30. Israel/Palestine: Is The Two-State Solution Dead?

The recent war has broadened the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians, reinforcing the opponents of compromise on both sides. But even before this, prospects for a negotiated two-state solution seemed dismal. Is it time to move on to other frameworks?

No. Not because the critics of the two-state solution are wrong, but because the problems of an undivided Palestine are even more intractable.

This column has dealt before (Perspective No. 9) with the fantasies of the various one-state alternatives. Both Hamas and the far right in Israel favor a single state, differing only on which party would be dominant. That is a recipe for endless war.

As argued before, the only one-state framework with at least a theoretical chance of success would be a binational state with shared powers. But with two or three exceptions, the history of such states is abysmal. And neither Israeli Jews or Palestinian Arabs will in the end abandon the visions of independence and national self-determination for which each have struggled for almost a century and a half.

And whose "right of return" would prevail? Would Zionists give up on what drove their movement's founding: the right to a homeland where any Jew could find refuge? Would displaced Palestinians surrender the basic demand that has guided their political life since 1948?

There is good reason why no major political group on either side has adopted the model of a binational state as its basic program.

There is also good reason why the two-state model has been the focus in all serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the last thirty years.

The obstacles to redividing Palestine are, indeed, enormous. A one-state reality with Jewish domination is being created. In the best case Palestinians would be reduced to the West Bank and Gaza, about 22 percent of the land, but in the West Bank there are now more than 400,000 Israeli Jewish settlers (not including East Jerusalem).

Is this reversible? Historically there have been larger entangled populations that have been disentangled, albeit with great suffering (see Perspective No. 21). Negotiators in talks since the turn of the century have worked with the idea of moving existing armistice lines to incorporate most of the settlers (up to 80 percent) inside Israel, with territorial compensation to the Palestinian state elsewhere. But this becomes increasingly difficult to map out as time passes and settlements grow.

But difficult as it may be, it is still the only real alternative to a future of no agreed solution, but of continuing violence until either one side submits to being dominated or a majority of both agree to coexist separately and independently. The former is a fantasy, while the latter is at least conceivable.

Winston Churchill once observed: "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

The two-state solution may or may not be attainable, but it is clearly better than others that have been -- or might be -- tried from time to time.