Breaking the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock – Two State Solution

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, global education magazineRaphael Cohen-Almagor

School of Politics, Philosophy and International Studies. The University of Hull, United Kingdom. Chair and Professor of Politics, Founder and Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull since 2008,; human rights and peace activist; in 2003-2007 he was the Director of the Center for Democratic Studies, University of Haifa.

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Abstract: Since 1977, the Israeli society has been split over the question of peace versus land. The aim of this paper is to outline the parameters for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Drawing upon the Clinton Parameters, the Geneva Accord, the Arab initiative, and the Olmert-Abbas talks, the paper argues for a two-state solution and suggests a doable pathway to peace. If and when accepted, these suggestions will constitute the foundations for resolving all contentious issues.

Keywords: Israel, Palestine, peace, security, borders, Jerusalem, refugees, terror.



God is sitting with his loyal angels, Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, and looking at creation. Michael points out an old farmer who plows the land with tired legs and hands, and says “Dear God. This man is seventy years old. He has been working hard all his life in order to sustain his wife and six children. They live meagerly. Maybe we should lend him a hand?”

God answers laconically: “He is not ready yet”.

The following week, God is sitting with his loyal angels, watching his creation. Michael, the stubborn angel, tries again: “If you forgive me, dear God. Please note this farmer. He has been working the field since 6 a.m. This is what he has done for more than fifty years. Maybe we can help him?”

God replies: “He is not ready”.

The following week, Michael asks again, and God still refuses. Week after week Michael tries on behalf of the farmer, and God declines, until one day God agrees to help. As the farmer returns home on his little horse and carriage, God wraps a heavy gold bar with simple cloth and throws it on the road. The carriage hits the gold bar. One of the wheels breaks.  The farmer curses his bad luck, takes the wrapped gold bar, and throws it away. Then he fixes the wheel and slowly makes his way back home. 

God says tiredly: “I told you he was not ready yet”.



Israel was established in May 1948. Ever since then its boundaries are disputed. The boundaries have been disputed both by Israelis and by foreigners. The major controversies relate to the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. These territories, conquered during the 1967 Six Day War, are claimed by Israel’s neighbours. The Palestinian Authority (PA) wishes to end the state of occupation in the West Bank, to lift the Israeli siege on Gaza, and also claims neighbourhoods in the eastern part of Jerusalem, whereas Syria claims the Golan Heights. The PA, like Israel, suffers from the land dispute as it does not have defined boundaries. The PA also lacks control over its territory and sovereignty. These are necessary preconditions for its declaration of independence and statehood. 

Since 1977, the Israeli society has been split over the question of peace versus land. The main issue is: what price are we willing to pay for peace? Here we need to distinguish between peace en abstractum v. peace en practicum

In September 1993, Israel woke up to a new, dramatic reality. Out of the blue, Israel had a peace treaty with its foe. After eight months of secret negotiations and 14 meetings the enemy of yesterday became a partner for peace. There was jubilation amongst those in the left-wing peace camp. At the same time, there were fears and anxieties on the right where people realized that they now needed to grapple with the issue of the price: What price would Israel pay for the treaty?

What follows is an attempt, from the point of view of diplomacy and political science, to delineate the price by outlining the parameters needed to end the Israeli-Palestinian protracted and most bloody conflict. For such a momentous achievement of resolving a deep, entrenched conflict, three things are absolutely essential:

  • An Israeli leader who is committed to bring peace to his people and is willing to pay the necessary price;
  • A Palestinian leader who is committed to bring peace to his people and is willing to pay the necessary price;
  • Shared belief by both leaders that the time is ripe for peace. By “time is ripe” it is meant that both leaders believe that enough blood was shed, that they need to seize the moment because things might worsened for their people, and that they have the ability to lead their respective people to accept the peace agreement and change reality for the better.

During the past two decades, at no given time the three ingredients coexisted. In 1993 and 2000, Prime Ministers Rabin and Barak were committed to peace and felt that the time was ripe, but that commitment and feeling was not shared by their Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat. All three leaders did not have the full backing of their people, and were either unable or unwilling to instill in their people a sense of urgency and yearning for peace, which must come with a high price. It is argued that the way to escape the deadlock is to rely on the Clinton Parameters (1), the Geneva Accord (2), the Arab initiative (3), and the Olmert-Abbas talks (4). These documents contain the foundations for resolving all contentious issues.


