Israel, Palestine, and the End of the Two-State Solution
One Friday evening last November, Mahmoud Abbas made a rare appearance on the popular Israeli TV station, Channel 2. In his boxy suit and tie, the Palestinian president looked every bit his 77 years, his olive skin tinged with gray, his voice soft and whispery. He shifted in his seat with every answer. But when the interviewer, Udi Segal, asked him about his vision for the future of his people, Abbas offered a reminder of why this man was once, and perhaps remains, the great hope of the two-state solution.
“Palestine for me is ‘67 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said. “This is now and forever.” Abbas had been born in the town of Safed, which his family fled during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 and which is now a part of Israel. Segal asked, did he wish to visit? Abbas raised his eyebrows. “I want to see Safed,” he replied quietly. “It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”
Every Israeli viewer would have immediately grasped the significance of that statement. For years, one of the top obstacles to a peace deal has been the “right of return”—the Palestinian demand that some five million refugees and descendants be allowed to go back to their former homes. In Israel, whose population of eight million already includes 1.5 million Arab citizens, the phrase signals nothing less than the demographic destruction of the Jewish state. Among Palestinians, the right of return is sacrosanct. And yet, here was Abbas waving away the idea altogether. With Israeli elections only a couple of months away, it seemed that the Palestinian president had just eliminated one of the longest-standing impediments to a peace deal.