How Trump’s Approach May Alter Israeli-Palestinian Peace Efforts

  • Israeli-Palestinian state, confederation are now options
  • Two states is no longer the assumed solution to conflict

Inside Trump's New Direction on Mideast Peace

When U.S. President Donald Trump said Feb. 15 that Israelis and Palestinians could hash out for themselves whether the answer to their decades-old conflict is one state or two, he resuscitated an option previous administrations had buried. Below is a list of the possible alternatives that may now be back in play:

The Binational State, or One-State Solution

The idea is a single nation incorporating Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Jews and Arabs enjoy equal rights. Given that Israel’s population of 8.5 million is already 20 percent Arab, adding some 4.4 million Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem would produce a state split roughly down the middle between Jews and Arabs.

The concept may sound like a showcase for democracy, but Israelis reject it as political suicide because it would end the country’s identity as the world’s only Jewish state and a sanctuary from persecution. Higher Palestinian birth rates could ultimately lead to an Arab majority in society and parliament. After more than two decades of failed peace talks, some Palestinians say they now prefer this option.

Read: QuickTake: Two-State Solution, A Dimming Dream for Israelis and Palestinians

Autonomy on Steroids

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hasn’t altered his conditional support for the two-state solution, but calls to annex parts of the West Bank are growing in his governing coalition. Leading the campaign is Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, who says Israel should put about 60 percent of the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty and offer Palestinians in the rest of the area “autonomy on steroids.” That means bolstering Palestinian self-rule in big cities while building roads and bridges to ease movement across the West Bank. Israel would retain overall security control, and the tens of thousands of Palestinians in the annexed areas -- a small percentage of the 2.3 million who live in the West Bank -- would gradually be given the vote.

Palestinians reject the idea of partial annexation with no voting rights. For the past 50 years, Israel itself has refrained from extending its sovereignty to the West Bank, knowing that annexation would put it under pressure to let Palestinians vote.

Confederation

If the two sides can’t reach the necessary compromises for two independent states, perhaps they can live as separate political entities within one sovereign nation. That’s the idea behind confederation, a means of allowing Jews and Arabs to pursue their own political destinies while bypassing the complications of birthing a new state. Under such a framework, Israelis and Palestinians could maintain separate parliaments while cooperating in areas such as economic development, transportation and the environment.

Advocates have suggested that the loose structure of confederation could generate enough goodwill that Palestinians would accept the presence of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, on condition that a similar number of Palestinians could move inside the current borders of Israel. Detractors argue that confederation would turn into a tug-of-war for power that would tilt toward Israel, which would likely insist on controlling military aspects of the state for security reasons. The vastly stronger Israeli economy also might feed Palestinian discontent and make the partnership difficult to sustain.

Interim State

Proponents say creating an interim Palestinian state with provisional borders would allow some progress while postponing resolution of the thorniest issues for now. These include the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian demand that Arabs who fled or were expelled from the fledgling Jewish state in 1948, and generations of their descendants -- today numbering in the millions -- be allowed to return to their former homes, potentially undermining Israel’s Jewish character.

Palestinians object to an interim solution, fearing it will become a permanent arrangement.

Partial Israeli Pullback

After decades of failed diplomacy, some former Israeli security officials and negotiators say Israel should look for ways to break the deadlock on its own. They champion a withdrawal to lines approximating those Israel held before the 1967 war, with continued Israeli control over three major West Bank settlement blocs where the vast majority of Jewish settlers live.

Israeli hardliners, who dominate the governing coalition, have shown no interest in such a scenario. Palestinians want a full Israeli military pullout.

Status Quo

The Palestinian Authority under Mohammed Abbas governs the major Arab cities in the West Bank, under an interim arrangement with Israel signed in 1993 and intended to last only five years. The Israeli military has ultimate control over the territory, where about 400,000 Jews live in settlements. Gaza broke away in 2007 after Islamist Hamas militants violently wrested control of the enclave, though Israel and Egypt still control its borders. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it along with the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, in a move that isn’t internationally recognized, and more than 200,000 Jews have settled there since.

Palestinians have risen up twice against Israeli rule, Gaza militants have warred with Israel three times since 2007, and the prospect of more violence always threatens. Some Israelis say 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem has had a corrosive effect on their country’s democracy. Others say continuing the status quo, which has defied predictions that it’s not sustainable, is preferable to forcing a solution that won’t hold and could lead to more violence.

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