Blinken visits the Palestinian West Bank, where residents are disillusioned and leaders are angry
Jan. 31, 2023 Updated Tue., Jan. 31, 2023 at 5:30 p.m.
Palestinians protest against U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit, in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Jan. 31, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE/TNS)
DEIR DIBWAN, West Bank — Maisoon Ali, a Palestinian banker, has a message for visiting U.S Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
She wants him to understand and acknowledge that the vision of an independent Palestinian nation living alongside Israel — the two-state solution favored by most U.S. administrations for years — is dead and buried.
“It has been killed,” said Ali, 56. “I can’t even dream it. I don’t see it. … This is what I want the secretary to hear.”
Blinken, wrapping up a three-day visit to the Middle East on Tuesday, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a day after extended consultations with Israel’s prime minister, president and foreign minister.
Abbas, 87, had tough words for Israel, its continued occupation of Palestinian territories and the failure of the “international community” to stop actions by Israel to seize Palestinian-claimed land and thwart efforts by the Palestinian Authority to find justice in international forums — efforts that Washington firmly opposes.
At every turn in this visit, Blinken has reiterated his government’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, even as its prospects seem more distant than ever — to both Israelis and Palestinians.
The far right that now governs Israel has long opposed independence for the approximately 4.5 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
For the Palestinians themselves, rejection of the two-state solution has been a slower evolution.
In an independent Palestine next to Israel, which has insisted on keeping control of some of the future state’s borders and airspace, “we would just have the name, Israel the power,” said 80-year-old Mohammed Mustafa, another resident of Deir Dibwan, who lived in the U.S. for many years and said he fought for the U.S. military in Vietnam.
Years of failed, occasionally bad-faith negotiations, interspersed with periods of violence from both sides, have only achieved a modicum of sovereignty for Palestinians while Israel continued to permit tens of thousands of Jewish settlers to move into West Bank lands claimed by the Palestinians. The heavily guarded Israeli settlements have effectively made creating a contiguous state next to impossible.
“The two-state solution was killed by the Israelis,” Ali said. “I know (Blinken) knows it’s not working. … I look for the American government to take a stand and say it has been killed by Israel.”
Ali was born in this affluent village near Ramallah, heavily populated with Palestinian Americans, and lived in the United States more than half her life. She holds a U.S. passport, but because of her Palestinian birth is barred from using Israel’s airport and suffers other indignities, she said.
Opinion polls have shown support for the two-state vision declining steadily among Palestinians, reflecting frustration and a sense that a viable state will never happen. Instead, many Palestinians now support the so-called one-state solution, a single country with both Israelis and Palestinians but, importantly, one with equal rights for both communities. At the same time, a majority doubts Israel would ever grant such liberties to Palestinians.
One set of calculations behind that scenario suggests the higher Palestinian birthrate would eventually mean Palestinians would outnumber Israeli Jews. Failure to give the majority full rights would, in theory, be untenable, but so would the ability to maintain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
The latest poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, conducted in December and released last week, showed support for a two-state solution that had been at roughly 43% for both Palestinians and Israelis in 2020 had fallen to 33% among Palestinians and 34% among Israelis.
It was the lowest level of support for the concept among Palestinians and Israelis since the poll was first conducted in June 2016, the head of the center, Khalil Shikaki, said in a statement announcing the survey.
“The hardening of attitudes is driven by deep concerns about the ultimate goals of the other side,” he said. “Indeed, perceptions of the other have worsened significantly since mid-2017 and are currently at a low point, with the two sides a mirror image of one another.”
After his meeting with Blinken, Abbas also blamed Israel for destroying the two-state solution and for stoking violence in the West Bank. But he said he was willing to work with the United States to open dialogue and “end the occupation.”
Standing with Abbas at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah to read statements before the press, Blinken said improvements in the living conditions, prosperity and peace for Palestinians were “best realized” by a two-state solution.
But he also acknowledged the deteriorating possibilities.
“What we are seeing is a shrinking horizon for hope, not an expanding one,” he said. “And that has to change.”
Blinken said he was assigning two senior staff members with extensive experience in the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hamy Amr, to stay behind and continue work on defusing tensions and other problems. Though Blinken said the effort would build on ideas he and officials had come up with on the trip, the move might also reflect a lack of progress on such stubborn issues.
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