One of the most common lessons I received as a child was that I can’t always get what I want. As for many others, this was a fundamental, if often frustrating, aspect of childhood. Another similarly vital, albeit contradictory childhood lesson, is that if we put our minds to it, we can achieve anything.
So too, in the Israeli-Palestinian arena—which has just witnessed what may be Israel’s largest counterterror operation in the West Bank in 2src years—do we endlessly repeat the slogan that bringing both sides together for negotiations will lead to a solution.
But despite reinforcing this adage from our youth, and despite decades-long efforts by world leaders, a viable solution remains elusive. So, perhaps it’s time we ask ourselves an uncomfortable question: What if Israeli-Palestinian peace is impossible?
Since the breakthroughs of the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords—aimed at ending the conflict through a two-state solution—negotiations between various Palestinian and Israeli administrations have proved futile. Notwithstanding major positive changes since—namely the normalization of relations between Israel and numerous Arab nations—encouraging developments on the Israeli-Palestinian front remain few and far between.
The conflict, and debate surrounding it, have thus entered paralysis, with no clear path forward. As a result, alternatives to the comatose two-state solution are being proposed, such as a one-state solution or confederation.
Tragically, all proposed solutions are met with skepticism from locals, according to a recent joint survey by Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. While the two-state solution received “the lowest level of support… among Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and all Israelis” since the joint polls began in 2src16, support for a one-state solution or confederation was even lower. Overall, “trust is declining to new low points,” the report noted, finding that “86 percent of Palestinians and 85 percent of Israeli Jews believe the other side is not trustworthy.”
But for argument’s sake, let’s explore the possibility that both sides enter negotiations in good faith. What obstacles will they encounter?
Israel, for one, will likely face fierce opposition from within its settler movement. As of January, there were over 5srcsrc,srcsrcsrc Israelis living in the West Bank; in 2src19, dozens of Israeli lawmakers signed a petition calling for the settling of 2 million Jews in West Bank communities.
If successful, such a move would kill the possibility of any future Palestinian state—and peace along with it. And if Israel’s civil turmoil during the 199srcs peace process is any reliable indicator of future events, withdrawing the number of settlers required to create a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank may drag Israel to the brink of civil war.
But let’s now assume Israelis clean out their closet; they’re ready to make any reasonable concessions for peace. What’s required of Palestinians?
One of the greatest Palestinian obstacles to peace is their claimed “right of return.” Despite no basis in international law, the demand remains for the return to Israel of millions of Palestinian descendants of those who left or were expelled in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. This is, however, a mere cover for overrunning Israel’s Jewish population, ergo, no more Israel.
Another seemingly insurmountable barrier is Palestinian support for terrorist groups. According to a December poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Palestinian parliamentary elections would see both Hamas and the more moderate Fatah (which controls the Palestinian Authority) receive 34 percent of the vote. With Hamas’ international designation as a terrorist organization—and a founding charter that blames Jews for the French and Russian revolutions, both world wars, and calls for their mass murder—Israelis, unsurprisingly, see no partner for peace in a Palestinian national movement in which Hamas wields such widespread support.
While there may be wholly different solutions yet to arise, these seemingly irreparable issues would need to be resolved, never mind the myriad other disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians.
It’s not simply a case of differing narratives but, rather, narratives that leave no room for the other.
Be it the messianic drive for settlements, the obsessive dream of flooding Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees, or any of the numerous other disputes between the two peoples, such issues are existential, not territorial, as Bren Carlill, author of The Challenges of Resolving the Israeli–Palestinian Dispute: An Impossible Peace?, argues in his book.
The Oslo Accords’ failure was a testament to that existential roadblock. Despite years of peace negotiations, neither side was truly willing, nor able, to make the necessary compromises.
And so, the conflict now exists in an endless loop of political delegitimization and military confrontations. As long as this intolerable continuum keeps up, negotiators will continue turning up empty-handed.
Like millions of others, I long for the day when a Jewish and Palestinian state live peacefully side-by-side. But what if it’s just a fantasy? What if one day, as we did time and again throughout childhood, we’re forced to confront the reality that we don’t always get what we want? What if, after all these years, we’re forced to accept that a peaceful resolution to the world’s most intractable conflict will always remain a dream?