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The New 3-State Solution

Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Image via NPR.

Israeli support for a Palestinian state encompassing the West Bank and Gaza has been on the decline for a long time. The once-vaunted Oslo peace process must seem an eternity away from the current Israeli present. Since then, Israel has grappled with a Second Intifada, intense Hamas rocket barrages, and then, October 7. All these events have generated considerable Jewish Israeli skepticism about the possibility of finding a feasible two-state solution. 

However, that has also led some within the international community to revive talk of unilateral Palestinian state recognition. Just this Wednesday, Norway, Ireland, and Spain announced they will recognize an independent Palestine. “Palestinians,” the Prime Minister of Norway proclaimed, “have a fundamental…right to an independent state” (emphasis mine). To those remarks, the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez added that “Spain had been forced to act because Mr. Netanyahu [does] not have a plan for long-term peace with the Palestinians” (emphasis again mine). 

Frankly, I doubt Norway, Ireland, and Spain will be the only ones to make this move. The New York Times has openly mused as to whether more powerful European states like Germany or France could feel the pressure to issue similar declarations. It is all like Yoav Gallant has said: Netanyahu’s failure to draw up a real post-war plan has and will have real post-war consequences. 

But I digress. In the face of a growing international push for the two-state solution, and in the face of Jewish Israeli opposition to it, I ask a simple question: why not a 3-state solution? Why not a long-term path to two new Palestinian states instead of one? 

Let me explain. For far too long, the international community has simply ignored the flaws of “the two-state solution.” Consider, for instance, the problem of geography. A truly workable two-state arrangement would require a relatively extensive “land corridor” between the West Bank and Gaza. For just a second, let us set aside the concerns about where to establish such a corridor—and what to do with Israelis already living there. To my mind, the more critical question is, how effectively would a Palestinian government like this work in the first place? 

After all, similar arrangements have failed in the past. Take the example of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Originally, these two nations comprised “greater Pakistan,” the Muslim counterpart to “greater India.” A little more than two decades later, Muslim-majority Bangladesh fought a bloody war of independence against Muslim-majority Pakistan

What happened? Well, to put it bluntly, the two-state solution fell apart. Granted, there was no land corridor between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Yet the issue was much deeper than that. Although Pakistan and Bangladesh “shared [the] dominant religion of Islam,” they were still “very different in terms of language, ethnicity, and culture.” To top that off, they were two different Muslim peoples separated from each other by the wide gulf of India.

A unified Palestine would face many of the same difficulties. Yes, the cultural differences between the West Bank and Gaza may seem much less difficult to bridge. But are they really? As it stands now, the West Bank and Gaza are currently under the control of two very different governments. Consequently, the West Bank and Gaza have had two very different experiences of Israel and Israelis. One area has Israeli settlers, the other does not. One area has ever-present Israeli outposts and checkpoints, the other does not. One has faced a blockade, the other has not. One has faced one of the most intense aerial bombardments of the century, the other has not. And so on and so on and so on.

These two very different experiences will eventually create two very different Palestinian identities—no matter what happens when the war ends. Meanwhile, the center of political power in “greater Palestine” will continue to shift towards the West Bank for what I can only assume are obvious reasons. In a two-state framework, that would probably fuel Gazan resentment against the West Bank, just like it fueled Bangladeshi resentment against Pakistan approximately 53 years ago. 

But let’s be clear: international pressure on Israel to recognize a Palestinian right to self-determination will only increase in the years ahead. Netanyahu delays on Palestinian statehood to Israel’s peril. If President Biden loses to Donald Trump come November, “Israel may discover that America’s historically ironclad commitment to Israel will not carry half the weight it once did.” Does Israel want America to help negotiate the Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement? Or does it want China

It really is that simple. First, Israel must get rid of Netanyahu “with all deliberate speed,” via a constructive vote of no-confidence for his only viable alternative, Benny Gantz. Then, Israel must secure a cease-fire to get the hostages home. After that, it must recognize the sovereignty of the West Bank as separate from Gaza, to prevent its fractured militant movements from coalescing around Hamas or something worse. Finally, it must join forces with the Gazans courageous enough to take on Hamas directly, and create the conditions for an uprising against Sinwar’s Hamas and everything it represents. In exchange, the Gazan people can look forward to a clear path to statehood. 

We are at an inflection point. Can Israel create a lasting peace settlement with the Palestinians without “rewarding terror?” I think it can. And that is why I say now is the time for not a one, not a two, but a three-state solution.

About the Author
David Salzillo Jr. is a recent graduate from Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
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