The Two-State Solution: What It Is And Why It Still Hasn't Happened
Secretary of State John Kerry joined a growing chorus warning on Wednesday that the so-called two-state solution, which he calls "the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," could be on the brink of permanent collapse.
The two-State solution has been the main focus of efforts to achieve peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, but what it actually looks like and why it is so hard to achieve is likely to be lost. Here is a basic guide.
What is a Two-State Solution?
It helps to begin with the problems that the solution is designed to solve: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the most basic level, the conflict is about how or whether to divide the territory between the two peoples.
The territorial issue is also involved in other overlapping but different questions: whether the Palestinian territories can become an independent State and how to resolve the years of violence, including Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Israel's partial blockade of Gaza and Palestinian violence against Israelis.
The two-state solution will establish an independent Palestinian state with Israel - two nations of two nations. In theory, this will win Israel's security and allow it to retain the majority of the Jewish population (keeping the state Jewish and democratic) while granting the Palestinians a state.
Most governments and world agencies have adopted the achievements of the two-State solution as official policies, including the United States, the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. This goal is the basis for several decades of peace negotiations.
Why is The Solution So Difficult To Achieve?
Four problems proved to be the most challenging. Each comes down to a series of bedrock needs between the two sides, and in practice, it often appears to be mutually exclusive.
There is no consensus about exactly where the lines are drawn. In general, most people believe that the border will follow the route of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, but Israel retains some land for settlement and exchanges to provide another land for compensation to the Palestinians. Israel has created obstacles along and within the West Bank, and many analysts fear that it will create a de facto border that would create settlements in the West Bank and make it difficult to establish the land as part of an independent Palestinian state. Over time, settlements are growing, theoretically making any future Palestinian state smaller and possibly fragmenting it into discrete pieces.
Both parties have demanded Jerusalem as their capital and considered it the center of religious worship and cultural heritage. The two-state solution usually calls for dividing it into western Israel and eastern Palestine, but it is not easy to draw lines - Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites overlap each other. Israel declared Jerusalem an "undivided capital", effectively annexing half of its eastern part and establishing Israel's control of the city's construction.
Most Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the present days of the Israelis, mainly during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, following the founding of Israel. They and their descendants now have 5 million people and believe that they should have the right to return. This is not a future for Israel: too many returnees will end the majority of the Jewish population, so Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
For the Palestinians, security means ending the foreign military occupation. For Israelis, this means avoiding groups that are threatening Israelis like Hamas (as happened in Gaza after Israel's withdrawal in 2005) to seize the West Bank. This also means maintaining Israel's defense of foreign troops, which often means the need for continued Israeli military presence in parts of the West Bank.
Why do some people think that a two-state solution is dead?
There is a lot of blame to go. The Palestinian leadership is divided into two unrepresented governments. The leadership of the West Bank lacked the political legitimacy to make far-reaching but necessary concessions and the Gaza leadership did not even acknowledge its frequent attacks on Israeli citizens. The United States has been negotiating for years and has taken several errors.
Above all, Israel's current leaders, while nominally supporting the two-State solution, seem to be against it in practice.
Since 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech that year in favor of a two-state solution. But he continued to expand the West Bank settlement and said in 2015 that it would have "no withdrawals" and "no concessions".
Mr. Netanyahu personally doubts the independence of Palestine. His fragile coalition also relies on right-wing parties that are skeptical or completely opposed to the two-state solution.
Israeli public pressure on the peace agreement has declined. The reasons are complex: demographic changes, growing immigration movements, anger over Palestinian attacks, such as the recent series of assassinations, and painful memory of the second uprising of the early twentieth century, frequent bus and cafe bombing.
For most Israelis, the situation has become relatively peaceful and affordable. Many people believe that taking a dangerous and uncertain two-state solution has no motive, leaving Mr. Netanyahu with little reason to risk his political career.
Are There Other Solutions?
Although there are, they involve such a huge cost, the United States and many other governments believe that all solutions in addition to the two-state solution are unacceptable.
There are so many versions of a national solution that will be added as a country to all territories. A version would give equal rights to all in a country that was neither Jewish nor Palestinian since neither group would have a clear majority. Skeptics fear that this will risk internal instability or even return to war.
Another country advocated by Israel's far-right would establish a State, but retain Israel's Jewish character, depriving the Palestinians of their full rights. In this version, Israel is no longer a democracy.
Since there is no viable or popular alternative, the most likely choice may be simply to keep the status quo - although few believe that the long run is possible.
What Happens If There is No Solution?
A common prediction, as Mr. Kerry puts it, is that Israel will be forced to choose between the two core components of its national identity: the Jews and the Democrats.
This option, rather than at a decisive moment, may appear in many small selections over the course of a few years. For example, a survey by the Israel Institute for Democracy in 2015 found that 74 percent of Jewish Israel agreed that "decisions of national importance for peace and security should be made by the Jewish majority". The investigators also found that from 2010 to 2010, in 2014, Jewish Israelis are less likely to say that Israel should be "Jewish and democratic," and an increasing number of factions say it should be above all democratic, or more Popular, Jewish First.
Many analysts also worry that the West Bank government, the rest of the legitimacy is still dependent on the realization of the peace agreement, will collapse. This would force Israel to tolerate the West Bank chaos and the possibility of Hamas taking over or carrying out a more direct occupation, which is more expensive for both sides.
This increased risk of suffering and the permanent setback of Palestinian and Israeli national ambitions is why Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem analyst at the International Crisis Group, told me last year that "it is terrible to keep the status quo".
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