Middle East Plan B

Sasha Polakow-Suransky in The Boston Globe:

Israel__1273862716_1030 “I think this is a very big deal,” President Clinton declared to a group of American Jews and Arabs after the legions of photographers left the White House grounds on Sept. 13, 1993. However, Clinton warned, it would take commitment and hard work to guarantee that the historic Israeli-Palestinian Accord signed that day would “truly be a turning point.” It has been almost 17 years since Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands in the White House Rose Garden, setting in motion a process that was supposed to end the conflict for good. The agreement Clinton envisioned was relatively simple: Two states for two peoples. Israel would largely withdraw from the territories it has occupied since 1967, while retaining a few large settlement blocs within the West Bank and compensating the Palestinians with a similar amount of land from Israel proper. This two-state solution respects the fundamental tenets of Zionism — by allowing Israel to remain a Jewish-majority state — and satisfies moderate Palestinians’ nationalist ambitions by creating a national home for 4 million stateless Palestinians. It has guided western policy ever since.

But the two-state solution has not worked, and there is a growing fear that it never will, despite the resumption last week of indirect talks. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only to see the Islamic fundamentalist party Hamas take control of it, sending rockets into Israeli cities across the border. Meanwhile, Israel has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank, making the possibility of a territorially contiguous Palestine seem more remote than ever. With over 300,000 settlers in the West Bank today — compared to just over 100,000 in 1993 — many analysts on both sides believe that the settlements have become too entrenched and inextricably tied to Israel proper for the government to realistically evacuate all or most of its citizens, even if Israeli forces withdraw. Still, because negotiators on both sides and officials in Washington are so well-versed in two-state diplomacy and have been working for years to bring such a solution about, it remains the default option even as logistics conspire to make it impossible.

More here.