The Story of the So-called “Two-State Solution”

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The Story of the So-called “Two-State Solution”
هاني المصري
الثلاثاء, 20 شباط (فبراير), 2018


There has been increasing talk, even within Palestinian leadership circles, that the so-called “two-state solution” is defunct and that the Palestinians must once again demand a solution based on one state, as the Palestinian Revolution did in the first few years following its launch, although it abandoned that demand in the wake of the October 1973 war.

When efforts to reach a settlement moved forward, it became necessary to make changes to the Palestinian programme. Without such changes, the Palestinian Cause would have been completely written out of the formula that had been presented. A flaw informs the thinking of those who hold that movement towards a settlement is overwhelming, although differences exist amongst them on how to deal with this. They demanded that the Palestinians should board the train before it leaves the station without them. It is within that context that the "Ten Point" Programme, which included establishing a national authority on any part of Palestine to be liberated, was adopted in 1974.

That programme morphed from being a phased (provisional) plan along the path to return and liberation into a programme, consisting of three cornerstones (the right of return, the right to self-determination that includes establishing a state based on the 1967 borders and equality amongst the citizens of Israel). The programme then further morphed into a final programme, culminating in the Oslo Accords that recognised Israel on 78 per cent of the land of Palestine, reducing the cause, the land and the people into parts, phases and final and transitional issues. The programme that was originally envisaged as phased became final, although this had not been an inevitable outcome.

The ceiling of the provisional programme continued to be progressively lowered, turning it into a final programme. Focus shifted to the establishment of a state, while other basic parts of the programme were overlooked, and a willingness to separate them out and trade them off against each other emerged. A trade-off bartering the establishment of a Palestinian state with the right of return appeared acceptable, as is apparent in the acceptance of the principle of “land exchange, the Clinton criteria, an agreed settlement of the refugee issue, a demilitarised Palestinian state and the stationing of international or US forces for an agreed period of time.

On the other hand, the Rejectionist Front agreed that the movement towards a settlement was overwhelming, but it held that such a settlement would result in the establishment of a mock dwarf state on part of Palestine in exchange for giving up the rest of Palestine, and that hence it must be rejected, particularly since such a state would lack economic and other basic requisites. This prompted the advocates of the Acceptance Front to respond that we were in the phase of regaining a homeland, rather than choosing one, and that regaining a part was better than the continued loss of the whole.

After tens of year of illusions, bets, experiments, initiatives and negotiations to reach an agreement over “the two-state solution”, it has been tangibly proven that Israel will not agree to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. There are several reasons for such a rejection. There is no party that will compel Israel to do so, and such a state would limit Israel’s control and its ability and chances of achieving its designs and aspirations to establish “Greater Israel” on the whole Palestine, or on the largest possible part of it, while keeping the lowest number of Palestinian inhabitants.

Hence, the goal of establishing a Palestinian state consistent with the 1967 borders by means of bilateral negotiations, a US-sponsored settlement and reliance on the UN was both unrealistic and unachievable at any time, even during the golden era of the Oslo Accords. Given that such a goal is impossible, how can some imagine that it can be replaced with the concept of one state, which Israel would reject even more strongly than that of a Palestinian state? Hence, the threat to which some circles within the Palestinian leadership resort of embracing the one-state solution, is meaningless. Moreover, using such a threat as a tactic is detrimental, because it facilitates implementing the Israeli solution, even if this is an inadvertent consequence, and it damages the Palestinian leadership’s credibility by creating the impression that it has abandoned its long-standing policy of demanding an end to Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state without coming up with a new policy that will present a comprehensive alternative. 

The most that Israel has offered the Palestinians, and might possibly offer them subsequently, is self-rule over the inhabitants, while Israel retains sovereignty over the land. Israeli leaders will not necessarily object if the Palestinians refer to such self-rule as a state, or even as an empire, if control remains in Israeli hands.  

Based on the above, the so-called “two-state solution” to be achieved by means of a negotiated settlement did not die following Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, notwithstanding the fact that this decision was another nail in the coffin of such a solution. Similarly, that solution was not killed off by the collapse of the Camp David conference in 2000. That solution was simply still-born. Israel is under no constraints to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Such agreement requires rendering the costs of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza much higher than its gains. 

Does that mean we should abandon the two-state solution, adopting instead the concept of a single democratic state, a binational state, or some other model? Or should we revert to a programme of liberation and return with the aim of establishing the Islamic or national state?

What has occurred since the adoption of the “Ten Point” programme in 1974 cannot be wiped away with a speech or a resolution. It requires a new comprehensive vision that will open the way for a substantially different path to the ones that were previously followed. Such a vision should focus on changing the balance of power, strengthening the presence and steadfastness of Palestinians in Palestine, achieving as much as possible during each phase and moving on to achieving other objectives. Efforts to achieve those goals should rely on the justice and moral superiority of the Palestine cause; the Palestinian people’s spirit of struggle and determination to achieve its goals and Arab, Islamic and wider human support for Palestinian liberation and the Palestine Cause. Such a vision should not overlook reality, but should not submit to it, dealing with it in a manner that aims to change it.

The “two-state solution” failed because the balance of power is massively tilted in Israel’s favour, the Arab states are in a pitiable state and the powers that espouse the two-state solution in Israel are marginal. Moreover, those powers have very little prospect of growing stronger, given the privileges that Israelis get by virtue of the function that Israel serves. The super powers and the UN are not inclined to impose the two-state solution on Israel, because Israel is at the heart of a colonialist project conceived to serve the colonial powers and their goals of keeping the Arab region bound by backwardness, subservience, fragmentation, ignorance and poverty. That colonialist project still serves to achieve the aims and interests of those powers, despite the change in the status and importance of Israel’s role following the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar order, the fall of some colonial states and the rise of others and the fact that a new colonialist imperialism has replaced the old colonialism.

Despite the failure of the “two-state solution”, the world continues to believe in it for reasons of principle and morality relating to the need to resolve the Palestinian issue, and – more importantly – because the persistent absence of such a solution makes the Palestinian Cause a source of instability and a threat to regional and global security and peace, particularly since all parties, states and belief systems, different as they may be, exploit it to achieve their contradictory objectives and interests.

Moreover, even belated arrival at the conviction of the impossibility of achieving the “two state solution” through negotiations and reliance on the US does not open the way to a one-state solution as some might imagine. The only state that enjoys sovereignty within the 1967 borders is Israel, but contrary to the claim of some, this does not mean that there is "one state" on the ground. In fact, this opens the way for creeping Israeli annexation, and colonialist settlement, which is increasing at an accelerating rate. This means that unless the Palestinians unite, adopt a new vision and formulate the necessary plans to achieve it, and unless their leadership and political powers have the will to pay the required price, the “two-state solution” will be replaced by an Israeli solution. Such an Israeli solution will combine self-rule, eviction, linking the highly-populated enclaves in the West Bank to Jordan and appending the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Alternatively, it could involve establishing a Palestinian statelet in Gaza, expanding it into Sinai and gathering the Palestinians there. Other alternatives would be implementation of the "Decisiveness Plan" proposed by the deputy speaker of the Knesset and focuses on ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, or the the "Seven Emirates Plan" to divide the Palestinian populated areas into seven family-controlled "emirates", or a settlement at Jordan’s expense, or a single state with dual regimes, all of which the Palestinians reject, since their implementation would lead to the liquidation of the Palestine Cause in all its dimensions.

Finally, a solution entailing a sovereign Palestinian state based on the borders of 1967 must remain on the table even though it is unachievable, at least in the foreseeable future, because it is based on Arab and international legitimacy, and it can help to prevent the Israeli solution that is being currently imposed. Adhering to the two-state solution can build on international recognition of the Palestinian state, which was strongly reaffirmed through wide-spread rejection of Trump’s recent decision. Another reason to adhere to it is that defeating the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and establishing a Palestinian state requires a weaker shift in the balance of power in favour of the Palestinians than the shift that would be required to achieve full liberation, or the establishment of a single state, which a vast majority of Israelis reject more strongly than the establishment of a Palestinian state. International recognition of Israel exists, as does global rejection of its occupation of the territories it seized in 1967. The latter rejection can be used to bolster the Palestinian position, but it is insufficient to defeat the occupation. That goal requires a multi-dimensional, multi-party, multi-form and multi-tool strategy based on resistance that will lay the ground for an effective policy that will achieve results.

The bulk of the Israeli right, which historically prioritised the unity and integrated nature of the land of Israel, has changed and espouses the Israeli left wing’s position of prioritising the purity of Jews in the state of Israel. The Israeli right has therefore become willing to annex the largest area of land and evict the largest number of Palestinian inhabitants, without allowing those that remain behind to establish a state that has the necessary constituent elements of a full state.

The absence of the possibility of establishing either a Palestinian state, or a single state at the present time does not mean that no choices should be adopted. Those two choices can both be adopted, because the materialisation of a Palestinian state in a manner consistent with the 1967 borders does not preclude the future establishment of one state in the whole of Palestine, and may actually provide the shortest route to doing so. The basic problem was not the adoption of the two-state solution. Rather, it was the belief that such a state could be achieved by means of negotiation. Another aspect of that problem was the adoption of the establishment of a Palestinian state as a stand-alone programme at the expense of the other outstanding Palestinian rights.