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The only two-state solution that might work

The U.S. and Israel want to limit Palestinian sovereignty, to demilitarize their state, to prevent a Palestinian return and to implement any agreement in stages. But in order for the two-state solution to have a chance at working, they need to do the exact opposite. 

[Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com]

The deadlock in the peace talks has generated another American diplomatic push, one that seems like the first stage in the administration’s proposal for a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (or, more accurately, the Ramallah-based half of the Palestinian Authority). According to reports, the American team led by Secretary of State John Kerry put forward a proposal for security measures that would address some of Israel’s concerns regarding a withdrawal from the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to discuss the future borders of the Palestinian state in public, and leaks from the talks suggest that Israel will only discuss the territorial aspects of an agreement after the security aspects are resolved. The American proposal is designed to tackle this new hurdle or at least prepare the ground for a full American two-state proposal.

As I’ve written here in the past, I remain a sceptic regarding the administration’s ability to promote a real agreement, mainly due to the strategic decision by Israel to hold on to the status quo, along with an American reluctance to confront Jerusalem. As long as the administration is not willing to push Israel out of its comfort zone, the only available course of action would be to force the PA to move toward Israel’s position.

So far, this has been the American approach. Kerry backed Netanyahu’s refusal to enter talks based on the terms of reference agreed upon in previous rounds, and instead forced the Palestinians to “negotiate without preconditions.” Now, it seems the U.S. is gradually moving toward two other Israeli demands: maintaining an Israeli presence on the Jordan River for several years, and recognizing Israel “as a Jewish state.”

According to some reports, the Palestinian Authority rejected the American security arrangements proposal. As a result, the Maariv daily reported today, the Obama administration might allow Israel to postpone the coming prisoner release – the very gesture that was promised to the Palestinians in exchange for abandoning all other demands when entering talks.

If the Washington applies enough pressure, I believe it could get the Palestinian Authority to agree to Israel’s terms. Ultimately, the Palestinians simply don’t have much leverage in the diplomatic process and the PA is completely dependent on the U.S. for any political achievement. The only real threat Abbas could make is to resign and dismantle the Authority, and that is a high-risk, no-turning-back kind of act that could have devastating effects on the Palestinians living in the West Bank.

In the longer run, however, imposing on the Palestinians an agreement tailored to suit the political needs of Israel’s leadership is a recipe for disaster. It basically means repeating all the mistakes of the Oslo process. Back then, for pretty much the same reasons – Israeli politics, Israeli fears – the settlements were excluded from the interim agreement, undefined military zones were left in the West Bank (Netanyahu famously boosted that this was the loophole that helped him torpedo Oslo); and the implementation phase was prolonged in a way that allowed the opposition on both sides to organize, gain momentum and ultimately derail the entire process. Sometimes I think the negotiators are determined to repeat the same mistakes.

* * *

Settling for an implementation in stages and accepting fierce Israeli security measures intuitively seems like the right way to go (since trust needs to be built, fear needs to be overcome, and so on), but I propose the opposite idea: If the two state solution has any chance of succeeding in the current geo-political environment – and that’s a big “if” – it needs to be a swift and extremely generous process (towards the Palestinian side).

For starters, such a solution should completely abandon the “zero-sum game” attitude which currently dominates the talks – according to which any gain for one side is a loss for the other. In fact, the more the Palestinians gain from the agreement, the greater their interest in it becomes, and the more isolated those rejecting it will be. The opposite of Oslo.

If Israel, for example, maintains an army presence on the Jordan border or anywhere inside the Palestinian state – even on a temporary basis – any Palestinian political force with a grudge will make this presence the object of his campaign. There will be political attacks, and then there will be physical attacks. For the same reason all Palestinian prisoners need to be released; keeping them in Israeli prisons will create a political time bomb and an on-going sense of resentment.

If the Palestinian Authority doesn’t control its borders or airspace, or if it needs to give up valuable land in the north and around Jerusalem for the settlements and get desert hills in return – in the spirit of some of the recent land swaps maps – the whole idea of statehood becomes meaningless to the average Palestinian. A chair at the UN, after all, is not the object of the Palestinian national struggle. Freedom and dignity are.

