Lower the bar for two states

There is need to first clear the bar at the lower height: the reality of two states achieved by independent steps.

FlagIL 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
FlagIL 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Widespread reports that the current round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, have yielded no progress, just like the previous ones, have led to two developments.
Secretary Kerry returned to the region last week and met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Second, with increasing intensity over time, the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is creeping onto center stage.
The main argument for abandoning the two-state solution is that the parties have been trying to reach it for 30 years and have failed.
The problem with this line of reasoning, however, is that it confuses the ends with the means.
Achieving direct negotiations has become the goal, when it is actually one path to the real goal: a two-state solution.
But decades of failures must mean something. And what that should teach us is not to abandon the goal, but to find a better path.
In addition, we have failed because we set the bar too high.
We have set it at a full-fledged, permanent solution. But that requires courageous and honest negotiations, and leaders, which evidently is not possible in today’s domestic and regional political environment. Negotiations between parties suspicious as to the other’s intentions and hamstrung by domestic constraints cannot yield an agreement.
Therefore, if the talks remain at an impasse, it’s time to lower the bar, and not hinge everything on direct negotiations. This is the message Kerry should take back with him to Washington.
Instead of the two parties negotiating a two-state solution with one another, with the United States serving as the broker, each party needs to create a two-state reality on the ground. And that can be achieved by independent steps by both sides – without the need for the other side’s agreement – if these actions help establish a two-state reality and advance us toward the goal of two states for two peoples.
This path can yield significant progress.
For the Israeli side, such steps could include a declaration of having no sovereignty claims over areas east of the security fence, enacting of a voluntary evacuation and compensation law for the settlers who live in these areas, and initiating a national-scale planning effort for the absorption of the some 100,000 settlers who will eventually relocate.
For the Palestinians, the steps should include fiercely fighting terror and intransigent groups that try to spoil any progress, and making sure all textbooks in the education system accept the existence of Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state.
The US and rest of the international community have a key role in this new paradigm.
They should use the prism of constructiveness when refereeing whether or not an independent step advances a twostate reality. For example, under the proposed paradigm, a step like the Palestinian UN statehood bid should not have been vetoed by the US at the UN Security Council.
That’s because UN membership advances a reality of two states. The argument that the bid was done outside the scope of negotiation is exactly the problem.
But when either side takes independent steps that impede progress toward two states – such as Israel building settlements east of the security fence or Palestinian calls for Israel boycotts – the international community must exact a price from the offending party.
At the same time, we should not take our eyes off the twostate solution ball. The parameters of a two-states agreement are well understood, and therefore any independent step by either party must be evaluated solely on the basis of whether or not it brings the reality closer to that agreement.
When, after some experience with a two-state reality, the conditions will be ripe to raise the bar back and return to direct negotiations, the task will be much more manageable.
The choice between one state and two states is a false one.
There is really no alternative to two states for those of us who cherish the Zionist dream of a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
But there is an alternative to the futile negotiation attempts.
As in a high-jump competition, there is need to first clear the bar at the lower height: the reality of two states achieved by independent steps. Once that is cleared, we can raise the bar further and aim for an agreement, which must remain the goal.
Ami Ayalon is the co-chairman of Blue White Future, and a former director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). Orni Petruschka is co-chairman of the Israeli non-partisan organization Blue White Future and a hi-tech entrepreneur in Israel.