Let the two-state solution die a natural death

Middle East
on 18 Comments

Despite all appearances to the contrary, those in the West who do not want to join the premature and ill-considered Israeli victory party, are clinging firmly to the Two-State Solution amid calls to renew direct diplomatic negotiations between the parties so as to reach, in the extravagant language of Donald Trump, ‘the ultimate deal.’

Israel has increasingly indicated by deeds and words, including those of Netanyahu, an unconditional opposition to the establishment of a genuinely independent and sovereign Palestine. The settlement expansion project is accelerating with pledges made by a range of Israel political figures that no settler would ever be ejected from a settlement even if the unlawful dwelling units inhabited by Jews were not located in a settlement bloc that have been conceded as annexable by Israel in the event that agreement is reached on other issues. What is more Netanyahu, although sometimes talking to the West as if he favors a resumption of peace negotiations seems far more authentic when he demands the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for any resumption of talks with the Palestinians or joins in welcoming American pro-Israeli zealots who insist that the conflict is over, and that Israel deserves to be anointed as victor. To top it all off, the Trump decision of December 6, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to follow this up by soon relocating the U.S. Embassy, effectively withdraws from future negotiations one of the most sensitive issues—the status and sharing of Jerusalem—despite the language accompanying Trump’s statement on recognition that purports to leave to the future, permanent Jerusalem borders and disposition of the city on a permanent basis that is misleadingly declared to remain open for an agreement between the parties to be achieved at a later date of their choosing.

All in all, it seems time to recognize three related conclusions:

(1) The leadership of Israel has rejected the Two-State Solution as the path to conflict resolution;

(2) Israel has created conditions, almost impossible to reverse, that make totally unrealistic to expect the establishment of an independent Palestinian state;

(3) Trump even more than prior presidents has weighted American diplomacy heavily and visibly in favor of whatever Israel’s leaders seek as the endgame for this struggle of decades between these two peoples.

Despite these obstacles, which seem conclusive, many people of good will who are dedicated to peace and political compromises, cling to the Two State Solution as the most realistic approach to peace. The words of Amos Oz, celebrated Israeli novelist, expressed recently this widely shared sentiment among liberal supporters of a Zionist Israel: “..despite the setbacks, we must continue to work for a two-state solution. It remains the only pragmatic, practical solution to our conflict that has brought so much bloodshed and heartbreak to this land.” It is also significant that Oz made this statement in the course of a yearend funding appeal on behalf of J-Street in 2017, the strongest voice of moderate Zionism in the United States.

What Oz says, and is widely believed, is that there is no solution available to Palestine unless there is a sovereign independent Jewish state along 1967 borders as the essential core of any credible diplomatic package. All alternatives would, in other words, not be ‘pragmatic, practical’ according to Oz and many others. Why this is so is rarely articulated, but appears to rest on the proposition that the Zionist movement, from its inception, sought a homeland for the Jewish people that could only be secured and properly proclaimed if under the protection of a Jewish state that was permanently, as a matter of constitutional framework, under Jewish control.

For many years the internationally recognized Palestinian leadership has shared this view, and has given its formal blessings in its 1988 PNC/PLO declaration that looked toward the acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state, if the occupation were ended, Israeli forces withdrawn, and Palestinian sovereignty established within the 1967 borders. It is notable that this Palestinian conditional recognition of Israeli statehood accepted a territorial delimitation that was significantly larger than what the UN had proposed by way of partition in GA Resolution 181 (that is, Israel would have 78% rather than 55% of the overall territory comprised by the British Mandate, leaving the Palestinian with the remaining 22% for their state). This type of outcome was also endorsed by the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and was confidently depicted as the solution during the Obama presidency, and even adapted to meet Israel’s security demands in ways designed to make such a solution appeal to Israel. Even Hamas endorsed the spirit of the two-state approach by proposing over the course of the last decade a long-term ceasefire, up to 50 years, if Israel were to end the occupation of the East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. If Israel were to agree, the resulting situation would materialize the Two-State Solution in the form of two de facto states: Israel and Palestine. It differs from the two-state approach only to the extent that it refuses to grant Israel de jure legitimacy or to renounce formally Palestinian claims to Palestine as a whole. Among the deficiencies of such territorially oriented approaches to peace is the marginalization of the grievances of up to seven million Palestinians living for generations as refugees or involuntary exiles.

There are at least four problems, conveniently swept under the nearest rug by two-state advocates, any one of which is sufficiently serious to raise severe doubts about the viability and desirability of the Two-State Solution:

(1) Liberal Zionism expressed an outlook toward a diplomatic settlement that was not shared by the Likud-led rightest Israeli governments that have dominated Israeli politics throughout the 21st century; the Israeli goal involved territorial expansion, especially with respect to an enlarged and annexed Jerusalem, and by way of an extensive network of settlements and transport links in the West Bank, underpinned by the fundamental belief that Israel should not establish permanent borders until the whole of ‘the promised land’ as depicted in the Bible was deemed part of Israel. In effect, despite some coyness about engaging with a diplomatic process, Israel never credibly endorsed a commitment to a Palestinian state within 1967 borders that was based on the equality of the two peoples.

(2) Israel created extensive facts on the ground that have definitively contradicted its professes intention to seek a sustainable peace based on the Two-State Solution; these developments associated with the settlements, road network linking settlement blocs to Israel, references with Israel to the West Bank as ‘Judea and Samaria,’ that is, as belonging to biblical or historical Israel.

(3) The Two-State Solution as envisioned by its supporters effectively overlooked the plight of the Palestinian minority in Israel, which amounts to 20% of the population, or about 1.5 million persons. To expect such a large non-Jewish minority to accept the ethnic hegemony and discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli state is unrealistic, as well as being contrary to international human rights standards. In this fundamental sense, an ethnic state that is exclusively associated with a particular people, is by its own proclamations and legal constructions, an ‘illegitimate state’ from the perspective of international law.

(4) Beyond this, to sustain Israel in relation to the dispossessed and oppressed Palestinian people has depended on establishing structures of ethnic domination over the Palestinian people as a whole that constitute the crime of apartheid. As in South Africa, there can be no peace with the Palestinians until these apartheid structures used to subjugate the Palestinian people are renounced and dismantled (including those imposed on Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles); this will not happen until the Israeli leadership and public give up their insistence that Israel is exclusively the state of the Jewish people, with includes an unlimited and exclusive right of return for Jews and other privileges based on Jewish ethnic identity; in effect, the core of the struggle is about people rather than as in two-state thinking, about territory.

If we discard the Two-State Solution as unwanted by Israel, normatively unacceptable for the Palestinians, not diplomatically attainable, and inconsistent with modern international law, then what? It should be understood that even if a strong political will unexpectedly emerged that was genuinely dedicated to the balanced implementation of the Two-State Solution it would be highly unlikely to be achieveable. Against this critical background, we are obliged to do our best to answer this haunting question: ‘Is there a solution that is both desirable and attainable, even if not presently visible on the political horizon?’

Following the lines prefigured 20 years ago by Edward Said two overriding principles must be served if a sustainable and honorable peace is to be achieved: Israelis must be given a Jewish homeland within a reconfigured, and possibly neutrally renamed Palestine and the two people must allocate constitutional authority in ways that uphold the cardinal principles of collective equality and individual human dignity. Operationalizing such a vision would seem to necessitate the establishment of a secular unified state maybe with two flags and two names, which would have a certain resemblance to a bi-national state. There are many variations, provided there is strong existential respect for the equality of the two peoples in the constitutional and institutional structures of governance. Said also believed that there must be some kind of formal acknowledgement of Israel’s past crimes against the Palestinian people, possibly taking the form of a commission of peace and reconciliation with a mandate to review the entire history of the conflict.

