The failure of the two-state solution pushes Israel to present new options

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  June 7, 2022

The lack of a political horizon between Palestinians and Israelis due to settlement policies is resulting in the failure of the two-state solution, which has been the basis for the settlement process since the Madrid Conference in 1991. Recent discussions describe it as a non-viable solution that needs to be replaced by the one-state solution model – a state that runs from the river to the sea. The main argument for this is the lack of a practical possibility to implement the physical division of the currently occupied Palestinian territories. This is due to developments on the ground concerning the borders of the Green Line and the ceasefire lines between Israel and its neighbours, established after the 1948 and 1967 wars.

Israel did not hesitate to annex large parts of the West Bank. This increased settlement projects, accelerating momentum for the one-state idea and pushing the two-state solution aside. However, this idea still requires in-depth analysis and raises questions about whether the framework of a one-state solution is in fact feasible.

In recent years, the Israelis have discussed possible models for resolving the conflict with the Palestinians. These models include a unified state covering the entire geographical region without internal borders, a self-rule state on independent Palestinian land and a single federal state divided into Jewish and Palestinian provinces with wide powers, or a confederation. In a confederation model, there is a division into two states – Palestinian and Jewish – with specific open borders between them, while a government is established at the confederal level, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian elements and making decisions in areas such as security and trade.

These models are based on a perspective focused on Israeli interests. To this end, a set of indicators were examined in relation to each model or alternative: territorial division; the status of settlements; the status of Jerusalem; nationality and residency matters; governmental and administrative authorities; freedom of movement; the refugee issue; security, social, economic and civil concerns; the preservation of the Jewish identity of the state; repercussions on the Palestinians of 1948 and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the status of the Gaza Strip. The analysis of these criteria raises questions about the chances of the success of each model as a permanent solution to the conflict.

In light of this analysis, it can be concluded that there does not appear to be a real possibility of forming a permanent and stable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any presented model. The main reason is the expectation of friction between Palestinians and Israelis in all models. Palestinians and Israelis continue their long-term hostility regarding religious, cultural, social and economic factors. There is a serious Israeli concern that this continuous friction will lead to instability in Israel and the outbreak of unremitting waves of disagreements and conflicts.

The idea of not possessing a Jewish identity for the state is not accepted by the vast majority of Israelis. Therefore, most supporters of a one-state solution refer to a single state that maintains such an identity, despite the difficulty of doing so due to the demographic dimension. This is especially the case since the expansion of the state’s borders to include the West Bank adds many Palestinians to it, at the expense of the number of Israelis.

Most Israeli proposals for establishing one state indicate that the Gaza Strip is not included because it is home to two million Palestinians and is a poor, undeveloped area requiring large investments. Moreover, unlike the West Bank, it has no ideological importance, nor strategic value, for Israel and is controlled by Palestinian groups that are not ready to negotiate. Therefore, its annexation to the lands of the future state will require re-controlling by force, and as long as there is no solution to the Gaza Strip, there is no complete solution to the conflict.

At the same time, the ostensibly unitary state model evokes concerns about Israel’s stability. Palestinian opposition to being part of a state of a Jewish nature is expected; hence came the idea of creating a division within the state itself in order to allow Palestinians a certain level of self-rule through several models, the first of which is the self-rule model. In this model, within the state, there will be an independent Palestinian land. The second of these is the federal model, where there will be a division of the state into Palestinian and Jewish areas and transferring different areas to the authority of the government at the regional level. The third is the confederation model, where there are two states, Palestinian and Jewish, with open borders and a confederation government making certain decisions on the ground.

At the same time, the Israeli right proposes another alternative to the two-state solution. It involves the annexation of parts of the West Bank, concentrated in most of Area C, covering more than 60 per cent of it, including all settlements and most of the open areas inhabited by approximately 100,000 Palestinians. This area would have autonomous status, or a state with limited powers, provided Israel continues to control the outer envelope, the atmosphere and the electromagnetic space. In addition, Israel would continue to exercise security control when necessary, even though most of the Palestinian economic zones would be located in this area.

Regarding citizenship and residency in all the proposed models as alternatives to the two-state solution, all Palestinians become permanent residents of Israel, with the exception of the confederation. In the confederal model, there is a certain sharing between citizenship and residency. Palestinians are citizens of their state, even if they live permanently in Israel, while the Jews are citizens of Israel, even if they are permanent residents of the Palestinian state.

External security and the security of the external borders will remain in the hands of Israel. However, there will be room in the federation to integrate Palestinian forces to participate in security decisions, at least gradually. Israeli security forces will also be able to operate in the territories under Palestinian control in order to deal with threats to internal security. In the case of autonomy, though, it will be necessary to determine the distribution of authority between the forces of both sides. In other cases, the operations of the Israeli security forces in the Palestinian state may be limited to exceptional circumstances and gradually phased out.

Proposing these alternative models to the two-state solution reveals the Israeli concern about the increasing hostility of both sides towards any situation where Palestinians become part of a state with a Jewish identity without obtaining their own national identity. Therefore, depriving Palestinians of their full rights in that promised state will deepen feelings of discrimination and animosity, possibly leading to the outbreak of violence and a civil war within the one state acting as the alternative to the two-state solution – a warning recently issued by many Israeli forums.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza