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The two-state solution is dead — and there is no alternative

The UN Partition Plan would have given the Palestinians about 40 percent of historical Palestine. (AFP)
The UN Partition Plan would have given the Palestinians about 40 percent of historical Palestine. (AFP)
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20 Dec 2023 07:12:51 GMT9
20 Dec 2023 07:12:51 GMT9

This is probably the worst year for the two-state solution since the UN’s 1947 Partition Plan for British Mandate Palestine. One can also add that 2023 is the worst year for delivering an independent Palestinian state since the signing of the Oslo Accords, 30 years ago. And yet, with a two-month-old Israeli war on Gaza going on with no end in sight, with settler rampages against Palestinians out of control and the Israeli occupation army storming Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank on an almost daily basis — resulting in unprecedented destruction of infrastructure while the civilian death count overall is breaking all previous records — US officials and their European counterparts are again talking about the two-state solution.

Arab and Muslim leaders also speak of the two-state solution, even though, for the majority of analysts and experts, Israel has long since bulldozed that path, as it fattened illegal settlements and built dozens of new ones. A few days after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which triggered the ongoing war — one whose death toll has surpassed the civilian casualties of all previous Arab-Israeli wars combined — President Joe Biden and his top aides began to mention the two-state solution again, all while giving Israel the green light to pursue its destructive campaign of the Gaza Strip without setting an end date.

The partition of Palestine so it could accommodate Israel and the native Palestinians was proposed in the 1947 Partition Plan, which the Arabs rejected. Almost two decades later, after the 1967 war and under UN Security Council Resolution 242, Israel was told to withdraw to the June 1967 line, including East Jerusalem. The fate of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was to be decided later on, although the principle of land-for-peace was stated.

Both sides rejected the resolution, for various reasons. And then Jordan’s claims to the West Bank, which it had ruled until 1967, came to an end when the Arab League in 1974 recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Jordan finally relinquished all claims, except for the Jerusalem Waqf, in 1988.

The 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty spoke of self-rule for the Palestinians and the US restated this position in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan’s “Palestinian autonomy and self-government” declaration. The concept of a Palestinian interim self-government in the Occupied Territories was stated in the Oslo I Accord of 1993, with the final status to be negotiated within five years. Oslo II only succeeded in partitioning the West Bank into areas A, B and C, effectively denying the nascent Palestinian Authority control of more than 60 percent of the remaining territory. All attempts to revive the peace process and reach a final agreement to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state reached a dead end. Both sides blamed the other.

But the important fact to remember is that, while the land-for-peace proposal evolved into what we know today as the two-state solution, it has been eroding ever since Oslo. In the wake of the historic peace agreement between Israel and the PLO, the former unleashed multiple waves of settlement building — not allowed under the accords — so that there were, as of January, 144 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including 12 in East Jerusalem, and more than 100 illegal outposts. The estimated number of settlers in the West Bank today is nearly 800,000.

Israeli leaders have long since lost the political will to end the occupation or cede any land to a Palestinian state

Osama Al-Sharif

But aside from the political, logistical and demographic nightmare that creating a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will present, the reality is that Israeli leaders have long since lost the political will to end the occupation or cede any land to a Palestinian state.

The UN Partition Plan would have given the Palestinians about 40 percent of historical Palestine. Implementing Resolution 242 (the two-state solution) would give them less than a third, while Donald Trump’s peace plan of 2020 would have given them roughly the same but with major land swaps and no East Jerusalem. Most settlements would remain and the Palestinian areas would be cut off from each other. Israel would annex the Jordan Valley. Both the Palestinians and Jewish settlers rejected it. Benjamin Netanyahu said nothing because he knew Trump’s plan would not fly.

Today, Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners openly say that they will not give up an inch of land. Netanyahu last week declared before his Likud party members that he is the only politician who can prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. He said that Israel will not make the Oslo mistake ever again. He also said that Gaza will remain under Israeli security control and that the PA will not be allowed to govern there.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said this is not the time to discuss the two-state solution. The Hebrew press reported that Israeli officials have asked their American counterparts not to speak of that solution publicly. Fewer Israelis are today willing to accept that concept while the war in Gaza remains inconclusive.

The two-state solution is a dud. Its evolution is a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. Now, it has become a zero-sum game for the Palestinians, while the rest of the world continues to ignore the profound changes that Israeli politics has undergone in the past 20 years. Other options, like full annexation of the Occupied Territories and/or population transfer, are doomsday scenarios.

The outcome of the war on Gaza notwithstanding, it is important to note that neither the Biden administration nor its successor will be able resurrect any solution that will force Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, not to mention allow a Palestinian state to come into existence. In the US, it is a combination of an endemically weak presidency, a divided Congress and a polarized political establishment, with the Zionist lobby having far too much influence on foreign policy. Add to that Iran and its proxies, the role of Russia and China in the Middle East and a divided Europe and you get an idea of why it is impossible for any power to force Israel into giving up its control of Palestinian territory.

The Oct. 7 October attack has sent shock waves through Israeli society and opened wounds that will not heal in the near future, while Israel’s bloody response in Gaza has radicalized Palestinians even further. The two peoples have never been so far apart.

Netanyahu has so far challenged every US position on postwar Gaza. Partitioning Gaza and the creation of buffer zones remain on the agenda. Keeping security control means reoccupation and the forced transfer of Gazans is a strong possibility. In fact, the situation created by the Oct. 7 attack has complicated the conflict in a manner never seen before, at least not since the Second Intifada.

So, believing that the two-state solution — now an anachronistic term — could kick in automatically after the war is over is unrealistic and naive. Its demise also stands to rattle the Abraham Accords and their future, not to mention create cracks in older peace treaties. It will put Israel before difficult and polarizing tests once the war is over. It will push Palestinians back to the wall. This is a conflict that is about to get worse, with no hope that it will ever get a chance for a peaceful resolution.

• Osama Al-Sharif is a veteran journalist and political commentator based in Amman. X: @plato010

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