Weather permitting, today and tomorrow the Hebrew University, in conjunction
with the Rabin Center, is hosting a two-day conference entitled “Deconstructing
and Re-constructing the Two- State Solution.” In a coincidental piece of timing
this ties in with the launching, just three days ago, of the European Council
for Foreign Relations (ECFR) website of the Two-State Stress Test, examining the
viability and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two-state solution to
the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The conference will bring together
diplomats, politicians and academics, from Israel and abroad, who have been
involved, at various points during the past 20 years, in attempts to negotiate a
two-state solution. The meeting will involve an intense discussion about some of
the basic principles on which a two-state solution is premised, and whether
these ground rules are still relevant today, or whether the whole concept of
Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution has to be rethought.
mentioned, this comes against the background of the launching of the Two State
Stress Test by the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). The project
summarizes the state of seven key factors – territory, Jerusalem, security,
diplomacy, refugees, the internal Palestinian debate and the internal Israeli
debate. Each factor is accorded a score, ranging from zero to five. The higher
the score for each of the parameters, the greater the strain and the stress on
the ability to implement a two-state solution.
The main findings of the
present analysis confirm that at the moment the largest strain on prospects for
the two-state outcome are due to two categories: 1) the territorial issue, and
particularly the continued expansion of Israeli settlements both in the West
Bank and in east Jerusalem, and 2) the dynamics of the Israeli political and
public debate, which notably combine little public confidence in the talks with
a cabinet and ruling coalition, a number of whose influential members openly
oppose two states.
This is only partially mitigated by the public
expressing ambivalent support of a two-state outcome.
health check shows a gradually worsening situation for factors such as east
Jerusalem and security, but it is slightly more positive regarding factors too
infrequently taken into consideration: the Palestinian political and public
debate and the refugee issue. While there is still a slim majority of
Palestinians supporting in principle the two-state solution, there is very
little faith in the chances of it being achieved through a negotiated
The refugee issue, though often neglected both by negotiators
and media, is potentially a source of crisis in any negotiations and Israeli and
Palestinian public opinions remain far apart on ideas for a solution of this
The two-state solution is under stress for a combination of
ideological and pragmatic reasons. The present Israeli government, probably the
most right-wing in Israel’s history, has a foreign policy which is spearheaded
by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali
Bennett, both of whom are opposed to a Palestinian state in principle. The
counterweight of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid is
clearly in a minority position in the present coalition government. The country
has moved rapidly, in a very short period of time since the establishment of the
Kadima party in the aftermath of the Gaza evacuation by two very right-wing
politicians, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, who understood the need for political
and territorial separation between the two peoples, to a situation where the
Netanyahu-led government is clearly no longer on track to implement any major
Israeli withdrawal from the territories.
Given the events which have
occurred in Gaza since the withdrawal, the government lives in fairly safe
belief that public opinion, which six years ago demonstrated a widespread
support for further concessions, has moved to the Right and will not
automatically support a new version of a two-state solution in a referendum –
and it is safe to assume Netanyahu would not have supported the referendum
option had he believed otherwise.
The factor that comes out as most
sustaining the twostate solution at the moment is the renewed US-led diplomatic
efforts, at least inasmuch as it keeps the notion of conflict resolution in the
public psyche and the headlines.
The Two State Stress Test indicates that
a lessening of this intensity would leave the prospects for the two-state
solution even more fragile. But, Israel’s participation in the latest round of
negotiations is more about their desire not to completely alienate the American
administration than it is about any real desire or understanding to force an
And despite the frequent traveling of US Secretary of
State John Kerry, to the region, it would appear that the diplomacy path is not
working out, as it did in the days of presidents Carter or Clinton.
Relationships between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are highly strained,
while the EU is taking a tougher stance with respect to Israel-EU
The Two State Stress test highlight the changing thinking
within the European establishment and their growing belief that disincentives
will have to be applied to Israel in moving toward a two-state scenario. This
was clearly seen in the European position regarding Israel’s participation in
the latest scientific research program, Horizon 2020, and its insistence that no
institution operating beyond the Green Line would be allowed to take
There is also a growing feeling among the pragmatists, those who
support the principle of two states, that as time passes and the realities on
the ground become increasingly entrenched, the classic model, involving a
clearly demarcated territorial separation between the two states, is no longer
possible to implement. Since the alternatives – the continuation of occupation
as advocated by the Israeli right wing, or a single binational secular state as
advocated by the far Left and much of the Palestinian constituency, are
considered by most to be far worse options, this requires thinking outside the
box concerning alternative ways to implement two states and enable power sharing
without territorial separation.
This may require going back to some of
the federal and confederal ideas advocated by Prof. Daniel Elazar back in the
1970s but that were largely disregarded at the time, or a system of
cross-citizenship for all Palestinians and Israelis, regardless of their
territorial location, as proposed by a Shashar Center think tank at the Hebrew
University just a few years ago. It may sound far-fetched right now, but
conflict resolution must always grapple with the realities of the present,
rather than those of a past era – whether that era be 1948, 1967 or even 2005
(the Gaza withdrawal).
As time moves on, so the facts on the ground
continue to change, and these in turn become the new realities.
principle of two states for two peoples still remains, in the view of this
writer, the fairest way to resolve the conflict, if it is ever to be resolved.
But this must now be viewed not as a simple territorial divide (with or without
land swaps), but as a system of power sharing which is practiced by both peoples
in a way which ties in with the contemporary realities and which causes as
little physical dislocation as possible.
The writer is dean of the
faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views
expressed are his alone.