The movement of voices who question the validity of two states and actively oppose its viability has steadily grown to the point where it is no longer understood as the official policy of the United States. For an organization created for the sole purpose of advancing two states, what does this new reality mean for the work of Israel Policy Forum and IPF Atid? And as we’re again told that a Trump peace plan is soon to be unveiled, what are we specifically looking out for in the upcoming weeks?

WHAT IS A ZOPA?

The Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) is one of the key prisms through which we and others will be viewing the Trump peace plan, or any other future plan or initiative. The thinking follows that both the Israeli and Palestinian governments have their lines in the sand delineating just how far they are – and historically were – willing to compromise on key issues. This is where outside mediation, acting not much differently than a legal arbiter or even a divorce lawyer, can try to work its magic touch before either the party leaves the table or other players show up to spoil the party. The area in between these bipolar positions is referred to as the ZOPA, with many viewing 2008’s Abbas-Olmert talks as when it reached its smallest window in the history of negotiations. In short, what we’re asking is: will the American team present a workable framework that reflects this ZOPA?

Judging by actions already taken and policies floated in the public, there are reasons to believe that the ZOPA, as a concept and reflection of reality, is not being granted serious attention. In fact, the current approach bypasses many of its aspects by attempting to arrive at final status decisions for the parties themselves. A substantial leap from the long-standing position that the two sides must negotiate the core issues themselves, many believe this approach – when coupled with White House actions like moving the embassy and green-lighting Golan Heights annexation – is a recipe for being dead-on-arrival. Does this unconventional course of action carry wisdom and weight? Perhaps it does. Yet whenever a policy debate or any other established set of ideas faces new opportunity and even disruption, all angles and potential repercussions must be considered.

“The past 30 years of diplomacy demonstrate how difficult it is to find mutually acceptable middle ground on the complicated and emotional final status issues at the root of the conflict. The Oslo process was an example of an effort to reach a peace situated in security, but ultimately fell short, in no small measure, because of the inability to fully address the full-sweep of final status issues. One lesson from recent years is that the longer the conflict continues, the more difficult it has become to find solutions that address Palestinian aspirations for statehood, borders, return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem, among other things. One of the thorniest final status issue will be finding a formula that meets both parties’ security needs.”Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, March 2019, “Middle East Peace: What can we Learn from Camp David 40 Years Later?”

POTENTIAL FOR FALL-OUT

It’s impossible to predict who will say what and which positions will be taken in response to the unveiling of a Trump peace plan. Just because leaders in the past have said one thing or agreed to others does not necessarily lead us to their future decisions. What we can better grasp, however, is the impact the Trump peace plan may have on the internal politics within Israeli and Palestinian societies.

Should the “Deal of the Century” plan be released and fail after its two year tour, the energy and capital of those working towards reconciliation will be weakened. The narratives that rely on the failure of negotiations, specifically Israel’s annexationist camp and Hamas, will be strengthened. Politically, these actors will continue to point to this failure as reason to pursue ulterior plans and solutions, with a relative increase in momentum and public support.

In Israel, the pro-annexation wing will attempt to guide the country’s agenda to immediately absorb the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty. Since there’s no success in recent memory to point to, it would be said that those still in favor of a negotiated two-state framework must not be entrusted with the keys to Israel’s future and security. In the Palestinian sphere, the already-contested geographic and political split between Hamas and the PA would only be widened. And with the Palestinian Authority’s central mandate to govern based on negotiations for statehood, it’s not hard to see which faction would see a large spike in momentum both politically and socially. The persistent failure of negotiations to yield progress remains the gift that keeps on giving for Hamas.

For those questioning how any of this potential fall-out differs substantially from the present status quo, you may have a point. In the above hypothetical, not much reads differently on paper. Another failed American-led diplomatic effort in which both national positions become further entrenched and the hardliners further empowered would place the Trump administration well within conventional American practice of recent attempts. That is, unless this unconventional approach inspires the delicate status quo to reach and breach its boiling point, forcing these dynamics to the surface in the form of Israeli annexation and/or the Palestinian Authority’s political dissolution. Internalizing the ZOPA as a credible launch point for success in negotiations helps us better understand the risks associated with abandoning it.

Any harmful change to the status quo, big or small, would reverberate well beyond the thin confines of the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. In the United States and elsewhere, the communal and political discourses on Israel-Palestine would worsen. Diaspora communities, already believed to be more ideologically extreme than their native societies, would be at risk of further polarization as the “us versus them” narrative expands between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships and peoples themselves. The resilience of external organizations working towards reconciliation would be tested and hopefully invested in further to combat this worsening trend.

More importantly for the stability of the immediate region, however, is Israel’s closest neighbor.  With its population and political future intimately intertwined with the Palestinian cause, any ambitious peace effort must seriously take Jordan, a key strategic ally to Israel and America, into account. A nonconventional approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not inherently a problem, but a reckless and narrowly-minded one runs the risk of destabilizing Israel’s only quiet border to its east and the broader geopolitics of the neighborhood.

“The PLO should have ended this game a long time ago by dismantling the PA, in which it is predominant, and handed the keys back to Israel…There’s no need to fear for the livelihood of PA employees because the situation will revert to the one that prevailed pre-Oslo: Israel would be responsible for everything, and one can be confident that it would act efficiently.” -Yossi Beilin, May 2019, “Abbas Needs to Dismantle the PA”

“The potential for collateral damage should not be underestimated. Jordan, a reliable, moderate US partner in a region where reliability and moderation are endangered species, will find itself in a very hard place if the Palestinians’ dream of a state of their own dies, and right-wing Israelis revive the old, combustible idea of exporting Palestinian national aspirations to the other side of the Jordan river.” -William Burns, May 2019, “Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ for Arab-Israeli Peace is Doomed by Delusions”

To take a step back, it’s worth noting the extent to which information is even known about the latest American plan. It certainly says something interesting about the world in 2019 if a private citizen can put together a long-form Facebook status and launch a global discussion on what may or may not be part of the US government’s official proposals. So, dedicating much attention towards these reports and rumors on what is or isn’t in the American plan, absent tangible actions that bring them to life, can be a meaningless exercise that distracts from what is happening day-to-day in the absence of such transparent initiatives, as well as the actions already undertaken.

