PA Security Forces take Jericho after Oslo
PA Security Forces take Jericho after OsloYossi Zamir/Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may not have done it with finesse, but his very public challenge to the viability of a Two State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has opened a major window according to David M. Weinberg of the Begin-Sadat Center for Security Studies.

In Weinberg's mind, whether or not it is fair, Israel will have to respond assertively to the latest diplomatic challenge for the country - a country which technically doesn't even have a government.

"Israel's government must answer intelligently and responsively to international questions on peace with the Palestinians. They can't let the international community or the Palestinians dictate the terms of a framework for peace."

That includes, according to Weinberg, major alternatives to the Two State Solution.

"Obviously it's going to be a difficult period" to start for the new government, he says. "But, Israel cannot have duplicity or be vague about it. We need to be clear, smart and responsive."

Part of that framework has to include letting Israel not be beholden to the stopping points of previous failed attempts at peace. According to a recent blog post by Weinberg, "Israel’s baseline position at the outset of the talks should be that 100 percent of the West Bank belongs to Israel" by historical right, "political experience, legitimate settlement, and security necessity."

The objective here seems to be a reboot of the premise of talks and the notion that anything a Palestinian entity receives is a gift of the Israeli government, not a relinquishing of something Palestinians actually had a claim of sovereignty over.

Another major issue Weinberg reminds readers that needs to be highlighted is that the Gaza Strip's political secession from the Palestinian Authority disrupts any attempt to actually resolve things.

"Hamas will have to be sidelined or sign-on to an eventual deal. Israel should not be in the business of birthing two Palestinian states."

There has been an often unmentioned issue that the Gaza Strip has to be a part of a final peace deal. This applies to supporters of a Two State Solution as much as anyone, because Israel was expected to swap land adjacent to the coastal enclave as part of a final deal. While Mr. Weinberg does not mention this, this would also present problems because of the lack of definite acceptance by Hamas of any arrangement.

That, among other things, dovetails into the need to re-raise the possibility of alternatives like a “Palestinian-Jordanian federation” or “shared sovereignty with Israel” in Judea & Samaria. This might also open the door to other arrangements, like those of former Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.

Putting the Temple Mount on the Table

Weinberg also concludes that post with a very critical caveat: whatever Palestinian entity (or entities) that come of a peace process must share the Temple Mount. Critically, he says Israel must assert that Jewish prayer is "a basic human, civic, national and religious right" entitled to Jews.

"In Hebron there is a time-sharing arrangement whereby certain days of the year are exclusively for Jewish or Muslim prayer. Most days of the year there is a division of the site whereby both groups can use it. This is one possible model."

"Another is for something on a more permanent basis, including the establishment of a small prayer area or a Synagogue in the corner of the Temple Mount that need not interfere with the Muslim shrines."

His statements are actually a major indictment of the one-sided nature of past negotiations over the Temple Mount, in which Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered Israeli sovereignty merely "under" the Temple Mount and no presence on the plaza itself.

While the issue of prayer is still quite removed from using the Mount for actual rituals related to Temple service, it would still reflect a leap forward for some observers who might have seen negotiations as negating Jewish religious concerns about Judaism's holiest site.

But any resolution to the Temple Mount that incorporates Jewish concerns over the site would inevitably involve Jordan, which maintains a custodial role over the site despite Israeli police authority there. According to Temple Institute Director, Rabbi Chaim Richman, “The accord between Israel and Jordan promises religious freedom of worship there. Yet, there is this strange, fictitious ‘status quo’ that non-Muslims – including Christians – cannot pray up there.”

This leads back to Weinberg’s suggestion for regional alternatives to a Two State Solution, possibly also in line with suggestions made by centrist parties during the campaign to have a “regional agreement and separation from the Palestinians” which Yesh Atid spokesman Yair Zavid explained recently meant the party felt “the bilateral track had run its course.” 

According to Weinberg's outline, it would be still only be a mere token recognition to Jewish sanctity at the site; or as he called it, a "smidgen" of it.