This new war between Tel Aviv and Hamas puts the Palestinian question back at the heart of the debate, and the means of resolving a conflict that goes back more than seventy years.
Recent events in Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are simply a repetition of what happens, cyclically, every 4 or 5 years: thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths, as well as the destruction of numerous infrastructures, obviously especially on the Palestinian side, since the balance of power is totally disproportionate.
For decades, the Palestinian people have suffered humiliation, disrespect for their rights, violence and apartheid. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has declared in recent days that efforts must be resumed to achieve a two-state solution, which he believes is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, while giving the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled.
What possible solution for this thorny and complex conflict, then?
The two-state solution is a consensus solution
The two-state solution is a consensus solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, discussed by the main parties to the conflict as part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, notably at the Annapolis conference in November 2007. It proposes the creation of two distinct states in the geographical region of Palestine, one Arab and the other Jewish. It opposes the one-state solution, known as the “bi-national state”, in which Israelis and Palestinians would live together.
In its simplest definition, this solution is the creation of two distinct states in the territorial entity west of the Jordan River, one for the Palestinians and one for the Israelis, or one Arab and one Jewish. This is what the member states of the United Nations have repeatedly voted for. Even the United States, Israel’s staunch ally, has most of the time had governments in agreement with this principle of living side by side in mutual respect, guaranteeing the security of both peoples.
Has the “two-state solution”, which continues to be defended by the UN and the major powers, become a mirage?
In any case, none of the conditions needed to move it forward have been met. There are at least three: combined pressure from the international community (with a unanimous vote by the Security Council, for example); Israel’s integration of this solution into its medium- and long-term plans; and the support of all Palestinian forces for the project.
Even if the two parties have sometimes agreed to sit down at the same negotiating table, agreement on the drawing of borders has remained unachievable. Both experts point to the colonization of the West Bank as one of the major obstacles to a two-state solution.
Israel talks vaguely about a Palestinian state, but it’s like a Swiss cheese: barely 30% of the entire West Bank could go to the Palestinians under the terms Israel was talking about.
One of the maps often used by official bodies, notably the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has changed little since 1995, or even 1967. On the one hand, although the West Bank is often presented as a single territorial block on maps, a significant part of the territory is in fact controlled by the Israelis.
Added to this are the settlements, which have proliferated in recent years under the impetus of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Also known as “settlements” or “illegal replacement settlements” on either side, they are “nibbling away” at the territory to the point where there may no longer be room for a second state.
Confederal state, common state, binational state…
These political projects differ in many respects, but they are all united in their desire to shake up the idea that only a two-state solution can bring hope for peace. Firstly, by acknowledging the failure of the Oslo Accords, and the practical impossibility of a Palestinian state given the extent of colonization, and secondly, by rejecting the theoretical framework imposed by the “peace process” in favor of going beyond the paradigm of separation between Israelis and Palestinians: what kind of social contract is needed to ensure that the rights of both are respected? Above all, unlike the Oslo negotiations, which excluded, in whole or in part, the fate of the Palestinians in Israel and the millions of refugees outside Palestine, we need to think about a global solution and the conditions for achieving it.
Of course, all debates on the most appropriate and viable political solution to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” are legitimate. However, they sometimes too quickly overlook the fact that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not an opposition between two peoples, lacking only a balanced compromise and peaceful “interlocutors” on each side.
Relations between the two societies are historically asymmetrical, marked as they are by decades of Israeli colonialism and occupation, economic dispossession and the plundering of Palestinian natural resources, culminating in an apartheid regime. To ignore this angle is to repeat the mistakes of Oslo by multiplying untenable promises for the Palestinians, feeding frustration, anger and hatred. At the time of writing, the trauma of Israeli society is such that there is no telling how the anti-colonial left will resist militarist pressure.
On the other hand, the colonial left and some of the heirs to the peace camp ostensibly support a large-scale military operation, and the war crimes and crimes against humanity that this entails, without any consideration for the fate of the Palestinians.
One state or two? The question is of little interest, given that no consensus is emerging, at the very least, on the right to protection, security and justice for all, in favor of variable-geometry treatment in which interest in the fate of civilians varies according to their national affiliation.
A two-state solution for two peoples is still possible!
But here’s a useful reminder. In 1982, following the Camp David Peace Accords of 1978 – still solid to this day – Israel evacuated all its bases and eight settlements in the Egyptian Sinai, even though the Prime Minister at the time was the hawkish Menachem Begin. In 2005, Israel evacuated the bases and twenty settlements in the Gaza Strip; the Prime Minister was also a hawk, in this case Ariel Sharon. In both cases, public opinion largely followed suit.
