In the Middle East, the Two-State Solution Is Dead
The failure at the UN of the Palestinian resolution underscores the point: The two-state solution isn’t happening. What now? Don’t ask.
The two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead. (At least for now, because few things about this dispute are absolutely certain.)
But on Tuesday, we saw another nail hammered into the already pretty tightly nailed down coffin of the two-state solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had pushed the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that would’ve required the Israeli government to withdraw its forces from the West Bank by 2017. It also would’ve mandated that a comprehensive peace deal be concluded within a year.
This initiative had the support of all 22 members of the Arab League, which in and of itself is remarkable. However, the resolution only received the support of eight of the 15 members of the Security Council, one less than needed for passage. The United States, only one of two nations to vote no (along with Australia), explained via UN Ambassador Samantha Power that while our government doesn’t support the status quo, “peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”
But the question is, negotiate peace with whom? There are three parties to this conflict: the Palestinian Authority led by Abbas, Hamas led by Khaled Mashal, and the Israeli government led by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The problem is that two of these parties, Netanyahu and Hamas, publicly oppose the idea of Palestinian and Israeli states side by side.
I know, some of you will now react by saying that the Netanyahu government supports a Palestinian state. But not so fast. Just this past summer, in the midst of the horrific Gaza war that left over 2,000 dead, including seven Israeli civilians and over 1,400 Palestinian civilians of which 495 were children, Netanyahu stated in a press conference conducted solely in Hebrew, and barely covered by the U.S. media, that he opposed the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. His reasoning was that a Palestinian state there would be a base for terrorist activities. The Times of Israel even applauded Netanyahu for finally being honest about his views on the issue of Palestine.
And others in Israel’s right-wing government have made similar pronouncements. The new president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who succeeded the two-state champion Shimon Peres this past July, has made it absolutely clear he’s opposed to a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu’s economy minster, Naftali Bennett, has been an outspoken opponent of a sovereign contiguous Palestine, offering Palestinians instead what has been described by one writer for the Israeli paper Ha’aretz as “Palestinian Bantustans” (which were small enclaves set aside for blacks to live in during apartheid era South Africa.) And just a few weeks ago Bennett regurgitated the Sheldon Adelson-Newt Gingrich line that there never was a Palestine—which I guess means that my Palestinian father never existed.
Even Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who lives in a settlement in the West Bank, is lukewarm at best to the prospect of a Palestinian state.
And, of course, the terrorist group Hamas not only opposes a two-state solution, but just a few months ago, while marking its 27th anniversary, its leaders renewed their vows to destroy the state of Israel. Hamas leaders even publicly lashed out against Abbas for advocating the recently failed UN resolution because they viewed it as a “surrender” to Israel because it called for two states.
So here we are with Abbas being the only one of three parties to this conflict still fighting for a two-state solution. And as things stand, that ain’t happening.
So now what? Is it time to explore a one-state solution with all the Palestinians living in the West Bank (and possibly Gaza) offered citizenship in Israel and being afforded equal rights regardless of religion, including the right to vote, with the guiding principle being “one person, one vote”? The issue with this approach is that it may result in Israel no longer be a Jewish-majority state, which troubles many such as Adelson, who recently commented that he’d prefer Israel remain Jewish even if it means it’s no longer a democracy.
Could a federation concept be explored between Israelis and Palestinians that puts aside territorial issues for a time and instead focuses on providing freedom of movement and commerce, akin to a mini EU? Or will we see more of the same, with periods of calm and then violence with future generations of Palestinians being born, living their lives, and dying under occupation without achieving the dream of self-determination?
In all likelihood this last option is what we will get for the foreseeable future. However, the one thing the two-state solution has going for it is that polls have consistently found, including one taken a few weeks ago, that it’s still far away the most popular choice of both Palestinians and Israelis, with a majority in both camps supporting the concept.
At this point, I’m truly at a loss for what’s the best approach to achieve a lasting peace. But without any peace talks on the horizon, everyone is now left to their own devices. Abbas, after the UN resolution’s defeat, petitioned the International Criminal Court to become a member in an effort to increase pressure on the Israeli government to make a deal.
Unsurprisingly, the Netanyahu government was outraged because this could potentially mean the Palestinians would seek to prosecute Israeli government officials for alleged war crimes. Although former Abbas adviser Diana Buttu noted in an email that it’s “not clear that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will ever seek to charge Israel,” she did hope it at the very least it would deter Israel from committing future “crimes.”
On the Israeli side, if history is any guide, expect to see the Netanyahu government build even more settlements in the West Bank, making the dream of a Palestinian state even more remote. Per the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem, there are over 500,000 Israelis living in the West Bank, up from 340,000 in 2011. Expect to see that number climb quickly because under the Netanyahu regime, settlement construction has surged, growing at a pace double that of the population within Israel.
Plus, expect outside players to take actions related to the conflict. There’s the boycott, divest, and sanction movement targeting Israel, which has seen some limited success lately.
We have also seen countries like Sweden recognize Palestine as a state. While most agree that other European nations will likely follow suit, the reality is that these declarations will not create an actual nation on the ground called Palestine.
So where does this leave the millions of Palestinians—like my relatives—who dream of self-determination and a sovereign state? Clearly, their dream is once again deferred. Will this dream dry up like a raisin in the sun? Will it fester like a sore? Or does it explode?
Unclear. But for those on the Israeli right who are hoping that this deferred dream will just fade away, they can forget it. And for those on the Palestinian right who still dream of driving the Jews into the sea, they too can forget it.
With nearly seven million Jews and about that many Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) living in the conflict zone, both people are stuck with each other. The question is will we see regime changes in both Hamas and Israel that embrace a lasting peace? Or will we simply see more senseless bloodshed and another generation of Palestinians defer their dreams of a homeland?