On My Mind: Two states for a sustainable peace

The basic obstacle to Israel-Palestinian peace hasn’t changed in 64 years - Palestinian rejectionism.

Abbas R 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Abbas R 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The endgame for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the same today as it was when the two-state solution was first proposed 64 years ago this month, when Jewish leadership seized the opportunity to establish Israel. Tragically, the Palestinians and the wider Arab world summarily rejected the UN Partition Plan.
Yet that original proposition to create two states, one Jewish, one Arab, endures today because it is the most viable option for durable Israeli-Palestinian peace. By dint of geography, among other factors, Israelis and Palestinians are destined to live side by side. They already have found ways, out of necessity, to share water resources and electric power, and could potentially expand economic cooperation once a permanent peace agreement is achieved.
The Arab-Israeli peace process has long been fraught with daunting challenges, but none are so insurmountable as to dissuade those who live in the region from persevering. Israelis have never lost hope, and neither should we American Jews.
After all, Israel came to control the Gaza Strip and West Bank in June 1967 as the unintended result of a defensive war.
If the Arab nations chosen to negotiate with Israel in Khartoum instead of issuing their infamous “three noes” declaration, there may have been an exchange of territories for peace, per UN Security Council Resolution 242, three decades ago.
There was no discussion in 1967 about creating a Palestinian state, certainly not by Egypt, which had harshly ruled Gaza after grabbing the territory in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Jordan had occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
But when Egypt, in 1979, and Jordan, in 1994, signed their historic peace treaties with Israel, the fundamental contours of an eventual Palestinian state began to form. Egypt did not want Gaza. Jordan, meanwhile, had forsaken any claim to the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel faced the choice to continue the occupation of another people ad infinitum, to forcibly transfer the Palestinian population to retain control of the captured territories, or to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement whereby Gaza and most of the West Bank become a Palestinian state.
Israeli leaders across the political spectrum have long recognized that ruling over the Palestinians is not desirable for a host of moral and security reasons, and that it does not assure a Jewish majority in our people’s homeland.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recognized these long-term realities when he signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, setting a framework for an eventual negotiated two-state solution.
Four consecutive prime ministers – Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu – proclaimed their commitment to achieving peace based on a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel.
Barak offered a far-reaching arrangement that included all of Gaza, most of the West Bank and the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem in a Palestinian state. Though Yasser Arafat answered with the intifada, the Barak government showed how far Israel is prepared to go.
Sharon withdrew all Israelis from Gaza and transferred the territory to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians did not seize the opportunity to begin to create the foundation for a future state, and the Hamas coup deepened the threat to Israel.
But Sharon’s action also demonstrated Israel’s commitment to taking concrete steps, some of them risky, to move toward peace. Due to his debilitating stroke we will never know what more Sharon could have achieved, though he did plan to negotiate the future status of the West Bank.
Olmert, his successor, continued to pursue peace through direct negotiations and offered the Palestinians a West Bank deal similar to the one Barak had presented eight years earlier.
In September, addressing the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu declared that Israel will be the “first country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations” after the Palestinians sign a peace agreement with Israel.
What’s missing is willingness of the Palestinian leadership to close the deal. President Abbas’ continuing refusal to return to the talks with Israel that he deserted remains the most disturbingly painful obstacle for all who truly desire peace.
Interestingly, Abbas last week told Israel TV’s Channel 2 that the 1947 Palestinian rejection of the UN partition plan was “a mistake.” Errors in judgment seem to characterize the thinking of Palestinian leaders throughout history.
Now, more than ever, the Middle East is a potential powder-keg. The uncertain directions of the uprisings across the Arab world, and the ever-present threat of a nuclear Iran, make it imperative that Israelis and Palestinians find a way together to resolve their conflict.
Israeli-Palestinian peace, of course, is a core interest of the American Jewish community, and of other supporters of Israel across the United States. We cannot give up hope. Certainly, Israelis will not.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s Director of Media Relations.