Paris Can Save the Two-State Idea

By Alon Liel
Former Director General, Israeli Foreign Ministry, and board member of Ir Amim
Take most young Israelis, even those in their 40s, on a tour of Jerusalem and they won’t know where to draw the Green Line.  That fact is not a simple measure of national geographic competency; it is a declaration of the success of the Israeli settlement enterprise.  Since 1967, the steady expansion of Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the parallel erasure of Palestinian ones in the Israeli narrative have enabled the near complete obliteration of the Green line in the political consciousness of the Israel public.  As a testament to that triumph, among Israelis aged 18-29, only 40% know that we have not declared sovereignty over “Judea and Samaria” and a whopping 63% think the settlement of Ariel lies within the territory of the State of Israel. 
These recently published survey results don’t come as a shock to me.  As a board member of Ir Amim, an Israeli NGO that has been fighting for two decades to help advance a political resolution on Jerusalem – I see the questionnaires from the more than 35,000 people – mostly Israelis – the organization has taken on alternative tours of East Jerusalem since 2000.  The knowledge deficit about East Jerusalem is widespread, class crossing and deep: a professor at Hebrew University who was not aware his office looks onto the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a housing activist organizing in Har Homa who didn’t know the neighborhood (settlement) is located in East Jerusalem.  For those participants who have grown up post-Oslo, the term “Occupation” has lost any sense of moral urgency; they have not lived with any other configuration with which to compare it and no one in the public realm is offering a vision of what a future arrangement – other than further annexation – might look like.
This is precisely why civil society is so critical to our current public debate on international developments in forums ranging from the UN to the upcoming Paris Conference.  From the beginning, those responsible for designing the architecture of the Paris Initiative have understood that civil societies have always played a formative role in informing and steering negotiations and in normalizing peace agreements in post-conflict societies, which is why one of the several working groups anchoring the initiative is devoted to civil society.  They are aware that organizations in the Israeli peace and conflict sector conduct their advocacy to further a political resolution – and thwart developments that undermine it – through local Israeli planning processes, legal channels and the court of Israeli public opinion.  The point being that Ir Amim and many of its Israeli brethren would love nothing more than for the Israeli government itself to take up the mantle of negotiations and get back on track.
The current reality – as demonstrated by Likud removing the two-state solution from the government’s coalition agreement, unabated settlement building, and now talk of absorbing Ma’ale Adumim, one of the three adjacent settlement blocs in the West Bank, into Jerusalem – disproves the Israeli government’s continued declaration of willingness to enter negotiations. In that vacuum of sincere leadership, hanging on by their fingernails to the two-state solution, Israeli NGOs are left to desperately fan the all but smothered embers of the two-state solution. 
For these Israeli NGOs, then, if the Paris Initiative can be expected to enshrine the growing international consensus – documented in UNSC Resolution 2334 and soon after in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s principles – that if we do not immediately put an end to settlement building we will put an end to the two-state solution, a resounding yes.  Backed by 14 nations and facilitated by the abstention of the United States, the UN resolution recognizes the mortal impact of the settlements on the two-state solution, clearly distinguishes between the state of Israel and its occupied territories – including annexed East Jerusalem – and calls for Israel to take immediate steps to cease further expansion. As such, it is a lifesaver for the two-state concept. Secretary of State Kerry added volume to the call while reinforcing the principle that Jerusalem must be the internationally recognized capital of the two states, with protected access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo.
The Paris Conference should be the forum for harnessing the momentum generated by these two recent developments and creating a lever for resuscitating the moribund peace process. It should consolidate the growing international consensus that in this 50th year of Occupation, we must reach an agreed political resolution to the conflict founded on the two-state solution, based on the June 4 1967 borders, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as the capital city of both states and full respect for Israel’s security within internationally recognized borders.