The two-state solution to the Palestinian problem continues to be a hopeful image and a rational solution that benefits everyone. Historically there was considerable popular support for the two -state solution but surprisingly enough it seems to be waning. The two-state solution is now in jeopardy. Mosaic, a magazine of Jewish thought, recently published a thorough article reporting polling results that serve as evidence for what Palestinians actually think of the two-state solution. The most common line of thinking has been that everyone supports the two-state solution but leadership and provocative actions from both sides threaten its possibilities.
And we don’t have to guess Palestinian opinions about two-states because polling the Palestinians is persistent and, according to experts, of high quality. Moreover, a variety of reputable organizations frequently poll the Palestinians.
So what do the Palestinians think of the two-state solution?
When asked a direct question about their support for the two-state solution, over a two-year period (from 2012 to 2014), 52% of the Palestinians supported a two-state solution. That number dropped to just under 50% from 2014 to 2016. The average level of support by Israelis was 59%. Over time that number decreased slightly.
This general question about two states is by itself only minimally of interest but when it is converted into specific policy the results are very interesting. One polling study offered to Palestinians a solution package that was beyond what had ever been endorsed by an Israeli government. Palestinians were presented with a two-state solution in which the state was established in line with 1967 borders, East Jerusalem would be the capital and Palestinians would control the Al-Aqsa mosque, they would be allowed a strong security force, and provisions would be made for refugees. The solution package was considered to be acceptable to Israelis and include a generous response to all key issues.
This hypothetical solution was met with more opponents than supporters. There were more opponents 14 times out of the 16 times the package was presented to the Palestinian public. The deal was rejected about 54% of the time and decreased over time such that an average of 61% opposed the deal. Palestinian opposition intensified when they were presented with specific components of a resolution. They rejected the definition of East Jerusalem as their capital, did not think the proposal for refugees was sufficient, and strongly rejected the requirement that Palestine be a demilitarized state. Finally, only 39% of the Palestinians responded affirmatively to a statement that required the recognition of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
There are other responses to the specific planks of the proposal but the main point as of now is that the Palestinians generally indicate support for two-state solution, but continue to express opposition to the specifics of a generous offer available in the near future. I would add that a number of Palestinians (especially intellectuals) support a one-state or a binational solution, which has never been acceptable to the Israelis or discussed seriously as a political possibility.
But the most troubling finding reported in the Mosaic article is that there has been a regular increase (13% to 18%) in the number of Palestinians who support an “Islamic solution” which calls for a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. This is a position more in line with a “liberation of Palestine” perspective rather than a negotiated political solution. When polls asked Palestinians to make a choice between a single state, or a two-state solution, an unexpected 62% indicate their preference for a Palestinian single state in all of historic Palestine. Subsequent polls found that “reclaiming historic Palestine” was the first choice of 60% of respondents.
This more extreme position does not bode well for negotiations or solutions to problems. It indicates a radicalization that will only further divide the two groups. It represents a rejection of the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and polarizes the discourse by assuming positions that are untenable or considered extreme by the other side. The next post will explore in more detail the implications and the explanations for this liberation preference.
This week’s Jerusalem Post had a 25 page insert that was a political journal sponsored by the “Women in Green” who are a very conservative grassroots group concerned with advancing the interests of Israel. This is an interesting document and not something you would see in the United States, at least not typically. The entire document – or political journal as it is called – is devoted to the issue of declaring sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza. Because the two-state solution is losing favor and fading in the eyes of some, the right wing has seized the moment and is trying to kill off the two-state solution once and for all. Moreover, the election of President Trump has empowered the right wing because he is seen as sympathetic to their issues and the best chance for the United States to be more aggressive in the defense of Israel’s conservative environment. The election of Trump is considered a game changer because he is perceived as willing to find alternatives to the two-state solution and will be “tougher” in his defense of Israel. Note the appointment of Friedman as the ambassador to Israel who is very conservative and pro-settler.
A proposed solution that is receiving increased talk time anyway is the issue of sovereignty. Political sovereignty is when a political authority has power over independent states. That power is established through some sort of enabling law or Constitution. Governments maintain the integrity of the sovereignty relationship and ensure that the administered groups keep their rights and cultural freedoms.
Now there are different types of sovereignty and numerous complexities but we don’t want to send everybody scrambling to find their old political science books. Go here for more on sovereignty. Suffice it to say that Israel would be the primary overseer of a collection of communities that maintain their independence but had limits on citizenship rights, military, and certain other conditions that might damage the standing of the primary sovereign. Here is an outline of the sovereignty plan.
