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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War
For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been left unresolved. Hamas's recent attack has forced politicians to confront facts: the conflict needs a definitive solution. Here's a primer on the two possible scenarios on the table.
FOCUS: Israel-Palestine WarIsraelSourcesWORLDCRUNCHfeatured-postPalestinian TerritoryYEDIOTH AHRONOTHCountries
December 10, 2023
CAIRO — The Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has once again focused the world’s full attention on the Palestinian cause.
Beyond the outrage and anger over the toll of Israel’s war in Gaza and the Hamas attack of October 7, there is a quieter international consensus that has been revived about forging a lasting settlement that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the Israeli one.
Naturally, there are the eternal (though largely resolvable) details of how that settlement could be achieved. Yet the so-called two-state solution is very much back in the conversation of international diplomacy.
At the same time, there is another scenario for the Palestinians to have a homeland: to share in a single state with Israelis — the one-state solution. There are supporters and opponents of the two solutions on both sides.
Here’s a look at what’s on the table:
What is the two-state solution?
The longstanding proposal to resolve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict through two states coexisting side-by-side in peace, one for the Israelis and the second for the Palestinians.
The proposed Palestinian state would be in areas occupied by Israel in the Middle East war in 1967, namely the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem its capital.
For decades the Palestinians had refused the proposal. But in late 1980s, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talked about the two-state solution to the conflict.
These are two people, who have to live together.
That led to the Oslo Accords, negotiated during the 1990s, the most serious peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians to-date. The accords created the Palestinian Authority and outlined a five-year transitional period ahead of the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.
However, peace efforts broke down in the following years, and both sides traded the blame.
For the past two decades, the two sides failed to bridge their widening gap, and multiple efforts made little progress to end the conflict, including the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, which most Middle Eastern nations consider a base for a solution to the conflict.
The initiative mainly calls for establishing an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for Arab countries normalizing ties with Israel.
"These are two people, who have to live together, with that wise solution, two states," Pope Francis said in an interview last month with Italian state television RAI's TG1 news channel. “The Oslo accords, two well-defined states and Jerusalem with a special status."
Opposition on both fronts
The two-state solution has long faced stiff opposition from hardliners on both sides of the conflict.
Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, broke with the Palestinian Liberation Organization which recognized Israel and signed the Oslo Accords with Israel in the 1990s.
Both militant groups, which have developed strong armed factions, gained popular support among Palestinians who blame the diminishing hope of a Palestinian state on Israeli hard-line policies.
In Israel, right-wing politicians, who have dominated the government in recent years, have advocated for Jerusalem as a unified capital of Israel, and invested heavily in expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Such moves, particularly moving the capital to Jerusalem, have been condemned by most of the international community. However, they gained support from the U.S. administration of former President Donald Trump, who moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to the holy city.
Surveys show that support of the two-state solution has significantly dropped in recent years on both fronts, with one survey showing that only 34% of Israeli Jews and 33% of Palestinians supported a two-state solution.
The survey, which was published in January this year, showed that slightly more Israeli Jews support one unequal state under Israeli rule than the two-state solution.
The survey was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah and the International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University.
Palestinian workers gathering at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The expansion of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank has made the establishment of a Palestinian state increasingly difficult to achieve.
The settlements began following the 1967 Middle East war, with some Jews building homes in the West Bank under the claim that such territory is sacred historic land, but also because housing in the occupied areas was cheap and affordable for middle-class Israeli families.
There are now 700,000 Israelis living in settlement housing around the West Bank.
The number of settlers has steadily grown to reach about 700,000 Israelis living in settlement housing around the West Bank. They have a symbiotic relationship with recent successive Israeli governments, particularly the current ruling coalition, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Settlers pledge their support at the polls in exchange for an expansionist policy in the West Bank.
Ultimately, the settlements are considered illegal by the international community and a major impediment to peace. Indeed, an independent Palestinian state — that is, a two-state solution — would effectively require razing some, most if not all of the settlements.
A nation named Isratine
Thus, the current international consensus toward a two-state solution has a veritable “facts-on-the-ground” problem. Instead, some argue, the vision of a one-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis with equal citizenship rights may actually offer a more realistic route to end the conflict.
The proposal would include merging Israel, the West Bank and Gaza into a single country, with Jerusalem its capital. Some have proposed “Isratine” as its name.
Such a proposal has gained more supporters in recent years, as establishing the borders of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel is made harder every day with the expansionist and politically emboldened settlers.
Indeed, the rallying cry "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free..." that is denounced by Israelis is also a way to articulate the vision of a single state that is a homeland to both peoples.
But the idea of having Israelis and the Palestinians living in one country with equal rights, has stoked fears among Israelis that demographic changes would ultimately destroy the Jewish character of the state.
In simple words, Arab Muslims would outnumber Jewish citizens, which would give them an opportunity to govern through democratic means, as Avi Gil, a former Foreign Ministry Director-General, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth on Nov. 27.
We may soon be shocked politically just as much as we were militarily by Hamas’s attack.
Gil, who is currently a researcher with the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), said Israel “forsakes its own future” if it doesn't support a two-state solution. He said Western countries will be compelled to support Palestinian demand for equal rights in a single nation if they leave the two-state solution aside.
“The change in the Palestinian demand for a one-state solution is within their reach,” he said. “We may soon be shocked politically just as much as we were militarily by Hamas’s attack.”
Gil’s argument reflects a growing fear among Israeli politicians that one state for two peoples with equal rights would almost instantly destroy Israel's identity as a state for the Jewish people — and risk becoming a persecuted minority as they are outnumbered by Arab and Muslim Palestinians who've had a much higher birth rate.
Proponents of the one-state solution counter that there could be ways to preserve the Jewish nature of a shared nation, and be sure the rights of all are protected.
The arguments for and against each solution are as endless as the conflict itself. Still, two months into what is the most brutal conflict for both Israelis and Palestinians, what's clear is that not having a solution is no longer an option.
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