Two-State Solution: The Way Forward

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have resumed peace negotiations but the reports are not optimistic. To achieve a peaceful two-state solution, it is essential to have trust, good will and security.

two-state-solutionIt would be far-fetched to hope at present for peace in the short-term. We should have little illusions about peace, at least so long as Hamas is determined to wipe Israel off the map. Israel does not even appear on Hamas maps. Israel should aspire to enter a long-term interim agreement; to build trust; evacuate isolated settlements; consolidate economic conditions for Palestinians; bolster security on both sides; stop enlarging existing settlements; dismantle checkpoints to make the lives of Palestinian civilians easier; develop the nautilus Iron Dome against rockets and other anti-rocket mechanisms.

I believe that if there is a will, there is a way. Both sides should aspire to peace to reach peace. Both sides need to understand that peace is a precious commodity and therefore be prepared to pay high price for its achievement, reaching a solution that is agreeable to both.

The peace deal should be attractive to both, equally. It cannot be one-sided, enforced or coerced. Of all the possible solutions presently on the table, a two-state solution seems to be the most viable. I believe that good starting points are the Clinton Parameters and the Geneva Accord. Both documents lay the foundations for resolving all contentious issues.

The Palestinians aspire to have an independent state in the 1967 borders, with Arab Jerusalem as its capital and a substantial return of refugees to Israel. The Israelis wish to retain the Jewish character of Israel, being the only Jewish state in the world, and they wish to enjoy life in security, free of violence and terror. Both parties should explicitly accept UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397 and then begin their full implementation. The endgame will be based on the following parameters:

  • Palestinian sovereignty – will be declared and respected.
  • Mutual recognition – Israel shall recognize the State of Palestine. Palestine shall recognize the State of Israel.
  • Mutual diplomatic relations – Israel and Palestine shall immediately establish full diplomatic relationships with each other, installing ambassadors in the capital of the respective partner.
  • Capital – each state is free to choose its own capital.
  • Borders – These should be reasonable and logical for both sides. Former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin rightly claimed that having a border is the best security arrangement. Settling the conflict would give Israel greater international legitimacy to fight terrorism and enable it to deal with the more serious emerging threat from Iran.

Israel will withdraw to the Green Line, evacuating settlements and resettling the settlers in other parts of the country. The major settlement blocs — Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion, Modi’in Illit and Ariel –- which account for approximately 70% of the Jewish population in the West Bank and for less than 2% of its size, may be annexed to Israel upon reaching an agreement with the PA of territory exchange that will be equal in size.

Border adjustment must be kept to the necessary minimum and must be reciprocal. At the Taba talks, the Palestinians presented a map in which Israel would annex 3.1 percent of the West Bank and transfer to the PA other territory of the same size. Senior Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin said that they were willing to concede Israeli annexation of three settlement blocs of at least 4 percent of the West Bank. Prime Minister Olmert offered Palestinian President Abbas a similar or even slightly better deal but Abbas did not reply positively.

Territorial contiguity – a corridor would connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to allow safe and free passage. The road will be permanently open and solely Palestinian. No Israeli checkpoints will be there. Palestinians will not be able to enter Israel from this corridor, nor shall Israelis enter Palestine from the corridor.

The Security Barrier creates a political reality. It should run roughly along the 1967 mutually agreed borders.

Security – Palestine and Israel shall base their security relations on cooperation, mutual trust, good neighborly relations, and the protection of their joint interests. The Palestinian sovereignty should be respected as much as possible. Checkpoints will be dismantled. Only the most necessary control and early warning posts will remain, subject to review and necessity agreed upon by both sides.

The Palestinian state will be non-militarized. This issue was agreed upon in 1995. Also agreed upon were joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols along the Jordan River, the installation of early warning posts, and the establishment of a permanent international observer force to ensure the implementation of the agreed security arrangements. The early warning posts will be periodically visited by Israeli security officers but they won’t be permanently present on Palestinian soil. If there is a need for a permanent presence, this would be trusted to an agreed-upon third-party.

