Adam Bernstein

I used to think the two-state solution was important

A Palestinian flag flutters on a hilltop in the town of Beita, near Nablus city in the occupied West Bank, on July 2, 2021, amid ongoing rallies in the Palestinian village protesting the newly-established settler outpost of Eviatar (background) on a nearby hill. - Israeli settlers were leaving the wildcat outpost in adherence to an agreement struck with nationalist premier Naftali Bennett's new government, an AFP reporter said. The hilltop area where they have established a settlement lies near Nablus in the northern West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967. Under the terms of the deal, those temporary homes will remain, and the Israeli army will establish a presence in the area. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP) (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH /AFP) (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)

I used to care a lot about the two-state solution. I would puzzle over maps of the West Bank and wonder how to draw the contours of the future borders, ruminate over what the arrangement would be in Jerusalem and ponder how to achieve a just compensation for the refugees. I believed that two states, would solve the key issues of the conflict and allow the people of the region to live in freedom.

However, over the past two months, it has become clear that the focus for those who care about human dignity should not be on improving the current situation but rather preventing it deteriorating into outright ethnic cleansing. Terrifyingly enough, if they thought they could get away with it, both sides would permanently expel the other from the land.

The events of the past two months have only made this more likely: nearly every Israeli knows someone who has been killed or has been taken hostage by Hamas and with nearly half a percent of Gaza’s population now dead, every Palestinian has a grievance to bear. Leaked discussions from the Israeli government seem to indicate that the permanent expulsion of Gazans is seriously being considered under the guise of ‘evacuation’ . It is not hard to imagine this becoming a total expulsion of all Palestinians. A right-wing Israeli government, potentially under the leadership of Prime Minister Ben Gvir, could disregard American opposition and seize the opportunity to expel all the Palestinians. Worryingly, this seems more realistic than a Netanyahu-Abbas handshake on the White House lawn.

Indeed, after the 7 October massacre, it is clear that Hamas would expel Israelis if they could, without a moment’s hesitation.

While it may seem less likely that the Palestinians could expel Israelis, it is not impossible to envisage. A new Palestinian revolutionary leader could emerge and garner international support and lead Palestinian society towards dedicating itself entirely to the struggle. This could make the quasi-western lifestyle enjoyed by Israelis impossible and the Israeli Ashkenazi elite, armed with European passports, could flee to Europe or North America. This trickle of refugees could quickly turn into a cascade, leaving a hollowed-out society unable to withstand a Palestinian conquest.

Expulsion of either group would be a humanitarian disaster, the likes of which the region has not seen for decades and the avoiding of which must be the priority of all who care about the wellbeing of all people from the river to the sea.

Only then can we talk of a two-state solution.

About the Author
Adam Bernstein is a graduate of PPE and Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford. He is currently working as a freelance political analyst.
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