Israel-Palestine – Is a Two-State Solution Feasible?

(Photo: Sputnik News)

By Jacob Starr – Regular Contributor

My previous piece on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict closed with a significant, albeit abrupt and incomplete, conclusion that clashed with the case for a two-state solution, in favour of a one-state solution. This argument, however, is deserving of more comprehensive discussion, in order to comprehend the abundance of issues complicating this topic. A key component of my piece was a demonstration of how that Israeli government has systematically increased its control over the occupied Palestinian territories throughout the history of the conflict. Resultingly, there is already only one practically viable state, Israel, that has almost complete control. The concept of a Palestinian state alongside it may have been desirable, though historical and contemporary geopolitical realities dictate that it is no-longer feasible. 

To illustrate this dynamic, we must observe the nature of Israeli control over the occupied Palestinian territories. In the West bank, there has a been a persistent increase of settlement building since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, aggressively expanded during Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. These settlements are mainly situated in Area C, an administrative area comprising 61% of the West Bank which Israel has almost unilateral political and military control over. Moreover, Israel has crippling control over the movement of Palestinians, with a series of checkpoints and roadblocks, while the Israeli West Bank barrier physically divides Palestinian communities from each other. These issues are perpetuated by the control of Palestinian arable land and water resources by Israel. Meanwhile, Israel maintains a land and naval blockade of Gaza, with direct control over the movement of people and supplies across the border.  

Palestinians have greater jurisdiction within Gaza and Areas A and B of the West Bank, though this resembles a patchwork rather than the basis of a future Palestinian state. Conceptually, there is partial justification that a Palestinian state could be desirable. Despite this, given the aforementioned reality, it is somewhat utopic to envision a successful and peaceful Palestinian state coexisting alongside the Israeli state. We must found our principles of political transformation on how the world currently is, not what we most desire it to be. Approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through this lens results in an inevitable conclusion, that the solution lies in the reformation of a single state though opposition to the existing institutions of Israeli oppression, rather than the establishment of a Palestinian state against the constraints of Israeli domination.

The prospect of a two-state solution is further complicated by a series of obstacles. Firstly, consider the geographical logistics. Assuming that a theoretical Palestinian state would encompass Gaza and the entirety of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, under the pre-1967 borders, the Palestinian territories would be geographically separated by the State of Israel. This issue contributed to the failure of the 1947 UN partition plan, and still remains a logistical impediment to a two-state solution. The lack of geographically continuity would likely limit the success of the Palestinian state, especially since relations with the State of Israel, separating the regions, would still be tarnished by decades of conflict. Equally challenging would be the division of Jerusalem. Divided cities rarely facilitate peaceful social relations or successful economies, exemplified by Cold War Berlin or modern-day Nicosia. Furthermore, under these borders, Jerusalem’s Old City would fall under Palestinian control, instigating the potential of limitations on access to holy sites for Israeli citizens.

Secondly, as a major geopolitical force in the region, Israel would undoubtedly seek to maintain greater militarily and financial control over any Palestinian state. Though military superiority, the State of Israel is able to monopolise control over resources in Palestine. As such, an independent Palestinian state would lack true autonomy, as Israel could effectively retain its position as an imperialist power over Palestine, striving to extract wealth from newly established state in similar fashion to Britain and France over their former colonies. This highlights a significant issue, that any adoption of a two-state solution, even if desirable, would not result from negation with the Israel government, as a truly independent Palestine would require a considerable reduction in the power of the State of Israel. Realistically, a reformed single state is substantially more achievable than the fantasy of a peaceful two-state solution. 

Equally, the demographics of Israel and the Palestinian territories pose additional challenges to a two-state solution. 21% of Israel’s population (1.9 million people) are non-Jewish Arabs, while 13% of the Palestinian Territories’ population (600,000 people) are Jewish. Consequently, under a two-state solution 2.5 million people would live in the state not designated to their ethnic group. It would be deplorable to coerce these populations into relocation. However, there would simultaneously be challenges to them remaining, as the discrimination against Israel’s Arab population would have a tendency to persist, whilst antisemitism within Palestinian Authority would threaten Jewish communities. Unpleasant parallels can be drawn with the 1947 partition of India. This dynamic illuminates upon the more general issue of ethic-based or religious-based nation states.

