The two-state premise for resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict goes back
to the very foundation of the State of Israel. The UN Partition Plan of 1947
divided British-ruled Mandatory Palestine into two separate entities, one
Jewish, one Arab.
The plan recognized that the land between the Jordan
River and Mediterranean Sea must be shared, a principle at the core of current
efforts to achieve, through bilateral negotiations, a permanent peace based on
two states for two peoples.
Even though many Zionists had originally
sought Jewish sovereignty over the entire land, David Ben- Gurion wisely acceded
to the compromise, recognizing the chance to fulfill the Zionist vision of a
Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
Tragically for the Palestinian
people, their leaders and the Arab world at large objected to the very idea of a
Jewish state within any borders, and opted for war against the Jews to abort
partition. The Arab defeat doomed the Palestinian half of the two-state
Two Arab states snuffed out that vision as Egypt occupied Gaza and
Jordan annexed the West Bank.
Israel’s dramatic victory in June 1967 –
against Arab countries intent on destroying it – left the Jewish state in
control of Sinai, Gaza, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east
While some vocally urged maintaining control over all of the
land for historical, religious and security reasons, the mainstream never
relished ruling over another people. Israeli governments, Labor and Likud, have
sought partners to negotiate peace agreements that would entail territorial
Israel concluded such a deal with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in
1979, restoring the Sinai to Egyptian sovereignty.
Another historic peace
treaty was reached with Jordan’s King Hussein in 1994. Jordan relinquished any
claim to the West Bank and declared that the future of east Jerusalem, including
the holy Muslim sites in the Old City, would be up to the
The 1993 Oslo Accords, a product of direct bilateral
negotiations, were signed with the noble intention of eventually creating a
Palestinian entity that would live in peace with Israel. However, as with the UN
two-state plan, implementation required visionary, courageous, determined
leaders on both sides.
Regrettably, Palestinian leadership has
consistently fallen short. Those Israelis who still hold on to the pipe-dream of
a “greater Israel” have also made the search for peace more
Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination by an Israeli
extremist surely set up an obstacle to the peace process. Nevetheless,
Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat’s decision to revert to terrorism, his
refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s link to any part of the land and his
failure to nurture a culture of peace among his own people has had a far more
serious long-term impact.
Still, the elusive goal of two states, never
completely abandoned, remains the best option for permanent peace.
consecutive Israeli prime ministers – Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and
Binyamin Netanyahu – have openly committed themselves to it. In his historic
2009 Bar-Ilan University address, Netanyahu declared: “In my vision of peace,
there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good
neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and
government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and
True, each of Israel’s generous offers for peace – at Camp
David in 2000, Taba in 2001, and Jerusalem in 2008 – were spurned by the
The Hamas coup in Gaza in 2007 and PA President
Mahmoud Abbas’s resistance until now to resuming talks since he walked away from
them several years ago were additional challenges to Israel’s efforts – and US
Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative – to get the process back on
But now that the Palestinians have returned to the table, the
Israeli government, determined to reach a negotiated two-state solution, will
work out the details with them: secure borders, appropriate land swaps to ensure
that the main settlements blocs are in Israel, a demilitarized Palestinian state
and an end to the conflict.
Given the risks Israel faces, especially with
chaos spreading in neighboring Arab countries, consideration for what happens
the day after any peace agreement with the Palestinians is signed will be
critical to its successful implementation.
The author is the American
Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Director of Media Relations.
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