Dear Friends,

At the year's end, Israeli settlement expansion and the intensification of violence in the West Bank is impressing on both Israelis and Palestinians the urgency for achieving a two-state solution. Fluctuations in the Two State Index over the past 12 months show a gradual and slight improvement in conditions favorable to the two-state solution, though no significant steps were taken in this direction. 

Stay tuned next month for a Special Edition of the TSI including expert analysis and the results of a special survey conducted among our readers on the most influential developments of 2021.

December At a Glance:

These events increased the Two-State Index by 1.8% in December (up 0.1 points from 5.55 to 5.65).

To learn about the Geneva Initiative's TSI, visit our website.

Gantz and Abbas Hold Second High-Level Meeting Amid Escalating West Bank Tension

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted PA President Mahmoud Abbas in his home in Rosh Ha’ayin — marking Abbas’ first official meeting in Israel since 2010 and the second high-level meeting between the two since the formation of Israel’s coalition government earlier this year.

Gantz told Abbas that he intended to continue to advance economic and civilian steps, including the promotion of Palestinian construction plans in Area C, approval of the early transfer of 100m NIS in withheld tax revenues to the PA, and an additional 9,500 family reunification status changes – including 3,500 for residents of the Gaza Strip. 

Palestinian officials said Egypt and Jordan played a role in arranging the meeting, fearing the consequences of a possible security deterioration in West Bank. The US has also stepped up pressure on Israel over the past month against the backdrop of escalating violence between the sides.

While Israeli statements avoided reference to a political peace process, PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al Sheikh tweeted that the Gantz-Abbas meeting “dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution in accordance with international resolutions”.

The meeting was hailed by senior representatives of the US, EU, UN, and countries around the world. Meanwhile, Hamas condemned the meeting as a break with "the national spirit of the Palestinian people", as did right-wing Israeli politicians, who fear the meeting marks a beginning of a political process. 
Left-leaning members of Israel's governing coalition, meanwhile, expressed support for the meeting: “Progress can only be made if we meet. Defense Minister Gantz’s meeting with President Abu Mazen is vital for establishing trust between the sides and for preserving the political horizon,” Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej said.

The Gantz-Abbas meeting brought the issue of the two-state solution once again to the forefront of Israeli public discourse. Palestinian analyst Mohammed Daraghmeh says: “The meeting didn’t come as a breakthrough in the peace process, but it does help to empower the PA and improve confidence-building between the two governments…small steps like these can help build bridges between the sides. Avoiding a major clash or collapse of the PA could be a good target in the absence of a political process”.

Abbas’ rare visit to Israel to meet with Gantz and the announcement of new on the ground measures raises the PLO Chairman parameter from 6 to 7, and the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral negotiations parameter from 3 to 4.

Recent Wave of Deadly Attacks Highlights Divisions Over Settlement Enterprise

The fatal shooting of an Israeli settler near the evacuated settlement of Homesh sparked calls for the outpost – where an illegally-run yeshiva has been allowed to operate on privately-owned Palestinian land for more than a decade – to be re-established. Some 15,000 settlers, right-wing politicians and activists gathered on the hilltop, while demonstrators attacked nearby Palestinian homes.

The shooting near Homesh was one in a spate of shooting, stabbing, and car-ramming attacks this month that have heightened tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The uptick in violence comes as Israel continues to expand settlement projects throughout Area C, and reports that plans are being drawn up for new Jewish neighborhoods surrounding east Jerusalem

“There is no doubt that recent developments are not beneficial for the chances to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on the two-state solution,” Brig. Gen. (Res.) Ilan Paz, a former head of the West Bank Civil Administration and member of Geneva Initiative leadership, says. “The odds for another violent escalation are growing. Unfortunately, pro-peace representatives in the government currently serving as ministers are not expressing the need to change this reality and oppose these steps.”

Deep divisions were drawn this month after Public Security Minister and GI Steering Committee Member Omer Bar-Lev said he had discussed the matter of settler violence with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland during her visit to the region. Right-wing ministers expressed outrage, while PM Bennett downplayed settler attacks as an "insignificant phenomenon".

The PA Foreign Ministry issued a statement in support of Bar Lev calling his recognition of settler violence “an initial step in the right direction” while PM Shtayyeh called for international intervention. Bar Lev has since doubled down on his remarks, saying his critics were having difficulty “looking in the mirror,” and cautioning that settler violence is becoming an issue drawing attention on the world stage.

The increase in violent attacks targeting both Israelis and Palestinians leads to a rise in the reverse-scale “Palestinian Attacks (West Bank)” parameter from 7 to 8, and in the reverse-scale “IDF Military actions (West Bank)” parameter from 6 to 7. These changes reflect the fact that as violence increases, so does the awareness for the urgency of achieving a two-state solution.

US Ramps Up Engagement and Ups Pressure on Israel Over Settlements 

The US stepped up its engagement in the region over the past month, re-affirming its commitment to the two-state solution while increasing its diplomatic pressure on Israel over specific issues.

American senior officials including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert, all visited the region this month, meeting officials in Jerusalem and Ramallah including PM Bennett and President Abbas.

