A summit of 70 nations, led by France and other European powers, gathered in Paris in January to recommit the international community to the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The summit warned against any unilateral action taken by either side, in order to preserve a chance for peace. However good their intentions were, the two-state solution is increasingly an unrealistic solution to one of the world’s most bitter conflicts. It is time the international community recognizes that a new solution is needed to address the current trajectory and reality of the conflict.
Some critics point to the Trump administration as a huge threat to the two-state solution, but the barriers to the two-state solution predate Donald Trump. While the international community continues to focus on salvaging the two-state solution, the reality on the ground is changing and it is time their response changed as well.
One of the first major impediments to a two-state solution is the territory itself. Israeli settlement building has pushed further into territory that was originally supposed to be part of a Palestinian state. The idea of land swaps, trading land on the Israeli side to compensate for the land claimed by Israeli settlements, has been floated, but the location and increasing rate of settlement building have all but made land swaps completely unrealistic. Too much land has been claimed by Israelis for there to be enough left over to trade.
The other challenge to any solution is the animosity felt by both sides. Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, have promoted violence against Israeli citizens and Fatah have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israel is not completely innocent in this regard, seen with the example of Elon Azaria. While the Israeli military ultimately punished the guilty individual, Hamas and some other Palestinians do not condemn violent actions against Israelis. It is important to note that not every Israeli or Palestinian supports violence against the other, but there is a significant number that do hold this view, which makes peace harder to achieve.
The domestic politics of both sides are increasingly pushing them to refuse to compromise, yet compromise is key to an overall solution to the conflict. Israel’s government is growing more conservative and antagonistic. Fatah leadership cannot be seen as weak towards Israel, or they could lose political ground to Hamas, so they must maintain a hard line against Israel as well. The increasing animosity, or at least distrust, on both sides pushes their governments to be stubborn, which only creates more distrust and anger.
As the obstacles to a two-state solution pile up, the international community needs a new solution to address the changing reality of the situation. A one-state solution could incorporate the affected areas under one federal government, while still allowing different areas to have their own strong local governments, similar to the federal system of Germany, India, and Iraq. The one-state solution could address some of the issues related to Jerusalem and movement of people, but it would most likely be unable to address the resentment between the two sides without the support of the international community. As it stands, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can continue saying he is supportive of a two-state solution while moving toward a single state. It is time rhetoric was made to match reality.
The international community needs to stop paying lip service to the idea of a two-state solution and refocus its efforts to influence the single state reality that is developing. The largest issue for the Israeli government with a one-state solution is that the Jewish population of any such state would be a minority in a short amount of time, if not from the beginning. The Israeli government would be forced to choose between its identity as a Jewish state or some of its democratic principles. The current government could wrongly maintain an apartheid system, restrict full legal and voting rights to Palestinians, or expel many people from the territory comprising the single state to maintain its Jewish identity. If the international community continues to solely focus on the two-state solution, it cannot influence the single state that is forming.
The international community must focus on the current reality and the implications of any likely one-state solution to help guard against violence and human rights abuses by both sides. Trump’s vague position on Israel gives Netanyahu room to operate and continue creating his de facto single state. He has remained unresponsive to calls for a two-state solution and is holding on to power well. If the international community wants to have any role at all in what that state looks like then they will need to address that reality.
Jacob Kennedy is pursuing his M.A. in Middle East Studies at George Washington University. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees in International Affairs and Economics from Marquette University in Wisconsin. He currently works in the Department of Justice and has previously interned in the Policy Planning Office of the Department of State.