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Medical workers approach the Israel-Gaza border fence on May 15, 2018. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Anyone viewing this week's split-screen images of happy Israelis and Americans celebrating the U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem alongside the confrontation and killing at the Israeli-Gaza border fence could be forgiven for writing off the prospects for peace.

Where it stands: Whether the two-state solution is merely dead or fully dead and buried, a number of factors have combined to stall its progress and make further deterioration much more likely. Yet in a Friday morning conversation I moderated at the Wilson Center with PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and former Israeli negotiator Gilad Sher, a mutual conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved still emerged.

The players:

  • Netanyahu and Abbas: A deal will require committed leaders who are masters of their politics, not prisoners of their ideologies and constituencies. Abbas is too weak, unpopular and attached to inflexible negotiating positions, while Netanyahu has no intention of becoming the prime minister who divides Jerusalem and returns Israel to anything close to its June 1967 borders. Given the Hamas-Fatah split, the PLO cannot even claim that it controls all the guns of Palestine, let alone that it speaks for two million Gazans. Indeed, Hamas' orchestration of the March of Return and demonstrations in Gaza has further revealed that it’s on the front lines and Abbas is on the sidelines.
  • Trump administration: Opening an embassy in Jerusalem — tacit validation that Israel controls the city's east and west alike — has undermined the administration’s ability to be an effective, let alone honest, broker. If its pro-Israeli approach to Jerusalem and other issues isn’t balanced out in the administration's larger plan, it will fail, further diminishing U.S. credibility.
  • Arab states: Exhausted and fatigued by the Palestinian issue, key Arab states — most notably Saudi Arabia and the UAE — are more concerned by the threats from Iran and Sunnis jihadis and less inclined to fight for the Palestinian issue, much less press the U.S. for action. In fact, these states are moving closer to the Israelis, which has shifted pressure from the Palestinian issue.

The bottom line: For now, the Israeli-Palestinian arena will continue to see both confrontation and accommodation. Israelis, Palestinians and any would-be mediators are likely to remain caught between a two-state solution still too important to abandon and one that’s now just too hard to negotiate and implement.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center and a former Middle East analyst and negotiator at the State Department.

Go deeper

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.

2 hours ago - Health

First cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant discovered in U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Two cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant were detected in the United Kingdom overnight, the U.K. Health Security Agency announced Saturday.

Why it matters: The discovery comes as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.