Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Back to Opinion

How To Get to Two States From Here

Support Fayyad’s State-Building Effort

By Yossi Alpher

The best way to advance prospects for a two-state solution is to support Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s program to put in place the institutional infrastructure of a Palestinian state.

The alternatives pale in comparison. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hold views and represent extremist elements that for now render efforts to reach a negotiated solution a virtual non-starter. In contrast, Fayyad’s plan requires no negotiation — just action.

This is the first time since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 that the Palestinians are succeeding at state-building. Fayyad is, with American and European help, building security forces that are winning the admiration and cooperation of the Israeli army. He has imposed fiscal responsibility on what had been a notoriously corrupt bureaucracy. He plans to complete the job of building national institutions by August 2011. If, by then, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed

to achieve an agreement for a two-state solution — which seems like a certainty given current circumstances — Fayyad is expected to ask the U.N. Security Council to establish a Palestinian state.

While some Israelis are wary, Fayyad’s plan actually has huge advantages for Israel. The establishment of a Palestinian state would strengthen Israel as a Jewish state and increase regional stability. These achievements would no longer be held hostage to the resolution of sensitive issues such as the fate of Palestinian refugees and the holy sites in Jerusalem. After a Palestinian state is established, negotiations over settlements, security and adjustments to the 1967 borders would become an inter-state affair. The PLO, with its radical refugee diaspora and liberationist agenda, would no longer be Israel’s interlocutor on these issues. The capacity of Hamas in Gaza to disrupt the process would be significantly reduced by making statehood, starting in the West Bank, a fait accompli.

Washington should signal now that it will support Fayyad’s plan in the U.N. if negotiations fail.

Yossi Alpher, who writes the Forward’s “Strategic Interest” column, co-edits and is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

America Needs To Take Charge

By Amjad Atallah

Special Envoy George Mitchell banned the term “peace process” from common usage by his team because he recognized that it had become synonymous with failure and with a managerial approach to the conflict. He now needs to ban the expression “we can’t want it more than the parties” for the same reasons.

President Obama has made it clear that ending the occupation of Arab territory and ensuring Israel’s permanent acceptance and security will have a host of positive impacts on current challenges to American national interests (as well as be good for Israel and Palestine). It is now time to concoct a policy that will help the United States get there, based on current political realities.

The first step is to start an interagency discussion over what a comprehensive new policy will look like and how it will interact with the complex set of American interests with Iran, with Iraq and in the battle against Al Qaeda. The resulting policy should accord with three obvious but often-violated principles:

1) American financial, diplomatic and military engagement must align with U.S. policy goals and values. There is no point in opposing settlement construction on Palestinian land or decrying acts that humiliate American and European officials when they visit Israel, while providing financial, political and other support to those actions. As long as our actions support the occupation, our pronouncements on peace are almost irrelevant.

2) The United States should provide all the parties incentives and disincentives that make peace the most attractive and least costly option. Occupation, like war, is only pursued when the benefits to decision makers outweigh the costs.

3) Our policies should remind the parties of our relative strength — not their own. The United States needs to identify unilateral steps we can take to transform political intransigence in Israel and political weakness among Palestinians without artificially strengthening those realities by conditioning our policies on the acceptance of others.

Amjad Atallah is a director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and an editor at the Middle East Channel of He served as an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000 to 2003.

Be Careful Before Pushing an End-Game Proposal

By Scott B. Lasensky

Despite a swirl of media speculation, the Obama administration has made clear that it is not now planning to put forward an American outline for a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, the administration is sticking with its two-track approach: encouraging negotiations and promoting steps to improve security and stability on the ground. But if past is prologue, like previous administrations, this one will face an end-game decision at some point. When it does, past forays into this area offer some valuable lessons.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan put forward a set of ideas. While sidestepping the question of a Palestinian state — and suggesting that Israel would not have to return to its pre-1967 borders — Reagan’s plan called for a settlement freeze. Reagan rushed to put out the plan after detailed consultations with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but not with Israel — a major mistake. The plan fell flat.

During the Oslo period (1993-2000), the Clinton administration generally shied away from end-game issues. Resolving the core issues was instead left up to the parties themselves. But when the administration did put its ideas forward — at Camp David II, and then with the Clinton “parameters” five months later — it did so hastily, without lining up regional support, and with a built-in hourglass that worked against it.

Previous administrations also learned how important it is to build a strong coalition at home, without which an end-game gambit won’t work. Timing and context are also key considerations, as is avoiding the impression that the United States is trying to “impose” a settlement. If, at some point, the Obama administration decides to go down the path of presenting an outline for a final-status agreement, the lessons are clear: prior consultation with the parties — especially Israel, choreographing a regional response, sound and sophisticated preparation, and avoiding ultimatums are all key ingredients of success.

Scott B. Lasensky is a senior research associate at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He is the co-author, with Daniel C. Kurtzer, of “Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East” (United States Institute of Peace Press, 2008). The views expressed here are his own.

