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A moral and political impasse: the failure of the two-state solution

With the Syrian crisis raging since 2011 and the mass migration of Syrian refugees occupying the attention of the European Union (EU), it seems that the international community no longer prioritises the Palestinian issue like it used to. It has been two decades now since the Oslo Accords, and there has still been no progress on solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Subsequent peace agreements have been met with failure, as both the Israeli establishment and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have remained intransigent in negotiations. Borders, the return of Palestinian refugees, settlements, security and the status of Jerusalem remain thorny issues, which always see the talks come to an impasse. A lack of motivation by the Obama administration to act as an interlocutor and perceived bias by the US only adds to the problem. All parties remain insistent that a two-state solution is the only way forward in negotiations. Due a lack of commitment on either side, however, the question must be asked: can there ever be a two-state settlement of the Israel/Palestinian issue? Moreover, is the two-state solution valid after so many years of failure?

Since the Oslo Accords reached an unfortunate impasse, the two-state solution has been revived in many guises. The 2000 Camp David Summit, the Bush Administration’s ‘Roadmap to Peace’ and the Saudi Peace Plan of 2002 were met with both a rejection from the Israeli authorities and Palestinian groups. Instead of an actual and progressive attempt for reconciliation, both sides have become more combative as the years have gone on. This has empowered groups like HAMAS and more hawkish elements within the Israeli establishment not to reconvene over the negotiation table.

Israel’s concerns stem from its long history of perceived insecurity; measures such as the security wall and the withdrawal from Gaza have been justified to assuage these security doubts. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, leader of the dominant Likud Party, has declared that ‘he is committed to peace with the Palestinians’. But a recent decision to form a coalition with the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, with the appointment of its leader Avigdor Lieberman as defence minister, suggests otherwise. The coalition is now the most conservative in Israeli history.

Netanyahu is not known for his active stance towards the peace process, and many blame his policy of promoting settlements past the Green Line of UN Resolution 242. Netanyahu has a frayed relationship with the Obama administration and has sought to undermine the president on many occasions. His position on the peace process has always been cold, but was exemplified at the last Knesset election (in a move of pure populist politicking) when he declared that there would be ‘No Palestinian State’ created if he was in power. Although he immediately retracted his comments once elected, many believe that Netanyahu neither has the political will or motivation to continue with the peace process.

However, the blame does not lie solely with the Israelis on a failure of negotiations. The Palestinian Authority has attempted to ‘go it alone’ in obtaining a possible recognition of a Palestinian state. Its deep political rift with its political adversary HAMAS also adds another level of complication to the issue. The PA controls the West Bank while HAMAS controls the Gaza Strip, and any possible chance of a future Palestinian state needs to rely on a reconciliation of these two groups. Adding to this, many Palestinians feel that the PA is rife with corruption, and that Mahmoud Abbas lacks the charisma and political fortitude of former leader Yasser Arafat. Even within the Gaza Strip, HAMAS has had to reconcile its anti-Israel Islamist agenda with a viable social and economic policy in one of the world’s most densely populated and poorest areas, while simultaneously combating other fundamentalist groups that seek to take over.

Due to the lack of political will from both sides, many pundits have put forward the idea of the creation of a one-state solution. This would entail a single sovereign state in which Palestinians would be incorporated in one way or another into the political and social fabric of Israel. The ideal form it would take is a secular-democratic state that would afford all citizens equal civil, social, religious and political rights.

However, this solution fails to grasp the underlying issues that are affecting the domestic and social fabric of the Israeli state. One of the underpinning debates since the creation of Israel is whether Israel is a Jewish state, or a secular state with Judaism as the main religious and cultural defining concept. This has led to an endemic polarisation between orthodox and secular Jews within Israel. A one-state solution would fail to address this issue and would cause even greater division if implemented. On top of this divide, a likely outcome would see an economic, political and social imbalance between those in the West Bank/Gaza Strip and Israel proper.

So, one must ask: what is there left to do? There is no easy answer, and any viable solution requires creative thinking. One such solution that has been promoted comes from current Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. The idea proposed is that of a Confederacy, which would see two separate states under a centralised supranational parliament. Both states would remain sovereign, but there would be areas of cooperation that could over time break down the historical indemnity between the two sides. Such a move would be a radical approach, bringing in more of a EU style system over a bi-national sovereign structure. But it could focus Israel's security dilemma away from internal issues to other areas such as Hezbollah on its northern flank.

Of course, there will be the difficulties associated with overcoming the hostility of armed groups and radical extremists on both sides, but such an approach presents a new way of thinking towards solving this issue. It’s important that the international community doesn’t forget the issue of Israel and Palestine. While its solution would not solve all the problems of the Middle East, it would certainly help. There will be no solution while Netanyahu and his brand of popular and divisive politics remain the status quo in Israel. The same goes for groups like HAMAS, which will have to reconcile that Israel is there to stay and that negotiations, not violence, are the way forward.

If there is to be any progress in solving this issue, it must come from a new generation of leaders who can see past the identity politics that have plagued this conflict since its onset. One thing is for sure though: the two-state solution is dead, and its legacy has been one of failure. Long live the two-state solution.

Iain MacGillivray was the January-June 2016 Middle East and North Africa Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email with any questions or for more information.

Image credit: Justin McIntosh (Wikimedia: Commons)

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