Borderline Views: The viability of the two-state solution

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 settlement.

Bennett in Indonesia 370 (photo credit: Courtesy- Economy and Trade Ministry)
Bennett in Indonesia 370
(photo credit: Courtesy- Economy and Trade Ministry)
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.
As 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.
The two-state 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 settlement.
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 issue.
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 agreement through.
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 relations.
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 part.
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.
The 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.