Why is support for a two-state solution declining? - opinion

Palestinians demand from Israel recognition of their right to national self-determination, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge the corresponding right of Jewish people.

 PRIME MINISTER Yitzhak Rabin shakes hands with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, as US president Bill Clinton looks on at the White House at the signing of the Oslo I Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993. (photo credit: GARY HERSHORN/REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Yitzhak Rabin shakes hands with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, as US president Bill Clinton looks on at the White House at the signing of the Oslo I Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993.
(photo credit: GARY HERSHORN/REUTERS)

For many in the international community, the solution is straightforward: the Palestinians justifiably demand their freedom and independence, and to achieve peace Israel needs to end the occupation, take down the settlements, and agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state more or less on the 1967 lines. This is the internationally accepted two-state formula that promises a better future, but despite this seeming global consensus, Israelis, it appears, are not buying it.

Polling done by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) shows that support among Jewish Israelis for a two-state solution is in decline. In the decade from 2006 to 2016 that support dropped from 71% to 59%, and results for 2020 were down to 53%. When INSS releases this year’s numbers they are expected to show that for the first time this century, only a minority of Jewish Israelis back the creation of a Palestinian state.

The INSS data deal with a generic two-state scenario that includes those Israelis who seek an outcome along the lines of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” containing numerous elements favorable to Israel absent from the accepted international formula. Polls referencing a withdrawal to the 1967 lines and the removal of settlements would show public support plummet.

The INSS data also indicate that most of those Israeli Jews who still hope for a theoretical two-state peace deal don’t believe it will materialize anytime soon. Possibly this is because such ideas have already been experimented with, and so far, the results have been far from encouraging.

Ariel Sharon’s disengagement contained many ingredients taken from the international formula, and accordingly, it drew widespread global backing that was on display during Sharon’s post-pullout September 2005 UN visit, when world leaders lined up to have their photograph taken with the “warrior turned peacemaker.”

 Visitors walk by the water tower on the ruins of the evacuated settlement of Homesh on August 27, 2019. Homesh was one of four West Bank settlements that Israel evacuated during the disengagement. (credit: HILLEL MAEIR/FLASH90) Visitors walk by the water tower on the ruins of the evacuated settlement of Homesh on August 27, 2019. Homesh was one of four West Bank settlements that Israel evacuated during the disengagement. (credit: HILLEL MAEIR/FLASH90)

Disengagement was supposed to lead to a more secure and peaceful future, the logic of the international formula dictating a positive outcome. For if only Israel ended its military occupation, removed all the 21 Gaza settlements and withdrew to the 1967 lines, then of all Israel’s frontiers, the Gaza perimeter surely should have become the most tranquil.

But Israel’s four Gaza military operations since disengagement – Cast Lead (2008–09), Pillar of Defense (2012), Protective Edge (2014) and Guardian of the Walls (2021) – all tell a very different story.

Conventional wisdom also contains a significant analytical weakness that has received greater attention in recent years: if ending the occupation that began in 1967 supposedly brings an end to the conflict, one must logically presume that in the absence of that occupation, as was the situation prior to 1967, peace must have prevailed.

This was obviously not the case. It would have been a surprise for the seven Arab armies that attacked Israel at birth in May 1948, for Yasser Arafat who founded Fatah in October 1959 with the goal of eliminating (pre-1967) Israel, and for Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser whose aggressive actions against Israel in May 1967 led to the Six Day War.

So the accepted international formula, by focusing solely on the post-1967 realities, ignores the essential core of the conflict that predates Israel’s control over the West Bank by at least half a century.

Peace process experts Hussein Agha and Robert Malley (both sympathetic to Palestinian national aspirations) wrote in 2009 that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will demand “looking past the occupation to the questions born in 1948,” and called for addressing the root causes of conflict, including “Arab rejection of the newborn Jewish state.”

The relevance of such an approach was demonstrated over the summer in an under-reported speech given by the Palestinian president. Speaking in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas said that the “Zionist narrative falsifies truth and history, all documents and research confirm it to be a product of colonialism, which planned and worked to implant Israel as a foreign body in order to fragment this region and keep it weak.”

In the words of the Fatah leader, Israel was built on mendacity, created by imperialism, the purpose being to dismember the Arab world. Furthermore, and still surprising for many, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority continues to deny Jewish peoplehood and the authenticity of the Jews’ connection to their homeland, rejecting the very concept of a Jewish state, whatever the borders.

In his famous 2009 Bar-Ilan University address, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as an indispensable ingredient in any future peace, arguing that “the Palestinian leadership must arise and say: ‘Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own.’”

Of course, Netanyahu has been accused of deliberately creating obstacles to peace.

Unlike the Likud prime minister, Tzipi Livni is “known for her efforts to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.” Yet in the lead-up to the November 2007 Annapolis peace conference, she as foreign minister urged the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, seeing this as a vital prerequisite element in a genuine process of reconciliation.

The Palestinians refused to do so.

Herein lies the fundamental contradiction: Palestinians demand from Israel recognition of their right to national self-determination, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge the corresponding right of Jewish people.

Palestinians counter that they accepted Israel in 1993 as part of Oslo when the sides exchanged mutual letters of recognition, and that should suffice. But acknowledging Israel as a fact is no substitute for affording it legitimacy. (Iran recognizes Israel as fact, like cancer is a fact, a cancer that must be removed.)

Ultimately, if the Jewish state remains fundamentally illegitimate in the eyes of our Palestinian neighbors, what sort of peace are they offering us?

When Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert adopted proposals that dealt with the post-’67 issues in a highly forthcoming manner, even accepting the redivision of Jerusalem, it was never enough for the Palestinian leadership. If the heart of the dispute is 1948 and not 1967, it really does not matter how flexible Israel is in the negotiations, how acquiescent our proposal on final borders, or how many settlements we offer to uproot. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, for Palestinians, the real problem is not Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim, but Herzliya and Ra’anana.

Perhaps the international community needs to appreciate its accepted formula is more convention than wisdom.

The writer, formerly an adviser to the prime minister, is a senior visiting fellow at the INSS. Follow him at @MarkRegev on Twitter.