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Incoherent American statements and actions caused a turbulent month in the Israeli-Palestinian landscape. Leaders' declarations drew the attention of various constituencies to the two-state solution, while mixed developments on the ground contributed their part to the turmoil. Such contradictory trends ultimately raised the Two-State Index by 0.4%. Here’s why:
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Speechmaking and statements took center stage late in September. At the UN General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas each gave voice to their thoughts. (See our analysis section for main takeaways.) In a meeting he held with Netanyahu, Trump, for the first time, explicitly endorsed the two-state solution and mentioned that his long-awaited peace plan would be unveiled within 2–4 months. Reflecting on the issue in a subsequent press conference, Trump said it was “like a real estate deal.” After their meeting, Netanyahu did not reject Palestinian statehood, provided Israel retains security control west of the Jordan River. For his part, Abbas reinforced his demand for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, including its holy places. Abbas said the United States had become so pro-Israel that it could no longer serve as the sole mediator.

Trump's seeming endorsement of a two-state solution catapulted the Palestinian issue to the top of Israel's headlines, much to Netanyahu’s dismay. While the Israeli-Palestinian Bilateral Negotiations parameter value remains stagnant at 2, relevant parties — including the United States and Egypt — stay focused on the Palestinian issue, moving the value of the Third Party parameter up from 4 to 5. 
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Abbas met with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and separately with opposition leader, Tzipi Livni. Both Israelis emphasized the importance of reaching a two-state solution. Olmert said Abbas is a viable partner for peace. Livni urged Abbas to re-engage the peace process and help resolve the Gaza deadlock. In other events, Abbas reinforced his agreement to a non-militarized Palestinian state and revealed that U.S. envoys had proposed forming a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, which he rejected.

Abbas’s meetings with Olmert and Livni highlight the vacuum caused by the stalled peace process. Any sign, feeble as it may be, of an alternative to the unsustainable status quo immediately draws attention from the entire political spectrum. A barrage of hostile remarks by rightist Israeli politicians demonstrates their vulnerability on this issue. Together with Trump’s comments, the heightened focus on the two-state solution in the Israeli press moves the Israeli Public Opinion parameter value up from 5 to 6.

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Earlier in September the United States cut $10 million from USAID programs supporting peace-building and reconciliation activities between Israelis and Palestinians and $20 million in aid to hospitals in East Jerusalem. Trump also closed the PLO mission in Washington (see legal analysis here), and his emissaries continued their verbal attacks on the Palestinian leadership.

The United States continues its financial and political disassociation from the Palestinian leadership, essentially stripping the Oslo framework down to Israel's self-serving core interests: Palestinian self-governance and security coordination. Specifically, as U.S.-Palestinian diplomacy continues to deteriorate, cuts to peace projects move the value of the parameter measuring Interaction between Israeli and Palestinian Civil Societies down from 6 to 5.

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Donors stepped up to close UNRWA’s budget deficit caused by the United States reneging on $300 million in support. At least $122 million were pledged by the European Union, Kuwait, Germany, Norway, France, Belgium and Ireland in support of UNRWA in a ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. UNRWA’s deficit is now down to $64 million (out of an initial deficit of $446 million). High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini reaffirmed Europe’s support to UNRWA, including an additional €40 million, noting an overall contribution from the EU and its member states of €1.2 billion for the past three years, including €146 million from the European Commission in 2018. Separately, it appears an agreement was reached that will allow Qatar to contribute $60 million over six months for the purchase of fuels.

UNRWA’s budget relief and the prospects of increased power supply are set to alleviate conditions in Gaza, ensuring the continuation of the school year and consolidating health services. Consequently, Gaza’s Humanitarian Conditions parameter value moves up from 2 to 3.

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Twenty-six Palestinians were killed in clashes with the IDF, 23 of which during clashes on Gaza's border, and over 600 were injured. Also, a September 16 stabbing attack left an Israeli settler dead in the Gush Etzion Junction.