I am not a big fan of the security oriented debate since I think it has become a way for Israeli society to avoid making political choices. It should be clear, however, that a strong central government on the Palestinian side is a precondition for making any security arrangement work. The weaker Israel makes Ramallah (which should become Jerusalem), the less capable it is of being accountable for violations. If the Palestinians have no air space and no armed vehicles, they won’t be able to operate as an effective state. And ineffective states are where terrorism grows.

Giving armored vehicles or helicopters to a Palestinian state will not pose a security threat to Israel. The Israeli army has proved time and again that dealing with conventional weapon systems is extremely easy, due to its technological superiority and unique firepower. Much like Hezbollah’s strategic, long-range missiles, a Palestinian tank that fires on Israeli targets won’t survive 10 minutes. The challenge for Israel is the single person with a grudge or the committed underground cell. You want a Palestinian state? Allow it to have tanks. Otherwise you won’t have a state and you won’t have security; you will have something else.

Finally, there can not be a stable agreement without addressing the refugee problem. Even advocates of the two-state solution don’t want to turn 7 million refugees into opponents of the agreement, that is on top of the opposition to it in the OPT. Here also, the generous approach (in Israeli political terms) is the only approach. Israel should allow in hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and compensate and help resettle the others (this is where the Arab world and the international community, which owes a lot to the Palestinians, could help).

I usually don’t use demographic arguments either, but since those have become an inherent part of the two-state conversation, it should be noted that they don’t stand in the way of a substantial return. If a real two-state solution is to take place, Israel will “lose” 250,000 Palestinian residents and citizens in East Jerusalem, which means that accepting as many as 500,000 Palestinian refugees would have resulted in a rise of 250,000 people in the total number of Palestinian citizens in Israel, or an equivalent of 3.1 percent of the whole population. A lot, but in the context of a real final status agreement, it’s not that much. I actually think that we could take many more.

This maximalist approach is, in my opinion, the only way to reach an agreement that is not simply imposed on one side – or worse, implemented through a puppet regime – but has a chance of actually working. As for the ideas being discussed now, history has taught us that a bad agreement can be much worse that no agreement at all.

A pro-Israel hawk to draft Kerry’s peace plan?
Don’t cheer these peace talks
The Israeli negotiator who thinks the two-state solution is still possible

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    1. Philos

      Thanks Noam. Interesting analysis, however, “peace” is simply not possible because the Israeli public isn’t prepared for it. I would like to draw your attention to the reaction of politicians, pundits and ordinary people to the Bedouin waving Palestinian flags. If the very expression of any kind of Palestinian nationality (such as flag waving) is regarded as beyond the pale for Palestinian citizens of this country then what hope is there of creating a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories? The fact that the Palestinian flag is viewed as akin to treason, support the killing of Jews and the destruction of the State of Israel then how on earth is any Israeli leader going to sign a peace treaty for a Palestinian state? It will be worse than the peace with Egypt or Jordan. A worthless peace of the ruling classes that benefits only the defense budget. To reiterate my point, if the majority of the Israeli mainstream can not even tolerate the sight of a Palestinian flag, if they regard it as an inherent symbol of hostility, then any “peace process” is pointless. The fact that “Zionist leftist” cretins like Yariv Oppenheimer have begun to use the rhetoric of separation and “us here, them over there” ought to signify that there will be no peace. If Peace Now is even incapable of educating towards peaceful coexistence then it is both a futile and immoral endeavor.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Yaron

      Well, the utter rejection of having any Jews living on Palestinian soil, makes it even harder to imagine that the Palestinians are ‘prepared for peace,’ which is doubtful anyway, since they have been educated to utterly hate Jews for generations. I have not the faintest illusion of two people living in harmony, not so much because of the mentality of Israel and its inhabitants, but of the mentality of the Palestinians. Personally, I would be happy for half a million or so Pals to be allowed into Israel and I would even donate to rebuild some of their villages but I wonder if they are willing to live in peace with the Jews. Basically, it is this Palestinian mentality of permanent rejection and extreme disgust of Jews that is the seed of what we reap today and what gives Israel’s leaders enough reason to have their doubts and raise their demands.

