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Once a hot-button topic supported by the extreme Left, the notion of a Palestinian state has gradually gained acceptance since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. This acceptance culminated with Ariel Sharon's recognition of the Road Map peace plan which explicitly calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. The acceptance of a Palestinian state was advanced farther by the Sharon led Disengagement from Gaza and Northern Shomron which is the first physical step on the road to a Palestinian state.
The idea of creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel is not new. The idea - basically that of partitioning western British Mandatory Palestine into an Arab and Jewish State - was first proposed in 1937 by the Peel Commission. On November 29, 1947 the UN voted to accept a similar partition plan to replace British colonialist rule of the area. Representatives of the Jewish population in Mandatory Palestine accepted the partition, paving the way for Israel's establishment. The Arabs rejected the plan, and launched a failed bid to "unify" Palestine by crushing the fledging Jewish State in a military campaign that started as the Brits set sail for England on May 14, 1948.
Nevertheless, from 1948 - 1967 most of the land set aside by the UN partition plan for an Arab state was ruled by Jordan (Judea, Samaria - or the "West Bank" of the Jordan River) and Egypt (Gaza Strip). These countries never attempted to honor the UN plan by initiating Palestinian sovereignty in the areas. Instead they incorporated them into their respective countries.
When, in 1967, Israel captured these areas from the Jordan and Egypt in a defensive war, Israelis believed they would be able to negotiate a settlement with the Arab countries in exchange for returning the captured areas. However, the Arab response to the crushing defeat was the infamous "Three No's" of the Khartoum Conference: "No peace with Israel; No negotiations with Israel; No recognition of Israel."
After fighting existential wars twice within 19 years, Israelis understood that any future peace agreements with the Arab states would have to take into consideration the Jewish State's security needs. Those needs - which have been validated over the past years of violence - call for changes to the 1948 armistice line (the so-called "green line"), which left Israel particularly vulnerable to attack and destruction.
Khartoum's outright rejection of Israeli peace overtures in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, coupled with Israeli security needs and political aspirations led to the establishment of Israeli communities in the captured territory by both right and left wing governments. Today, these communities are alternatively viewed as obstacles to the creation of a Palestinian State, bargaining "chips" on the way to the creation of such a state or physical barriers to further attempts at Israel's destruction.
The 1993 Oslo Accords jolted Israeli society by recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and granting this organization the land and military wherewithal to implement self-rule. In practice, it also re-introduced the idea of "partition" as Oslo's architects increasingly spoke of Palestinian statehood as the ultimate outcome of the process.
Ironically, in response to Ehud Barak's offer of a Palestinian state at the 2000 Camp David negotiations, Yasser Arafat launched a war of terror against Israel that undermined much, if not all, of Oslo's potential.
In the midst of Arafat's terror war, Ariel Sharon rose to power on the strength of his security background with the promise of ending terror with a firm hand. Under Sharon's leadership, Israel disproved the long-held belief that there 'was no military solution to terror' and the IDF has been successful in reducing terror to a limited level.
Despite his success in fighting terror Sharon publicly proclaimed that there was no partner for peace and set out on a path of unilateralism. His goal was to consolidate Israeli lines and improve Israel's demographics by removing Israeli communities from hard to protect areas - a policy known as Disengagement that was implemented in August 2005.
Political Parties and Palestinian Statehood
Labor and left of center parties are proponents of the establishment of a Palestinian state. The reasoning is two-fold: 1) the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is jeopardized by ruling over a large numbers of Palestinians and, 2) a Palestinian state would ideally signal the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, leading to a comprehensive regional peace. Although the logic is impeccable, the Labor party's reputation has been battered in recent years since progress towards reconciliation paradoxically ushered in an era of unprecedented violence and terror.
Ariel Sharon's popularity since the last election stems mainly from his stance embracing unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian populated areas in an attempt to limit the contact between Israel and Arabs, with the hope that this will enable Israel to fight terror and live peacefully. In Sharon's absence, Ehud Olmert and the Kadima party have continued to carry the banner of unilateralism coupled with the stated pledge to abide by Israel's commitment as outlined in the Road Map peace plan. Prior to his stroke, Sharon had publicly stated his support for a Palestinian state as long as it was democratic and peaceful. Sharon's earlier statements have served to form the basis of Kadima's positions vis a vis the Palestinians.
The Likud party itself is split on the idea of a Palestinian state. Much of the Likud leadership has come to the conclusion that a Palestinian state will exist in the future, but that the borders of such a state have yet to be decided. On the other hand, the central committee of the Likud formally adopted a platform rejecting an independent Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan. From their vantage, an independent Palestinian state would leave Israel with indefensible borders. Vulnerable borders - coupled with the current Palestinian leadership's propensity for violent confrontation and capability as a sovereign power to negotiate military pacts with neighboring belligerents - would ultimately invite increased terror attacks and lead to war. In such a war Israel would not have the strategic depth necessary to counter military drives into its most densely populated urban areas. These and other security factors led the Likud central committee - and conservative parties - to reject the idea of a Palestinian state.
At this point, all parties to the right of Likud reject the idea of a Palestinian state based on the security rationale mentioned above as well as religious/ideological grounds - primarily that the Jewish People - forcibly exiled from their ancient land - never forfeited their right to return and settle in the Land of Israel.
It is important to note that all Israeli political parities - except the Arab factions - reject the idea of a Palestinian "right of return" to areas abandoned during the 1948 war.
Even Meretz, representing the extreme left in Israeli politics, believes this policy would bring about the destruction of the Jewish State as it upsets the demographic balance of the country. Labor and some left-wing parties will, however, consider a "symbolic" right of return by a small number of Palestinians under Israel's family unification program. Read more about the Palestinian refugee issue here.