Foreign Policy Blogs

Palestinian, Israeli Leaders Showing They Do Not Want to Pay the Price for a Two-State Solution

Palestinian, Israeli Leaders Showing They Do Not Want to Pay the Price for a Two-State Solution

Source: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

The floundering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has put a simple fact into full view: Despite sizable constituencies among both the Israeli and Palestinian publics that support a two-state solution – which I have discussed in previous articles – the internal pressures that both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships feel can be so acute as to derail peace talks entirely.

Yes, of course blame can be placed for the current predicament on either the Israelis or Palestinians for their actions towards one another. But there are other factors here that are extremely important to recognize.

I have previously written that Netanyahu could make considerable concessions for a two-state solution and remain Israel’s prime minister because he would have the political center and left to fall back on. He could even retain solid majority support among the Israeli public in such a situation. These scenarios remain entirely plausible. But Netanyahu also does not want to give up his position as the leader of the Israeli right. He does not want to sign on to an agreement that may or may not bring Israel greater security. And he certainly does not want to go down in Israeli history as the leader who lost control of his own party and then signed an agreement that did not bring the peace it was supposed to. The price to pay, particularly among the Israeli right-wing, would simply be too high.

If it were not for the hardliners in Netanyahu’s coalition who have been threatening to resign and amass support against him, Netanyahu would have likely not made many of the decisions he has, such as the postponement of the release of the final batch of prisoners and even the earlier refusal to extend a freeze on settlements. Nevertheless, it has become clearer that in these talks Netanyahu has been on the verge of accepting a framework agreement that would give up some 90 percent or more of the West Bank, free many more Palestinian prisoners and maybe even establish a Palestinian capital in parts of East Jerusalem. He went to the brink but has not taken the final plunge: The current Israeli-Palestinian status quo – however uneasy – may simply be more comfortable for Netanyahu than the consequences he knows he would face if he signed on to such an agreement.

Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are also very jittery about taking the plunge. While Abbas may personally, like Netanyahu, accept the framework agreement proposed by Kerry, he also recognizes his internal political landscape. Polls have shown only slim majority or plurality support for a two-state solution among the Palestinian public. And it is no secret that those against such a solution in Palestinian society are more vocal and organized in their opposition than those who accept it are in their support (a similar situation may exist among Israelis). Abbas simply does not want to be eaten alive by his own people for accepting a deal that could give the Palestinians even less than what has been proposed before: 93 percent of the West Bank as opposed to 96 percent and a capital in only some of East Jerusalem instead of all of it (excluding the Jewish neighborhoods and the Old City). Even if he could get the better end of the stick on these aspects of the agreement, it may just be that – as with Netanyahu – the status quo is simply more comfortable than the expected aftermath of an agreement.

Therefore, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority bolted to the U.N. as soon as they saw an opportunity. They knew that a sure way to gain credibility and support among the Palestinian public would be to play tough with Israel and seek admission to international institutions – a move that polls have shown many Palestinians have supported for years. Israel’s refusal to release the fourth and final batch of Palestinian prisoners – even though the Palestinians may have known a deal was in the works and it was just a matter of days until the prisoners were released – gave the Palestinians the perfect excuse for their actions.

While there is more support for a two-state solution among all of the people living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River than there is for any alternative solution to the conflict, the lack of political will on both sides has been exposed over the past few days. A two-state solution will be reached only if and when the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships are convinced that swallowing the two-state pill will be less painful than the consequences of not doing so.

For his part, John Kerry seems to understand what is happening. His recent borrowing of an old saying helps sums up the gist of the situation: “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink…Now it’s time to drink, and the leaders need to know that.”




Justin Scott Finkelstein

Justin Finkelstein recently received a Master's degree from New York University in Near Eastern Studies. He has spent most of his academic career and thereafter studying the Arab-Israeli conflict. His Master's thesis explored and analyzed the competing histories of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem (1947-1949) and the potential for its solution.

He is currently a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. He has traveled to both Israel and Morocco and has attended the Middlebury Arabic School program.

Great Decisions Discussion group