Analysis: Mideast peace deal seems far off

Tuesday - 7/30/2013, 4:40am EDT

DAN PERRY
Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The contours of Israeli-Palestinian peace are clear, experts say: If only the sides summon up the will, the inevitable outcome is two states roughly along the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a finessing of the Palestinian refugee issue.

The notion of a virtually preordained eventual result has been around for decades. And Secretary of State John Kerry believes in it enough to have spent much of his time in office trying to coax the sides back to the table.

But with peace talks finally set to begin anew this week, it is striking how few in the region itself expect a deal: The previous rounds have led many to conclude that when it comes to details, the Palestinians' minimal demands simply exceed what Israel is willing to deliver.

Some say that the Palestinians are driving what Israelis view as a hard bargain because they have already lost some three-quarters of historical Palestine under the pre-1967 borders.

But there is another factor: In the long run, contrary to standard discourse, the Palestinians may not be the weaker party at all. While they suffer in various ways from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, it is the Israelis who may actually need a partition of the Holy Land more.

That's because Israel proper, within its recognized pre-1967 borders, has some 6 million Jews and almost 2 million Arab citizens. The West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem have almost 4 million Palestinians among them. If Israel does not pull back, say withdrawal advocates, near-parity in historic Palestine is already the case, and an Arab majority may follow that cannot forever be denied full democratic rights. It is a deep dilemma that animates many a dinnertime debate: For decades Israelis were told they may have to make "painful sacrifices" in exchange for peace. Now the narrative is shifting: They may have to do it regardless, for demographic salvation alone.

This understanding may be dampening Palestinian urgency to strike a deal.

Several times in recent years they did not accept offers Israel considered far-reaching. In the most recent, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a state in Gaza and 95 percent of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem. Palestinians say they could not agree on details and that Olmert was a lame duck who could not deliver. In any case it is hard to imagine Olmert's successor, the more hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, going further or even coming as close.

What will Israel do if a peace deal remains elusive?

Some people are talking about accepting that Israel, combined with the West Bank and maybe Gaza, will simply be a bi-national state, even if this means Jews will eventually be dominated by Arabs. Even some nationalists seem to accept this and consider it preferable to giving up the land.

Some propose that neighboring Jordan allow West Bank Palestinians to vote in its own parliamentary elections as a way of giving Palestinians in Israeli-controlled areas a version of democratic rights.

Others hope for a partial settlement that will give the Palestinians a state in most of the territory but less than they want -- and in exchange Israel would not demand "end-of-conflict," with remaining issues left for later. Palestinians reject the idea, believing they would be left without leverage to gain anything more.

Still others expect Israel to unilaterally pull out from much of the area. But the Gaza precedent undermines this: Israel pulled settlers and troops from the coastal territory, which is detached from the West Bank, in 2005; Hamas militants soon took over, and years of sporadic rocket fire followed.

Yet another possibility: To prevent rockets from the West Bank, Israel might declare borders of its choosing, remove the settlers on the "Palestinian side," but maintain a purely military and more easily reversible military occupation.

Meanwhile, here's what awaits the negotiators set to try again:

JERUSALEM

Under the 1947 U.N. plan dividing British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, Jerusalem was to be an international city surrounded by Arab territory. But the Arabs rejected the partition, and in the war that followed, Israeli forces blazed a path to the city and occupied the western part of it. Jordan seized the city's eastern sector, containing the Old City with its sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as the surrounding "West Bank."

In the 1967 war two decades later, Israel occupied east Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which had been ruled by Egypt, taking over all the territory the U.N. had slated for the Palestinian state. It annexed only east Jerusalem, expanding the city's borders into a slice of the West Bank; the world community rejects the annexation.