The two-state solution has never been viable because on the Palestinian side, not a single leader has ever evinced any true liking for the idea or acted in a way signifying an unqualified embrace of it.
The idea was first suggested in 1937 by the British; it was accepted by Jews and rejected by Arabs who reverted to wholesale violence to abort it. The same thing happened in November 1947 when the Arab nations sought to violently abort the UN General Assembly’s resolution for the partition of Palestine and to destroy the State of Israel at birth. Nor did the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), designated by the Arab League in 1974 as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people, ever accept the two-state solution: namely, Israel and a Palestinian state governed by the PLO in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In June 1974, the organization adopted a “phased strategy,” according to whose terms it would seize whatever territory Israel was prepared or compelled to cede and use it as a springboard for further territorial gains until achieving, in its phrase, the “complete liberation of Palestine.”
Despite this, Israel’s Labor government, which had backed the “land for peace” formula in the immediate wake of the 1967 war, decided to enter into peace negotiations with the PLO. In 1993 it signed the Oslo Accords providing for Palestinian self-rule in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip for a transitional period not to exceed five years, during which time Israel and the Palestinians would negotiate a permanent settlement. Although the Oslo Accords were not based explicitly on a two-state solution, they signaled an implicit Israeli readiness to acquiesce in the establishment of a Palestinian state. But for the PLO, the Oslo “peace process” offered a path not to a two-state but to a one-state solution. Arafat admitted as much as he shook Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn, assuring Palestinians in a pre-recorded Arabic-language message that the agreement was merely an implementation of the PLO’s phased strategy.
The next ten years offered a recapitulation, over and over again, of the same story. In addressing Israeli or Western audiences, Arafat would laud the “peace” he had signed with “my partner Yitzhak Rabin.” To his Palestinian constituents, he depicted the accords as transient arrangements required by the needs of the moment, indoctrinating his people with an abiding hatred of Israel and its people so as to fortify them for war. Last, he chose an opportune moment, after he had gained maximum advantage from the “peace process,” to unleash a wholesale war of terror—a short time after Ehud Barak, then prime minister of Israel, offered Arafat the chance to establish an independent Palestinian state in 92 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Arafat’s death in November 2004 has hardly changed this grim picture. In a televised speech on May 15, 2005, his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, described the establishment of Israel as an unprecedented historic injustice and vowed his unwavering resolve never to accept it. Two and a half years later, at a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, he rejected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal of a Palestinian Arab state in 97 percent of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, and categorically dismissed the request to recognize Israel as a Jewish state alongside the would-be Palestinian state, insisting instead on full implementation of the “right of return”—the Palestinian euphemism for Israel’s destruction through demographic subversion.
When in June 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke with longstanding Likud precept by publicly accepting a two-state solution and agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state, provided the Palestinian leadership responded in kind and recognized Israel’s Jewish nature, the Arab world exploded in rage. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that Netanyahu “will have to wait 1,000 years before he finds one Palestinian who will go along with him.”
And so it goes. Seventy-six years after rejecting the two-state solution the Palestinians remain as opposed as ever to the idea. The only difference between the PLO and the militant Islamist group Hamas is that the former has been speaking peace while waging war since the launch of the Oslo process in 1993, while the latter has never hidden its intention to destroy the State of Israel.
Efraim Karsh is a professor of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at King’s College London.
Right now there are two options on the table: the two-state solution that is supported by an overwhelming international consensus, apart from the United States and Israel; or the U.S. and Israel continuing with the policies they are now pursuing, which are not in the least hidden. That should be the end of the discussion: Those who hold that the two-state solution is dead are effectively telling the Palestinians to kiss any hopes goodbye.
There are those who propose a “one-state solution,” a bi-national arrangement of some kind. In the more sensible form, I’ve advocated this since I was a Zionist youth leader in the pre-state period. Advocacy requires sketching a realistic path from here to there. From 1967 to the mid-1970s, there was a fairly direct path, but from the mid-1970s, when Palestinian national rights reached the international agenda, there has been only one path: in stages, via a two-state settlement. If the recent supporters of this position have some different path in mind, then it is their task to present it. As a longtime advocate of this outcome, I’d naturally be interested in seeing this alternative path.
I don’t think a bi-national state is ideal, or even close to it. A better outcome would be regional integration, eroding the borders imposed by imperial force—probably the only outcome in which the Palestinian refugee problem could be seriously addressed. But an outcome of that sort—there are many possibilities—would not be “ideal.” There are no attainable ideals in human life. Climb one peak and you see another higher one that you hadn’t known about before.
No one can predict with any confidence as to whether bi-national integration of some sort could take place after the establishment of two states, but it seems likely. There is no way to draw a line through mandatory Palestine that makes any sense. In the past, lessening tensions has led to interactions: cultural, commercial and so on. That might well happen again. Where it would lead would depend ultimately on the people themselves, with constructive outside support, one would hope—and that largely is up to us.
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has also written extensively on war, politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yossi Klein Halevi
In 1991, I wrote a story for The Jerusalem Report magazine with these bold words on the cover: “Settlements: Past the Point of No Return?” At the time there were barely 100,000 settlers; yet the clear implication of my article was that we had, indeed, passed the point where a West Bank withdrawal was possible.
And so I approach the question with skepticism. True, there are nearly four times as many Israelis living in the territories now than there were when I suggested that the settlers had won. Yet a closer examination of those numbers reveals that fully three-quarters of settlers live in blocs close to the old border. And so the real question is: Are the 100,000 Israelis living outside the blocs an insurmountable obstacle to a two-state solution? It is nearly unbearable to consider evacuating 100,000 Israelis from their homes—or leaving many of them behind under Palestinian rule. And yet, if real peace were possible, I believe that a majority of Israelis would respond appropriately—and, if necessary, force their government to make the deal. But most Israelis are convinced that Palestinian leaders—including Mahmoud Abbas—are either unwilling or unable to offer the essential Palestinian compromise: confining refugee return to a Palestinian state. That, rather than the settlements, has been the deal-breaker all along. Meanwhile, the instability in the Arab world, the split within the Palestinian national movement and Israeli fears of a Hamas takeover of a West Bank Palestinian state—all conspire against a two-state solution.
What, then, to do in the interim? First, abandon the fantasy that an agreement is possible now. Second, freeze settlement building. Third, focus on economic and infrastructure development in the West Bank. Finally, try to negotiate a “shelf agreement”—that is, an agreement that won’t be implemented immediately but would exist as a goal and a sign of hope.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and the author of the forthcoming book, Like Dreamers: The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.
Today, after almost two decades of the Israeli left and outside “mediators” pushing a so-called two-state solution on us, I believe that it is clear to the vast majority of Israelis that this fallacy will not lead toward peace and coexistence in our region. Two Israeli prime ministers made what I believe to be naïve and dangerous offers to the Palestinians that would have led to an Arab state in almost all of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In 2000 Ehud Barak came precariously close to sanctioning a Palestinian state when he made his offer to Yasser Arafat in Camp David. Ehud Olmert repeated this mistake in 2007 when, in his talks with Mahmoud Abbas in the twilight of his premiership, he offered the Palestinians almost 100 percent of the parts of our historic homeland that we liberated in 1967. Even if Abbas and the Fatah leadership of the West Bank would somehow change their stated policy, ignore the hate and incitement they preach daily on their TV channels, radio waves and in their school textbooks, and miraculously extend their hands in peace and friendship toward Israel—we still would not have “two states existing side by side in peace and security.” Instead, Israel would find itself sandwiched between a weak and corrupt secular Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria and an openly hostile Islamist state in the Gaza strip, sworn to the destruction of the Jewish people. It is almost guaranteed that neither of these entities will relinquish their claims toward the little Land of Israel. Furthermore, there is a very real possibility that Hamas will overthrow Fatah in the West Bank just as they did in Gaza. Within a short amount of time, we will undoubtedly see a resumption of bus bombing and missiles on our civilian population.
