Hope for peace in the Middle East?

On the Israeli side of Rachel Checkpoint close to Bethlehem. Photo:Håvard Kleppa
On the Israeli side of Rachel Checkpoint close to Bethlehem. Photo:Håvard Kleppa

Previous studies have also shown that the majority of Israelis desire a peace agreement based on two states. But it is interesting that also a majority of Palestinians desire the same. We have more frequently heard of opinions amongst Palestinians supporting a one-state-solution, yet none can say what this will actually entail. Will it mean more or less status quo? Or would it be an apartheid-like state with sharp distinctions and unequal rights within the state?

A one-state-solution seems less thought through and realistic. Of course one could say that a two-state-solution also seem unrealistic and distant. But there is really no durable alternative.

Prime minister Netanyahu
Israeli political leaders becoming prime ministers have often gone from opposing a two-state-solution to supporting such a solution. This was true for Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and lastly Benjamin Netanyahu. I have spoken to all three about this, and the change of position has its obvious explanation: They saw that demography spoke against the Israelis. Some years ahead in time the population trends could mean that the Israelis loose majority-size population in their own country. If they still wish to maintain control, it could result in an apartheid-like state. No one desires this. Furthermore, also amongst Israeli politicians there has been a growing recognition of the Palestinians right to national independence.

Lack of trust
The same study that documented majority support for a two-state-solution also portrayed why it is so difficult to reach this goal.

The basic problem is lack of trust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and large parts of their populations. When trust is absent, it becomes difficult to make appropriate compromises. The study mentioned also show that 83 percent of Palestinians do not completely trust Israeli intentions, while 34 percent of Israelis believe the Palestinians aim to conquer Israel and eradicate most Jews. This makes peace difficult!

Tough questions
The toughest questions towards a peace agreement are related to the border issue, settlements, refugee’s right to return and the status of Jerusalem.

I believe that the border- and settlement issues are solvable. It seems obvious that the borders between the two states must be based on borders from before the 1967-war with necessary adaptions. Such adaptions, «land swaps», could include some of the Israeli settlements if Palestinians are compensated with new land. This could be established with a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, which is necessary for a Palestinian state to function, but also through other adaptions. It is my impression that the distance between the two parties on these matters are not insurmountable.

It might be more difficult with regards to refugee’s right to return. But constructive suggestions for approaching this matter are available. Most difficult is naturally the issue of the status of Jerusalem, which both parties demand as their capital. The problem is illustrated in the mentioned study where a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians oppose a division of the city.

Is it will?
American initiative has sparked renewed discussions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It is important that this initiative is supported by the Arab League, based on their peace-agreement-draft from 2002. The success of these discussions will be determined by whether there is sufficient trust between the parties. Through meetings with negotiation-leaders Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat last year, I was given the impression that the climate between them is good. But it is not sufficient. There are several other politicians on both sides to be convinced, which may prove more difficult. In a meeting I will attend with Palestinian president Abbas by the end of January I expect to gain a first-hand impression of the situation as experienced by the Palestinian side.

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