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The Return of the Jordanian Option

TEL AVIV – France’s initiative to hold an international conference to re-launch direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, aimed at the ever elusive “two-state solution,” is the child of a resilient fantasy. But after decades of failed negotiations, it’s time to start thinking like adults.

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian society is primed for compromise. On the contrary, in Israel, surging nationalism has become a major obstacle to any negotiation. With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu catering to ultra-nationalist elements, there is no possibility that he will produce the kinds of peace proposals pursued by his predecessors, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. As for Palestine, its fragmented polity undermines any possibility of effective negotiation.

But even beyond the current circumstances, there are more fundamental reasons why the Israel-Palestine peace process has never worked. The role of history and religion in the conflict, together with the small size of territory over which the parties are fighting, leaves too little room for accommodation.

There is another vital reason: The Palestinian interlocutor is not a state, but an unpredictable movement. It is a movement that is institutionally invertebrate and split between Islamists, who dream of a borderless Arab nation, and ineffective secular nationalists who four times (1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008) rejected offers for the creation of a Palestinian state.