What if there is no two-state solution?

It looks very much as if the Biden administration will be filled with foreign policy wizards who can be classified as ‘two-state-solutioners’.

Time will tell just how much energy and focus Biden will devote to Israel and the Middle East, but the team he is selecting—Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State, John Kerry as special envoy for climate issues—is clearly one that is wedded to the conventional, decades-old formula embodied in the two-state solution: a democratic and secure Israel alongside a free and independent Palestine.

Of course, the Trump administration’s idiosyncratic, unconventional approach did actually produce normalization of relations between Israel and the U.A.E., Bahrain, and Sudan, and has also contributed to greater understanding and cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Still, the international community and the two-state-solutioners would undoubtedly prefer to return to a much more familiar ‘peace process’ that, over decades, has generated an enormous amount of process and no true peace.

At a time when a new administration is coming into power and formulating its policy with regard to the Middle East, it might be appropriate to ask: What if the two-state solution really is no solution at all?  Perhaps past decades of futility indicate that seeking a two-state solution is a fool’s errand, and that the Biden administration, like its immediate predecessor, ought to look for other innovative, unconventional ways to foster a more peaceful Middle East.

My own opinion is that, for the foreseeable future, there can be no two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  The reason is simple: three distinct governments will never be able to reach a two-state solution.  To make the same point another way: there really isn’t an Israeli/Palestinian conflict, there is instead an Israeli/Palestinian/Palestinian conflict.  Until the Palestinian/Palestinian conflict is resolved, there can’t possibly be a resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I refer, of course, to the indisputable fact that Palestinians live under two governments which are very different from, and very hostile towards, each other.  In Gaza, it is Hamas that rules.  In the West Bank, Palestinians are governed by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian National Authority.

As everyone knows, Hamas is an Islamist terrorist group that believes Islam imposes a sacred obligation to erase all traces of Jewish sovereignty from every inch of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.  Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 in a violent, bloody putsch that ejected P.N.A. forces loyal to Abbas, who has not set foot in Gaza since that time.

Abbas and the P.N.A., in contrast, say they entertain no religious objections to the existence of Israel and that they would welcome a two-state solution, provided it satisfied their demands regarding a right of return, sovereignty over East Jerusalem, etc.  Some might doubt their sincerity in that regard, but let’s assume they are perfectly sincere.

Notwithstanding their welcoming attitude, it remains a fact that the P.N.A. has no control whatsoever over Hamas and the other terrorist groups headquartered in Gaza.  So, the Palestinians who present a real threat to the security of Israelis—the terrorists in Gaza with guns, mortars, rockets, attack tunnels, and incendiary balloons—cannot be reined in at all by the P.N.A.

Since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, Abbas and the P.N.A. have been either unwilling or unable (or both) to reestablish their control over that strip of land.  The Islamist terrorists are willing, even eager, to die for their cause; no similar enthusiasm has ever been displayed by armed forces of the P.N.A.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that Hamas will lose control of Gaza in the foreseeable future.

So, how can there be a two-state solution if there are in fact three governments that would have to agree to co-exist in peace, and one of those governments (Hamas) believes Islam requires that another one of those government (Israel) be erased from the map?  A few seconds of reflection will confirm that, under those circumstances, there cannot be such a solution.

On the Israeli side, there is one government, and no fair-minded person can doubt that that government exerts sufficient control over its population to enforce any peace agreement it enters into.

On the Palestinian side, there are two governments: the P.N.A. and Hamas.  The international community always refers to Abbas as “the president” of Palestine (notwithstanding that he was elected for a four-year term that was scheduled to end in January of 2009), but he has no power at all over Gaza and the terrorists garrisoned there.  What kind of peace agreement could Israel reach with a government—the P.N.A.—that cannot control the most violent and well-armed members of its own population, precisely those Palestinians who would have to lay down their arms if true peace were to be achieved?  No agreement at all.

I personally do not believe that, within the lifespan of anyone alive today, the P.N.A. will have either the force or the will to neutralize Hamas and to recapture control of Gaza.  But, whether I’m right or wrong about the future, it remains true today that, unless and until the P.N.A. is able to subdue the terrorists and govern all parts of the putative Palestinian state—including Gaza—no two-state solution is possible.  Three into two won’t go.


About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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