By Adam Arthur
Commentators on the politics of the Middle East often believe that the ship of a two-state solution resulting from conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Territories has not only sailed, but sunk. However, this does not mean that Palestinian independence wouldn’t come about eventually, including potentially as a long-term (or, less likely, short-term) result of the current Israel-Hamas War that began with a terrorist attack instigated by Hamas on October 7, 2023.
Regardless of the likeliness of such an outcome, this article is written with the assumption in mind that in the analysis of political risk, all prospective possibilities should be considered – even when they are a long shot. This article will therefore explore the prospective impacts of a two-state solution emerging as a result of the present Israel-Hamas crisis, resulting in the scenario of Palestinian independence.
First, a historical overview is necessary. According to a Counterterrorism guide published online by the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Hamas began in 1987, originating from a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. For those familiar with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the organization was founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928. The Muslim Brotherhood’s direction in an Egyptian context was later shaped by thinker Sayyid Qutb, who blended ideals of social justice with extremist social conservatism in his formulation of political Islam.
This viewpoint would go on to influence the Muslim Brotherhood’s political activities in Egypt to the present day. Based on these origins, a similar platform might inform Hamas if it becomes the governing party of an independent Palestinian state.
Such a party would, at least at first, likely maintain a posture of hostility to the United States and its allies in the European Union that have historically aligned themselves with Israel. This posture may be subject to change over time, although in the short term it may result in intermittent border wars between Israel and the newly independent Palestinian state.
Additionally, ethnic and religious tensions resulting from the early days of Palestinian independence must be considered. A demonstrable comparison would be the partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947. Much as partition resulted in extreme violence between ethnic groups, including mass murder and sexual assault, a newly independent West Bank and Gaza Strip may result in the same if Israel and the prospective independent Palestinian government do not work together to carefully prevent outbreaks of violence as Israeli Muslims choose to migrate into the independent West Bank or Gaza Strip.
Another example, also related to partition in South Asia, provides a model for the independence of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an independent Palestinian State. Just as the independent state of Bangladesh was governed as East Pakistan until its independence in 1971, the West Bank and Gaza Strip would likely originate as two portions of a singular independent Palestinian state. Political differences over time, however, may result in a separation of the Gaza and West Bank polities of an independent Palestine – for example, if one tends politically in a more conservative and Islamist direction, while the other tends in a more liberal and secular direction.
Another source of division may be variations in friendliness or hostility toward the state of Israel over time. If one portion of the hypothetical independent state becomes more Israel-friendly, the other might object. Another potential source of separation would be if one portion of the independent Palestinian state provides too heavy an economic burden on the other.
Many of the aforementioned negative impacts would likely take place in the short-term, though the growing pains of an independent Palestinian state might entail significant violence or international strife during that timeframe. One way that this would be prevented or at least mitigated would be if the transition to independence were carefully meted out by a stable administration that seeks peaceful or at least neutral relations with Israel and the United States.
Another factor affecting this outcome to consider would be the internal politics of Israel. If Israel continues on its current path, it will likely continue to elect politicians from right-wing parties such as Likud and Yamina. Likud and Yamina members have based much of their respective party platforms on pushing back against the idea of a two-state solution or Palestinian independence. Palestinian independence, however, may result in a change in the posture of Israeli politics. This could mean, eventually, the election of a President or Prime Minister from a left-wing party, as well as – potentially – a left-wing majority in the Knesset.
This political change, if it were to occur, would suggest the increased probability of an attempt to build peace between Israel and a newly independent Palestinian state. However, such an eventuality would depend as much on internal factors within an independent Palestinian state as those within Israel. It is more likely than not that Hamas would evolve into and serve as an independent Palestinian state’s initial governing party. As such, the newly independent Palestinian government would face potential internal strife between factions who maintain resentment towards the state of Israel and those who seek to build bridges with their former enemy and neighbor. As such, rival parties would form – some as an outgrowth of internal divisions between members of Hamas.
All of these factors must be considered for the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats provided to Israel as well as to other states with a stake in the current conflict. Palestinian independence could very well result from a two-state solution established in the aftermath of the ongoing Israel-Hamas War. If such an eventuality were to occur, it proves necessary to discuss what that would entail.
While the notion of an independent Palestinian state resulting from a two-state solution appears a long way away in the midst of the current Israel-Hamas crisis, it nevertheless remains a possibility that must be considered. As a result, such an outcome should not be ruled out from discussions of how the current crisis may evolve and conclude. Like all political possibilities, it must be analyzed not only for the global benefits it presents, but also for its substantive risks.