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Why the two-state solution is the only viable option to the exclusion of any other

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Friday, 12 January 2024


Although the two-state solution has been all along the only viable option that best serves Israel's national security and political interests and meets the Palestinians' national aspiration for statehood, the Israel-Hamas war has only reaffirmed that there is no other option

The Israel-Hamas war has reignited discussions over a two-state solution as an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who closely monitor the conflict and consider its history, the psychological mindset of both peoples, and their affinity and mutual claims to the same land, cannot escape the conclusion that a two-state solution is the only practical and sustainable option. Other "options" have circulated, but careful examination shows that none are viable-nor is the status quo, which is unsustainable as demonstrated by the Israel-Hamas war and the unprecedented spike in violence in the West Bank.

After 57 years of occupation, Israeli-Palestinian relations are worse than ever before. Indeed, we have never seen this level of violence that has robbed the lives of so many Israelis and Palestinians and rained havoc and destruction. This attests to the dismal failure of both sides to accept that neither has an exclusive right to the entire land stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, and that only two independent states would usher in a permanent solution to their endemic conflict.

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Sadly, it took the Israel-Hamas war to awaken both sides to their tragic reality. They must now realize there will be no return to the status quo ante. The circumstances that led to the Israel-Hamas war only reinforce the inescapable requirement for a two-state solution. Simply put, there is no other viable option other than continuing the bloody conflict for decades to come.

Option one: maintaining the status quo

This war, instigated by Hamas' unprecedented slaughter of 1,200 Israelis, has inflicted horrifying destruction in Gaza and resulted in the death of nearly 23,000 Palestinians at the time of writing, 70 percent of whom are women and children. This tragic development has demonstrated the colossal failure of successive Netanyahu-led Israeli governments, which believed they could indefinitely maintain the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza to prevent the Palestinians from establishing a state of their own.

The nearly six decades of occupation, which were punctuated by violence, Intifadas, terrorism, and mini wars, have not seemed to faze Netanyahu and his hard-core followers. They maintain that the casualties that Israel has sustained over these years were a price worth paying for what they deemed 'protecting Israel'-translating to keeping the occupation in place and expanding the settlements. Meanwhile, some ministers have been implicitly encouraging the settlers to harass Palestinians in the West Bank, engaging in systematic dehumanization and creating unbearable conditions for Palestinians, forcing many of them to abandon their land.

The preservation of the status quo has created a de facto one state, which successive Israeli governments sought all along by applying one set of civilian laws for the Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank and martial law for the Palestinians, which amounted to nothing less than apartheid.

During the past 16 years in power, Netanyahu deliberately portrayed the Palestinians as an irredeemable mortal foe that must be fought with an iron fist, and justified the continuing occupation as a means by which to quell Palestinian resistance and prevent them from ever establishing their own state. In December, Netanyahu stated: "I'm proud that I prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state because today everybody understands what the Palestinian state could have been, now that we've seen the little Palestinian state in Gaza. Everyone understands what would have happened if we had capitulated to international pressures and enabled a state like that in Judaea and Samaria [the West Bank]."

By making such a statement, Netanyahu put his hypocrisy on full display. No Israeli leader has helped strengthen Hamas more than Netanyahu, as he allowed billions of dollars from Qatar to flow into its coffers. For him, the Palestinian Authority is a liability and Hamas is an asset-a sentiment that he articulated time and again. Furthermore, Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was precipitous, with no security arrangements made with the PA. The Sharon government fully knew at the time that Hamas was by far superior militarily to the PA and would take over Gaza. But Netanyahu's distortion of the truth is what defines him, as no one wanted to split Hamas and the PA to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state more than him.

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The Israel-Hamas war has glaringly demonstrated that the occupation is not sustainable, the blockade of Gaza is logistically unsustainable as it allowed Hamas to build a formidable offensive military capacity under the watchful eyes of Israel, and Hamas' designs to liquidate Israel have proven to be nothing but nightmarish illusions to the detriment of the Palestinian people.

Option two: the one-state option

The Palestinians would accept a democratic one-state solution if all citizens, Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike, enjoy equal rights before the law, participate in free and fair elections, run for office, and the winner in general elections forms a government representative of the peoples' votes. This kind of one-state solution, however, is categorically unacceptable to the Israelis because of demographic realities. There are nearly 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, 2.3 million in Gaza, and about 2 million in Israel proper, which combined is more than 7 million, approximately equal to the Jewish population in Israel.

The Palestinians would welcome such a solution because, in a free and fair election, they could win a majority vote and potentially form a Palestinian-dominated government in Israel, if not now, certainly within 3-5 years. Such a prospect would defy the very reason behind Israel's creation as a Jewish state that offers a home to any Jew who chooses to live in the country, which no Israeli government will ever accept.

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Note: Currently, Area A, approximately 18 percent of the West Bank's total territory, is fully administered by the Palestinian Authority. In Area B (22 percent), the PA controls civilian affairs while sharing security control with Israel. Area C represents 60 percent of the West Bank's land mass and is fully under Israeli control. See https://www.anera.org/what-are-area-a-area-b-and-area-c-in-the-west-bank/.A version of this article was originally published in CNN Arabic.
 



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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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