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Political Failure Does Not Change Reality for Israelis or Palestinians

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Today, 26 January, will mark another line in the sand in the morbid negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Whether or not this is the date that the Quartet has stated its deadline to get each side's documents presented to each other is currently under dispute by the sides themselves. Arguments about deadlines of document submission is as far as the sides have got in getting the decision makers into the same room together.

While many in the world are quietly pulling their hair out, others both outside the region and within are celebrating another milestone in the supposed death of the Two-State Solution. Not a day goes by without an expert opinion or a polemical activist declaring to the internet that the two state compromise was dead years ago, only now are we coming to terms with it.

I do agree at the abject failure of the process and the political leadership of the societies involved. Over the past 18 odd years the sides have each had the courage at one point to end the conflict, the only challenge is that these leaderships occurred at different points. The political failure however should not however be linked to the failure of the solution.

The two-state compromise is not something that either population wants. No one goes to bed and dreams of a compromise where each side's rights will be limited. Yet it is the only formulation that gives each side access to their core needs, all be it limited access. A two-state compromise will not give the Israelis the security control they currently enjoy, a control claimed as necessary to their very survival. A two-state compromise neither will give the Palestinians an unlimited right of return, a right that has underpinned their resistance since the Nakba.

To those who are currently proclaiming its death, I ask what is a realistic alternative.

Maximalists on both sides share the one-state delusion. It is a recipe for civil war as two rival nationalist movements attempt to share the same domestic policy space and create shared rules in the shadow of perceived existential threats and decades of fear and oppression. I challenge any one-state supporter who can paint a realistic road map to their end point that does not require armed conflict. Israel will never accept the end of the Jewish state no matter how much pressure is applied. Conversely Palestinian's will fight to the death for their right to stay on their land, with their destiny in their own hands.

There has been a move in both camps to try and paint the two-state compromise as either a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian position. It is neither. The two-state compromise asks each side to compromise on that which each holds as necessary and sacred. Those who paint it in these formulations do so in order to make it toxic to their own people and advocates. They are the maximalists who still hold out hope to win this conflict.

So today and in the days following I expect to read the torrent of articles decrying the death of the two-state compromise and the desire to move past it. There will be vague references to a different future, no plan to get there yet a quiet nod to dismiss any who still believe in the two-state compromise as naïve at best, traitors and collaborators at worst.

The desire to abandon the solution due to the death of the process will be immense. Yet the challenge to those who believe in dignity, justice, peace and security for those in that part of the world will be to help bridge the psychological gap within the majority in each society who are willing to accept the two-state compromise yet believe it will never happen.

The most important task is demonstrating to each population that there exists a similar silent majority that accepts the same compromise as you. With the repeated failure of the political process trust must be built from the bottom up rather then the top down. This work is neither glamorous nor groundbreaking. It gets harder every passing day and must be done within the shadow of a region in turmoil.

While in the past this might have been easy, in both societies today there are forces spending much of their energy making sure that this trust can never be built. This past week in Israel, the bereaved Parents Circle has had its schools program suspended. In the West Bank there has been a sustained effort to clamp down on any civil society effort that does not work within the framework of 'co-resistance'.

These are symptoms of the malaise from the leadership of both people being transmitted to their populations. If we are ever to move forward, we need the direction of energy to be reversed. If the populations continue to despair the occupation will only continue. The two-state compromise will not appear by magic, its inability to be realised will not create a one-state solution, rather an entrenchment of rights denials and siege mentalities. These paradigms are toxic to the health of each society.

If the leaders cannot succeed we need to spend our time, energy and effort energising the populations and communicating that energy upwards rather then waiting on the forlorn hope of change from above. Yes we need to name the practical obstacles that stand in the way: settlement growth, the rise in popularity of Hamas, an intransigent Israeli government and a radicalisation of religion.

Yet without the working on the psychological chasm between the two people, a reveling of a partner on the other side, the situation will never be able to drag itself out of the free fall it currently is in.

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