The idea of a single state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is gaining renewed currency with a twist: this time around the proposition is supported not only by Palestinians but also by Israeli right-wingers.
The US is facing major obstacles in its efforts to create a Palestinian state
Analysts say debate in Israel as well as among Palestinians about a new approach to Middle East peace involving a one-state solution reflects a sense on both sides of the Arab-Israeli divide that US-sponsored efforts to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel are likely to fail.
Even though support for a one-state solution is by no stretch of the imagination universally accepted among the Israeli right, it also signals a realization that Israel is increasingly paying a heavy diplomatic and political price for the stalemate in the negotiations and needs to produce fresh ideas.
Growing support for a one-state solution was likely to figure in deliberations on Thursday at an Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo.
The participants agreed in principle to direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, however officials said the timing and conditions would be left up to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to decide. In the past he has maintained that such talks can only be revived once Israel agrees to an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza that includes East Jerusalem and a halt to further settlement activity.
Abbas has said he would support a one-state solution if indirect Israeli-Palestinians talks under the auspices of US special envoy George Mitchell fail to bring about an independent state. The US and Israeli demands are supported by the European Union. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos met Abbas in Amman on Tuesday to persuade him to move from the proximity talks to direct negotiations.
Pressure for direct talks
Palestinian officials say the US has exerted considerable pressure on Abbas to accept renewed direct negotiations, warning that his refusal could prompt President Barack Obama to disengage from the peace process. The officials said Mitchell had cautioned that this would mean that the US would have less leverage in persuading Israel to halt its settlement activity.
"Abbas is caught between a rock and a hard place. Engaging in direct talks with Israel without significant Israeli gestures could amount to political suicide," one official said.
Arab leaders are not opposed to a one-state solution
Analysts say the US pressure poses a problem not only for Abbas but also for Arab leaders. Moderate Arab leaders, they say, may instinctively feel that the revival of the notion of a one-state solution - first floated in the 1980s by moderate Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh, who argued that Palestinians by accepting Israeli citizenship would ultimately have a demographic majority in the Israeli state because of their higher birth rate - would in the long run produce a more favorable result for the Palestinians.
That instinct, however, is likely to be offset by worries about the impact a breakdown in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process may have on US-Arab relations at a time that concern, particularly in the Gulf, is mounting about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Talks on more talks
"While welcoming any opportunity for real negotiations, we should remain skeptical of short-term expectations presented as potential breakthroughs, but that end up being little more than delaying or diversionary tactics, cruel mirages in the desert. The emphasis on the need to shift to direct talks, and to transcend the proximity talks now taking place, represents the triumph of procedure over substance," says prominent Jordanian-Palestinian commentator Rami Khouri.
Privately, Arab and Palestinian officials concede that little is likely to change in extended indirect talks, but they express hope that the Obama administration, not wanting to admit failure, may as yet pressure Israel to at least halt the settlements.
Abbas, left, and Mubarak want proximity talks to be extended
Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hannah Amireh said Arab leaders would back a proposal put forward by Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ask that the proximity talks be extended until early September.
"There is a consensus that the Palestinian Authority should not enter into direct talks until Israel commits to a halt in settlement construction and provocations in Jerusalem and abides by international law," Amireh said.
One state or no state?
Proponents of a two-state solution warn that without tangible progress in the peace talks, the window of opportunity for creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel will close, leaving the one-state solution as the only option remaining on the table - an option they caution bears in it the seeds for future conflict with Palestinians, demanding once they achieve a demographic minority that the state be secular rather than Jewish in character.
"The (Israeli) right is not talking about a neutral ‘state of all its citizens' with no identity, nor about ‘Israstine' with a flag showing a crescent and a Shield of David," says Noam Sheizaf, a journalist for the liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz, who has written extensively about the debate in Israel.
"As envisaged by the right wing, one state still means a sovereign Jewish state, but in a more complex reality, and inspired by the vision of a democratic Jewish state without an occupation and without apartheid, without fences and separations," he added.
In recent statements and articles former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Knesseth speaker Reuven Rivlin have advocated making Israel and Palestine one state by legally incorporating the West Bank into Israel.
"We are already a bi-national state and also a multicultural and multi-sector state. The minorities (Arabs) here make up 20 percent of the population - that's a fact and you can't argue with facts," Arens said in a recent article he penned for Ha'aretz.
"Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria would not be the end of the state of Israel, nor would it mean the end of democratic governance in Israel. It would, however, pose a serious challenge to Israeli society. But that is equally true for the other options being suggested for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he added.
Palestinians agree. A recent Palestinian poll revealed that more than half of the Palestinians endorse the Arens proposal, even though it involved only the West Bank, leaving the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million Palestinians to fend for themselves.
Emily Amrousi, a former spokesperson for the settlers, has taken the idea one step further by participating in meetings between settlers and Palestinians to discuss a one-state solution "in which the children of settlers and the children of Palestinians will be bused to school together."
Amrousi and other settler leaders admit that their endorsement of the one-state solution does not constitute a change of heart but another way of securing continued control of the West Bank.
"If every path seems to reach an impasse, usually the right path is one that was never even considered, the one that is universally acknowledged to be unacceptable, taboo," said Uri Elitzur, another former settler leader.
Author: James M. Dorsey
Editor: Rob Mudge