Three-State Solution

Jewish Light Editorial

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz and news website Times of Israel on Monday carried encouraging stories that the United States is set to propose a contract outline of a peace deal to the Israelis and Palestinians after the start of 2014. Hopes for a breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian front have been raised and dashed so many times since the Oslo Accords were signed with euphoric optimism in September 1993, that one must greet any such report with a degree of cautious optimism. Despite background noise from the parties, these latest reports at first glance seem more genuinely realistic and hopeful than the many previous failed efforts.

Haaretz quotes a senior Knesset Member, Meretz Chairman Zahava Gal-On, as telling the newspaper that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of U.S. plans to present a draft framework agreement on permanent status between Israel and the Palestinians when they held a seven-hour meeting in Rome two weeks ago.  Kerry, who quietly started the present initiative several weeks ago, is to arrive in Israel Tuesday night and will meet Wednesday with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Gal-on told Haaretz, “The Obama administration plans to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough at the beginning of 2014. The Americans want to move from coordinating between the two sides to a phase of active intervention. This coming January, they will present a new diplomatic plan that will include all the core issues and will be based on the 1967 lines, with agreed-on land swaps,” along with implementation and economic development elements.  

While pacifistic Meretz might not seem essential to an ultimate solution, the broader the base of political support for any peace plan, the more likely it is to succeed.  Netanyahu and Knesset leaders have previously promised to submit any final peace plan to a referendum of Israeli voters, and Abbas has made similar representations.  

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Israel and the Palestinians, under Kerry’s careful supervision, resumed negotiations in late July and since then their negotiating teams have held 15 meetings. They are coming to the end of the first phase of talks, which included presenting their opening positions on the various core issues. For its part, Netanyahu’s government has shown good faith by releasing two groups of about 25 Palestinian prisoners despite vehement opposition from within Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. But this week has shown some stress, as the status of Jerusalem final borders and other issues have rattled the parties at the bargaining table and threatened the process. And regardless, the question of Gaza and Hamas remains unanswered for now.

In the three months between now and January, the parties, with the help of veteran U.S. envoy Martin Indyk, will hopefully be able to continue to conduct negotiations in an effort to bridge the gaps.  Until now, the United States has been content to sit on the sidelines while the Israelis and Palestinians drafted their competing visions for a two-state solution.  In recognition of the fact that without the direct and “hands-on” involvement of the United States, previous encouraging efforts have foundered and ultimately failed, the Obama administration has decided, to its credit, to go “all-in” with concrete proposals that take into account the legitimate concerns of both parties.

There is peril in the U.S. advancing a plan that is not explicitly blessed by both sides. The question is, is there more peril in not doing so? As the coalition of those committed to a two-state solution becomes more fragile with the passage of time, the U.S. concludes, probably correctly, that the benefits of pushing a half-full solution may outweigh the risks of another fractured process.

Of course, the details of any U.S. proposal must be known before weighing in with a substantial opinion. Obviously Israel has final say in making or not making any deal involving its sovereign affairs, but the U.S. was brought in by both parties to help effect a solution. There may well be circumstances and issues regarding which the American side can help carry some of the diplomatic baggage by being front and center, thus taking some load off either side. If that can be accomplished while still protecting Israel’s essential needs and security, it might be an effective tactic.

The road ahead will no doubt contain lots of land mines. But doing nothing will not resolve the longstanding goal of a solution based on a Jewish State of Israel, living side by side in peace and security with the Arab State of Palestine.  In full recognition of the challenges ahead, we hope that these latest efforts will achieve the peace which Israel has sought with its neighbors since the very day of its inception on May 14, 1948.