These two factual and indisputable episodes lead us to believe that a third evacuation could take place, with a negotiated rectification of borders and the maintenance of inhabited areas in return for territorial cessions on Israeli soil. Foolishness? Certainly not, as all this had already been amply discussed at the Camp David II summit in July 2000. However, this new withdrawal would not be the only condition for the solution of state partition.
After the current war, the ultra-nationalist coalition of October 7 will undoubtedly be undermined by public opinion and probably by a commission of inquiry. If the Palestinian Authority were to agree to take over Gaza – backed by the international reconstruction aid that would inevitably arrive – and if a centrist coalition government were to emerge in Israel, everything would once again be possible. Two difficult “ifs”? Perhaps, but there is no serious alternative.
Two states? But how?
The so-called “two-state solution”, with one Israeli and one Palestinian state coexisting side by side in peace, means in practice the creation of a state of Palestine within the borders inherited from the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, the Green Line demarcating the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their capital.
In 1988, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat unveiled a declaration of independence which, for the first time, spoke of “two states for two peoples”. It recognized the State of Israel and its sovereignty over 78% of historic Palestine.
This recognition was endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which brings together all the Palestinian movements except the Islamists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are powerful in Gaza. Hamas, which does not recognize Israel, is opposed to the two-state solution and would like to see a Palestinian state in the whole of historic Palestine.
Since 1947, however, both states have been included in the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, with Jerusalem forming a third entity under international control. The UN, which has recognized the State of Palestine as an observer state, has endorsed it, while it is the founding principle of the solution advocated by the European Union.
For Palestinian leader Hanane Achraoui, there is “a global consensus” based on the two-state solution to achieve peace.
At the end of December 2016, former US Secretary of State John Kerry called it “the only possible path” to peace.
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes the creation of a Palestinian state in exchange for recognition of Israel by the Arab states, is also based on this solution.
In 2009, after a further breakdown in peace negotiations, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his Bar Ilan speech, publicly endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel for the first time on June 14, 2009.
Six years later, in the midst of an election campaign, he declared that “reality has changed“. Today, at the head of a government coalition dominated by ultra-nationalists and advocates of all-out colonization, he is outflanked by his right-wing government, which advocates annexation of the West Bank.
In addition, he has made the creation of a Palestinian state conditional on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish” state, which the Palestinian President refuses.
According to recent opinion polls, support for a two-state solution to the conflict is declining among both Palestinians and Israelis. At the end of July, 33% of Palestinians were in favor of it, as were 34% of Israelis.
Some, mainly in Israel, advocate a single, binational state, where Palestinians and Israelis would have equal rights. This option leaves open the question of demographics and the eventual choice of a president from one community or another, while many want to preserve the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
Israel is currently home to 17.5% of Israeli Arabs, the descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land when Israel was created, and who claim to be treated as second-class citizens.
How do you evoke the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without falling into clichés, such as pitting the occupier against the occupied?
The very impossibility of considering Hamas as an interlocutor in negotiations, since it is on the list of terrorist groups of Western countries, including Canada and the USA.
For the majority of Israelis, there was no need to look for a “solution” before Saturday October 7. They were living a normal life and didn’t need to pay attention to what was happening a 15-minute drive from their home. But this ‘solution’ may no longer be tenable.
Imposition by force has been a political constant in Israel’s history, with brief lightnings, and that’s what seems untenable. Israel has won several wars, but has never won peace.
For years, as the debate raged over the future of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, disagreements over possible solutions reflected the gulf between viewpoints, depending on who supported the two-state option, for example. Any discussion intended to unblock the situation, however important, should not seek consensus on a future project, but rather strive to clarify the perception of the problem. After all, people who don’t have the same vision of a problem will find it very difficult to apply a collective solution to it.
There has been a state problem in Israel-Palestine for decades. Since 1967, one state has militarily governed the territory from the river to the sea. That state is Israel, of course. For more than half a century, an occupation presented as temporary has become permanent and has been normalized by those who refuse to see beyond appearances.
In the West Bank, the power that fundamentally affects the lives of Palestinians is that of the State of Israel, not that of the Palestinian Authority (PA). For the PA does not have the necessary authority; it exists only at the whim of the Israeli state. Its representatives must obtain permission to enter and leave the territory over which they theoretically exercise authority, and their continued existence depends on how they coordinate security with the Israeli military occupation.
With the exception of the nineteen years between 1948 and 1967, when Israel was founded while the West Bank and Gaza Strip were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively, it’s hard to remember a time when the cities of the West Bank highlands and those of the coastal plain had a separate government, rather than being attached to a territorial unit. Today, half a century after 1967, the reality of a single state is firmly rooted.
You can follow professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu