will be cleansed of Arabs, Arab Jerusalem will be strangled by Jewish neighborhoods, and any act of robbery and foolishness that serves Jewish expansion in the city will be welcomed by the High Court of Justice.” And the Jews will get what they have wanted all along, the LAND, you see that is what it is all about. Not a peace process, but obtaining the land by any means possible. Is this the end of the story, far from not, the Jews will want more, they always do.

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Unfortunately, I think that you are basically spot on – Israelis have not given up on the dream of transfer of most non-Jews from W/B. They want all of the land minus a few small disconnected non-Jewish protectorates. No doubt there are many Israelis who would deny this and do not actively seek to transfer – but they do not mind settlements or settler violence. They will not lift a finger to prevent Palestinian transfer.

        To the extent that Zionism is either based on, or justified by biblical myths and a real estate God, there is no reason to disregard further Israeli claims on land from other surrounding States. But lets not damn Jews with this mess – its only the Zionists. Most Jews have enough sense not to live in Israel.

        Dahlia states that it is a ‘foolish notion that people would scrap boundaries and identity’. Maybe, but not as foolish as the notion that ‘identity’ is an unchanging given. We all of us change our sense of identity all the time – it evolves; sometimes slowly and sometimes in a massive shaking off of our prejudices etc. Lets hope the Israeli young are able to shake off Zionism.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Gideon (not Levy)

      Does the U.S. Admi knows what it wants? Or does America want to continue to use the Middle-East as a testing ground for weapons?

      One thing is clear: As long as the U.S. is not a fair mediator, and continues to deliver FREE Weapons to the Army of Israeli Occupation, as well as defend it from being censored by the U.N. Security Council, None of Dahlia Scheindlin’s alternative is applicable.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Samuel

      The status quo will continue for the next 100 years. At least.

      People in this region are too stupid and hateful to see a better way.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rehmat

        The Arabs are not “stupid people”. They’re founder of some of world’s great empires and civilizations. They have been under boots of western colonists, first directly and later through their puppet regimes.

        In the past, Western (Franks) occupation of Muslim Palestine (1099-1187) didn’t last 100 year.


        Reply to Comment
    7. Samuel

      “The Arabs are not “stupid people”.

      Yes but those Arabs who reject peace with Israel ARE stupid. And there are many of those. Not all, thank goodness but the ones who don’t, are not the ones who manage to determine what the Arabs do. The rejectionists do and they ARE stupid.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Average American

      Israel was formed by Zionism and exists to implement Zionism. Zionism says alot more land than the West Bank belongs to The Jews. Zionism says all of Jordan, a quarter of Saudi Arabia, half of Iraq (to the Euphrates), Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, and Sinai (to the river of Egypt) are part of “The Land Of Israel” which all belongs to “The Jews”. This of course is ridiculous and is obviously racial lebensraum where non-Jews are supposed to make way for The Jews.

      Reply to Comment
      • IlonJ

        How do you know? Are you a Zionist?

        Reply to Comment
    9. Hyman Twerski

      There is a fifth option. Arrest and deport all the radical anti-Israel leftist traitors in Israel!

      Reply to Comment