The two-state solution is dead. It’s time to look for a new plan
Despite the arguments of the die-hard advocates of the two-state solution from both sides, I cannot perceive how it is still possible…The United States of Israel-Palestine does not answer the basic needs and demands of what this conflict has been about. Jews want their own state where they are sovereign and where they determine their identity, culture, and destiny. So do the Palestinians. The problem is that we have failed to reach agreement on the partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine.
AUGUST 5, 2020
Reprinted from Jerusalem Post
In 1975, when I wrote my first Op-Ed article in support of the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, I did so from a completely Zionist perspective. I believed that if Israel was in fact the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, then it could not rule over millions of Palestinians, deny them basic human and civil rights, and continue to be both democratic and the Jewish nation-state. There has always been tension between these two pillars of the State of Israel. Israel has always been a challenged democracy, but it appeared to uphold the basic principles of democracy. There has always been discrimination against the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. A lot of that is due to the view of Israel that their state aspirations is at war with the other’s people, which makes them suspect.
The Law of Return for Jews only has also been one of Israel’s challenges regarding its democracy. How could Jews from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia or me, from the United States, receive automatic citizenship while even first-degree relatives of Palestinian citizens of Israel whose families were living in the land for generations before Israel was born cannot become citizens of Israel? My answer to this was that almost all nation-states have immigration laws that give preference to descendants of their own nation living abroad. The Israeli Jewish immigration law does not discriminate between citizens of Israel, it discriminates between those who are not citizens but would like to become citizens. But without there being a Palestinian state next to Israel with its own law of return and Israel’s control over the Palestinians having no end in sight, this become extremely problematic.
Even with all of the holes in my arguments I remained a strong supporter of the two-states solution, because what we Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs were willing to fight, to die, and to kill for was a territorial expression of our identities. With that at the roots of the conflict, partition was the answer. We were not fighting for equal rights under a secular democratic state.
The United States of Israel-Palestine does not answer the basic needs and demands of what this conflict has been about. Jews want their own state where they are sovereign and where they determine their identity, culture, and destiny. So do the Palestinians. The problem is that we have failed to reach agreement on the partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine. We tried, but the offers on the table of negotiations never reached the point where both sides could say yes.
With the huge asymmetry of power between the two sides, Israel’s unilateralism has been far more in control of creating facts on the ground. Palestinians have failed to find the way to achieve their goals, which – at least according to the positions they laid down in negotiations over the past 25 years – have been for an independent sovereign state on 22% of the land including the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem as their capital. They agreed to minor border changes and territorial swaps on a one-to-one basis taking into account some of the facts that Israel created on the ground in the form of settlements.
THEY HAVE not agreed to compromise more than that. Since the beginning of the permanent status negotiations in 2000, the Palestinians have been requested to agree to compromises beyond those lines, and they have refused. Since 2009, there have been no serious negotiations at all. Despite the arguments of the die-hard advocates of the two-state solution from both sides, I cannot perceive how it is still possible. For years I said that if solution to the conflict means the end of conflict then the only solution is two states for two peoples.
The real breakthrough towards a two-state solution was in November 1988, when the Palestine National Council – the body representing the Palestinian people in Palestine and around the world – voted in support of Arafat’s Declaration of Independence and the political platform in favor of the partition of Palestine. Admittedly 40 years late, the Palestinian people’s recognition of Israel came along with a remarkable compromise – the creation of the State of Palestine only on the lands conquered by Israel in 1967. They could have said that they recognize the UN Partition resolution plan (UNGA 181 – November 29, 1947) including the attached map granting them almost 50% of the land. The miracle of the Palestinian recognition of Israel was the willingness to accept only 22% of what they believed rightfully belonged to them. They never imagined that when signing the Oslo agreements, they would be negotiating on the 22% that remained.
The two-state solution is dead. Both Israel and Palestine killed it, although Israel bears much greater responsibility for its death than the Palestinians do. Most Palestinians are very prepared to go back to the old plan of one state. Of course, they want that one state to be Palestinian, and most are prepared for there to be a Jewish minority in that one state, even a large Jewish majority. That, of course, is not acceptable to the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel. Jews who talk about one state see that state as Jewish and even if they are prepared to accept a Palestinian minority, they don’t know how to deal with the millions of Palestinians on the land. Some of them are part of the ongoing policies of making life nearly impossible for the Palestinians, hoping that they will leave. Others live in the dream world that Palestinians will accept living in Bantustan type communities such as those proposed in the Trump plan. Others refuse to confront the problem at all because we have learned to control the Palestinian population and offer them financial relief with jobs in Israel or in settlements.
When they are quiet, we don’t have to deal with them and when they are violent, we won’t deal with them. And so, the “situation” just continues. We know that there are no leaders on either side really willing to negotiate some kind of real deal. And as time goes by, the options for a realistic partition have diminished and as it seems to no longer exist anymore.
The last holdouts for the two-state solution seem to be the international community and the Zionist left who – as did I – see this solution as the Zionist solution: holding onto the dream or perhaps the myth of the Jewish democratic state. I no longer hold on to that dream. I no longer know what the solution to the conflict is.
I know that we have to search for one and that the search must be on both sides of the conflict lines. I think that the Jewish people need to have a land that they call their own. I know that the Palestinian people also need that. Somehow, we need to create a reality in which both sides can think of this place as their home, where they have self-determination, and a territorial expression of their identity. It needs to embody the principles of democracy and equality. It must be a reality where one side does not rule over the other. This solution does not yet exist at the present time, but neither does the two-state solution.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is now available in Israel and Palestine. It will soon appear in Arabic in Amman and Beirut.