Why The Two-State Solution Is The Only Viable Option To The Exclusion Of Any Other
The Israel-Hamas war has reignited discussions over a two-state solution as an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who closely monitor the conflict and consider its history, the psychological mindset of both peoples, and their affinity and mutual claims to the same land, cannot escape the conclusion that a two-state solution is the only practical and sustainable option. Other “options” have circulated, but careful examination shows that none are viable—nor is the status quo, which is unsustainable as demonstrated by the Israel-Hamas war and the unprecedented spike in violence in the West Bank.
After 57 years of occupation, Israeli-Palestinian relations are worse than ever before. Indeed, we have never seen this level of violence that has robbed the lives of so many Israelis and Palestinians and rained havoc and destruction. This attests to the dismal failure of both sides to accept that neither has an exclusive right to the entire land stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, and that only two independent states would usher in a permanent solution to their endemic conflict.
Sadly, it took the Israel-Hamas war to awaken both sides to their tragic reality. They must now realize there will be no return to the status quo ante. The circumstances that led to the Israel-Hamas war only reinforce the inescapable requirement for a two-state solution. Simply put, there is no other viable option other than continuing the bloody conflict for decades to come.
Option one: Maintaining the status quo
This war, instigated by Hamas’ unprecedented slaughter of 1,200 Israelis, has inflicted horrifying destruction in Gaza and resulted in the death of nearly 23,000 Palestinians at the time of writing, 70 percent of whom are women and children. This tragic development has demonstrated the colossal failure of successive Netanyahu-led Israeli governments, which believed they could indefinitely maintain the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza to prevent the Palestinians from establishing a state of their own.
The nearly six decades of occupation, which were punctuated by violence, Intifadas, terrorism, and mini wars, have not seemed to faze Netanyahu and his hard-core followers. They maintain that the casualties that Israel has sustained over these years were a price worth paying for what they deemed ‘protecting Israel’—translating to keeping the occupation in place and expanding the settlements. Meanwhile, some ministers have been implicitly encouraging the settlers to harass Palestinians in the West Bank, engaging in systematic dehumanization and creating unbearable conditions for Palestinians, forcing many of them to abandon their land.
The preservation of the status quo has created a de facto one state, which successive Israeli governments sought all along by applying one set of civilian laws for the Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank and martial law for the Palestinians, which amounted to nothing less than apartheid.
During the past 16 years in power, Netanyahu deliberately portrayed the Palestinians as an irredeemable mortal foe that must be fought with an iron fist, and justified the continuing occupation as a means by which to quell Palestinian resistance and prevent them from ever establishing their own state. In December, Netanyahu stated: “I’m proud that I prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state because today everybody understands what the Palestinian state could have been, now that we’ve seen the little Palestinian state in Gaza. Everyone understands what would have happened if we had capitulated to international pressures and enabled a state like that in Judaea and Samaria [the West Bank].”
By making such a statement, Netanyahu put his hypocrisy on full display. No Israeli leader has helped strengthen Hamas more than Netanyahu, as he allowed billions of dollars from Qatar to flow into its coffers. For him, the Palestinian Authority is a liability and Hamas is an asset—a sentiment that he articulated time and again. Furthermore, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was precipitous, with no security arrangements made with the PA. The Sharon government fully knew at the time that Hamas was by far superior militarily to the PA and would take over Gaza. But Netanyahu’s distortion of the truth is what defines him, as no one wanted to split Hamas and the PA to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state more than him.
The Israel-Hamas war has glaringly demonstrated that the occupation is not sustainable, the blockade of Gaza is logistically unsustainable as it allowed Hamas to build a formidable offensive military capacity under the watchful eyes of Israel, and Hamas’ designs to liquidate Israel have proven to be nothing but nightmarish illusions to the detriment of the Palestinian people.
Option two: The one-state option
The Palestinians would accept a democratic one-state solution if all citizens, Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike, enjoy equal rights before the law, participate in free and fair elections, run for office, and the winner in general elections forms a government representative of the peoples’ votes. This kind of one-state solution, however, is categorically unacceptable to the Israelis because of demographic realities. There are nearly 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, 2.3 million in Gaza, and about 2 million in Israel proper, which combined is more than 7 million, approximately equal to the Jewish population in Israel.
The Palestinians would welcome such a solution because, in a free and fair election, they could win a majority vote and potentially form a Palestinian-dominated government in Israel, if not now, certainly within 3-5 years. Such a prospect would defy the very reason behind Israel’s creation as a Jewish state that offers a home to any Jew who chooses to live in the country, which no Israeli government will ever accept.
Option three: Autonomous Palestinian entity
The failure to advance a two-state solution in the past prompted some academics and Arab officials weary of the persistent conflict to think of a different option, a compromise whereby the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza could establish their own entity that would enjoy autonomous rule. This would encompass all of Areas A and B, 80-90 percent of Area C, and all of Gaza.1 Besides having internal security, this entity would be demilitarized but maintain overall security in full cooperation with Israel. This solution would technically end the occupation.
This option has not gained much traction because the Palestinians insist that they have an inalienable right to establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem. Conversely, Israel has insisted all along that it will not relinquish overall security control, as that would risk its own security. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have seriously considered this option mainly because, for Israel, it leaves the settlements in a precarious state in terms of its security, governance, and development, and for the Palestinians, it is not full-fledged sovereignty.
And there is the inconceivably sick option wherein extremists on both sides—messianic Israeli Jews and Palestinian jihadis—seek to expel or even liquidate the other from any territory they currently occupy, which deserves no elaboration but only the strongest condemnation for even thinking of such an option, which is akin to ethnic cleansing and absolute sheer madness.
None of the above options had any chance of materializing, which brings us to the fourth and only viable option.
Option four: The two-state solution
The two-state solution—independent states that exist side-by-side, respect each other’s sovereignty and rights, and live in peace and security—is the only viable option. Given the dramatically changing conditions on the ground since 1967, a high level of collaboration between them becomes sine qua non and supportive of a sustainable two-state solution.
First, Israelis and Palestinians are interspersed in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel proper. There are an estimated 3 million Palestinians and 700,000 Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and roughly 2 million Israeli Arab citizens. Since it simply impossible to relocate a large segment of either population or change their demographic makeup, it makes the coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians inescapable.
Second, Israel’s national security and the Palestinians’ sense of insecurity are sources of great concern to both sides. Therefore, security collaboration is central to any peace agreement. Even now, there is extensive security cooperation between the PA and Israel. Any peace agreement should expand upon the existing security arrangement between them. This would categorically refute the claim by many Israelis, including Netanyahu, that a newly established Palestinian state in the West Bank would pose an existential threat to Israel.
Third, solutions to the main conflicting issues, including Jerusalem, the settlements and the Palestinian refugees, can be found only within the two states framework. In principle, given the religious and historical affinity of Israelis and Palestinians to Jerusalem, it will remain united as neither side wants to redivide the city. The three blocks of settlements along the 1967 borders which house 80 percent of the settlers will remain in place, and many smaller settlements will be relocated to allow for a contiguous Palestinian state. The solution to the Palestinian refugees will be based on resettlement and/or compensation. Negotiations along these lines between Israel and the Palestinians have taken place in the past and have nearly reached agreements on all three issues. Further details on those conflicting issues are in my proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, published in World Affairs.
Every Israeli should remember that for the Palestinians, having a state of their own is the only acceptable solution. They will not continue to live in servitude; they want to be free; they want security, opportunities to grow and prosper, and a promising future. They will never succumb to the draconian rules of the occupier and will resist until they unshackle themselves of occupation.
Every Palestinian should also know that there will be no independent Palestinian state unless the Palestinians accept coexistence with Israel in peace and security. Israel has an inalienable right to exist as a Jewish state where all of its citizens, regardless of their ethnic background and religious affiliation, enjoy equal rights before the law.
Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, all peace negotiations have failed mainly because neither side was willing to recognize the other’s inalienable right to live in an independent state of their own. Both sides missed numerous opportunities, allowing the extremists among them to usurp the political agenda and torpedo any efforts by moderates/realists on both sides to reach an agreement.
Israelis and Palestinians ought to remember that their co-existence is irrevocable. They are either destined to grow, prosper, and live in peace together, or kill each other for another 100 years. The choice is theirs—to bequeath either life or death to generations to come.
1. Currently, Area A, approximately 18 percent of the West Bank’s total territory, is fully administered by the Palestinian Authority. In Area B (22 percent), the PA controls civilian affairs while sharing security control with Israel. Area C represents 60 percent of the West Bank’s land mass and is fully under Israeli control. See https://www.anera.org/what-are-area-a-area-b-and-area-c-in-the-west-bank/.↩
A version of this article was originally published in CNN Arabic.