America professes its desire for peace, but its actions speak louder. Regional diplomacy takes center stage. The PLO meets, Europe scores a promising victory, and some signs of hope from civil society. Such contradictory trends ultimately lowered the Two-State Index by 1.6% in October. Here’s why:
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The Trump administration’s incoherent mishandling of the Israeli-Palestinian process continued. Peace envoy Jason Greenblatt ruled out the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation and commented on the need for unity between Gaza and the West Bank as well as on the significance in safeguarding Israeli security needs. For its part, the State Department denied a $165 million transfer of aid to the Palestinian Authority and separately merged its Jerusalem consulate with its embassy.

Secretary of State Pompeo attempted to downplay the implications of the move, saying “the United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.” Analysts disagreed, arguing that the merger is a brazen U.S. gesture toward a one-state reality; and that it impedes America’s ability to understand developments from the two, often contradicting, perspectives, and to subsequently formulate responses and policies (see analysis below). More generally, the rift between the United States and the Palestinians looms large over any prospects of U.S. mediation, threatening to discredit even constructive parts of its peace plan. These trends highlight the low (2) score of the United States parameter.


The PLO Central Council met in Ramallah. Rebuffing the United States as a “partner to the Israeli occupation government and part of the problem and not part of the solution,” it decided to reject the prospective U.S. peace plan, calling instead for an international peace conference. The PLO expressed its continued support for the Arab Peace Initiative, but demanded that Arab countries stop all forms of normalization with Israel in the interim. Pending further approval by Abbas, the PLO decided to reverse its recognition of Israel and its obligation to the Oslo framework — including the cessation of security coordination and economic disengagement — and to promote independence of a sovereign state.

The chances of these decisions being implemented in the near future are slim. Repeated resolutions that remain unfulfilled ultimately erode the legitimacy of PLO institutions in the eyes of the Palestinian public
. In addition, a few Palestinian factions boycotted the meeting, downgrading the score for PLO Cohesion from 6 to 5. Still, the severity and brashness of the decisions reflect a hostile zeitgeist that will ultimately result in action. In the past, Abbas had ignored such calls for diplomatic pursuit of statehood at the United Nations and petitions to the International Criminal Court — until he did not. Substantively, these developments symbolize the PLO leadership’s stepping back from meaningful peace-process building blocks and move the PLO Chairman parameter down from 5 to 4.


The Region (1): Jordan decided to not renew the leasing of two parcels of land from Israel, as it has been doing for the past 24 years as part of an annex of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

The Jordanian decision, undoubtedly driven by domestic considerations, demonstrates that peaceful relations are not to be taken for granted. Jordanians, and to some extent Egyptians, hold Israel responsible for addressing Palestinian rights; however, the Jordanian decision also symbolizes to Israelis that peace agreements are not iron clad and therefore are not necessarily a worthy goal to pursue.


The Region (2): Netanyahu led a high-level Israeli delegation on a visit to Oman, days after Abbas visited there.

On the one hand, the visit highlights the potential of regional engagement in the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative. On the other hand, the visit represents a setback to the Arab policy that conditions regional progress on progress in the Palestinian track. Should overt Israeli-Arab engagement intensify, the two-state cause would be dealt a significant blow. Together with the Jordanian decision, the visit and its implication move the Arab World parameter down from 8 to 7.


Israel postponed the evacuation of the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin village indefinitely.

The decision proves that external pressure — in this case, European — can be effective in changing destructive Israeli policies. Europe’s high score of 8 remains and analysts argue that proactive steps can be expanded to larger questions of Israeli-Palestinian peace.


October saw escalation in Gaza, as mediation efforts ensued.

The escalation in Gaza moves the Palestinian Attacks parameter as well as the IDF Military Actions parameters down from 4 to 3. Despite hawkish postures by Israeli minsters, both sides appear to avoid an all-out war, moving the Prospects for War parameter up from an alarming 3 to a more-relaxed 4.


Twenty Palestinian and Israeli civil society organizations supportive of the two-state solution met within the framework of a new Geneva Initiative project: the Two-State Solution Coalition.

The represenatitves of leading Palestinian and Israeli organizations met to formulate strategies to promote the two-state solution within and between the two societies. The discussion focused on mutual enrichment, transparency and a vision for shared work toward a shared goal. On the backdrop of U.S. defunding of civil society engagement, the launching of this project raises the score of the parameter measuring Interaction between Palestinian and Israeli Civil Societies from 5 to 6.

In additional developments this month:

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, will resign at the end of the year. Another leading Israeli think tank presented a plan to separate Israel from the Palestinians. Canada will contribute $38 million to UNRWA. Israel approved the establishment of a new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, the first such construction in 16 years. The Israeli Knesset convened for its winter session, largely expected to be its last.

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.
Merging the U.S. Consulate and Embassy in Jerusalem Is a Mistake
Foreign Policy, October 23, 2018 (excerpts, see the full analysis
While the world was rightly focused on the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, an entirely different consulate — that of the United States in Jerusalem — all but disappeared. And the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace took a major blow in the process...

The U.S. consul general in Jerusalem... for all intents and purposes — though not in name — played the role of ambassador to the Palestinians.

Merging [the consulate and the embassy] does major harm to the United States’ ability to act as a mediator in the conflict and serves as a severe blow to the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace through a two-state solution.

First and foremost, it signals to all involved — Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians — that the United States sees one political entity between the river and the sea. Having subsumed the role of Washington’s primary interlocutor with the Palestinians to that of the ambassador to the Israelis sends a clear message: The United States is no longer truly pursuing a two-state solution and will treat the Israelis and Palestinians as a single political entity instead of two.

Second, it damages the ability of the White House and State Department to get two separate, unvarnished accounts of how Israelis and Palestinians are responding to any given incident... Now that reporting will all need to go through the lens of one ambassador, the United States is likely to only get half of the story...

Third, this change will further damage the United States’ ability to influence events on the ground and will harm U.S. relations with the Palestinians...

The merger raises another fundamental question. With an equal number of Arabs and Jews in the land, will the U.S. ambassador spend his time and energy evenly on both, building relations equally?

If he doesn’t, that sends a signal — and an ugly one at that. Though we should say that it will be quite hard for the ambassador to build that relationship with the Palestinians, given that he is closely associated with the Israeli far-right and most Palestinians will likely refuse to meet with him.

What is certain is that Trump’s pursuit of the “ultimate deal” at this point is preposterous...

The notion that the Palestinians will simply surrender when pressed is wrong. The Palestinians do have another option if they see the two-state solution slipping away, which is not to roll over and give up. Instead, they could shift their position to one much of their younger population wishes to move toward anyway — one state with equal rights for all of its citizens...

Finally, if a one-state reality emerges, will it be based on freedom and equality for all—Jews and Palestinians alike? If it does, then this will mean the end of the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. If it does not, it will be an ugly separate-but-unequal reality that will erode Israel’s values and isolate it internationally.

Rather than reorganizing the U.S. government to accept this intolerable option, the United States should keep the structure of the embassy in Israel and consulate to the Palestinians as it has for decades. Two U.S. representatives for two peoples who we hope soon will be living in two states, side by side, in peace and security.

Hady Amr served in the Obama administration from 2010 to 2017 as deputy assistant administrator for the Middle East at USAID and as deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He is currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Follow him on Twitter: @HadyAmr.

Ilan Goldenberg is a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security. Previously, he served as chief of staff to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to conduct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. 

See the full Foreign Policy article here.

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