Safe passage – There will be a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, with no Israeli presence or checkpoints. The safe passage will be under Palestinian sovereignty and control. Palestine will ensure that this safe passage won’t be abused for violent purposes. Such abuse would undermine peace and trust between the two parties.

Jerusalem – What is Palestinian will come under the territory of the new capital Al Quds. Al Quds would include East Jerusalem and the adjacent Palestinian land and villages. Abu Dis, Al-Izarieh and Al-Sawahreh will be included in the Palestinian capital. The Israeli capital would include West Jerusalem and the adjacent Israeli settlements. To maintain Palestinian contiguity, Israel may be required to give up some of the settlements around Arab Jerusalem.

The Old City will be granted a special status. Special arrangements and recognition will be made to honor the importance of the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter for Jews, and similarly special arrangements and recognition will be made to recognize the importance of the Islamic and Christian holy places. The Old City will be opened to all faiths under international custodianship. There will be Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in providing municipality services to both populations.

Haram al-Sharif – On March 31, 2013, a Jordan-Palestinian agreement was signed between the PA and Jordan, entrusting King Abdullah II with the defense of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. While Jordan may be a party to any agreement concerning the site, a broader arrangement is welcomed. As agreed by Abbas and Olmert, it will be under the control of a five-nation consortium: Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The Waqf will continue its administration. Jews will enjoy right of access. Excavation for antiquities may be undertaken only with the full agreement of both sides. Similarly, alterations to the historical structures and foundations can be made only upon the consent of both sides.

Water – The UN secretary-general has said that Palestinians “have virtually no control” over the water resources in the West Bank, with 86 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea under the de facto jurisdiction of the settlement regional councils. Israel and Palestine should seek a fair solution that would not infringe the rights of any of the sides and will assure that the Palestinian people will have the required water supply for sustenance and growth.

Fishing – Israel and Palestine will enjoy fishing rights in their respective territorial waters.

Terrorism and violence – Israel should remain steadfast on its demand that the Palestinians fight terrorism with zero tolerance in this sphere. Both sides will work together to curb violence. Both sides will see that their citizens on both sides of the border reside in peace and tranquility. Zealots and terrorists, Palestinian and Jews, will receive grave penalties for any violation of peace and tranquility.

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The Palestinians, apparently, fail to understand the gravity of terrorism and are willing to accept it as part of life. Senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that the option is not either armed struggle or negotiations. “We can fight and negotiate at the same time, just as the Algerians and the Vietnamese had done.” Democracies, however, see things differently. On this issue there should be no compromise.

Incitement – Both sides need to clean up the atmosphere, fight bigotry, racism, incitement and hate on both sides of the fence/wall. This includes a close study of the education curricula in both the PA and Israel. Both sides need to overhaul their school books, excluding incitement, racism, bigotry and hate against one another. The curricula should reflect a language of peace, tolerance and liberty. Both sides should utilize the media to promote peaceful messages of reconciliation and mutual recognition.

Education – Israel and Palestine will institute a shared curriculum on good neighborhood, understanding cultures and religions, respect for others and not harming others. This education program will commence at the kindergarten and continue at primary and high schools. In every age group vital concepts for understanding the other will be studied. This program is critical for establishing peaceful relationships and trust between the two parties.

Languages – Starting in primary schools, Arabic will be a mandatory language for pupils to study in Jewish schools. Similarly, Hebrew will be a mandatory language for pupils to study in Palestinian schools. Language is the most important bridge between different cultures and nations. Israeli will master Arabic to the same extent that they presently master English. Palestinians will master Hebrew as their second language.

Prisoners – As an act of good will, part of the trust-building process, Israel will release a number of agreed upon prisoners. With time, as trust will grow between the two sides, all security prisoners will return home.

Refugees and their right of return – This is a major concern for both Palestine and Israel. For Palestinians, this issue is about their history, justice and fairness. For Israelis, this is a debated issue, where many Israelis are unwilling to claim responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy and most Israelis object to the right of return as this would mean the end of Zionism.