After relative quiet in August, September saw an escalation on Gaza’s border as reconciliation talks frayed and with them prospects for a lasting ceasefire. The political deadlock serves as a troubling backdrop for the escalation, moving the Prospects for War parameter value down from 4 to 3.

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Israel’s High Court of Justice cleared the way toward the demolition of a West Bank Bedouin village, Khan al-Ahmar, which Israeli authorities claim was built illegally. In response, the Palestinians added an addendum focusing on the village to their petition against the Israeli settlement enterprise that they had filed in May to the International Criminal Court. Strong international pressure remains on Israel not to carry out its plans, including statements by the UN, Mogherini and prominent European member states, as well as a harsh statement by the European Parliament, calling the move “a grave breach of international humanitarian law,” saying it would “threaten the viability of the two-state solution and undermine prospects for peace” and, should the demolition take place, calling for a response “commensurate with the seriousness of this development.”

While the fate of the village remains to be seen, Europe’s continued engagement on the fundamentals of the two-state solution reinforces its high score (8).

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In additional developments this month:

High tensions — absent major violence, including in Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade — marked the Jewish High Holidays. The Jerusalem District Court ruled that settlers in an outpost established on private Palestinian land have rights to the land, and therefore Palestinian landowners can demand only compensation, rather than the evacuation of the settlers; an appeal to Israel’s High Court of Justice is likely (this brings the value of the parameter measuring Expropriation of Private Palestinian Lands or Legalization of Settlements down from 5 to 4). Paraguay returned its embassy to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, dealing a setback to Netanyahu’s wish that many countries would follow the U.S. embassy’s lead. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published updated demographic numbers: it counted 8.9 million Israeli residents, including 6.6 million (74%) Jews and 1.9 million (21%) Arabs — of them some 300,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians who are permanent residents of Israel. The remaining 400,000 (5%) comprise non-Arab Christians; members of faiths other than Judaism, Islam and Christianity; and people with no religion listed in Interior Ministry records. (There are also 166,000 foreigners living in Israel, who are not included in the total.) Likud dismissed the deputy head of the party’s Young Guard for joining a Peace Now meeting with Abbas. 

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 Resources
Leaders's Statements on the Two-State Soluion
By TSI staff

Remarks by President Trump Before Bilateral Meeting, United Nations Headquarters, New York, September 26, 2018

Q    Mr. President, when are you going to present your peace plan?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  We’re working along on that… There’s nothing I would rather do than see peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Actually, by taking off the table the embassy moving to Jerusalem, that was always the primary ingredient as to why deals couldn’t get done. I spoke to many of the negotiating teams, and they said they could never get past the embassy moving into Jerusalem… And now, that’s off the table.

Now, that will also mean that Israel will have to do something that will be good for the other side…

That’s the toughest of all deals.  It is a dream of mine to be able to get that done prior to the end of my first term.

 [Jerusalem is] a big chip that [Israel] got.  I took probably the biggest chip off the table, and so obviously we have to start — you know, we have to make a fair deal.  We have to do something.  Deals have to be good for both parties.  Otherwise, you don’t have a deal and you don’t have a lasting deal.

Q    Mr. President, do you think the Palestinians will come back to the table?  Palestinians — will they come back to the table?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Absolutely. One-hundred percent.

Q    Mr. President, what are you — are you going to abide by the two-state solution?  Will your plan include a two-state solution?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I like two-state solution… Yeah.  That’s — that what I think — that’s what I think works best.

Q    Sir, could I ask you: Do you think you’ll be releasing the peace plan in a matter of weeks, months?  Could you give us some sort of timeframe?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would say over the next two to three to four months, something like that. That would be the time that I’d like to at least release the plan.

It is a very complex situation, but I think we have some brilliant ideas. Ideas that have never been thought of before. Ideas that are good for both parties. And again, it has to be good for both parties.