Whether we’re looking at funding cuts to Palestinian hospitals or the closing of the East Jerusalem consulate for Palestinian residents, current American policy in this arena is right in front of our eyes and well-beyond Facebook rumors. Whereas two years ago I was comfortable encouraging readers of the Jerusalem Post to indeed give the Kushner-Greenblatt team their space to operate in confidence, the realities of today and the past two years requires us to be critical and intimately alert of actions that threaten Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state. This is especially true as hardliners within Israel’s government, alongside certain allies in the US, pursue annexation of the West Bank at all costs.

“There is a difference between having bad options and making bad choices. The illusions of the ‘deal of the century’ seem only partly born of arrogance and the magical properties of fresh thinking. There is also an element that is purposeful and willful, apparently designed to make it impossible to resurrect hopes for two states for two peoples.”-William Burns, May 2019, “Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ for Arab-Israeli Peace is Doomed by Delusions”

POLICY & PROJECT REMEDIES:

With all of this in mind, our work at Israel Policy Forum is on the offense and defense. The looming and intense threat of West Bank annexation, whether in part or in whole, warrants our primary focus and can be followed at #AnnexationWatch. In tandem, our 50 Steps Before the Deal project highlights the proactive steps that policymakers in Washington and elsewhere can initiate to bring the parties closer together, either in the absence or in service of an active peace process.

In close coordination with policy and security partners, we continue to develop and feature pragmatic thinking to address these highly complex issues. #AnnexationWatch is inspired by the Commanders for Israel’s Security “Ramifications of Annexation” report from the Fall of 2018. With regards to the Gaza Strip, Israel Policy Forum’s Policy Advisor Ilan Goldenberg joins experts from CNAS and Brookings in the December 2018 “Ending Gaza’s Perpetual Crisis” policy monograph. These reports continue to be featured through public programs, private briefings, and more in order to elevate our community’s understanding of what is possible for the future of Israel and the region.

An importance placed on an outlook of the future is what defines IPF Atid’s unique role in this space. By accepting the current intransigence of today’s leadership and political stalemate, we are left to look to the next generation of leaders and policy circumstances to effect sustainable change in an environment otherwise hyper-focused on the short-term.

In Washington and around the United States, the IPF Atid community engages policymakers in our pragmatic, vision-driven work. Earlier this spring, the first IPF Atid group gathered on Capitol Hill to support ALLMEP’s annual Advocacy Day. Alongside Israeli and Palestinian professionals and activists, the weight of our IPF Atid network enhanced the messages of reconciliation and solutions to dozens of offices and potential partners in Washington.

Later this summer, the inaugural delegation of IPF Atid leaders will travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. As a major focus of our trip will be meeting with millennial counterparts in places like Gvulot, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Rawabi, and Tel Aviv, IPF Atid will absorb many different perspectives and realities while sharing the work being done around the United States towards two-states. In a moment in which many cannot see any horizon at all towards progress (let alone a solution), we hope this modest task can create a positive impact, and we look forward to communicating these stories and action-items with the Israel Policy Forum community.

Beyond the social and cultural aspects, IPF Atid’s quarterly initiative model will soon formally shift to impact-specific projects. Ahead of the twentieth anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 next year, aspects of our work will be guided by a commitment to increase the role of women in peace and security processes. For too long and including today, the integration of women in the Israeli-Palestinian peace-building context has been seen as an unnecessary and unimportant burden – instead of as a proven mechanism to increase the likelihood of success in negotiations. We will foster ideas, plans, and connections with this new project in 2019, as we look to apply similar approaches to other models into the future such as economic and Palestinian tech initiatives.

We in Israel must find peaceful solutions to the conflict. Due to the fact that conditions are not ripe for a full-scale peace, we need to act gradually to improve the situation. We at CIS came out with publications that give real solutions in the interim, because alternatively, the continuation of our presence in Judea and Samaria – especially if we continue to annex small parts – will deteriorate the situation and will put Israel as a Jewish, democratic state at risk.

We need good American people to assist us and to try to persuade other Americans [in this perspective], especially in the Administration. Even though the current Israeli administration does it, they do it against the vital interests of the state. It puts the entire Zionist project at risk, which is Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Danny Yatom (former Mossad Director) to IPF Atid, January 2019

To close, it’s worth remembering what lies behind the words “two-state solution.” Signaling a permanent end to a decades-long history of grievances and a new beginning for regional integration, what we are really talking about are communities, families, and individuals. Just because it can sound in our heads as a worn-out catchphrase and also look like the manifestation of Einstein’s “insanity” definition, facts and realities remain at the end of the day: two populations of roughly the same size with roughly the same hopes of sovereignty and mutual recognition living in the same swath of land.

With that said, today’s shifting realities and those unknown of tomorrow may soon require the genuine and thoughtful examination of alternative frameworks – and if implemented, how they would specifically impact and alter Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic, secure state. Political leaders will continue to posture and pivot against this two state vision of Israel as they deem necessary and personally beneficial. But as communal leaders and individuals committed to the long-haul, we should not and cannot, because millions of lives are tied to its success – or failure.