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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A "two-state" solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems like an idea whose time has come - yet again. Everyone who is anyone, especially President Obama, supports it. But his two-state proposal is inexorably linked to a demand for a total freeze on Israeli settlements and, inevitably, their disappearance. They are, it is widely - and erroneously - assumed, illegal under international law.
Advocates of the two-state division of "Palestine" seem oblivious to the fact that partition already occurred - nearly 90 years ago. After World War I the League of Nations mandate for Palestine (then geographically defined as the land that now comprises Jordan, the West Bank and Israel) recognized "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" and "the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country."
But Great Britain, the Mandatory trustee, retained the discretion to "postpone" or "withhold" the right of Jews to settle east of the Jordan River.
To satisfy the ambitions of Hashemite Sheikh Abdullah for his own kingdom, colonial secretary Winston Churchill removed all the land east of the river from the borders of Palestine. With that amputation, three-quarters of Palestine became the new Kingdom of Trans-Jordan.
Ever since, "Palestine" has referred only to the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
Following the Six-Day War, UN Resolution 242 authorized Israel to administer the West Bank until "a just and lasting peace in the Middle East" was achieved. Even then, however, Israel would only be required to withdraw its military forces "from territories" - not from "the territories" or "all the territories." The absence of "the," the famous missing definite article, was intentional. Israel would not be expected to relinquish all the spoils won during a defensive war for survival.
EVER SINCE 1967, two-state proposals for the division of shrunken "Palestine" have sprouted like weeds whenever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict proved too frustrating for outsiders to endure.
Nonetheless, hope springs eternal - especially in Washington, where the Obama administration seems determined to restrict, if not eradicate, the right of Jews to settle in their ancient homeland.
There are, however, complications. For one, there already are (at least) two de facto Palestinian states, one (governed by Fatah) in the West Bank and another (ruled by Hamas) in Gaza. They have yet to make peace with each other, much less with Israel. For another, two-thirds of the population of Jordan is Palestinian, suggesting that a Palestinian state already exists - in historic Palestine - in all but name.
An obvious two-state solution presents itself: Israel would remain the Jewish state that it has been for 61 years. Israeli settlements, now home to 300,000 Jews, would become part of Israel. Jordan, Gaza, and West Bank Palestinian cities, villages and lands would converge to comprise the state of Palestine.
Each state would police and protect its own people (as Israelis and Palestinians already do); a joint Israeli-Jordanian/Palestinian police force would maintain law and order between communities and supervise border crossings.
\It may not seem perfect, nor even sound plausible. But it has two distinctive virtues: It neither ethnically cleanses Jews from their biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria nor would it permit minority rule anywhere within its boundaries. Palestinians will govern Palestinians; Israelis will govern Israelis; and they will each have their own state - in historic Palestine. And the weary debate over Israeli settlements would finally evaporate.
It seems worth a try.
The writer is professor of history at Wellesley College and the author of Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel, to be published by Roman & Littlefield in July.