If the liberal Zionist approach seems impractical and unacceptable, is not this conception prescribed as a preferred alternative ‘an irrelevant utopia’ that should be put aside because it would be a source of false hopes? If the Palestinians were to propose such a solution in the present political atmosphere, Israel would undoubtedly either ignore or react dismissively, and much of the rest of the international community would scoff, believing that the Palestinian are living in a dreamland of their own devising.

This seems like an accurate expectation, despite my insistence that what is being proposed here is a relevant utopia, the only realistic path to a sustainable and just peace. There is no doubt that the present constellation of forces is such that an initial dismissal is to be expected. Although if the Palestinian Authority were to put such a vision forward in the form of a carefully worked out proposal, it would constitute fresh ground for a debate more responsive to the actual circumstances faced by Israelis, as well as Palestinians. It would also be a step toward unity, overcoming the current political fragmentation that has weakened the Palestinians as a political force.

The primary political and ethical question is how to create political traction for a secular state shared equally by Israelis and Palestinians. It is my view that this can only happen in this context if the global solidarity movement presently supportive of the Palestinian national struggle mounts sufficient pressure on Israel so that the Israeli leadership recalculates its interests. The South African precedent, while differing in many aspects, is still instructive. Few imagined a peaceful transition from apartheid South Africa to a constitutional democracy based on racial equality to be remotely possible until after it happened.

I envisage a comparable potentiality with respect to Israel/Palestine, although undoubtedly there would also be present a series of factors that established the originality of this latter sequence of development. In politics, if political will and requisite capabilities are present and mobilized, the impossible can and does happen, as it did in South Africa and in struggles against the European colonial regimes in the latter half of the 20th century.

Further, without such a politics of impossibility there is no path to genuine peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, massive suffering will persist, and the normalcy of an existential peace based on living together on the basis of mutual respect and under a mature, humane, and democratic version of the rule of law, underpinned by checks and balances, and upholding constitutionally anchored fundamental rights. Only then, could we as citizen pilgrims dedicated to the construction of human-centered world order give our blessings to a peace that is legitimate and existentially balanced as between ethical values and political realities.

This post is a modified version of an article published in Middle East Eye on Jan. 1, 2018.

About Richard Falk

Richard Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University. He is the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 volumes. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967."

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18 Responses

  1. yonah fredman
    January 8, 2018, 7:15 pm

    Richard Falk – Please link to Hamas agreeing to a 50 year hudna. I’ve never seen it and I’d love to see it.

    • yonah fredman
      January 8, 2018, 7:32 pm

      Likud led rightist parties have not ruled Israel throughout the 21st century. The Kadima party headed by Olmert was the exception to the rule. It was probably an anomaly, based on the momentary popularity of Sharon and pessimism is realism at least for the foreseeable future. (the best that can be hoped for is Yair Lapid, at this point). Nonetheless an internationally known jurist ought to include facts rather than sloppy inaccuracies in his published articles.

    • amigo
      January 8, 2018, 9:00 pm

      “Richard Falk – Please link to Hamas agreeing to a 50 year hudna. I’ve never seen it and I’d love to see it.” YF

      So what,If they agreed to a 500 year Hudna , Israel would still not agree to end the Occupation of The West Bank and East Jerusalem and Gaza , so it,s a moot point.

    • Donald Johnson
      January 9, 2018, 12:10 am

      I am not Falk, but my five second google search turned up articles about a ten year hudna.


      Just found a link that says Fifty or sixty. I am confused, but too sleepy to read further.


    • Paranam Kid
      January 9, 2018, 5:38 am

      @Yonah Fredman

      Richard Falk – Please link to Hamas agreeing to a 50 year hudna. I’ve never seen it and I’d love to see it.

      You guys don’t get it, do you, or should I say you refuse to get it. Hamas is an organisation that fights for the liberation of Palestine from the subjugation by Israel. If Israel would not have been created fraudulently in the 1st place, and if it would not have continued stealing Palestinian land, and if Israel would have cooperated with the creation of an economically & politically viable Palestinian state, then Hamas would not have existed.

      So, instead of insisting on Hamas making the 1st move, it is Israel that should make the 1st move after 70 years of war crimes & crimes against the Palestinian people. It is about time that the ziofascists face up, and are forced to face up, to their crimes.

    • Misterioso
      January 9, 2018, 11:15 am

      “Hamas Vows to Honor Palestinian Referendum on Peace With Israel”

      “Ismail Haniyeh, addressing a rare news conference in the Israeli-blockaded enclave, signaled a softening of Hamas’s long-standing position prohibiting the ceding of any part of the land of what was British-mandated Palestine until 1948.”

      ” ‘ We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees,’ Haniyeh said, referring to the year of Middle East war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. ” (Haaretz, December 1, 2010 – Reuters)

      Along with all Arab states and the PLO, Hezbollah and Iran have also accepted the Arab League’s 2002 Beirut Summit Peace Initiative. (In its revised Charter, April, 2017, Hamas agreed to a Palestinian state based on the 4 June 1967 borders. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Israel promptly rejected the Hamas overture instead of using it to open a dialogue.)

    • Maghlawatan
      January 9, 2018, 2:40 pm

      Imagine the idf having a 1 month hudna.

    • zaid
      January 9, 2018, 3:09 pm

      Hamas agreed to a long term Hudna that lasts for decades.

      I can provide links if you want (in Arabic)

  2. JLewisDickerson
    January 8, 2018, 8:46 pm

    ” (2) Israel created extensive facts on the ground that have definitively contradicted its professes intention to seek a sustainable peace based on the Two-State Solution; these developments associated with the settlements, road network linking settlement blocs to Israel references with Israel to the West Bank as ‘Judea and Samaria,’ that is, as belonging to biblical or historical Israel.” ~ Falk

    MY COMMENT: It is important to remember that many of the roads enabling Israeli segregation by linking settlement blocs to Israel were paid for with USAID funds designated for the Palestinians.

    FOR EXAMPLE, SEE: “US Funds Apartheid Roads on West Bank” ~ by Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service, 5/24/10

    [EXCERPT] RAMALLAH – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping Israel to construct an apartheid road infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian West Bank by financing nearly a quarter of the segregated road system primarily for the benefit of Israeli settlers.

    USAID’s figures state that the agency has financed 235 km of roads in the West Bank in the past decade, and is preparing to add another 120 km by the end of this year, reported Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook in the United Arab Emirates paper ‘The National’*.

    According to an April report released by the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), USAID has helped build 114 km of segregated roads in the Palestinian territory despite assurances from Washington six years ago that it would not assist in the construction after the Palestinian Authority (PA) protested.

    Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem reports that 170 km of roads in the West Bank are either off-limits to Palestinians or highly restricted.

    After the Oslo Peace Accord in 1994, Israel requested the international community to finance 500 km of roads for the Palestinians, later termed ‘fabric of life’ roads, including upgrading agricultural tracks and constructing many underpasses and bridges, at a cost of 200 million US dollars, reported Cook.

    However, donor countries rejected this request due to PA’s protests that the entrenched apartheid-system infrastructure would strengthen the settlements and make their presence a permanent fixture while justifying more expropriation of Palestinian land.

    But it would appear that the PA has been railroaded, at the behest of Israel, into accepting USAID in a take it or leave it scenario. . .

    CONTINUED AT – http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/05/24-0

    * SEE: “US funds ‘apartheid’ road network in Israel”
    By Jonathan Cook | TheNational.ae | May 15, 2010
    LINK – http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/us-funds-apartheid-road-network-in-israel

    P.S. ALSO SEE: “Palestinian Roads: Cementing Statehood, or Israeli Annexation?”
    By Nadia Hijab and Jesse Rosenfeld | The Nation | April 30, 2010
    New evidence indicates that the PA’s ambitious road-building program–heavily funded by the United States and Europe–is being used by Israel to facilitate settlement expansion.
    LINK – https://www.thenation.com/article/palestinian-roads-cementing-statehood-or-israeli-annexation/

  3. amigo
    January 8, 2018, 8:54 pm

    “Likud led rightist parties have not ruled Israel throughout the 21st century.” YF

    So what , they are all the same , whether they are so called left , left of centre, centre,right of centre, right or far right.

    They have all sanctioned the expansion of illegal squats including the so called man of peace and nobel peace prize recipient –Rabin of the smooth forked tongue.

    • yonah fredman
      January 8, 2018, 11:29 pm

      I think there are some decent ideas in Professor Falk’s presentation.
      the Edward Said recognition of the need for a Jewish element to the new Palestine is something that I hadn’t heard before and it brought back his logical mind and sharp tongue and also his later years when he was not in the best shape.
      there is a piece by daniel kurtzer in haaretz: america can’t save the two state solution. it added nothing new, but kurtzer is as mainstream american zionist as one can find and to hear him talking honestly about the future is quite an addition to the argument, from the point of view of an american zionist like myself.
      i do not see anything on the israeli horizon that gives me hope for the two state solution. do you expect anything new out of fatah or hamas? i don’t.
      bibi holding on to power might mean nothing to the antizionist, but to the zionist it is an “interesting” moment, really unprecedented in my lifetime, for a prime minister to hang on so long and in such an ugly fashion. it is partially due to bibi’s youth when he came to power, which is quite unusual in what has been primarily an old man’s game. following trials and tribulations of bibi’s political rough and tumble is unpleasant reading. there is no savior in the wings, but the ugliness of the play on stage is rather depressing.

      the withdrawal from gaza was not precisely a hopeful moment and i’m not saying that israel handled it in a way that promoted progress, in fact sharon designed it to be the new status quo. but the moment was far more hopeful than anything that’s come since. when kadima was in power, i think that if the generals were seriously in favor of peace at that moment they should have gone to olmert and told him, “Do it! Now.” they should have told livni. get this done now. it’s now or never. and i think it could have been done. but the political will (lacking in the public) was lacking in the key generals at that moment and olmert and livni let the moment pass and it’s not coming back. and i’ll tell you one thing: if you think you’re going to build a one state solution of reconciliation emphasizing the tone of voice predominant in this comments section, you’re nuts. and that’s why it seems far off. maybe as close as 30 years. of course if angela davis or cornel west takes over the democratic party… but i digress.

      • Donald Johnson
        January 9, 2018, 12:19 pm

        Good comment Yonah, but I wouldn’t worry too much about the tone in a blog comment section. Virtually every blog comment section is like this. Set the issue of who is right or wrong to one side— what you have is a place where most people in a given blog think X and people who think something else are attacked.

        Within the US the real problem is that people who want a happy ending for all sides are treated as antisemites. Here is the ADL talking about the JVP as an organization which gives cover to antisemites.


      • amigo
        January 9, 2018, 2:51 pm

        “i think that if the generals were seriously in favor of peace at that moment they should have gone to olmert and told him, “Do it! Now.” they should have told livni. get this done now. it’s now or never. and i think it could have been done. but the political will (lacking in the public) was lacking in the key generals at that moment and olmert and livni let the moment pass and it’s not coming back.”YF

        Yonah , you cling to this idea that Israel was at some time open to a solution with the Palestinians.This is a pipe dream.Israel has been led by the Generals—Rabin/Peres/Barak/Sharon and none of these were ever interested in any arrangement short of the Greater Israel.

        One has to be blind not to see this.Stop living in this fanatsy world of liberal zionism.Stop asking if Hamas /Fatah have changed.Israel and H/F have both changed.Hamas /Fatah for the better—-Israel for the worse.

        The only arrangement Israel wants is the absence of all non Jews from so called Jewish and democratic Israel.Aint going to happen but a 1SS will happen and Israel in their blindness and arrogance are busy creating it but it wont look anything like they planned.

        As soon as you open your eyes to the truth , the sooner you will start healing yourself of the sickness of Liberal zionism.To do otherwise is just nuts.

      • echinococcus
        January 9, 2018, 5:32 pm

        Stop living in this fanatsy world of liberal zionism

        Fat chance any Zionist can ever do that –liberal or not.

  4. WebSkipper
    January 9, 2018, 11:03 am

    I have a lot of respect for Richard Falk. The biggest single problem with any implementation of a “one state solution” is abandonment of the diaspora, and forsaking any claim to a right of return. The Zionists would never allow for any right of return for Palestinians.

  5. Ossinev
    January 9, 2018, 11:26 am

    ” It remains the only pragmatic, practical solution to our conflict that has brought so much bloodshed and heartbreak to this land.” It is also significant that Oz made this statement in the course of a year end funding appeal on behalf of J-Street in 2017, the strongest voice of moderate Zionism in the United States”

    So Amos is a wizard and despite all the evidence of current and imminent future facts on the ground in terms of relentless settlement expansion he still has a mad Utopian vision of a separate Palestinian state at the end of the Zionist brick road.. There is no such thing as “moderate” Zionism. There was no such thing as “moderate” Nazism. The very nature of the beast, despite all the original wishy washy gloss of socialist philosophy, was theft of land and ethnic cleansing. If anything the so called “moderate” Zionists such as Oz are the worst of the bunch because they turn away from the reality of the blindingly obvious and don`t show any kind of real courage. The test of the latter would simply be for them to declare unequivocally that the 2SS is no longer a possibility and that a single state is now the only option.

    One aspect of a single state scenario which I don`t see mentioned ( happy to be corrected ) is the very strong possibility IMHO that as soon as stage one of the 1SS (the Apartheid phase) kicks in a lot of the so called “moderates” or “liberals” in Jewish Israeli society will jump ship and head West. In the Post-Apartheid phase a lot of the loony right wing Zionists now running the show will do the same – although I suppose a small group may head South East and set up camp in Masada. A combination of these will in any event make a huge dent in the Jewish Israeli population.

    Tick tick.

  6. Ronald Johnson
    January 9, 2018, 5:42 pm

    From the beginning, about 1948, we had the offer of the “unconscionable bargain”, from the allegory of Esau and Jacob, where the apparently diabetic Esau was offered a mere bowl of beans for his inheritance. The story goes on to defy common sense, where the blind Isaac is defrauded, then recognizes the fraud but, somehow, unexplained, cannot withdraw the award that was drawn by deceit. Further, it is claimed that Esau becomes a success (as the first Gentile) and forgives Jacob in a chance encounter in the desert, years later. Unbelievable!

    The Palestinians fail to conform to Biblical expectations, rejecting the return of a few of the stolen goods, offered as some kind of big favor. But it seems that the world-busybodies think that the Palestinians should accept a few cents on the dollar, so that we can get on with making deals with Israel.

    We are complicit in a crime in progress, which is a benchmark for more crimes to come.

  7. ritzl
    January 10, 2018, 9:15 pm

    Great article, Prof. Falk.

    I wrote this a few days back at Consortium News (article/context was the global notional condemnation of the Embassy move):

    …”To bring it back on topic, I can’t recall any situation in 70++ years where Israeli colonization and annexation (let’s just call it what it is) of Palestine has been reversed. So Trump’s embassy move almost certainly means Jerusalem is gone for a sovereign Palestine. Does that mean that the concept of a viable, sovereign Palestine is gone? I think it does, but that’s just me. Per this article, and pretty much everything else I’ve read about this move, there seems to be a highly-touted “solidification” of [vocal] support against this move. Great. When this move gets reversed in the next couple (2) months (after that, its a done deal/irreversible imo) because of this clamor against it, I’ll eat these words (i.e. action required; immediate shedding of lip-service as principle SOP on Palestine). Unfortunately this “solidification” of support seems like wholly, historically-inconsequential, two-state nostalgia (and/or target fixation) and not forward-looking behavior which can guide change.


    This article provides exactly that, an analysis which can be used to guide forward-looking change. I hope to see more, and more detailed, analyses into specifics from you and others.

    PS, where did Samel’s comment go? That was a great comment!

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