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American hostility, mediation efforts in Gaza, a wave of settlement approvals, and more: Here is why the Two-State Index (TSI) went down 2.1% in August.
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August saw a flurry of incoherent statements and policy directives from American officials. President Donald Trump said on August 21 that Israel "will have to pay a higher price" in negotiations because they won U.S. recognition of Jerusalem, and that the Palestinians "will get something very good, because it's their turn next." Separately, Trump reportedly told Jordan's King Abdullah during a July meeting that Israel will end up with an Arab prime minister if it fails to separate from the Palestinians. It was also reported that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Israeli MKs he sees "no reason to evacuate settlements" in a peace deal, and that the conflict had moved down the list of American priorities. This echoes Netanyahu's claim that there is no urgency in presenting a peace plan. Finally, the Trump administration has its sights on Palestinian refugees: reportedly, the administration has decided to cancel all its UNRWA funding and explored rejecting the organization's definition of refugees while capping their number at about 500,000. In response to a question, America's U.N. Ambassador Nikki Hailey agreed that the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel-proper should be "off the table."

After fundamentally changing its policy on Jerusalem, the United States is transforming the debate on refugees, despite warnings by Israeli defense officials who claim that defunding UNRWA would increase instability, create conditions for Hamas to make gains, and overall harm Israel's interests. The United States taking an axe to this most sensitive identity issue moves the United States Parameter from 3 to 2 and Third Party Engagement from 6 to 4. Because the assault on refugee narrative will likely increase Palestinian coalescence around it, the Refugee parameters all move down one point: Responsibility from 5 to 4, Refugee Rights from 6 to 5, Permanent Place of Residency from 6 to 5, and Compensation from 4 to 3.
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The United States also cut $200 million in aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The funds had already been frozen for much of this year. Bilateral funding — which pays for humanitarian, infrastructure, democracy and education projects — largely flows through USAID to nongovernment organizations. In effect, this year the United States transferred $50-$60 million to the Palestinian Authority for its security services. The Palestinians called the cuts "cheap blackmail as a political tool."

The U.S. cuts are likely to further weaken services in the West Bank and Gaza, although the political implications on the Palestinian Authority and Hamas remain to be seen. For the time being, our Governance parameters stay put both in the West Bank (4) and in the Gaza Strip (2), but expect some downward adjustments as development projects phase out.
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After eyeing war in Gaza late last month, relative quiet ensued while Israel and Hamas considered various ceasefire mechanisms put forth by the United Nations and Egypt. Still, no agreement was reached. A long list of outstanding issues mystify mediators, not the least of which is Abbas's refusal to acquiesce in any arrangement that benefits Hamas. (Other issues include PLO-Hamas reconciliation, closure policies, the fate of Israeli persons held in the Strip, and a potential prisoner swap).

For a ceasefire to be stable and a humanitarian crisis avoided, ceasefire proposals comprised of three interlocking elements: (1) a major Gaza rehabilitation program, which can only happen when donor countries — refusing to deal with Hamas — see (2) the PA restored as Gaza management, and are satisfied that (3) more robust ceasefire understandings and mechanism are in place, so that their investment does not evaporate in another war. However, without agreement, both mediators — and a reemerging third mediator, Qatar — seem resigned to lower the bar by focusing on a modest ceasefire stabilization. They recognize that absent PA return and a major rehabilitation program, the ceasefire's sustainability is very much in doubt. Still, Gaza's general de-escalation moves all the relevant Gaza parameters — Prospects for War, Palestinian attacks, IDF Military Actions — from 3 to 4. And although a formal ceasefire agreement faces structural barriers, its conclusion would likely harm the cause of a two-state solution: Hamas would gain legitimacy, the Gaza/West Bank separation would be entrenched, and the PLO's non-violent agenda would be proven ineffective in the face of Hamas gains.
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The Israeli government advanced roughly 2,000 settlement units in sensitive areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The European Union condemned the announcements. The massive, 4-part wave of settlement approvals come after Haaretz published a weekend edition claiming the settlers have “failed” and that partition of the land was still possible by removing fewer than 10,000 settler families from deep inside the West Bank. The newspaper also outlined various annexation plans, highlighting their inability to adequately address the plight of 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The settlements analysis was flawed (see details in Hebrew), but its conclusion correct: the vast majority of the settlers (75%) reside in close proximity to the 1967 lines, in areas that lend themselves to minor swaps (see, for example, the Geneva Initiative border model). In other words: settlers have failed to transform the demographic reality in the areas that are slated to become the Palestinian state. And as annexation supporters fail to present a plan that humanely deals with Palestinians, the validity of the two-state solution remains. Separately, a major poll showed decreasing Israeli support for the concept of a two-state solution. Notably, the poll found that over the past year Israelis increased their support for a detailed package listing the parameters of such a solution. These seemingly contradictory findings show that on the conceptual level Israelis echo their leaders’ skepticism and lack of progress toward peace; but Israelis also understand the two-state solution is the only practical one, and their support of realistic parameters has increased over the past year. (See analysis below), the Israeli Public Opinion parameter remains put at 5.
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In additional developments this month: In additional developments this month: Israel opened a Jewish heritage center in Silwan, as tensions on the Holy Esplanade continue to rise before the Jewish High Holidays; Abbas redistributed power within the PLO, tightening his grip on the organization; Colombia recognized Palestine as a sovereign state; Israel delivered more than 10 tons of Palestinian mail nearly a decade late; former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, a strong supporter of the two-state solution, was designated as the United Nations' new high commissioner for human rights.

