This post is part of “What Comes Next?: A forum on the end of the two-state paradigm.” This series was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace as an investigation into the current state of thinking about one state and two state solutions, and the collection has been further expanded by Mondoweiss to mark 20 years since the Oslo process. The entire series can be found here.
By failing to secure Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to a settlement freeze in preparation for restarting direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, President Obama most likely put the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution of the conflict. His willingness to accept public humiliation by the prime minister of a client state further suggests that the president is unlikely to spend the political capital required to resolve the conflict on terms close to the international consensus. The outlines of that consensus are well-known and close to President Clinton’s 2000 “parameters” – a potential source of legitimacy for Obama if he wanted it: Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with mutually agreed minor territorial modifications, East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, and Israel’s acknowledgment of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return but its limited implementation. During secret talks in the term of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Palestinian leadership agreed to far less than this, but was rebuffed – a clear indication that Israel has no interest in a settlement of this sort.
The U.S. might ply Israel with sufficient weapons and guarantees to secure Israeli withdrawal from truncated parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu has expressed willingness to call such territories, which would lack economic viability and many basic attributes of sovereignty, a “Palestinian state.” No Palestinian political leader or substantial sector of Palestinian opinion is likely to agree to this.
To be credible, those who still advocate two states must reject this “Bibistan” solution and promote international pressure on Israel – BDS is the most available tool, since the U.S. is unwilling to withhold military aid – to secure Israel’s agreement to a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. Anything less is complicity with Israel’s occupation and settlement-expansion agenda.
With the traditional two-state solution becoming an ever less realistic option, the one-state solution – a democratic state where Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs would enjoy equal civic rights – has gained traction. This seems even more unlikely than the two-state solution. One-state proponents often say that a non-racial, democratic South Africa was implausible only a few years before it was achieved. There are legitimate comparisons between Israel and South Africa. But this is not one of them. Jews still comprise the demographic majority (barely) in historic Palestine; in 2001 whites comprised less than 10% of South Africa’s population. More importantly, Israel has the unlimited support of the United States and the complicity of important European states (primarily Germany, for obvious reasons). Unlike western support for apartheid South Africa, this is popular among enough Americans to make it a required position for candidates for the presidency and most congressional seats.
If two-states and one-state are both unlikely in the foreseeable future, then what? The great majority of Palestinians now living in historic Palestine – under occupation or as Israeli citizens – are not leaving. Their issue remains on the international agenda; stability in the Middle East requires its resolution. International solidarity efforts should focus on supporting them politically in the continuing struggles against occupation (the separation barrier, freedom of movement) and inequality (equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel). Joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle around these issues, which has been intensifying since 2000, along with international support, can alter both the balance of power and perceptions. Just and sustainable solutions unimaginable or unrealistic today may then become possible.