The Palestinians should give up seeking an independent state and pursue a single country in which they would enjoy equal rights with Israelis, the chief Palestinian negotiator in Mideast peace talks said Wednesday.
The remark by Saeb Erekat was not a novel idea — prominent Palestinians, including past negotiators, have floated it before, usually when efforts to achieve a negotiated solution to the decades old-conflict with Israel are faltering as they are now.
Barack Obama's push to restart the peace talks has faltered, largely due to disagreements over further construction of Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, lands the Palestinians want for their hoped-for state.
Some 500,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in settlements built by Israel since capturing the territories in 1967. Israel promised to halt all settlement activity in a 2003 peace plan, but construction has never stopped.
Israel has rebuffed calls from the Obama administration to freeze all settlement construction, instead offering to limit it in the West Bank while retaining the right to continue building in Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not resume negotiations until all settlement construction stops.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has spent much of this week seeking to clarify the American position. After upsetting Arab allies by calling Israel's proposed slowdown "unprecedented," she said in Cairo on Wednesday that Washington does not accept the legitimacy of West Bank settlements and wants to see their construction halted "forever."
Erekat's call for a one-state solution while speaking with reporters in Ramallah on Wednesday appeared to be a scare tactic, fed by frustration with the failure of peace talks to resume. Erekat said growing Jewish settlements are eating away at lands the Palestinians' want for their state.
Therefore, Erekat said, Palestinians "should refocus their attention to the one-state solution, where Muslims, Jews and Christians can live as equals."
In essence, the idea is that Palestinians should stop negotiations, declare Israel to be the sole governing power and demand that it treat all Palestinians under its control as equals — about 5.5 million Jews and roughly the same number of Arabs under one roof.
Only a minority of Palestinians support the single-state idea, and most Israelis fiercely reject it, saying it would mean the death of Israel as a Jewish state.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the one-state proposal, saying Israel remains committed to the peace process.
"We are calling for the immediate reengagement in talks leading to two states for two peoples," he said.