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      • Philos

        Yaron, and we educate our children to love and accept the Arabs? There are children in this country who have never met an Arab but hate and fear them. Even when their parents do not educate them like that at home they get it at the school and on the media. I was taught all Palestinians are liars. I was told that they make up stories of atrocities because they hate us so much. You can imagine my surprise when I was sent to the West Bank in 2001 as a soldier. Until then I never met an Arab. Well, apart from the Druze but I was “taught” that they were not really Arabs. Anyway, Palestinians meet Jews all the time. Unfortunately they’re armed, uniformed, teenagers commanded by psychopathic late twenty-something’s and corrupt fat men in their 40s who like molesting young girls in their charge. I can understand why they don’t want to live with us. I don’t understand why I was educated to hate them and why, when 1 in 5 citizens are Arabs, I never met one until I was at a checkpoint.

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        • Yaron

          Philos, your and my observation don’t rule out one another. But there is a difference between an aversion that stems from fear of war and terrorism and a hatred of people that actively support the expulsion of that other people which is the basis of their endeavor to make war and commit terror. Let’s not fool ourselves. The main cause of their suffering is not the behavior of the IDF in the WB, it is their constant refusal to accept and live together with Jews, driven by an ideological xenophobic zest that cannot be ignored.
          Any discrimination is wrong, so why do we only constantly judge ourselves and not the party that we are supposed to make peace with?

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    3. For those who haven´t smelt the thing yet: Netanyahu´s hard core Zionist government (and its backers) still dream of the “Transfer” (the “ethnic cleansing” of the Westbank). They provoke the Palestinians by unaccebtable conditions. At the same time they want the Region in flames as the pretext to “sell” the expulsion of the Palestinians to Western societies as “absolutely necessary” for Israel´s survival. For that end they also want the Iran attack and a full scale war on Syria. They always gainded from big wars (more or less).
      At times Israel´s dominating political class appears as the true clone of (old) Germany. They should learn from History!
      Andreas Schlüter
      Berlin, Germany

      Reply to Comment
    4. I would too expect attacks on IDF within Palestinian “territory,” partly as an attack on the new state itself; response of the IDF will ultimately curtail the nascent state’s authority, as the IDF will be self immune from any collateral damage, creating resentment and highlighting the new state as collaborator.

      Suicide bombing works similarly. Bombings provoke blanket responses hitting well beyond the bombing group, which can harm that group’s national enemies as well as generate more support for the group through resentment. Similarly, old style guerrilla groups would retreat into populated areas in hope of pursuit; there were tactical manuals advocating this. The only way out for the victim state is to initially endure the attacks, hoping social development will retard them (which might have been Rabin’s reasoning at first) or a total destruction/control response, as in Sri Lanka or the Israeli occupation post 2000-6 bombings, the latter also relying on the PA to target cells, potential and real.

      But a zero tolerance direct response to suicide bombing heightens the perceived risk of such an attack; devolving some response to a new State similarly heightens the possible ineffectuality of such a response and opens the possibility of clandestine support with the State for attacks. As you, I do not think the new State’s military would be seen as much of a problem; it is, rather, terrorist networks, real or not, which frame risk.

      Unless one is willing to accept that some bombings may occur and that, initially, reply must be limited and largely under control of one’s former adversary, I cannot see a Two State agreement, and Gaza rockets portend failure of any internal control by example.

      Gaza analogy reflects standard Israeli perception. Hamas is responsible for rockets no matter the conditions imposed on Gaza, which effectively says there is no cause of rocket fire beyond hate. So too with suicide bombing: there is no cause save for hate and ideology, which means what you propose will fail internally. I do not believe this; but I do think your proposal is a gamble in terms of realized bombings, not sure bet against.

      Apart from Gaza exclusion and the bizarre idea of new land attached to that refusing entity, framing East Jerusalem as a net loss of 250,000 Palestinians, so permitting a costless return of the same number elsewhere, fails to acknowledge the segregation of East Jerusalemites presently, in contrast to the infusion of refugees into Israel; of course, since there is no racism in Israel this shouldn’t be a problem. Further, there are economic opportunities for Israelis in East Jerusalem (if nothing else, taking the land from present residents); not so with an infusion into the State proper.

      I think your argument plausible. But this may be a case where democracy prevents assumption of the necessary risk (Bennett’s insistence that any accord be subject to referendum, highlighting risk in campaign), while a dictatorial regime might be better able to pull it off.

