Staying true to ‘two-state’

For the better part of two decades, most Israelis and Palestinians and most of their elected leaders have embraced the “two-state solution” to their bloody conflict -- a negotiated separation into side-by-side states of Israel and Palestine. Over time, however, the two sides have moved further from that goal, pulled in opposite directions by extremists. Now, as Vice President Biden and U.S. envoy George J. Mitchell attempt to start “proximity” talks, in which the two sides will negotiate without meeting face to face, we’re concerned: Is time running out for a two-state solution?

Israel: A March 11 editorial about the “two-state” solution said that Israel erected a barricade between itself and the occupied territories. In fact, the barrier does not directly follow the line separating Israel from the territories but cuts into West Bank land. —

Faith in two states for two peoples grew out of the 1993 Oslo accords between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; the idea was to trade land Israel had captured in the 1967 Six-Day War for security and peace. The weighty issues of how to draw the borders of the new state, the future of Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees, and control over Jerusalem were to be negotiated.

But the deal was never closed. Instead, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish zealot, a Palestinian intifada was launched with rockets and suicide bombers instead of rocks, and Israel erected a barricade hundreds of miles long between itself and the occupied territories. Arafat spent the last two years of his life under siege in the ruins of his West Bank headquarters, and Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip after the Israelis pulled out. Last year, Gaza suffered a devastating Israeli land and air assault after rocket attacks by militants. And all the while, Israel continued building settlements in the occupied West Bank and housing units in East Jerusalem.

Against that dispiriting backdrop, Biden arrived in Jerusalem this week urging the two sides to “take risks for peace.” Israel responded with the outrageous announcement that it intends to build 1,600 new apartments for Jews in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem and 112 in the West Bank. Biden rightly condemned the move, and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of sabotaging the talks, which have been suspended since late 2008. Israel later apologized for the “timing” of the announcement, but not for approving the permits, which is the heart of the problem.

This page still believes the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only sensible option. The alternative would seem to be a binational state in which a minority of Jews maintains rule over Palestinians in an apartheid fashion, or in which Palestinians use the democratic process and a growing population to exert control. Theoretically, a two-state solution is still possible. But neither side trusts the other, and neither is prepared to make the compromises necessary to reach an agreement, the outlines of which have been known for decades.