Statement by H.E. Mr. Mahmoud Abbas President of the State of Palestine, United Nations General Assembly 73rd Session, New York, 27 September 2018

Jerusalem is not for sale, and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining … we will achieve our independent state with peace …

We have always positively and fully engaged with the various initiatives of the international community that have aimed at achieving resolution to the conflict between us and the Israelis, including the Arab Peace Initiative…

We continued on this path with the administration of President Trump from the start of his tenure … but we were shocked by his decisions and actions: [closing] the PLO office in Washington, [recognizing] Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and [transferring] his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and [claiming to have] removed the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and security off the negotiation table.

It's really ironic that the American administration still talk about what they call the deal of the century, but what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Only humanitarian solutions, because when they remove off of the negotiation table Jerusalem, refugees and security — what is left?

Despite of all of this and from this platform I renew my call to President Trump to walk back his decisions regarding Jerusalem, refugees and and settlements.

Here I reiterate that we are not against negotiations… We only believe in peace. Peace is the only path. We don’t believe in terrorism and violence…

Peace in our region cannot be realized without an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and with all the holy sites. Some people try to outsmart us and they say okay, your capital is in East Jerusalem. No, I’m sorry — this is a manipulation of words. This means here or there or whichever region that are surrounding Jerusalem. No. Our capital is East Jerusalem and not in East Jerusalem… There’s no peace otherwise and there is no peace with a state of temporary borders.

The General Assembly should also respect its resolutions but to pass a resolution and then we applaud the resolution and we cheer it and then what? Please guide us, tell us how can we implement such resolutions? This is your responsibility.

The U.S. cannot be a mediator single-handedly. We have the Quartet … Anyone can join the Quartet to act as mediators between ourselves and the Israelis. But the U.S. alone? No, because they are too much biased to Israel.

There are also agreements with Israel starting with the Oslo agreement and the Paris agreement… we call upon Israel to re-engage in these agreements. Otherwise, we will not hold our part of those agreements.



Address by H.E. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu Prime Minister of Israel, United Nations General Assembly 73rd Session, New York, 27 September 2018

The Iran deal [has] brought Israel and many Arab states closer together than ever before in an intimacy and friendship that I’ve not seen in my lifetime and would have been unimaginable a few years ago…

Israel deeply values these new friendships, and I hope the day will soon arrive when Israel will be able to expand peace, a formal peace, beyond Egypt and Jordan to other Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians. I look forward to working with President Trump and his peace team to achieve that goal…

President Abbas, you proudly pay Palestinian terrorists who murder Jews. In fact, the more they slay, the more you pay. That’s in their law too. And you condemn Israel’s morality? You call Israel racist?

This is not the way to peace. This is not the way to achieve the peace we all want and need and to which Israel remain committed. This body should not be applauding the head of a regime that pays terrorists. The UN should condemn such a despicable policy.



Press Conference by President Trump, Lotte New York Palace, New York, September 27, 2018

I said, “I think the two-state will happen. I think it’s, in one way, more difficult because it’s a real estate deal — because you need metes and bounds, and you need lots of carveouts and lots of everything. It’s actually a little tougher deal.  But in another way, it works better because you have people governing themselves…

I said, “Well, I think the two-state will happen. I think we’re going to go down the two-state road.” And I’m glad I got it out.  And Jared [loves Israel and is] going to be very fair with the Palestinians. He understands it takes two people to be happy — two groups of people to be happy. Everybody has got to be happy. And that’s why it’s so tough, because there’s been so much hatred and anger for so many years…

By saying [I prefer the two-state solution], I put it out there. And if you ask most of the people in Israel, they agree with that. But nobody wanted to say it. It’s a big thing to put it out.

Now, the bottom line: If the Israelis and the Palestinians want one state, that’s okay with me. If they want two states, that’s okay with me. I’m happy if they’re happy. I’m a facilitator. I want to see if I can get a deal done so that people don’t get killed anymore…

I started to realize that peace between Israel and the Palestinians, for the Middle East, is a very important thing. And we’re trying very hard to get it. I think, probably, two-state is more likely.

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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