For decades, the two-state solution has been held up by the international community as the only realistic deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its basis is two separate states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully side by side on the land between the western bank of the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. This territory would be divided broadly along the pre-1967 armistice line or “green line” – probably with some negotiated land swaps. Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital, would be shared.
Past negotiations have failed to make progress and there are currently no fresh talks in prospect. The main barriers are borders, Jerusalem, refugees, Israel’s insistence on being recognised as a “Jewish state” and the Palestinians’ political and geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinians demand that the border of their new state should follow the green line, giving them 22% of their historic land. But Israel, which has built hundreds of settlements on the Palestinian side of the green line over the past 50 years, insists that most of these should become part of Israel – requiring a new border which would mean, according to critics, the annexation of big chunks of the West Bank. Land swaps could go some way to compensate but negotiations have stalled on this fundamental issue.
Jerusalem is another obstacle. Israel has said it cannot agree any deal which sees the city shared or divided between the two sides. The Palestinians say they will not cede their claim and access to their holy sites, all of which are located in East Jerusalem, on the Palestinian side of the green line.
The Palestinians have long insisted that refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants should have the right to return to their former homes, although many diplomats believe they would settle for a symbolic “right of return”. Israel rejects any movement on this issue.
Israel insists that the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”. The Palestinians say this would deny the existence of the one in five Israeli citizens who are Palestinian.
Any potential deal is complicated by the political breach between Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, and the geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza.