Threats and Helpful Realities in a Two-State Solution

Threat: Settlement expansion could prevent the viability of a future Palestinian state

Over 630,000 Israelis now live beyond the 1967 lines in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — territory which the Palestinians claim for their future state. This population has doubled over the past 20 years, and the number of Israelis who would likely find themselves on the Palestinian side of an Israeli-Palestinian borders agreement now exceeds 100,000. The more this population grows, the more politically difficult it becomes for Israel to reach a compromise on borders and consider large-scale settler withdrawal. 

 

Helpful Reality: A border is still feasible

Although the Israeli population beyond the 1967 lines has grown, 75 percent still reside close to the lines in territory that would likely be annexed to Israel in a two-state agreement. This means that minor modifications to the lines could incorporate the vast majority within Israel's new borders while allowing for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. Additionally, Israelis in the West Bank remain integrated with Israel and largely separate from the Palestinians. Sixty percent of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines work in Israel proper, and most of their children attend school in Israel. The few hundred settlers who farm in the West Bank do so on only 1.5 percent of the land. Studies suggest that many Israelis moved to the West Bank due to economic incentives, and with proper compensation, approximately a third would relocate to the settlement blocs or Israel-proper. 

 

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Threat: Israelis and Palestinians are moving away from a two-state solution

The more the peace process stalls, the more both peoples appear to be giving up on a two-state solution. Most Israelis and Palestinians no longer believe that it will happen in their lifetime, and many do not believe it is still feasible. Decades of war, terrorism and military control have convinced them that the other side does not support a peaceful resolution. Compromises on core issues have grown less popular, especially among younger generations. The lack of hope has weakened moderates who promote compromise and empowered extremists who delegitimize the other side. More than ever, extremism and incitement threaten to transform the conflict from a clash of political narratives into a bloodier religious conflict.

 

Helpful Reality: The two-state solution is still far more popular than alternatives

Despite diminishing support, the two-state solution remains vastly more popular than any alternative. Most Israelis and Palestinians overwhelmingly prefer it to any “one-state solution” -- either a single binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians, or permanent control without voting rights for the other side. Polling shows that support for a two-state solution could increase dramatically if there were a credible peace process, support from Israeli and Palestinian leadership, and signs of good will from both sides. 

 

Israelis and Palestinians still have many incentives to reach a two-state agreement. At the basic level, most Israelis and Palestinians do not want to share the same geographic and political space. Creating a Palestinian state could better enable Israel to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy. In addition, Israel would have a greater opportunity to establish alliances with the Palestinians and Arab world and achieve international recognition of Israel’s new borders, which could incorporate most Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For the Palestinians, a two-state solution could bring an end to Israeli control of Palestinian life, establish a sovereign state with a capital in East Jerusalem, bring greater economic opportunity and finally resolve the Palestinian refugee situation. 

 

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Threat: The Palestinians are becoming less able to negotiate/implement an agreement 

The Palestinian leadership is unpopular among the Palestinian people and hasn’t held an election in over a decade. The Gaza Strip, which remains under the control of the terror organization Hamas, faces a dire humanitarian situation and has become increasingly isolated from the West Bank. Multiple efforts at reconciliation between the Palestinian factions have failed. 

 

Helpful Reality: Progress in the peace process could strengthen Palestinian moderates

Although the Palestinians continue to face serious internal challenges, polling indicates that the unpopularity of the Palestinian leadership stems from its inability to roll back Israeli control of Palestinian life (as well as corruption). Likewise, apart from some who support Hamas for religious reasons, most of the Palestinians who support Hamas do so largely because of the perception that Hamas is resisting Israeli control. By that logic, a negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian leadership which brought tangible benefits for the Palestinian people could potentially boost the Palestinian leadership and weaken Hamas. 

 

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Threat: If Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank, it could be replaced by something worse. 

Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip, the chaos of the Arab Spring, and the rise of violent Islamist groups in the Middle East all demonstrate that the long-term stability of an Israeli-Palestinian border cannot be taken for granted. If a Palestinian state were established, peace with Israel could be threatened if the Palestinian government were taken over by violent extremists, if a Palestinian government were incapable of or unwilling to prevent its citizens from attacking Israelis, or if the Palestinian state collapsed into civil war. 

 

Helpful Reality: A two-state solution would have a number of safeguards and could make Israelis and Palestinians more secure

Most within the Israeli defense establishment argue that a two-state solution presents an important security upgrade for Israel — establishing a more defensible and internationally-recognized border; creating a clear separation between Israelis and Palestinians; ending routine military patrols of Palestinian neighborhoods; and strengthening security relationships with the Palestinians, as well as the Gulf states through the Arab Peace Initiative. Meanwhile, American and Israeli officials have worked to develop safeguards that could address the most difficult security questions. For instance, Israeli military withdrawal would likely  be phased, contingent on Palestinian performance and the security situation on the ground. Palestinian police could be trained and equipped by the US for counter terror raids, with security coordination and intelligence sharing with Israel. Palestinian security on the border with Jordan could be augmented by a multinational force in the Jordan Valley and Israeli remote monitoring and early warning sensors. Israel’s own borders would be protected by its separation barrier with underground protection against infiltration. Lastly, a side agreement with the US could legitimize American support for Israeli unilateral intervention into the Palestinian state in cases of emergency. 

 

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Threat: Elements of Palestinian Society Incite Violence Against Israel

In the West Bank and even more-so in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Palestinian schools, media outlets, and cultural institutions include instances of dehumanizing rhetoric and celebration of violence against Israelis and the Jewish people. Some Palestinian streets are named for “martyrs” who killed Israeli civilians, and Palestinian officials frequently deny Jewish connection and claim to the land of Israel. The Israeli government draws a direct link between incitement and Palestinian terrorism, and has accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides education and services for Palestinian refugees, of promoting incitement in its education materials. Others counter that among Jewish Israelis, anti-Arab and Islamophobic rhetoric and violence is also a serious problem.

 

Helpful Reality

On this issue, there is little good news — anti-Jewish rhetoric and celebration of violence against Israelis persist within elements of Palestinian society. Still, there is some evidence of improvement. Although some language in Palestinian textbooks remain problematic, the UNRWA educational system has sought to remove political language and incitement from its curriculum. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given offensive remarks about the Holocaust, while also devoting his career to nonviolence. Abbas has called on Israel and the US to join him in reviving the Trilateral Commission against Incitement — which met in the late 1990s, and collapsed over disagreements about combating incitement in both Israeli and Palestinian society. Perhaps the only good news is that while mistrust between the two peoples is growing, the two-state solution remains far more popular than violence, and a peace agreement would likely create a more favorable dynamic on both sides. 

© 2018 by Is Peace Still Possible? a product of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

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