Click photo to download. Caption: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on May 23, 2013, representing one of his recent attempts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Credit: State Department.
By Kenneth Bandler/JNS.org
The two-state premise for resolving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back to the very foundation of the State of
Israel. The United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 divided British-ruled
Mandatory Palestine into two separate entities, one Jewish, one Arab. The plan
recognized that the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea must be
shared, a principle at the core of current efforts to achieve, through
bilateral negotiations, a permanent peace based on two states for two peoples.
Even though many Zionists had originally
sought Jewish sovereignty over the entire land, David Ben-Gurion wisely acceded
to the compromise, recognizing the chance to fulfill the Zionist vision of a
Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Tragically for the Palestinian people, their
leaders and the Arab world at large objected to the very idea of a Jewish state
within any borders, and opted for war against the Jews to abort partition. The
Arab defeat doomed the Palestinian half of the two-state plan. Two Arab states
went further to snuff out that vision, as Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan
annexed the West Bank.
Israel’s dramatic victory in June 1967
against Arab countries intent on destroying it left Israel in control of Sinai,
Gaza, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While there were
those who vocally urged maintaining control over all of the land for
historical, religious and security reasons, the Israeli mainstream never
relished ruling over another people. Israeli governments, Labor and Likud, have
sought partners to negotiate peace agreements that would entail territorial
Israel concluded such a deal with Egypt’s
Anwar Sadat in 1979, restoring the Sinai to Egyptian sovereignty. Another
historic peace treaty was reached with Jordan’s King Hussein in 1994, but
Jordan had relinquished any claim to the West Bank and declared that the future
of East Jerusalem, including the holy Muslim sites in the Old City, would be up
to the Palestinians.
The 1993 Oslo Accords, a product of direct
bilateral negotiations, were signed with the noble intention of eventually
creating a Palestinian entity that would live in peace with Israel. But, as
with the U.N. two-state plan, implementation required visionary, courageous,
determined leaders on both sides. Regrettably, Palestinian leadership has
consistently fallen short, but Israelis who still hold on to the pipedream of a
greater Israel have also made the search for peace more difficult.
While Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s
assassination by an Israeli extremist surely set up an obstacle to the peace
process, Yasser Arafat’s decision to revert to terrorism, refusal to recognize
the Jewish people’s link to any part of the land, and failure to nurture a
culture of peace among his own people had a far more serious long-term impact.
Still, the elusive goal of two states, never
completely abandoned, remains the best option for permanent peace. Four
consecutive prime ministers of Israel—Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and
Binyamin Netanyahu—have openly committed themselves to it. In his historic 2009
Bar-Ilan University address, …read more