Analysis of all documents relating to peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine since the Oslo process of 1993 until now.


To build genuine peace, it is essential to have trust, good will and mutual security. I believe that if there is a will, there is a way. Peace is a precious commodity and therefore it requires both parties to pay a high price for its achievement, reaching a solution that is agreeable to both. The peace deal should be attractive to both Israel and Palestine, equally. It cannot be one-sided, enforced or coerced. Of all the possible solutions presently on the table, a two-state solution is to be the most viable. 

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. Both sides wish to enjoy life of tranquillity and in security, free of violence and terror. Both parties should explicitly accept UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (5), 338 (6), and 1397 (7) 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 explained: “Having a border is the best security arrangement.”(8) 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 (9). 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. (10). Yossi Beilin said that they were willing to concede Israeli annexation of three settlement blocs of at least 4 percent of the West Bank (11). 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. As long as peace is kept, 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. 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.
  • The Separation Barrier creates a political reality. It should run roughly along the 1967 mutually agreed borders. 
  • Security – Both Israel and Palestine will take all necessary measures to ascertain that their citizens could live free of fear for their lives. Security is equally important for both Israelis and Palestinians as this is the key for peace. Palestine and Israel shall base their security relations on cooperation (12), mutual trust, good neighborly relations, and the protection of their joint interests. 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 (13). 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.
  • Terrorism and violence – 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, Palestinians and Jews, will receive grave penalties for any violation of peace and tranquility. In the past, the Palestinians failed to understand the gravity of terrorism and were willing to accept it as part of life. Nabil Shaath said: “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 (14), however, see things differently. On this issue there should be no compromise. 
  • Jerusalem – What is Palestinian will come under the territory of the new capital Al Kuds. Al Kuds 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 honour the importance of the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter for Jews, and similarly special arrangements and recognition will be made to honour 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 (15). 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 (16). 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 (17) will have the required water supply for sustenance and growth.
  • Fishing – Israel and Palestine will enjoy fishing rights in their respective territorial waters.
  • 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. Israelis will master Arabic to the same extent that they presently master English. Palestinians (18) will master Hebrew as their second language. 
  • 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 (19). 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.
  • 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 they comprise over 80% of the population (20). 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 twofold: first, Israel needs to recognize that it has a shared responsibility with the Palestinians to solve the problem. Israel needs to honestly confront history, refute myths and acknowledge the role it played in the creation of the refugee problem. Second, there is a need 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. The rest of the world is legitimate to set immigration quotas for absorbing Palestinians who apply for settlement in their designated choice of country. 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 Abu Mazen 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” (21). I suspect that Abu Mazen’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 and Palestine 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 Moslem 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 neighbouring 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.
  • Four Party Permanent Team – Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Jordan will maintain a permanent organization that will meet periodically to discuss concerns and resolve problems amicably. This forum will discuss issues such as the Gaza ports, economic development, water, tourism, security controls along the Jordan River, security concerns in Sinai, counter-terrorism and counter-radicalism. 
  • International Arbitration – Difficult issues that won’t 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. Only experts approved by both parties will be invited to serve on the arbitration committee. 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. 


I opened with the story of the farmer who was not ready to change his lot and threw away a golden opportunity to improve his life for the better. A few golden opportunities to erect peace presented themselves before the two parties in the past. I hope the next time such an opportunity presents itself Israelis and Palestinians will be ready to make the most of it. 


Aliewi, Amjad, Enda O’Connell, Geoff Parkin and Karen Assaf (2011). “Palestine Water: between Challenges and Realities,” in Elizabeth G. Matthews (ed.), The Israel-Palestine Conflict. London: Routledge, pp. 114-138. 

Analysts: Jerusalem deal boosts Jordan in Holy City (April 3, 2013). Ma’an News Agency,

Arab Peace Initiative 2002,

Aweiss, Salem (2011). “Culture of Peace and Education”, in Elizabeth G. Matthews (ed.), The Israel-Palestine Conflict. London: Routledge, pp. 224-246.

