Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

Should Pursuit of a Two-State Solution be the Preferred Option ?

President Biden’s administration, like its predecessors, advocates for a Palestinian-Israeli two-state solution and is urging Israel to embrace this policy. Additionally, there is consideration within the US government to recognize a Palestinian state as a pivotal next step in addressing the disconcerting Hamas-Palestinian-Israeli dynamics. While these proposals may seem straightforward, a more thorough examination reveals  potential complications. Merely acknowledging a Palestinian state, for example, without clearly defining its parameters before implementation, could potentially worsen the existing instability. Pressuring either Israel or the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution is also likely to be counterproductive and unsuccessful.

A more effective strategy will involve moving forward only if both sides endorse a two-state solution, contingent upon meeting essential prerequisites. Currently, blame-shifting continues between the conflicting sides, with little discussion on mutually acceptable solutions. For progress to occur, both parties must engage in sincere negotiations and commit to seeking a resolution voluntarily. Despite facing resistance from both sides, pursuing a path towards a two-state solution remains the most viable option given the absence of better alternatives. Refusal by either side to enter such negotiations will imply lack of acceptance and place a moratorium on this option for the meantime. Refusal will also clarify lack of will to reach a reconciliation

Reconciliation will be daunting especially since October 7. Israel has had to face Hamas, an autonomous Palestinian entity, set on its destruction. This has led many Israelis, even those supporting Palestinian self-rule, to reject a two-state solution fearing another unregulated Palestinian neighboring state. On the Palestinian front, despite not actively engaging in the war, surveys indicate that three-quarters of West Bank Palestinians express support for the war initiated by Hamas, indicating opposition to a negotiated settlement. To advance towards a two-state solution, leaders on both sides will have to  navigate against opposing  public opinion. One can only hope that the current trend towards extremes on both sides is temporary. Those who are skeptical of pursuing a negotiated agreement, whether they are pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, should thoughtfully consider the alternatives before dismissing this option.

Conditions Essential to begin negotiating a two-state solution:

Relating to the Palestinian Side:

  1. Eliminating Hamas both as a military and governing entity: Hamas launched a horrific war against Israel and opposes any negotiated agreement. Therefore, a priori, they  cannot be part of any peace process.
  2. Establishing who represents the Palestinian people: Any negotiations involving  the Palestinian leadership must first clarify who their representative(s) is (are). Aside from Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) under Mahmud Abbas is the only governing entity. Many, perhaps most Palestinians do not trust the P.A. and will not necessarily entrust them to negotiate for them. Furthermore, in the past, Palestinian extremists have de-legitimized and threatened to kill moderate Palestinian leaders who pursued accommodation with Israel. The Palestinian representative must clearly have a Palestinian mandate to reach an accommodation.
  3. Recognition of the right of Israel: To this day, no well-known Palestinian leader has stated that establishment of a two-state solution explicitly incorporates an end to their goal of dismantling Israel. Many on the Israeli side believe that the P.A. supporters of a two-state solution see it only as a convenient interim political attained step to eventually dismembering Israel. The true intentions of the Palestinian leadership must be clarified as a pre-condition.
  4. Abandoning the use of terror:  Use of terror against Jews and Israelis has been considered legitimate or at least condoned by many mainstream Arabs / Palestinians and their supporters dating back to pre-1948 and most recently inflicted by Hamas since Oct 7. While Israel has suffered terribly from terrorism casualties, the net effect has backfired on the Palestinians since it has consistently strengthened Israel’s resolve, alienated moderate Israelis, and deterred reconciliation. Furthermore, the more the Palestinians use terror tactic, the more Israel enforces security measures impinging on the lives of the Palestinians. For progress towards a negotiated agreement, it is essential for Palestinians to reject terror as a legitimate means. Condoning the use of terror is a sine qua non demand.
  5. Stopping the demonization of Israel and desist from promoting hatred of Jews: In textbooks used both by Hamas and the P.A. including in UNWRA run schools, children are taught from a young age to hate Jews and fight for Israels’ destruction. Terrorist actions are glorified, and families of terrorists are generously remunerated. For a long-term settlement to have any chance of success, and for future Palestinians to support a peace agreement with Israel, indoctrination inciting hate must be stopped.
  6. Governance: None of the Arab-Muslim regimes in the Middle East are democratic. While it is not Israel’s role to dictate how Palestinians should govern themselves, the absence of regular legitimate elections, a free press, an independent judiciary, tolerance of political opposition, and accountability is not only detrimental to Palestinian sovereignty but also poses a threat to Israel. The case of Gaza under Hamas illustrates the tragedy and danger of a Palestinian entity operating outside the rule of law. Therefore, it is crucial for the Palestinians to define the characteristics of their envisaged Palestinian state. Historically, Palestinian movements such as Hamas and the PLO have directed their resources against the Jewish state rather than prioritizing the well-being of Palestinians. It makes no sense to introduce and recognize another regime with a similar ideology.

On the Israeli side:

  1. Halting Settlement Expansion:  No Palestinian organization, no matter how conciliatory, will tolerate West Bank Jewish Settlement expansion. A sine qua non for any future agreement will require an immediate halt to settlement expansion as a first step to an eventual mutually accepted agreement.
  2. More selective use of military force: Even presuming that negotiations go forward, eradication of terrorism may not occur immediately. While Israel has a legitimate right to fight terrorism, its policy should be focused, and primarily directed at those responsible for instigating and perpetrating acts of terror, rather than imposing collective punishment. Law-abiding Palestinians must see the benefits of refraining from supporting terrorism. The previous government run by Bennett-Lapid with Bar Lev as Internal Security Minister implemented such a policy. During his tenure, both Palestinian violence and retaliatory measures were significantly reduced compared to the current administration.

For Both Sides:

  1. Direct voluntary negotiations: It is essential for both parties to engage directly and voluntarily in negotiations. Otherwise, they will feel absolved of responsibility for the consequences of a failure in the negotiations.
  2. The importance of US involvement: US involvement in the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis is crucial for any chance of success. The US plays several roles in this context. Firstly, as a long-time supporter of Israel, it can provide a sense of security and assurance to the Israeli side. Secondly, in contrast to Israel’s adversaries such as Iran, the US is uniquely positioned to apply effective leverage on Israel, encouraging Israeli flexibility. Thirdly, the US holds influence that it can wield over the Palestinians and other Middle Eastern countries, facilitating cooperation and consensus-building. Fourthly, the US is genuinely committed to achieving a successful, peaceful resolution of the conflict.
  3. Lack of effective positive leadership: The lack of quality leadership in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel is one of the most discouraging aspects of the current conflict. Hamas stands out for its extreme policy of destruction, causing immeasurable harm not just to Israel but primarily to the Gaza population they claim to represent. Furthermore, they have inculcated an ideology promoting hatred against Jews and Israelis which will take generations to rectify. The Palestinian Authority and Israeli leadership share some common flawed traits. Firstly, their focus is on retaining control and advancing the narrow interests of their supporters rather than the overall welfare of their people. This is also evidenced by a dramatic decline in public support. This applies even to Prime Minister Netanyahu, despite his being democratically elected. Secondly, they tend to take a populist stance by emphasizing what the other side should do instead of actively working towards reconciliation. Lastly, daily conditions in their regions and the broader Middle East have significantly deteriorated since before October 7 demonstrating ongoing failing governing effectiveness.  In addition, The P.A. has shown itself to be corrupt and incompetent in governance. Finally, the last elections on the West Bank were held in 2006, 18 years ago. Overall, it appears unrealistic to expect the present Palestinian or Israeli leadership to rise to the occasion. A reformed leadership whose priority is better governance and reconciliation would best serve the Middle East.
  4. Repressing opposition to a negotiated settlement: There are opponents on both sides of the conflict who negate any negotiated agreement and have a vested interest in failed negotiations. On the Palestinian side, there are advocates who share the Hamas stance that destruction of Israel is more important than betterment of the Palestinians. On the Israeli side, there are proponents of an expanded settlement policy no matter what. Additionally, there are Israelis who have lost all trust in the Palestinians and fear that territorial compromise which weakens Israel will endanger a future emboldened Palestinian force bent on destroying Israel. Each side of the conflict should be responsible for reining in their opponents to a voluntarily negotiated agreement.

Is there a preferable alternative to a 2-state solution?

Between the West Bank and Gaza, there are approximately 5 million Palestinians, alongside around 2 million Arab Israelis. Israel is home to about 7 million Jews. The demographic numbers of the two sides are in the same order of magnitude. Neither side will voluntarily capitulate. For a sustainable long-term solution, cooperation is essential. The alternative is perpetual posing risks that extend beyond Israel’s borders and even impacting  regions beyond the Middle East.

Arabs and Jews have demonstrated the ability to coexist harmoniously. After all, Arab Israelis have flourished within Israel for 75 years. The history of peaceful relations between Israel and its neighbors is notable, with peace agreements in place with Egypt since 1979 and Jordan since 1994. The Abraham Accords in 2020 marked a significant step towards regional stability, as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain acknowledged Israel’s sovereignty. Prior to recent events of October 7, there were negotiations in the process of paving the way for Saudi Arabia recognition as well.  

It is in the best interests of both Palestinians and Israelis to heed President Biden’s call for initiating negotiations towards a two-state solution. Each side should rally behind leaders dedicated to fostering Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation, with the ultimate aim of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Direct negotiations between the two parties should be pursued with a willingness to consider each other’s essential demands as a starting point. While an agreement should not be imposed from external sources, the United States, and potentially other influential, like-minded countries with a stake in achieving peace in the region should oversee the process. Failing to make progress risks perpetuating the cycle of conflict.

About the Author
Jim Shalom is a specialist in family medicine, with interests in end-of-life care and the Israeli political scene. He resides in Galilee. He has spent most of his adult life living and working in Israel.