You can see all events on our ongoing
TSI log.
Some recommended sources for additional information:

  • Settlement expansion: Foundation for Middle East Peace's Settlement Reports.
  • Humanitarian reports, including casualties: The U.N. Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’s monthly Humanitarian Bulletin.
  • For American Legislative developments: Foundation for Middle East Peace’s U.S. Legislative Round-ups.
  • For daily Middle East news: the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace’s News Updates.
TSI Original Analysis
Israeli and Palestinian Public Opinion
By NOAM RABINOVICH, Director of Foreign Relations, Geneva Initiative - Israel
The bad news first: support in the two-state solution is in decline, unsurprisingly.

The results of a periodic public opinion poll in Israel and Palestine — Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research (TSC) of Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah (summary, findings) — show that support for the two-state solution declined to 43% on the Palestinian side and 49% on the Israeli side.

Absent any progress on the peace process, belief in the feasibility of the two-state solution drops, and with it, support of it. Only 47.5 % of Israelis believe the two-state solution is still possible, while among Palestinians, only 39% think it is. This makes perfect sense. The deadlocked process, an Israeli Prime Minister hostile to Palestinian statehood, and a split Palestinian polity — all depress support in the two-state solution. Stated differently: if Israelis and Palestinians repeatedly hear that peace is not possible — why would they support it?

Onto some good news then.

A nuanced reading of the results point to some positive trends:

  • While the net support levels for a detailed peace package is quite low among Israelis (46%), and especially Israeli Jews (39%), the trend is actually positive over the past year. Israelis increased their support of a detailed peace package by 5 points since June 2017, which Israeli Jews increased their support by 7 points.

  • A modified detailed peace package that included three items not previously tested as an integral part of the package yielded impressive gains: 53% of Israelis supported it (a 7 point increase over the traditional package tested in parallel), and 42% of Palestinians (a 5 point increase). The three items were: (a) democratic nature of the two states, (b) anchoring the bilateral agreement in a regional agreement like the Arab Peace Initiative, and (c) U.S. and Arab guarantees for the full implementation of the agreement.

More generally, the two-state solution remains the most preferred option. While the two-state solution is not perfect (nothing is), it is by far the most realistic, fair, and feasible option. This is not lost on the Israeli and Palestinian publics, who — when presented with three possible alternatives to a two-state solution: one state with equal rights, one state without rights, and expulsion/'transfer' — overwhelmingly prefer the two-state solution.

Support is largely dependent on progress and perception of feasibility. The decline in support is not ideological; it is circumstantial. Lacking progress, support is low. But it shouldn’t take much to renew faith in a peace process. Renewed peace efforts, or even reaffirmed commitment by Israeli, Palestinian and world leaders, could lead to a resurgence. Psychological dynamics are also at play: people struggle to imagine a different reality from the one they know. This is especially true when dealing with a transformed reality on such a grand scale — when peace had been achieved and its benefits are felt.

Finally, it is worth noting, perceptions of the other side are instrumental in encouraging or depressing support. Among Palestinians, 53% think the majority of Israelis oppose the two-state solution; 60% of Israelis believe the majority of Palestinians oppose it. In other words, a majority on both sides believes that a majority on the other side is opposed to the two-state solution — wrongly. This shows the level of misinformation and misconception between the Israeli and Palestinian publics, a result of entrenched separation and the absence of interaction — something the Geneva Initiative works to counter every day.

While the Trump administration is allegedly hard at work on a peace plan, political leaderships are more fearful of negotiations than the people they aspire to lead. A majority of Israelis and Palestinians are not afraid of peace; they are discouraged and skeptical, but they are also clear-eyed in their assessment of the landscape and of the feasibility of whatever other solutions are thrown around. They recognize that the two-state solution is the only viable alternative.

What leaders on both sides owe them is hope. In the absence of progress, if there are no initiatives at home or from abroad, the decline will continue and despair will take hold, and with it – violence. When the dust settles, we will once again find ourselves right where we started, working toward the two-state solution, the only possible solution.
The Two-State Index (TSI) is brought to you by the Geneva Initiative, a Palestinian-Israeli organization working to promote a negotiated peace agreement in the spirit of the two-state vision. The TSI is produced by an Israeli-Palestinian team, and reflects a unique bilateral perspective.
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This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Geneva Initiative’s Two-State Index (TSI) editorial team and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
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