Bar-Tal, Daniel (2011). “Challenges for Constructing Peace Culture and Peace Education”, in Elizabeth G. Matthews (ed.), The Israel-Palestine Conflict. London: Routledge, pp. 209-223.

Beilin, Yossi (2004). The Path to Geneva. NY: RDV Books.

Ben-Ami, Shlomo (2005). Scars of War, Wounds of Peace. London: Phoenix. 

Benn, Aluf ((December 17, 2009). “Haaretz exclusive: Olmert’s plan for peace with the Palestinians”, Haaretz

Birnbaum, Ben (March 11, 2013). “The End of the Two-State Solution: Why the window is closing on Middle-East peace”, The New Republic,

Briefing: Beyond the E-1 Israeli settlement (March 18 2013). IRIN, 

Clinton Parameters,

Dowty, Alan (2012). Israel/Palestine. Cambridge: Polity.

Geneva Accord,

Geneva Accord maps,

Olmert, Ehud (2009). Interview to Stephen Sackur, BBC HARDtalk

Shuval, Hillel (2011). “Is the Conflict over Shared Water Resources between Israelis and Palestinians an Obstacle to Peace?,” in Elizabeth G. Matthews (ed.), The Israel-Palestine Conflict. London: Routledge, pp. 93-113.

U.N. Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967,

U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 of October 22, 1973,

UN Security Council Resolution 1397 (March 12, 2002),

West Bank “Settlement Blocs”, Peace Now,


  1. The Clinton Parameters,
  2. The Geneva Accord,
  3. The Arab Peace Initiative 2002,
  4. Aluf Benn, “Haaretz exclusive: Olmert’s plan for peace with the Palestinians”, Haaretz (December 17, 2009),; Ehud Olmert interview to Stephen Sackur, BBC HARDtalk (2009),
  5.   Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967,
  6. Security Council Resolution 338 of October 22, 1973,
  7. UN Security Council Resolution 1397 (March 12, 2002),
  8. Ben Birnbaum, “The End of the Two-State Solution: Why the window is closing on Middle-East peace”, The New Republic (March 11, 2013),
  9. For pertinent maps, see See also West Bank “Settlement Blocs”, Peace Now,
  10.  Yossi Beilin, The Path to Geneva, p.239
  11. Beilin, The Path to Geneva, p. 246.

  12.  The Geneva Accord,

     13. Beilin, The Path to Geneva, p. 169.

     14. Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, p. 240. Yossi Beilin tells the story of the Taba talks during which two Israelis were murdered in Tulkarem. The Palestinians, he writes, expressed their shock at the murder but they found it difficult to understand why “we always play into the hands of those who want to sabotage the talks”. Beilin, The Path to Geneva, p. 243.

    15. Analysts: Jerusalem deal boosts Jordan in Holy City, Ma’an News Agency (April 3, 2013),

    16. Briefing: Beyond the E-1 Israeli settlement, IRIN (March 18 2013), 

    17. For further discussion, see Hillel Shuval, “Is the Conflict over Shared Water Resources between Israelis and Palestinians an Obstacle to Peace?,” and Amjad Aliewi, Enda O’Connell, Geoff Parkin and Karen Assaf, “Palestine Water: between Challenges and Realities,” both in Elizabeth G. Matthews (ed.), The Israel-Palestine Conflict (London: Routledge, 2011): 93-113, 114-138. 

    18. Bhikhu Parekh commented that there is no reason why all Palestinian children should learn Hebrew. Israeli Palestinians should but he does not see why this should be a requirement for all Palestinian Arabs. I think that requiring the children of both societies to learn both Arabic and Hebrew is vital for facilitating connections the two communities, for promoting understanding of one’s other culture and for decreasing animosity and fear.

    19. See Daniel Bar-Tal, “Challenges for Constructing Peace Culture and Peace Education”, and Salem Aweiss, “Culture of Peace and Education”, both in Elizabeth G. Matthews (ed.), The Israel-Palestine Conflict (London: Routledge, 2011): 209-223, 224-246.

    20.  Alan Dowty, Israel/Palestine (Cambridge: Polity, 2012): 243.

    21. Ben Birnbaum, “The End of the Two-State Solution: Why the window is closing on Middle-East peace”, The New Republic (March 11, 2013),


This article was published on 21stSeptember International Day of Peace, in Global Education Magazine.

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