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    5. The argument against the zero-sum is absolutely right, but doesn’t sit comfortably or convincingly with geographic re-partition. It is however the argument par-excellence for a single state with full right of return, full use by all of any part of the country and rapid integration at all levels and ranks into a re-booted state machine. The demography (as far as it can ever be calculated given also a million yordim etc), at something approaching parity is perfect for an equality-based state. They managed it in South Africa with a much harder balance: in somewhere that might be called New Palestine (the geographic original Palestine plus a new political reality) demographic parity would be a really easy start-line, allowing for relaxed cross-voting on politics rather than ethnicity.

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    6. Fred

      After the agreement outlined by Sheisaf, the radicals will take over the new Palestine.

      Then they will get weapons from Iran, forcing Israel to either acquiesce or intervene. This is not peace.

      Preventing the radicals from taking over makes the new Palestine a client state of Israel or the US. The “Puppet” that Sheisaf is concerned about. So the choice is puppet or war.

      Which radicals?
      Hamas, Hezbollah, Tanzim, PLO, or whoever turns out to be running Syria. Quite a list.

      Israel has withdrawn from territory in Gaza, in Egypt, and in Lebanon. Two out of three turn out to be violent neighbors who have to be suppressed with warfare. Egypt is still keeping their treaty. It would be foolish to believe that withdrawal will lead to peace.

      Nobody argues that a new Palestinian State will lead to peace, they just assume it.

      The Peace we are looking for does not exist. The best Israel can do is thrive under pressure. As it has been.

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    7. Amro

      @ Yaron

      You want a Jewish presence in the WB? Fine. Integrate the WB into Israel proper and give Palestinians the same rights as Israeli citizens. But then we have that ‘demographic problem’ right? Alternatively, Jews living in the WB should be citizens of a fledgling Palestinian state. You can’t have it both ways.

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      • Yaron

        I did not write that. I really don’t care who lives in the WB. As far as I am concerned anyone should be able to live anywhere, as long as they behave themselves. Anyway, the PA already foretold that they will not accept any Jews in their future state. Will that be because they don’t want to be reminded of them being bullied by the IDF, or is there a deeper more ideological reason? You ask if Israel will have to annex the WB? You don’t seem to be interested in the question if the Arabs are supporting that idea as they will be forced to live in a state with at least half of the population being Jewish.

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    8. Aaron Gross

      If you’re right about this – “a strong central government on the Palestinian side is a precondition for making any security arrangement work” – then there’s no chance for your idea to work. There just isn’t going to be a strong Palestinian state, no matter what the details of an agreement. Most likely, it will be a client state of Iran. If not, then it will just be a state in name only, like Lebanon. In either case, the power will be in the hands of non-state militias, most likely Iranian-supported, such as Hamas.

      Of course the Palestinian state will be at peace with Israel and will condemn the attacks launched by the militias. But legally and politically, Israel will face the same problems it faced with Hezbollah attacks from sovereign Lebanese territory. The territory and most of the IDF’s potential targets will all belong to the sovereign state.

      Some sentimentalists on the left assume a peace agreement that will actually disarm anti-Israel militias in Palestine. You seem too realistic to assume such a thing. And it’s exactly the lack of a strong Palestinian state, even in your maximalist scenario, that will make a cessation of violence unlikely after a peace agreement.

      All of this is assuming that Iran is not a party to the peace agreement. If it would be, as part of some historic agreement between Iran and the US to carve up the Middle East into spheres of influence, then a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine might work. Iran would then provide the security, the control over militias, that a Palestinian could not provide even if it wanted to. But that scenario’s even more far-fetched.

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      • So we move from Gaza and Hamas to Lebanon to Iran, all engines of attacks on bombings. This is why One State is inevitable, employing a bantu PA as long as it lasts. The perceived security needs of Israel make an insulated Palestinian state impossible. Occupation will persist, eliding into a three category population of one state: Jewish and some Arab Israeli citizens, a remnant set of Arab Israelis, and West Bank Palestinians, as many farmed to a bantu entity as possible, for as long as possible.

        I say none of this with glee. This just seems where the logic leads.

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        • Aaron Gross

          Greg, I think your premise that “[t]he perceived security needs of Israel make an insulated Palestinian state impossible” is true in the short term but might not be true in the long term. I still think it’s possible that Palestinians (Hamas, etc.) will, maybe a couple decades from now, accept the existence of the State of Israel inside of Palestine. If that ever happens, then the perceived security needs of Israel will in fact allow an insulated Palestinian state.

