I don’t know if the majority of Palestinians still support the idea of a mini Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with east Jerusalem as its capital. My guesstimate is probably just under half of the population of the West Bank supports it, but the majority of young Palestinians do not. A clear majority of Gazans do not support it, and an overwhelming number of Palestinians in the diaspora are against it.
From traveling extensively throughout the West Bank, I believe that it is no longer possible to physically separate Israel from a Palestinian state in agreement on the basis of the 78%-22% split that was implicitly agreed to in Oslo (78% of the land to Israel, 22% to a Palestinian state). The Palestinian people believe and accepted that Yasser Arafat made an historic compromise when he agreed to recognize Israel on the basis of the borders that existed prior to June 5, 1967. In their view, Arafat conceded on 78% of the homeland.
It is true in later negotiations the Palestinians agreed to compromise on the precise delineation of the border recognizing that facts on the ground created by Israel through settlement building, which they believe is illegal under international law. The Palestinians understood that it was impossible to return to the Green Line border; therefore, they agreed to territorial swaps on a one-to-one basis exchanging land inside the West Bank with land adjacent to the Green Line inside of Israel.
For them, both sides of the Green Line is Palestine. But they did not agree to negotiate on the 22% of the state that they believed would be theirs when they entered into the Oslo Accords. Now, many years later – and with US President Donald Trump’s plan granting 30% of the West Bank (30% of the remaining 22%) – it seems impossible to fulfill even their minimalist dreams of a mini-state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
The extensive building and expansion of settlements and Israeli infrastructure beyond the settlement blocs into the heartland of the West Bank, along with broad Israeli building in possible land-swap areas inside of the Green Line, kill the possibilities of the deal that was the basis of permanent-status negotiations in the past. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the years after the Olmert-Abbas negotiations of 2008 and 2009, Israel deliberately invested huge sums of money expanding isolated settlements outside of the settlement blocs and those closest to Palestinian population centers.
The intent of that construction is clear: to block any possibility of allowing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The Netanyahu regime has succeeded. The growing numbers of Palestinians who reject the idea of a mini Palestinian state and their total rejection of the Trump plan indicate quite clearly that the basis of partition of the land into two states for two peoples now belongs only to history.
The right-wing Israeli journalist Nave Dromi wrote (Arutz Sheva, October 11, 2020): “Israel must convince the Palestinians that they have lost and continuing their obsessive conflict with Israel will only be to their detriment.” Yes, the Palestinian people have lost. It is clear to the overwhelming number of Palestinians that they cannot defeat Israel on the battlefield. The Palestinians have no military option. But neither does Israel. Israel has defeated Oslo, but the Palestinian people remain and will continue to struggle to remain on what is remaining from their land. As Israel departed from Oslo, to a large extent because of the terrorism of the Second Intifada, Israel has moved further and further to the Right.
THERE IS little interest in Israel in resolving the Palestinian issue. The right wing is further strengthened by Arab states breaking the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative and making peace with Israel without resolving the issue of a Palestinian state. It seems that this process will continue and more Arab states will join in. The Palestinian polity is in shambles, and the current leadership has been running Palestinian society since 2006 without being elected. The large majority of Palestinians want the current leadership out and they want new elections.
Members of the current Palestinian leadership are scrambling on the field to consolidate power. There are rumors of weapons being purchased and money being spread around by various people who see themselves as the next leader. There are talks of power coalitions being formed to prevent the possibility of infighting once Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is no longer able to rule. When the Palestinian people will eventually have a chance to elect new leaders, my hope is that the those who see themselves as potential leaders will present a real vision for the Palestinian people; not a pipe dream, but something that will provide hope and has a chance of being fulfilled.
While in the eyes of Palestinians the stronger party (Israel) should propose a solution, it would be foolish for the Palestinian people to expect Israel to propose anything that would resemble a plan that Palestinians could agree to. Perhaps it is equally foolish to expect that Israel would accept any new proposal that the Palestinians would put forth today. Both sides are today rudderless regarding the plotting of a reasonable course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I am not a Palestinian, I am an Israeli, and I will not decide for the Palestinian people who are their leaders. But as a friend of the Palestinian people, I would strongly advise that the decision on who should lead the Palestinian people and the Palestinian national movement should be predicated on who has a viable and reasonable plan to map out the Palestinian future. Palestinians are beginning to face the internal competition for leadership in the post-Abbas era. It appears that the battleground is being shaped by the consolidation of military might and belligerent statements.
Palestinians will not win by selecting leaders who compete on their belligerency towards Israel. I am not suggesting that Palestinian leaders should concede and give into Israel’s whims and commands. The challenge is to present a vision, a plan, an idea that can inspire people to imagine a future which will bring peace, national dignity, pride and freedom. I don’t know what that vision is and I have nothing to propose to the Palestinian people. My hope is that the young generation of Palestinians will lead the way and that their vision will, in fact, lead us all to peace.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press. It will soon appear in Arabic.