If not two states, then what? - opinion

All of the Land of Israel is important to the Jewish people and all of the Land of Palestine is important to the Palestinian people.

 A PALESTINIAN uses a ladder to climb over a section of the separation barrier, near Ramallah in the West Bank. ‘I firmly believe that separation behind barbed wire fences and walls is an anti-peace move,’ says the writer. (photo credit: FLASH90)
A PALESTINIAN uses a ladder to climb over a section of the separation barrier, near Ramallah in the West Bank. ‘I firmly believe that separation behind barbed wire fences and walls is an anti-peace move,’ says the writer.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

People ask me why, after supporting the two-state solution my whole life, I now say that it is probably not viable anymore. I will explain my conclusion and also what might be possible, and even desirable, as a solution to our conflict. 

Physically, the settler movement has won. The wide spread of Israeli settlements, the deepening of the settlements’ infrastructure throughout the West Bank, the reality that up to 100,000 settlers live in settlements east of previously proposed borders between Israel and Palestine, and the fact that those settlers in the heart of the West Bank are the most ideological, right-wing religious settlers, makes the possibility of moving them out next to impossible.

The two-state solution model negotiated since Camp David in July 2000 was predicated on the idea of territorial swaps, whereby Israel would annex 4-6% of the West Bank in exchange for land on the Israeli side of the Green Line. This proposal would have included 75-80% of the settlers living in areas that would be recognized as Israeli sovereign territory.

The settlers on the other side, within Palestinian sovereign territory, would either move into the annexed lands or come back to Israel proper, according to the proposal. According to the Oslo paradigm, Israeli settlers would not be left behind in the Palestinian state. No government of Israel can force 75,000 to 80,000 settlers to leave their homes. This will never happen.

Furthermore, it’s quite impossible to separate the Palestinian cities and towns from Israeli settler control. Area C, which is fully controlled by Israel since Oslo, is 62% of the West Bank.

 Israeli soldiers guard in the area where Palestinian carried out a shooting attack last night south of Hebron, in the West Bank on September 16, 2022 (credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90) Israeli soldiers guard in the area where Palestinian carried out a shooting attack last night south of Hebron, in the West Bank on September 16, 2022 (credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)

What concepts are being dealt with?

Conceptually #1: The original concept of the Oslo process was to build cross-boundary Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. I counted 26 joint Israeli Palestinian committees and commissions that were created by the agreements, by the time we reached permanent status negotiations in 2000. Rather than trust being built, mistrust developed between the two sides, which led to the concept of “us here, and them there” and has since become the paradigm of relations.

The Second Intifada led to the building of the separation barrier and the disengagement from Gaza. Then the election of Hamas in 2006 cemented the conceptual framework of full separation and no contact. Even the staunchest supporters of the two-state solution envision it as full separation, even calling it divorce.

I firmly believe that separation behind barbed wire fences and walls is an anti-peace move. Peace must be based on contact and cooperation. Rather than ringing the bells of separation, those interested in peace should be laying the foundations for building bridges, and not higher walls and stronger fences.

There is almost no contact between Israelis and Palestinians today. Fewer Israelis and Palestinians believe in the chance of peace and believe that there might be a partner for peace on the other side.

Conceptually #2: The young generation of Palestinians rejects the idea of a mini-state on 22% of historic Palestine, which is the size of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. It is clear that for almost all Palestinians, the entire land of Palestine is important to them. For Palestinians, Palestine is not only Nablus and Tulkarem, it is also Haifa, Ramle, and Lod – just as it is important to realize that for Jews the Land of Israel is not only the part of Israel within the Green Line.

When we read the Torah, the stories told did not take place on the beaches of Tel Aviv; they occurred on the hilltops and valleys of Judea and Samaria. All of the Land of Israel is important to the Jewish people and all of the Land of Palestine is important to the Palestinian people.

Dysfunctional governments

I expect on this there is full agreement between almost all Israelis and Palestinians. On both sides of the conflict, we have dysfunctional governments and dysfunctional political systems. In Israel, we are heading into the fifth round of elections with no clear and decisive winner; in Palestine, there is a broken, divided system with an 87-year-old president in his 17th year of a four-year term, and a Hamas government in Gaza that can’t even get along with the other Palestinian government in Ramallah. 

At the governmental level, there are no partners for peace – not in Israel and not in Palestine – and no such partners in the political gallery of either side. While the majority of Israelis and Palestinians may tell themselves that they want peace, the majority on both sides point the blaming finger at the other side. The everyday reality on the ground, on both sides, proves that there is no partner for peace now or in the foreseeable future.

Principles for peace

The basic idea of two states for two peoples is still the best proposal for providing both sides with the possibility of achieving self-determination. The basic idea of two states along the June 4, 1967 borders is the framework, but as opposed to the Oslo process, there should be no territorial swaps and the Green Line should be the border.

In order for this to work, we have to accept the idea that there can be citizens and non-citizen residents in both states. No one should be forced to leave their home in order to have peace. Jews can live in the Palestinian state as residents of Palestine and citizens of Israel. Palestinians who are already citizens of Israel can hold dual citizenship if they wish and Palestinian refugees who want to live in the State of Israel should be able to do so as citizens of Palestine and residents of Israel. 

The border between Israel and Palestine will be permeable, and cooperation between the two states is the basis of success. Jerusalem would be one open city serving as the capital of both states, and the border line in Jerusalem is the Green Line. 

There can be special agreed arrangements in Jerusalem, particularly in the Old City. The holy places should be managed under an agreed arrangement of concerned parties – such as Israel, Palestine, Jordan, perhaps Saudi Arabia, perhaps Morocco and perhaps the US.

Freedom of worship and mutual respect for the sanctity of the holy places for all must be our guiding principle. The most basic premise for making this happen is that we all – Israelis and Palestinians – need security. This arrangement could remove most of the spoilers who have resorted to violence. 

This is a model called “A Land for All” (previously called “Two States, One Homeland”) and it most closely reflects my values and principles.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He now directs The Holy Land Bond.