I’m not sure I believe in the two-state solution
With each day that passes, I feel less and less confident that peace could ever be achieved in the Middle East. In Israel. In the historic territory of Palestine. With or without Hamas. I’m afraid that the only viable solution has never been seriously considered by the Jewish and Arab communities, therefore condemning the entire region to a conflict that might go on until the end of times.
An impossible two-state solution
I’m not going to quote from Wikipedia, except for these figures:
- In 2014, 60% of Palestinians said the final goal of their national movement should be “to work toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea”. [source]
- A poll published in 2021 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research revealed that only 39% of Palestinians support the two-state solution. [source]
- Another report published in 2021 by the RAND Corporation found that 60% of Israelis across the political spectrum opposed a two-state solution. [source]
The short version: nobody believes in the political solution of two states sharing the historic territory of Palestine! Why is everyone sticking to it as the only possible thing? Even without Hamas, the Arab Palestinians will keep hating the Jewish settlers and the state of Israel! (Note that Hamas doesn’t recognize the statehood of Israel.)
In the past, the polls showed a more nuanced situation:
- In a 2002 PIPA poll, 72% of both Palestinians and Israelis supported at that time a peace settlement based on the 1967 borders. [source]
- In a 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project poll, by 77 percent to 16 percent, Palestinians don’t believe they can live side-by-side with Israel, while by 61 percent to 31 percent Israelis do believe they can live side-by-side with a Palestinian state. [source]
- In a 2013 Gallup poll, 70% of Palestinians in the West Bank and 48% of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, together with 52% of Israelis, support “an independent Palestinian state together with the state of Israel”. [source]
Not that any of that would matter anymore. What with the current situation in Israel and Gaza, all parts have undoubtedly hardened their positions. The two-state solution is never going to work.
A bit of terminology
I happen to agree with this distinction: Palestinians are those from West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; but the citizens of Israel who are not Jews are merely Arabs, or Arab Israelis. Let’s top whining about them not being called Palestinians!
Israel has made a capital mistake by not insisting that no independent state could ever be called just Palestine, but at least the Arab Republic of Palestine! That’s because “Palestine” is the entire geographical territory that, in the past millennia, was a Roman province, then conquered by Muslim Arabs, later part of Ottoman Syria, and more recently under British mandate (Mandatory Palestine). Even the 1947 UN Partition Plan envisioned an Arab State and a Jewish State. If anything, the current state of Israel, including all the occupied or blockaded territories, is Palestine!
So we should speak of Arab Palestinians (in quest of statehood), and then of Israelis (which are mostly Jews; some aren’t; but there is a statehood for all).
A practical impediment
One cannot have a functional Palestinian state as long as there is no safe passageway between Gaza and West Bank. Despite the 1999 Protocol Concerning Safe Passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the two designated routes were never put in place. A third route was deemed feasible (“AIX estimates that the project would cost about $700 million, in addition to $180 million for security arrangements.”), but nobody cared.
This would have replicated in a way the Berlin-Transit-Autobahn that was used to connect West Germany to West Berlin between 1961 and 1989.
Trump’s Peace Plan (Jared Kushner’s, actually) included a tunnel instead of a road route, but this probably wouldn’t have worked for safety reasons (despite the Channel Tunnel aka Eurotunnel being quite long itself).
After the original UN partition plan was invalidated by the creation of the state of Israel, several solutions have been proposed, including:
- A three-state solution, in which the West Bank would go to Jordan, and the Gaza Strip would go to Egypt. While this could have worked in theory (especially as this would partially replicate the pre-1967 situation), there were several impediments: (1) Jordan refused a scenario in which Palestinians should have been given the Jordanian citizenship; (2) Egypt and Jordan weren’t keen of assuming the responsibility for the said regions; (3) Did anyone asked people in Gaza whether they want to become Egyptians? (4) Who was fool enough to believe that a majority of Arab Palestinians would accept this solution?
- A one-state solution aka a bi-national state, which, unfortunately, “has remained outside the range of official efforts to resolve the conflict”! Also as bad news, according to a 2017 survey, the popular support was incredibly low: 36% among Palestinians, 19% among Israeli Jews and 56% among Israeli Arabs.
The four possible models for this solution:
- A unitary state similar to Mandatory Palestine, which to me seems unlikely.
- A state with an autonomous Palestinian region, which to me looks unsatisfactory for the Arabs.
- A federal state, which to me looks like the more sensible idea. Sure thing, not everyone can be Switzerland, and Belgium is quite dysfunctional (I won’t mention Canada out of decency).
- A confederation of two independent states, which unfortunately isn’t but an enhanced version of the two-state solution.
Now, a binational federal state would certainly be difficult to accept by the Israeli Jews. The common objection is that this would make them an ethnic minority in the only Jewish country. And I understand this standpoint.
“The one-state solution is ivory tower nonsense,” Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel’s former foreign minister, said at a mid-July  forum hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A binational state creates “a South African situation without a South African solution.”
Even one of the intellectual fathers of one-statism, the academic Edward Said, acknowledged that Jews could be endangered in this theoretical country. Asked by the Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit in 2000 if he thought a Jewish minority would be treated fairly, he said: “It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know.”
Now, it’s difficult to know what the concerned populations believe about such a solution, but the so-called “experts” (521 scholars) said in 2021 that it ain’t no good:
- 59% likened the current situation to apartheid;
- 77% expect to see a one-state reality akin to apartheid!
Is Belgium looking like apartheid to you? The two communities, Walloon and Flemish, hate or despise each other although, fortunately, there are no acts of terror whatsoever. Just a dysfunctional democracy.
A combination of Belgium, Lebanon, Switzerland and Vatican
I’m no expert, but I would aim for a binational federal state as follows:
- Federal just like Belgium, i.e. with totally distinct provinces and local governments, but also with a central government.
- Biconfessional just like Lebanon, in the sense that, at any time, the President and the Prime Minister should belong to different confessions and ethnicities.
- Unlike Lebanon, there should be a rotation at the top, somewhat similar to that in Switzerland, so that the new state’s President would be Jew, then Arab, then Jew, and so on. The same for the Prime Minister, although this would be more difficult to implement.
- Jerusalem having a special statute, it should have a special autonomy, possibly not as complete as the Vatican has in the middle of Rome and of Italy, but a distinct statute nonetheless, close to statehood. There’s going to be no Pope, though. However, I’d suggest the supreme administrative function to be taken by someone who’s nether a Jew, nor an Arab: a non-religious person, or a Christian.
The major problem I see with this plan is that, of course, the name of the new country should be, surprise, Palestine! And the Israelis would never accept such an idea!
Maybe I was too optimistic
Either way, how can the Arabs and the Jews forget more than 70 years of fight and destruction? If the current conflict in Gaza will lead to, say, 100,000+ deaths, any 1-state, 2-state, or 3-state solution would be impossible, and Israel will have taken the worst decision since its founding. The Arabs are seeing Israel like sort of a Soviet Union, an entity that invaded their land. If the death count keeps increasing, they will only find acceptable the solution that worked in the case of the USSR: the dissolution.
I’m not sure if Israel is aware of that.
Meanwhile, Israel is clueless
As the internal critics of Netanyahu are increasingly furious (just read the English edition of Haaretz!), it’s obvious that Israel’s 16-year Blockade of Gaza Failed because it wasn’t just dumb, it was criminally stupid:
Middle East expert and Haaretz senior analyst Zvi Bar’el says that from its very first months “from the military perspective, the closure was meaningless.” Instead, Israel began to use it for political leverage.
First, he says, the idea was to isolate Hamas, generate economic pressure and cause Gaza’s people to rise up and overthrow the group. Last week, Israeli President Isaac Herzog hinted at this same past hope: “The people could have risen up” against Hamas, he said, arguing that the people of Gaza bear some responsibility for the current war.
When Gazans did not overthrow Hamas, Bar’el says, the closure policy became a negotiating card in the efforts to release Gilad Shalit – the Israel Defense Forces soldier kidnapped in 2006. But Hamas only released Shalit in a prisoner exchange deal in 2011, following major escalations and after Israel had loosened restrictions somewhat in 2010. “There is no basis for the concept that the closure helps security,” concludes Bar’el.
During the 2010s, says Bar’el, the closure became integral to helping Israel build Hamas’ capacity as the local governing body capable of winning rewards (in the form of loosening restrictions), or as a punishment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to deepen the political wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, run by Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, by strengthening the former.
Netanyahu did not initiate the closure, which began under the government of Ehud Olmert, but it became a cornerstone of his efforts to prevent the unification of Palestinian leadership – and thereby evade serious pressure to reach a diplomatic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Later, Netanyahu added the component of tacit agreements with Qatar, under which the Gulf state could send large-scale funds to Hamas for governance and aid, again building Hamas’ strength. Boosting Hamas with funds and political power, while maintaining the closure that squeezed the population to subsistence levels, generated a dangerous paradox: fury against Israel, channeled through an ever-more empowered Hamas.
Ultimately, was there any alternative? Were the only two options, civilian suffocation for 16 years, or else a rampaging terror free-for-all? The question isn’t only one for historians. Very soon, Israel will need to decide on its path for the future. Returning to the same policy seems unthinkable.
“If Israel goes back to the earlier pattern, maintain or worsen restrictions at the crossings, it doesn’t matter whether it will be the Palestinian Authority or the government of Switzerland who governs Gaza,” says Celine Touboul, co-director of the Economic Cooperation Foundation. “They won’t be able to succeed in creating a different reality in Gaza; they will have zero legitimacy; the security challenges will remain unaddressed, and we’ll be back to the same place.” That “same place” turned out to be a nightmare.
But it turns out alternative approaches did exist. Tragically, no one can offer a counterfactual guarantee of what would or wouldn’t have happened. But following the Hamas-Israel conflict in 2014, several forces converged to encourage multilateral backing for a plan to reintroduce the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, by agreement. Border crossings were to be in PA hands and Hamas would not threaten their control, according to the source who described the plan. The interests aligned, especially Egypt’s, which prepared the groundwork over the course of two years – led mainly by Egyptian intelligence.
Today, such a plan seems almost unthinkable – the PA is almost as hated in Gaza as Israel (and in the West Bank, for that matter). But according to a former senior Israeli official who maintains connections among the relevant actors, and has access to intelligence, the plans were elaborate. They included camps in Egypt for young Gazans focused on reinterpreting the Quran to stress peaceful, pragmatic values, and disavow ISIS-style extremism, as part of long-term change. The detailed governing transition plan became public in 2017. The Trump administration, and even Netanyahu, approved it, said the former official.
Like all other Fatah-Hamas reconciliation plans, it fell apart.
Everything is falling apart nowadays…