          But again, the question is where Iran will be. It’s pretty funny the way the peace processors speak as if Iran didn’t exist – or if they do acknowledge Iran’s existence, they might talk (“linkage”) about how Israel/Palestine influences US/Iran, but never the opposite. One of the big questions we should always be asking the peace processors is, “What will Iran be doing, during and after the implementation of your plan, with respect to the Palestinian state and Palestinian and Lebanese militias?”

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          • Well, Aaron, a perceived threat is not necessarily a real threat; but once a perception dominates politics, it takes on an equilibrium, hard to dislodge, especially when non-events (no bombings) are used to confirm it. Non-events can be important in inference; inoculations are urged based partly on the non-event of no epidemic. But a non-event need not imply some policy has prevented it; nor that, over time, other processes have become more responsible for the absence of the event. My own guess is that indeed brutal IDF intervention, including the constructed Wall, plus belated PA security assistance (arresting network suspects and more) stopped the bombings. But the Wall is unfinished, with several thousand people migrating this boarder daily, yet no bombing has been. I think social forces have emerged retarding such network activation (surely some are still out there); I do not think everything is direct IDF deterrence. But, then, I want to see the Palestinians as proactive, not just ever reactive to the IDF.

            You say 10 or 20 years from now these people will be ready to accept Israel. That is another generation matured, basically, another generation subject to the constraints of the IDF and Israel generally. Many stories have formed, and will form, over what the IDF does to specific people. These stories will not favor Israel. I think most West Bankers want all this to go away, for their socio-economy has to navigate the occupation. I don’t think most root for more bombings, nor really know how to envision the removal of Israel.

            If you want to prepare for a decade or two from now, then stop the true stories against the IDF by changing micro IDF behavior. The Yesh Din posts on this site are a way to start. Prevent individual abuses of person and property; arrest those damaging property; allow redress for exact wrongs done; don’t let the surely naive and young soldiers just walk away unpunished; and charge their direct oversight as well for not training them properly. Let the residents know you think of them as people trying to get by in life, that you know when a wrong has occurred.

            Because perception dominates, I see the occupation as inevitable for some time. Even so, the tools are there, in the advanced society and command structure of the IDF, to prepare for a time when perhaps a separation into two States is possible.

            Starting this now gives up no occupied territory. It endangers no soldiers, really. Nor does it harm security. But you will indeed have to take these young soldiers and reprimand them, which, given the Israeli view that they are contributing their young years to a hazardous situation, will cause political backlash. But as it is you are indulging these young people when they lash out in learned hatred, disgust, laughter. They need to be told that with power comes humility. I don’t know–could Israel do this? Would the public see the reason, need? It is your land, not mine.

            There is yet another difficulty in the wait a decade or two strategy. What of expanding settlements? How many more in 10, 20 years, at what total population and resource use? How many times will the vanguard settlers, often illegal in Israeli law, abuse or destroy property, or slowly push prior residents yet further out? Do you think that this accumulated behavior portends eventual acceptance of Israel among these residents? Here too Israel needs to account for itself–for the longer term. You keep the occupation; make it more civil, import law, for the longer term.

            I do not support the continuance of occupation; I just see it as inevitable, but hope dearly that the US will make magic these next months. It seems to me that either the eventual integration of the occupied into some sort of Israeli federation or a truly independent State require these changes in occupation, slowly, but with resolve as they appear and are legally verified. I also think the dignity of Israel demands it.

            On Iran proper, all I can say is that I have read that Jordan wants the IDF at its border too. Israel, Jordan, even Abbas, all fear the same thing. The problem is that the IDF suffers no cost for its mistakes and soldier induced harm. That has to change. In Hebron, one wonders how. Elsewhere, however, I think the path pretty clear; Yesh Din points the way. Do you want to take it, or wait until residents have been humbled so long that they will beg to conform to all your words? Would you conform, experiencing their lives?

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    9. Tomer

      In my opinion, this conflict will drag for many generations until its resolution. However, in the end – probably in 100 or 200 years time, the Jewish population will expand and drive the Arabs out of Yesha. We can see the Jewish fertility already greater than Yesha’s Arab fertility – a paradigm unimaginable until recently.

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      • Average American

        Is there a philosophy or creed or guiding set of values that leads Israel to pursue the course of action you describe? “We’re going to do this because (what)?” or “We’re entitled to do this because (what)?”

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