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What could be done to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Question submitted by Michael Varacalli, from New York University, February 22, 2013

Answered by: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

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Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians began even before the State of Israel was established in 1948, and the two populations have opposing claims to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that have defeated numerous U.S. efforts to broker peace. Right now there is little hope of a comprehensive solution—one that resolves all the issues and involves not only Israel and the PLO but the Arab states as well. Today, the most that Israel can realistically offer is less than the least the Palestinians can realistically accept.

Why? For one, on several critical issues like Jerusalem and security arrangement, the parties remain far apart. For another, full buy-in from critical Arab states is required to make a deal palatable to Israel and the Palestinians, but the turmoil we call the "Arab Spring" makes that buy-in extremely unlikely for now. In addition, the separation between Hamas-run Gaza and the Fatah-run West Bank makes it almost impossible for the Palestinians to make the difficult compromises that a final agreement would require.

For now, the best way forward is to continue talks, but to emphasize practical steps forward on the ground that move Palestinians toward construction of a state. This means building effective institutions such as government ministries, courts, and police, as well as improving the economy so that it is less dependent on foreign aid. It means trying to lighten the Israeli imprint with fewer military raids, fewer checkpoints and other obstacles to mobility, and no physical expansion of settlements in areas that will clearly be part of Palestine someday. It isn't dramatic, but this is the best path forward.