Research Papers

One-State vs. Two-State Solution: Why the Israel-Palestine Conflict Has Not Been Solved

Many conflicts and wars in modern history have ended with some kind of peace deal. Both sides come together and agree on terms to establish peace. The Revolutionary War ended with the treaty of Paris, and World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles. Yet the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis has been going on for 70 years and has no end in sight. The reason for this conflict lies in its roots; two groups of people lay claim to the same land, and neither are willing to compromise. The solution to this conflict is often narrowed down to two possibilities: A united Palestine under one rule, or two separate states for the Israelis and Palestinians to live independently. However, these solutions have their faults. A two-state solution is favored by many world powers, but inherently brings too many issues that the two sides cannot agree upon. A one-state solution gives a difficult dilemma to Israel; they would either lose their Jewish state or have to take away human rights from the Palestinians. Public opinion over time has shifted in favor of a one-state solution, but too many Israelis see it as a non-starter. There have been many failed attempts to establish peace, but none have succeeded in the long term. Both a two-state and a one-state solution have too many faults to be accepted by both Israel and Palestine. These issues coupled with the two sides’ inability to compromise is why there has been no peace in Palestine. 

Historically, a two-state solution has been the primary goal of peace talks in the region. The idea was simple: “Two states for two peoples.” Ever since the Zionists movement gained steam in the late 1800s, a two-state plan was their main goal. They wanted a Jewish homeland where they could live separately from the Palestinians. After the UN created the state of Israel, there was an immense amount of violence between the two groups. With all of this fighting, neither side wanted to live with the other. Therefore, all early peacekeeping efforts seemed to focus on dividing up the land between the two. However, this creates some issues. The biggest one is land: specifically, how it gets divided. Both Israel and Palestine claim the same land, and neither side is willing to compromise. When splitting this land up, there is no agreement about where to draw the line. Usually, peacekeeping talks referenced the 1967 borders before Israel’s massive land gains as a result of the Six-Day War as a benchmark. These borders are much like the borders seen today in the region, with Palestine controlling the Gaza strip and the West Bank and with Israel retaining control of Jerusalem. This is problematic for the two-state solution as both states want Jerusalem as their capital. It contains important holy sites for both Judaism and Islam such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Unless some sort of neutral zone is created, only one side will control Jerusalem. This creates a deadlock because neither side will compromise. Israel is unable to give up their control of the sacred city because it is the capital that they desire. Palestinians are unable to move forward without it because they need access to the mosque and security for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in and around the city. They also believe that they have the right to the city because the UN partition initially gave Jerusalem to them. This divide has created a standstill that has prevented the two-state solution from gaining ground. 

Another issue that acts as an obstacle to the creation of a two-state solution is the intransigence of the Israeli settlers that aim to conquer the West Bank. Currently, over 400,000 Jewish settlers are living in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in their own isolated communities. Their goal is to eventually claim the land in the West Bank for Israel. The settlers, if they are to remain in place, would make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible. However, as Heather Lehr Wagner said in her book Israel and the Arab World, “Should those who view themselves as pioneers, who have built a living in often-hostile territory, be now forced out?” This seems to be Israel’s mentality as they continue to build them at an astounding rate. This demonstrates to the Palestinians that Israel is “unwilling to hold up its end of the deal” in regards to the Oslo Accords. At this point, it seems as if a two-state solution is impossible without some form of compromise on the part of both the settlers and the Israeli government. Nonetheless, most people in Israel believe the settlements are not an issue, and as of recently, neither does the American government. If Israel is not willing to get rid of the settlements, then a two-state solution will likely never happen. 

Additionally, the issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees plagues the two-state solution. They are currently spread across Gaza and the West Bank and many asylum countries without a place to call home. These refugees number over five million, and many demand a right of return to their native Palestine. However, Israel is very opposed to this, as an influx of Palestinian immigrants would diminish Jewish control of their democracy. The issue of space is also an issue; Israel does not have available housing for millions of people. Since Israel wants nothing to do with the refugees and Palestine demands a solution, they are once again at an impasse. Israel failing to compromise makes this deal impossible, because as Robert Bowker argues in his book Palestinian Refugees: Mythology, Identity, and the Search for Peace, “No lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible without a comprehensive resolution of the refugee problem.” All of these issues make it impossible for the two sides to come together to form a viable two-state solution. 

The feasibility issues of a two-state solution, as well as events like the Intifadas, have shifted public opinion in favor of the one-state solution. At first glance, it has many upsides: Jerusalem is available to both sides, there are no issues over settlements, and no question about the right of return. Since it solves many divisive issues in the region that have plagued the idea of a two-state solution, it has gained popularity. The increasing support is also partially because a one-state solution encompasses “such a broad spectrum of ideas that both Israelis on the far right and the far left count themselves among its supporters.” A one-state plan could involve completely dispelling one group to create a country controlled by the other group, and it could also mean a combined, democratic state with religious freedom and equal rights for all. This vast spectrum is part of the reason why a one-state solution has gained increased support: because different people have different versions to fit their needs. Another reason it has gained support is described in the previous paragraphs; the two-state solution has some serious issues. The decline in support for a two-state solution in Palestine went from 80% shortly after the Oslo Accords down to only 43% in 2018. Too many people just do not see the issues listed above as solvable with the current political landscape. 