The issue is most difficult to resolve as the original refugee population of an estimated 700,000-750,000 has grown to 4,966,664 refugees registered with UNRWA at the end of November 2010. About 40% of the refugees live in Jordan, where they comprise about a third of the population; another 41% are in the West Bank and Gaza, 10% are in Syria, and 9% are in Lebanon. In the West Bank, refugees constitute about one-third of the population while in Gaza more than 80% of the population.

Israel and the PA have been arguing endlessly about this issue as a matter of principle without examining by surveys how many of the refugees and their families actually are intended to return to Israel if this option were to be available to them. What needs to be done is to identify the population, establish the numbers, and after mapping the refugee population conduct a survey among them that would include the following options:

  • Return to Israel;
  • Return to the West Bank;
  • Return to the Gaza Strip;
  • Emigrate to third countries that would commit to absorbing a certain quota (appeal will be made to countries that receive immigration on a regular basis to participate in this settlement effort);
  • Remain where they are.

The 1948 Palestinian refugees will be able to settle in Palestine. For the rest of the world, it would be legitimate to set quotas. Unification of families should be allowed in Israel on a limited quota annual scale. But massive refugee return to Israel will not be allowed. This dream should be abandoned. When President Abbas was asked whether he would wish Safed, where he was born he replied: “It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”

I suspect that President Abbas’s view reflects the view of many Palestinians who seek recognition, apology and compensation, not the right of return. Thus Israel should recognize the Nakba, acknowledge Palestinian suffering, and compensate the 1948 refugees and their children (but not grandchildren) for the suffering inflicted on them.

An international tribunal of reputable historians and international lawyers, including equal representatives of Israel and Palestine, will determine the level of compensation. If needed, Israel may establish an international relief fund to which humanitarian countries that wish to see the end of the conflict contribute. I believe that between Israel, Europe, the Muslim world, North America and other countries of good will (the Geneva Accord mentions Japan; I would add China, Australia and Brazil), the required funding can be secured. The United Nations and the World Bank may also be approached to offer assistance.

Economic Agreements – Israel and Palestine will consider opportunities for economic cooperation for the benefit of both societies, aiming to capitalize on the potential of both, to optimize resources and coordinate efforts. Israel would help Palestine develop independent economy and open doors for Palestine in the Western world and elsewhere. Palestine will pave the way for Israel’s integration into the Middle East as an equal member in the community of neighboring countries. Palestine will help Israel develop economic, industrial, tourist and other relationships with the Arab and Muslim countries.

International Commerce – Israel and Palestine will be free to conduct international commerce as they see fit. In order to develop trust between the two parties, some level of transparency about logs of commerce will be agreed and memorandums of understanding will be signed by the two parties.

Tourism – Israel and Palestine will coordinate efforts in promoting tourism to the region, this via collaboration with the neighboring countries in order to facilitate cultural and religious experiences that are unique to this region.

Communication and Media – Mutual channels of communication will be opened on television, radio and the Internet. These media channels will transmit their broadcast in two or three languages: Arabic, Hebrew and possibly also English. Communication and language are important for the development of good neighborly relations.

Termination of the conflict – following the signing of a comprehensive agreement covering all issues and concerns, an official statement will be issued declaring the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

International Arbitration – Difficult issues that cannot be resolved by direct negotiations will be delegated to a special arbitration committee. This special committee will have an equal number of Israeli and Palestinian delegates plus an uneven number of international experts. The committee will include lawyers, economists, human rights experts and experts on the Middle East. Their resolutions would be final, without having the right of appeal. Both Israel and Palestine will commit to accept every decision of the arbitration committee. One model to follow might be the arbitration committee comprised to resolve the Taba dispute between Israel and Egypt.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, PhD is Chair and Professor of Politics, Founder and Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull (2008 – ) and a human rights and peace activist. In 2003-2007 he was the Director of the Center for Democratic Studies, University of Haifa. Website:; Blog:; Twitter: @almagor35. Read other articles by Raphael.