By Noah Browning
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A leading architect of Palestinian peace talks with Israel has drawn criticism from Palestinian officials by breaking with the notion of a 'two-state solution' that he said was being buried in the dust by Israeli bulldozers racing to build settlements.
The two-state solution has been the cornerstone of successive Middle East peace initiatives, envisaging the creation of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.
But a former chief negotiator for the Palestinians, Ahmed Qurei, has provoked controversy by suggesting that continued Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank meant it might now be impossible to fulfill the vision of independence.
"The idea of a two-state solution was being traded in the political marketplace before Israeli bulldozers raced against time to bury this project in the dust of vast settlement projects," Qurei wrote in the al-Quds newspaper at the weekend.
"The one state solution might be, despite all of its inherent conflicts and problems not particularly exclusive to it, one of the solutions that we would do well to consider," he wrote.
Palestinian officials repudiated the idea, maintaining that despite stalled negotiations, all efforts remained focused on establishing a state based on land seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with Jerusalem as their capital.
"This is the only track that has international support and international acceptance and is understood to have a reasonable hope of being achieved," said Wasel Abu Yusuf, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee.
"If we've been discussing the two-state solution for 40 years, we would need another 40 years to discuss one-state," he told Reuters.
The idea of a one-state solution has gained currency among some scholars and activists in recent years, arguing that after years of largely fruitless talks, Palestinians would be better off being absorbed into Israel and given full citizenship.
However, Israeli officials and the vast majority of its public consider sharing a government and nation with the Palestinians a non-starter, believing that it would destroy the Jewish nature of their state.
While adhering to the idea of a two-state solution, the Palestinian government has repeatedly suggested that the continued status quo might render a future Palestinian state impossible.
Palestinian concerns are mounting that settlement construction and economic dependency may be endangering the viability of two states, which has long been the blueprint for a compromise.
Ahead of a foreign donors' conference in Brussels on Wednesday, in which Palestinian officials will seek assistance for their ailing economy, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad described the crisis as a serious threat to building a state.
"We are mindful of the need to continue our momentum towards sovereignty and to keep the prospects for the two-state solution alive," Fayyad said in a statement.
Talks on a permanent peace agreement leading to Palestinian statehood broke down in 2010 in a dispute over continued Israeli settlement building. Since then the Palestinians have seen a drop in donor aid and are struggling to balance their budget.
"Now everything is stalled. They are very keenly aware of the fact that they have to do something, but I don't know to what degree they mean what they say," said George Giacaman, political analyst at Birzeit University.
(Reporting By Noah Browning)