While some of my political rivals naïvely continue to push the failed policies of the past, I have a clear vision for managing our relationship with the Palestinians in a way that will help them continue to improve their quality of life while not compromising one bit on our very real security needs.
In the short term, we are committed to improving the quality of life for the civilian population of the Palestinian Authority. This means that as long as our security needs are met, we will try to ensure the freedom of movement and goods that has allowed their economy to grow so quickly over the past half-decade. This is what the Likud government has done over the four years we have been in office, and this is what we hope to continue throughout our next term.
What is unacceptable to us, however, is two more terrorism-supporting states within shooting range of our major population centers. Eventually we would hope to negotiate a regional pact together with Jordan and Egypt that will provide the Palestinians with political rights, but not a distinct Palestinian state that would threaten the safety and well-being of the Jewish State of Israel.
Danny Danon is Israel’s deputy defense minister and author of Israel: The Will to Prevail.
Of course the two-state solution is dead. It’s been dead for a long time—I don’t think it was ever alive. When you look at the different British commissions from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s that studied the demography of Mandate Palestine—the land, the political economy and how the roads, ports and markets worked—you find that all but one confirmed that partition was impossible. That’s why the British clarified formally in the 1930s that partition was never intended, and certainly the situation is far more impossible now. The country was developed over centuries around agricultural production that was always dependent on the free movement and mixing of the population between the countryside and the ports. So as the British determined, there was never any way to partition the land unless there was complete economic movement at all times—in other words, no partition.
The idea of the two-state solution today is one of the great hoaxes that Israel has perpetrated, very carefully and skillfully. Israel has never talked about “Palestinian self-determination” or the Palestinian “right” to a state. That phrase has never come out of the mouth of any Israeli official, ever, but they vaguely allude to what everyone else understands as a two-state solution. The longer everybody keeps going along with the idea of a two-state solution, the longer Israel can keep building settlements, which is a full-fledged state project to effectively annex the entire country. The prospect of a two-state solution keeps the international community disabled in regard to the settlements, and, crucially, it keeps the Palestinians politically paralyzed by the Palestinian Authority, which is crushing the discussion of a one-state solution. For if the Oslo model falls, the PA falls.
The same thing happened in South Africa under the apartheid regime. South Africa was dedicated to the division of populations on almost identical grounds—the Afrikaners were bonded to the land, they were God’s chosen people, and they couldn’t live with black people because black Africans were backward savages who would kill them, rape their daughters and throw them all into the sea. In defending apartheid, South Africa launched wars in Mozambique and Angola, trying to control the security dilemmas that came out of apartheid, and we see the same security dilemma spilling into Israel’s foreign policy in Lebanon and Syria. They also used the same legal term for the Black Bantustans, “self-governing authority,” which was supposed to be staged for eventual independence for the black population. Like South Africa, according to international law Israel is an apartheid state—forced division of the people solely on the basis of their ethnic identity, Jewish and Arab/non-Jewish.
There’s only one solution to this, and that’s democracy. It’s inevitable—it’s just a question of how long it’s going to take and how much suffering is going to come with the transition. A mass, nonviolent movement, with 300,000 Palestinians coming over that racist wall with signs saying, “equal rights, democracy and freedom,” would transform this entire conflict in a day. When people realize what’s going on, realize that the two-state solution was never viable, and finally accept that the only solution is giving equal rights to everybody and giving up the idea of an ethnic democracy—which has been given up everywhere else in the world—then there will be peace. And until that happens, there won’t be peace in Israel, or Palestine, and there won’t be peace around Israel.
Virginia Tilley is director of governance studies at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. She is the author of The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock.