Is a Two-State Solution for Israel and Palestine Possible?

An Israeli state and a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace, seems irrefutably the logical way to make peace. But since when has man made peace with his fellowman because it was the logical thing to do?

By Anil Madan

After the October 7 attack by Hamas, it was inevitable that any response by Israel would, in addition to eliciting calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, revive talk of a two-state solution as a means of achieving a lasting peace between Palestinians on the one hand and the Jewish and Arab population of Israel on the other hand. When people talk about a two-state solution, they tend to forget that 20% of Israel’s population are Arabs, and they too are affected by the ongoing hostilities.

Two-State Solution to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Pic – Leadership News

At first blush, the seemingly elegant idea of a two-state solution — an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace, seems simple and irrefutably the logical way to make peace. But since when has man made peace with his fellowman because it was the logical thing to do?

So why has a two-state solution not come to fruition? After all, calls for a two-state solution have been around for a long time, long before its most persistent form, the so-called Arab Peace Initiative, and sometimes the Saudi Initiative, was endorsed by the Arab League at its summits in 2002, 2007, and 2017.

The reactions of the Palestinians have been mixed. The Palestinian Authority initially accepted it. Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Arafat, encouraged President Obama to champion the plan. Hamas has been divided and conflicted. Some reports indicate that Hamas eventually accepted the idea, if not all aspects of the plan. Israeli reaction too has waxed and waned and wavered. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected the notion that Israel should withdraw to the pre-1967 war borders. Prime Minister Netanyahu tentatively supported, and then rejected the initiative as a basis for negotiation with the Palestinians. One can only imagine that neither Hezbollah, nor Iran would endorse any such plan because it necessarily implies Israel’s right to exist.

As one thinks about the idea of a two-state solution to bring an end to this lingering conflict in the Middle East, many complications come to mind.  Some of the most pressing are:

First, what will the territory of the Palestinian state look like? Will the West Bank and the Gaza strip become one unified state? Will any piece of Jerusalem be a part of a Palestinian state? Doesn’t the Dome of the Rock have to be a part of a Palestinian state, and if so, will Jews be allowed access to what they too regard as a holy site?

Second, who makes the decisions about peace and territorial compromise for the Palestinians and with whom does Israel negotiate?

Third, what will the government of an eventual Palestinian state look like and who will be in charge?

Fourth, is peace between Israel and a Palestinian state possible without peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours as well as Iran?

Fifth, absent assurance that hostilities by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, are no longer possible, how would Israel’s security be guaranteed?

Sixth, would Israel ever accept an armed Palestinian state on its border? Would a Palestinian state insist that its right to arm itself is an essential element of sovereignty and not negotiable? And if that is the case, doesn’t it bring all talk of a two-state solution to an end?

Saudi Arabia’s priorities

It is instructive that today, calls for a two-state solution are coming not from Israel or the Palestinians, but from third parties, such as the US, Saudi Arabia, Britain, the EU, and some other Arab states. Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah are silent on the subject.

The Saudi position has evolved, and it is not clear how much weight that country still puts on the Arab Peace Initiative. Last week in Davos, Switzerland, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said that his government has been working with the US on ensuring regional peace in the area through the creation of a Palestinian state. He allowed as how “it is more relevant in the context of Gaza.”

The underlying significance of his words should not be missed. He was confirming, in essence, that Saudi Arabia which is known to have been engaged with the US and Tel Aviv on establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, has not abandoned that effort although it declared the talks with Israel suspended in the wake of that country’s airstrikes on Gaza after October 7.

Saudi Arabia has had its own priorities in play. It has the larger goal of establishing a defense security pact with the US and it is obvious that this need for Saudi security vis-à-vis Iran, had shoved the Palestinian issue to the back burner. Similarly, the UAE and other Arab nations have not allowed the Palestinian question to stand in the way of normalizing their relations with Israel. These countries recognize that Israel is a key player in guaranteeing security of the region against Iran.

Indeed, Prince Faisal said: “We agree that regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that could only happen through peace for the Palestinians through a Palestinian state.” One must take this with a grain of salt, and as more for PR than a hard and fast statement of Saudi policy. It is unlikely that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will allow the Palestinians to dictate how his country engages with the US and Israel especially if a defense pact with the US hangs in the balance. Already, one can sense that the relative silence of the other Arab nations about continuing diplomatic relations with Israel, marks a major shift in how they have come to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as no longer exerting a sort of silent veto power over their willingness to engage with Israel. Their calculations about the future stability of the region and their own security have pushed the Palestinian issue to their back burners as well.

On the other hand, one must recognize that whereas Arab nations had already pretty much thrown the Palestinians under the bus before October 7, it is very difficult for Saudi Arabia to appear, publicly, to be abandoning the Palestinians. We have seen that even the US has felt the need to pressure Israel to back off some on the intensity of its assault on Gaza as the UN Secretary General, as well as human rights organizations point to the death of some 25,000 Palestinian civilians and to the plight of 85% of the Gazan populace that has been displaced because of Israel’s attacks.

Notwithstanding all this, when asked if Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel, if a comprehensive peace agreement were reached, the foreign minister said: “Certainly.” It seems a foregone conclusion that once a ceasefire or prolonged pause is in place, Saudi Arabia will promote the idea that it can be more effective in securing peace for Palestinians by establishing full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv and having more direct engagement with Tel Aviv. Whether such a position would reflect reality is less important than Saudi Arabia’s security needs.

A new concept of peace

Netanyahu has dismissed the idea of a two-state solution. Long before August 7, 2023, he has steadfastly rejected the idea as being a workable solution. The biggest issues for him seem to be the absence of a credible party with whom to negotiate and the security concerns that a potentially armed Palestinian state on the Israeli border would present. For this reason, it is also a waste of time to think of Gazan Palestinians being shuttled off to the Sinai and forming a state in that territory. Israel would have no control whatsoever over what such a state might import into its territory and how that might imperil Israel’s security.

Already, we have seen that over the past 20 years, Hamas were able to import hundreds of thousands of rockets into Gaza and to siphon off billions and billions of dollars of aid to build the tunnel infrastructure that Israel claims to have found. When one considers that the US itself has virtually no control over the flow of drugs across the Mexican border or, for that matter, over the flow of immigrants, one must take a more sober view of border security especially when dealing with existential questions of Israel’s very survival as a nation.

In February 2023, in the wake of a Palestinian attack on a Synagogue that left seven Israelis dead, Netanyahu rejected the idea of negotiating with the Palestinians. His strategy, at least as articulated at that time, was to put negotiations with the Arab states at the forefront of policy initiatives. Ending the Arab Israeli conflict — as distinct from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — was the path, as he saw it, to getting a workable peace with the Palestinians. Indeed, if the Palestinians were, in the future, to feel abandoned by the Arabs who have hitherto given them both moral and financial support, the bargaining positions change dramatically.

I would add to this that Israel will perhaps see that no peace with the Palestinians is possible so long as Iran continues to fund Hamas and Hezbollah and supply them rockets and arms to support their attacks on Israel.

Indeed, Netanyahu gloated that he had gone around the Palestinians and forged “a new concept of peace” — the so-called Abraham Accords.

When asked about the concessions that he would be prepared to have Israel grant the Palestinians, Netanyahu said: “Well, I’m certainly willing to have them have all the powers that they need to govern themselves. But none of the powers that could threaten [the Jewish people] and this means that Israel should have the overriding security responsibility.”

There is no reason to believe that Netanyahu has changed his mind. So Palestinian sovereignty will be less than one hundred percent sovereignty.

The Biden Administration’s apparent pressure on Israel to get working on a two-state solution must also be understood in context. As I have mentioned, part of this is a reaction to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Getting Israel to extend a humanitarian ceasefire into a longer pause in the conflict seems a natural extension of dialog with Palestinians about a two-state solution, Of course, this does nothing to defuse the Hamas threat. On the other hand, there are reports that Hamas is now ready to discuss releasing more hostages in return for an extended ceasefire. Is this a sign that Hamas is truly ready to negotiate? Or does Hamas just seek a pause to reconstitute its forces because Israel’s attack has been quite devastating for Hamas?

We shall see. But for those who have seen a two-state solution as reflecting the dreams of two peoples, the Palestinians, and Israelis, will probably learn that it will continue to be nothing more than an ongoing nightmare.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 26 January 2024

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