This is a more fundamental issue with a two-state solution. Speaking more generally, it is frankly unfeasible to assign a sovereign state to every ethnicity, given the complexity of ethnicity globally. Are we to dived Russia, Nigeria and Indonesia along their complex ethnic lines? Further, what justification is there for supporting a Palestinian or Israeli ethnic state, while denying the same accolade to the Catalans or Kurds? Admittedly, the historical experience of the Jewish people is unique, although there is little rationale that a state accommodating the safety of Jewish people is obliged to be overwhelmingly Jewish. More importantly, the establishment of the State of Israel as a majority Jewish state has failed to provide a solution to antisemitism.

More alarmingly, ethnic states naturally facilitate nationalist intertest. Nationalist groups and ideologies instinctively take control state institutions, whether they are democratic or not, and ignite conflict against other states, so elite classes of such ethnic states can obtain greater resources. It is plausible to envision future Israeli and Palestinian leaders engaging in further conflict under this reasoning. To contemplate this possibility, we can consider the destructive result of the breakup of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines, or the recently revitalised conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan after their independence from the Soviet Union. Crucially, in facilitating such conflict, ethnic-based states divide people based on nationality, rather than the more meaningful division in society, class. Conflict is thus targeted at those of other nationalities in implicit distraction of attempts to attain economic justice.

All of this, of course, is not to diminish the gravity of the issues with a one-state solution. Historical conflict has inflicted an ingrained mutual mistrust within both Israeli and Palestinian society. However, this results from the actions of Israeli and Palestinian leadership, coupled with extremist groups igniting further racial conflict, often through violent means. Consequentially, there is necessity for cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian communities independent from the mainstem political leadership, which, through alternative motives previously indicated, fail to represent the interests of their communities.

Meanwhile, although the demographic situation diminishes the possibility of a two-state solution, it is simultaneously a consideration of the issues of a one-state solution. Under a single state, the warranted return of Palestinian refugees would leave Jews as a slight minority, only exacerbated by the greater birth-rate of the Palestinian population. Given the historical traumas of antisemitism, this would be understandable concern. Nevertheless, given the assumption of active involvement of the Jewish population in the formation of a single state, it would logically, while not necessarily straightforwardly, protect the religious and civil rights of the Jewish population against antisemitism. Under equal reasoning, it would protect parallel rights for the Palestinian population against any attempt to restore the apartheid-like nature of the contemporary Israeli state. 

To further contemplate the challenges in forming a state of such nature, we must acknowledge the lack of international support for this approach. International positions tend to vary between support for the defective notion of a two-state solution, generally considered to be the approach from the EU, and support for a continuation or acceleration of Israeli supremacy, broadly subscribed to by the current US administration through the deception of Trump’s Middle East peace plan. Given this dilemma, there is an obligation to bring a one-state solution to the essence of international rhetoric and debate, to establish widespread international support. Although, through acceptance of the difficulties in ascertaining this requirement, we naturally arrive at an important conclusion. The aspiration of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a one-state solution will only be accomplished by the Israeli and Palestinian people themselves, rather than by their respective governments of international stakeholders, both evidently incentivised to divide the population along ethnic lines.

Under occupation, and within Israel proper, Palestinians are an oppressed ethnic group, as is well documented. However, at best, it is inaccurate to depict the entire Israeli population as exercising control over Palestinians. At worst, it galvanises deeply antisemitic prejudices. Although Israelis remain in a preferential position regarding the structural racism of the Israeli state, it is merely the minority advantaged economic class of Israelis that benefit from the oppression, largely through the exploitation of cheap Palestinian labour. Meanwhile, working-class Israeli’s obtain little economic benefit in comparison and suffer the violent consequences of the occupation. Therefore, though in contrasting nature, both Israelis and Palestinian remain oppressed through the status-quo of Israeli control, which, as argued, has culminated in the infeasibility of a Palestinian state as a solution.

Despite this unpleasant dynamic, a feasible, although delicate processes by which a one-state solution to the conflict can be ascertained. There is potential for fundamental political transformation of this conflicted society, though only viable through a single multi-ethnic and multi-religious state that protects universal civil and religious rights. A two-state solution remains unrealistic, as it would only permit the remerges of conflict and empower those incentivised to rejuvenate ethnic divisions.

Following decades on conflict, this endeavour requires cooperation and communication between the two communities to develop trust, alongside multi-ethnic societal organisation concentrated on the improvement of material economic conditions regardless of ethnicity or religion, rather than on the development of either group individually. It simultaneously necessitates parallel cooperation in opposition and protest against the existing institutions of oppression utilised by the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority. It is only through this agenda of political engagement that enduring conflict resolution can be achieved.  

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