In meetings with US officials, Abbas reiterated calls for Israel to halt unilateral measures that undermine the two-state solution. Abbas spoke specifically about "settlement activities and terrorism by settlers" in his meeting with Sullivan. According to a statement, Sullivan reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the two-state solution and communicated to Israeli officials “the need to avoid steps that can inflame tensions on the ground”.

Israeli statements issued after meetings with Sullivan notably did not mention the Palestinian issue, focusing exclusively on Iran.
Building on diplomatic pressure which led Israel to shelve plans for 9,000 housing units in Qalandiya/Atarot, senior US officials have continued to deliver strong messages to their Israeli counterparts in an effort to prevent provocative unilateral steps regarding settlement activities at specific sites in the West Bank.

Reflecting Washington’s firmer stance on the matter, the US State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism published this month included a detailed section on Israeli settler violence – an indication that the US is examining the issue closely.

The US, meanwhile, resumed a more formalized channel for economic dialogue with the PA this month holding the first (virtual) meeting of the US-Palestinian Economic Dialogue Committee in five years. The US also pledged $99m to UNRWA, restoring aid to the Palestinian refugee agency after a freeze during the Trump administration. With the resumption of joint economic dialogue still in its early phases, further results in the form of concrete economic policy steps should be expected in the coming months.

Stronger engagement on the part of the US leads to an increase in the “International Actors – United States” parameter from 7 to 8 this month. Despite positive steps to resume economic dialogue, the “Palestinian Statebuilding – Economy” parameter remains unchanged at 4, amid dim forecasts for the Palestinian economy in 2022.

One-State Alternative Gains Traction in Palestinian Political Rhetoric

Stagnation in the peace process is leading to more high-profile rhetoric surrounding the possibility of a one-state alternative. This month, exiled Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan declared the two-state solution “an illusion”, saying that he would be “willing to entertain the one-state [solution] as a challenging option”. 

Dahlan’s comments echo those of PA President Abbas in October that Israel’s rejection of the two-state solution was compelling Palestinians to consider alternatives. Hamas similarly warned this month that “the two-state solution is getting lost and Israel has left no opportunity to implement it.”

Results of a new poll published this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) indicate that a vast majority of the Palestinian public (59%) believe that the two-state solution is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of Israeli settlements. And as the perceived prospects for achieving a two-state solution become more distant, Palestinian discourse is increasingly embracing the idea of a bi-national state.
While the idea may be gaining traction in political rhetoric, the two-state solution remains the most preferred solution to the conflict among the Palestinian public. According to the PCPSR, support for the two-state solution rose to 39% this month, while 61% of respondents said they looked positively on recent confidence-building measures initiated by Israel.

Two separate polls conducted by the Geneva Initiative and Tel Aviv University published this month similarly indicate that the majority of Israeli society supports advancing a political peace process with the Palestinians – with 51% in support of a meeting between PM Bennett and President Abbas, according to the GI poll.

"The Israeli public does not buy into the government's conflict management policy and is more realistic than its leaders. Bennett and Lapid should listen to the public and immediately start a political process with the Palestinian leadership," Geneva Initiative Director-General Gadi Baltiansky said of the results.

Despite a notable shift in political rhetoric this month, the Palestinian Public Opinion Parameter remains stable at 6. The Israeli Public Opinion parameter increases this month from 5 to 6, reflecting both strong public support for initiating a political process taken together with the impact of events on the ground on public discourse.
Israel-Gaza Tensions Intensify Amid Lagging Reconstruction Efforts

Gaza-Israel frictions deepened in December with a shooting incident targeting an Israeli civilian along the Gaza border and retaliatory Israeli strikes against Hamas positions  that injured at least three Palestinians. UN Special Coordinator for the Peace Process Tor Wennesland warned the Security Council earlier this month that intensifying violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem could threaten the fragile calm that has held on the Gaza border since May.

Hamas has repeatedly accused Israel of “foot dragging” on Gaza reconstruction and warned of the prospect of a new round of fighting if steps were not taken to improve conditions on the ground. Gaza re-construction efforts were discussed this month during a meeting between Israeli FM Lapid and Egyptian President Sisi in Cairo, with Lapid presenting Sisi his Economy for Security plan. The two also discussed Israeli efforts to bolster the PA. Meanwhile, Egypt launched the second phase of its national re-construction project in Gaza, which will include six new residential projects in al-Zahra, Jabalia, and Beit Lahia, and two bridges.
Sweden this month donated $5.7m to UNRWA for Gaza reconstruction, while Germany made a €21m contribution in support of UNRWA education and health services in Gaza and the West Bank as well as shelter reconstruction in Gaza. Qatar, the PA and Gaza's electrical company also signed a memorandum of understanding this month on a long-term project to supply Gaza's power plant with Israeli gas, with Qatar investing $60 million to establish a pipeline to bring Israeli gas to Gaza's power plant. Final agreement on the initiative has not yet been reached.
With no concrete developments on the ground in Gaza this month, the “Gaza - Humanitarian Conditions”, “Gaza – Prospects for War” and “IDF Military Actions” remain unchanged this month at 4, 6, and 6 respectively. We continue to monitor the situation in Gaza closely following the launch of two rockets towards Israel.
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.
Think we missed something this month? Send us tips and comments here.

Powered by Publicators