The intifadas also shifted public opinion in Israel towards a one-state solution. Among the conservatives, Palestine has no right to a state of any kind. They have no stable form of government that would be able to control a state without giving a terrorist group power. One conservative-leaning author for the Jerusalem Post equated giving a state to Palestine to giving a state to the Ku-Klux-Klan. The intifadas for them painted the Palestinians as lawless suicide bombers who would not be able to govern themselves. On the contrary, the liberal segment supports a one-state because they want to bring peace to the region. The intifadas for them did not put the Palestinians in a bad light, they just served to emphasize the urgent need for peace. This combined with the two-states solution’s flaws as well as the failure of the Oslo Accords put a democratic one-state solution as the best option for the liberal demographic. While the widespread support for a one-state solution is one of its strengths, the disparities between the different adaptations of the idea only serve to detriment it. When push comes to shove, some of these solutions, while they are classified under the same name, are just as different as the one-state and the two-state solutions. Even though the polarity of support for this doctrine makes it difficult to achieve, a one-state solution is often seen as the only viable solution in today’s political climate. 

However, a one-state solution brings a problematic dilemma to the table for Israel. They would either have to relinquish their control of the region if they were to establish a true democracy, or they would have to create an apartheid-like society where the Palestinians cannot vote. In a true democracy, all citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity would have equal rights. As the authors put it in the book Two States or One? Reappraising the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, the state would be “a state of its citizens rather than of a specific nationality or group.” This inherently means that the Israeli government would not be able to maintain control of the region unless they were to establish a form of monarchy. It also raises the possibility that Palestine, with its high population, would likely hold a majority in government and control the entire country. At the very least, they would have enough say in the Knesset to be an obstacle to the formation of a government amongst a divided Israel. The Knesset elections only require one group or alliance to hold a majority, and if that is attained, that group is allowed to form the government and the minority get very little say. The idea of a pure democracy scares many Israelis because it would mean living under a Palestinian rule. Considering Palestinian rule is in shambles with the PLO and Hamas, many Israelis, especially the conservative side, would never support this type of solution. 

Israel’s other option would be to annex the West Bank and Gaza without giving voting rights to the Palestinians in order to maintain power. It would essentially make the Palestinians live as second-class citizens in a Jewish state. While it is supported more by the right in Israel, this solution has been dismissed by its opponents as “on the path to apartheid or apartheid outright.” Many in Israel and Palestine alike see this solution as an unacceptable breach of human rights, and it has struggled to gain support across all factions of Israeli politics. For obvious reasons, this plan has no support in Palestine. It would not require an agreement or deal with the PLO or Hamas; it would just involve a military invasion of the territories and a subsequent annexation. Without widespread political support in Israel, this type of plan will likely never materialize. While many people seem to be rallying behind the idea of a one-state solution, it too seems unlikely to ever take shape. 

Even when both sides were committed to creating a peace treaty, as they were with the Oslo Accords of 1993, peace was not attained. The Oslo negotiations were unlike previous peace plans because they created direct diplomatic relations between Israel and the PLO. These talks aimed to establish a two-state solution, retaining the current borders of the time, and implied that an independent Palestine would be created after five years under an interim government. It set aside these five years as a time for trust to be built up between the two peoples, and stability to come to the region. However, this period only served to allow each side to focus on what it wanted, and not what they had to give up to attain peace. The agreement was vague and did not address some of the more pressing issues that are crucial to the success of a two-state solution. Therefore, when the time came five years later to settle the conflict, the “failure was all but inevitable.” The issues of Jerusalem’s fate and the settlements continued to plague peacemakers as nothing was done to compromise during the interim period. Additionally, the lack of a united leadership organization among Palestinians led to inconsistencies in public opinion among them. After this deal was made, there were suicide bombings from Hamas and other similar groups who did not agree with the acknowledgment of the state of Israel. The Oslo Accords failed to establish a leader for the Palestinians, and therefore there was no clear-cut candidate for who would lead a new state. The Oslo Accords succeeded in ending the first intifada, but failed to establish long term peace and also served as a precursor to the second intifada years later. 

The region today is as divided as ever. The idea of a two-state solution has fallen off in Israel, with many of the major political parties supporting annexation. Palestine continues to desire their own independent state, and groups like Hamas do not accept Israel’s right to the land. There is no sign that the creation of Israeli settlements are slowing down. There are more refugees out of place than ever before, and Israel has no plan to provide a home for them. The one-state solution has gained popularity, but it splits Israel in two in terms of what it entails. Without united support, it seems unlikely that it will ever take shape. Many treaty attempts in the past have failed, and continued efforts have not seen any more success. President Trump unveiled his “deal of the century” in January, and the Palestinians very quickly denied it. The deal was authored without input from the Palestinians, and it appeared to be completely one-sided. If peace is to be attained, both sides have to unite and be willing to compromise. In that respect, this deal is a step back behind the Oslo Accords, and today peace seems farther away than ever. 

 

Bibliography

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