First Tackle Borders, Then Address the Rest

By David Makovsky

It can be tempting to try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all at once. But the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians reaching a grand agreement on all the core issues — refugees, Jerusalem, settlements and borders — is unlikely at this time. Refugees and Jerusalem are narrative issues, and neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders have conditioned their respective publics to deal with them.

Whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is always nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.

Instead, we should focus on reaching agreement where it is attainable. The issue where the gap between the parties is narrowest is the question of borders. In negotiations in 2008 and 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested that Israel retain 6.4% of the West Bank in return for equivalent land inside Israel, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas thought the figure should be 1.9% — a difference that seems bridgeable. Moreover, some 80% of Israeli settlers — approximately 240,000 people — live in less than 4.5% of the West Bank, largely adjacent to the pre-1967 boundaries.

Reaching an agreement first on borders (and, of course, security) would offer three distinct benefits: First, the Palestinian Authority could tell its people that it has obtained the equivalent of 100% of the land to be part of a contiguous Palestinian state. Second, Israelis would have something to gain and not just to give — settlers who live in the major blocs would have their status normalized as part of Israel and no longer live in legal limbo. Finally, the settlements issue would no longer be a thorn in U.S.-Israel relations.

Eventually, Israel will need to make concessions on Jerusalem, and the Palestinians will need to concede that refugees can only return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel. A prior agreement on borders, however, could give the parties the time and political capital necessary to sell a compromise on these narrative issues to their people.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. He is the co-author, with Dennis Ross, of “Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East” (Viking, 2009).

Pursue Interim Steps To Restore Israeli Trust

By Steven J. Rosen

George Mitchell says that he wants to achieve a comprehensive end-of-conflict agreement in 24 months. But he and President Obama also say that the United States cannot achieve such an agreement if the parties do not want it.

The great majority of Israelis no longer believe that the kind of comprehensive agreement Mitchell and Obama have in mind will bring peace and security. Poll after poll in Israel, not to mention the results of the Israeli elections one year ago, confirm this. 

Israelis may, in principle, be willing to make vast compromises on territory and settlements if they believed that they had a reliable Palestinian partner. But the Palestinian leadership that they see today looks weak, divided and unlikely to be able to maintain security after such an Israeli departure. Under current conditions, most Israelis believe that if their army withdrew now, the West Bank would become as hostile as Gaza and far more dangerous.

A final-status agreement in 24 months is a non-starter, not because Benjamin Netanyahu stands in the way, but because the Israeli people do not believe it will bring peace. The Israeli public might be willing to agree

to more limited interim measures, for which the element of risk could be more containable. In an interim agreement, Israel would keep buffers that it would lose in a comprehensive final-status agreement. Limited interim agreements, if successful, could over time restore the confidence of the Israeli public that territorial concessions can bring peace. That confidence is currently absent.

More time would also offer an opportunity for Obama to build a different record as a friend of Israel, and for him to restore the trust that he has eroded by his actions over the past 15 months. Israelis take risks for peace when they believe that the United States government stands with them. That is very definitely not how Israelis perceive things today. Instead, Israelis see President Obama as being more sensitive to Arab demands than he is to Israeli concerns.

Steven J. Rosen is director of the Washington Project at the Middle East Forum. He served for 23 years as foreign policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Palestinians Must Show That They Want Peace

By Zalman Shoval

Palestinian statehood is often presented these days as a favor to Israel. In reality, it is a historic concession by Israel to the Palestinians, with both pros and cons for Israel.

True, Israel doesn’t want to rule over another people, and most Israelis accept that incorporating all of the “territories” into Israel would create untenable problems for Israel’s democracy and demographic balance. But there are also considerable risks: Will the future Palestine be a “democratic state living in peace alongside Israel” or a staging area for terrorists and an entity with irredentist ambitions toward both Israel and Jordan? And how would an agreement with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank eliminate the problem of the Hamas-ruled “state” in Gaza?

Still, Israel has agreed to the “two-state solution.” But as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu qualified in his Bar-Ilan speech, the future Palestinian state must be demilitarized, and its air space — being Israel’s air space as well — will have to be controlled.

The only possibility of making progress is in direct unconditional negotiations, with the Palestinians acknowledging Israel as the state of the Jewish people — just as Israel acknowledges the Palestinian entity to be the state of the Palestinians. One possible avenue could be agreeing to Palestinian statehood within provisional borders, with the final status to be negotiated once it is clear how the new state is dealing with the rule of law, the economy and its commitment to Israel’s security. Insoluble issues such as Jerusalem and refugees should be left for later so as not to jeopardize the talks from the beginning.

American help in facilitating talks and promoting arrangements is appreciated. But ultimately the Palestinians themselves must demonstrate their willingness to make a final peace with Israel and live up to their commitments if the “two-state” formula is to be a solution and not the creation of a more grievous problem.

Zalman Shoval served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1993 and from 1998 to 2000. Before that, he was a four-term member of the Knesset. At present he heads an advisory forum set up by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on U.S.-Israel relations.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.