- There would be the establishment of Arab “autonomies” subject to the rule of the Israeli sovereign.
- Security and national issues will be under the control of the State of Israel.
- The autonomies would be bound together in an infrastructure that supports water, electricity, and a host of municipal services.
- Members of the autonomies would be eligible for health benefits, insurance, education, and freedom of movement. This grants the right of permanent resident but not citizenship.
- Martial law will be canceled and normal government services will be returned to civil society.
- The Oslo Accords, which turned out to be unsuccessful, will be canceled.
- The UN refugee organization will be released and refugees will have the right to settle in any autonomy.
- Ultimate responsibility for the protection and maintenance of holy sites will be with the State of Israel. All holy sites will be accessible to believers of all religions.
- No foreign country would have special status over holy sites anywhere in the country.
- The Gaza Strip is part of historical Israel that would ultimately have to become part of the sovereign relationship with Israel.
Suffice it to say that reasonably fulfilling and satisfying relationships can develop under conditions of sovereignty. Still, the success of sovereign relationships is dependent on the history of the relationship between the dominant political authority and the weaker party. Why do those supporting sovereignty believe that the Palestinians will be any more accepting of a sovereign relationship than of outright Israeli control. This conflict has been complex and delicate for a long time. The Palestinians have honed their own consciousness into images of a cohesive collective with all the requirements of nationhood – ethnic identity, religious orientation, national boundaries and borders, and the possibility of a proper functioning political system. The proposal of sovereignty is subject to the same deficiencies of any other proposal – the Palestinians still end up in the weaker position. That’s why a two-state solution remains the only hope for a mature political relationship between Israel and Palestine.
You would think that Trump and Netanyahu were pretty much compatible on most issues. Netanyahu and Israeli leadership did not care much at all for Obama even though much of the Obama style is just what is needed in this conflict. Obama was unfairly characterized as weak when in fact he was a little more considerate, deliberative, and diplomatic. Even though Obama was committed to Israeli security and continued munificent funding, Obama was not afraid to express differences between the U.S. and Israel in addition to turning a more respectful eye to the Arab world.
In fact, Trump is a dream president for Netanyahu. Trump has clear moral positions and a conservative’s sharp distinction between what is right and wrong. A couple of weeks ago before Trump met with the Prime Minister the right wing in Israel demanded that Netanyahu drop the two state solution. This was an aggressive move to strike while the iron was hot; that is, if any US president were going to oppose the two state solution, and support Israeli dominance in the West Bank and Gaza, it would be Trump. Moreover, during the campaign Trump supported moving the U.S embassy to Jerusalem, increased construction of settlements, and did not seem to be supportive of a Palestinian state.
But Trump’s statement after a meeting with Netanyahu shocked some people and disappointed the Israeli right when he said, “he is for anything the two parties are for – one state or two.” Trump got a fair amount of flak for this but he was actually saying he will accept anything the two main parties will accept. I thought Trump was misunderstood and certainly consistent with the demand that the solution be bilateral and the result of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. How could one argue with any solution that was truly acceptable to both sides even if certain third parties disagreed?
But the Israeli right did put the issue of settlements on the table. And because Trump knows very little about the issue and has no historical perspective, he is in a particularly vulnerable position with respect to Israeli conservatives and their efforts to annex the West Bank. Sentiment in Israel these days is increasingly one of “manage the conflict.” Trump doesn’t realize that the right wing in Israel is interested in one state –a state of Israel only. The Knesset already passed the “legalization law” that legalizes existing settler outposts. This law will probably be struck down by the Supreme Court but still represents the thinking of the Knesset.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have to get over their aversion to loss. This is difficult because research on cognitive processing and decision-making indicates that people fear loss more than they value gain. Both sides have tried to minimize loss rather than take the risks of possible gains. The two-state solution – whose death is premature and has been exaggerated – will require both sides to operate against their natural inclinations.
But the two-state solution is the only real answer. It’s the only way both groups maintain their identity and have the opportunity to cultivate their own history, culture, and literature. And it certainly is the only way Israel remains democratic and Jewish. There is no way Israel can be a reasonably ethical liberal state if it has to lord over a minority group that challenges the nature of the state and whose religion and national history is contrary to the state. Below is an abbreviated account of some basic assumptions and principles that will facilitate the establishment of two states. Again, for this to work both sides have to orient toward gain rather than loss. For more and related information see the Quartet report.
- The Israelis and the Palestinians must begin by mutually agreeing and understanding that peace and solutions to their problems cannot be achieved with force. They can only be achieved by consistent recognition of both sides and freedom from violence.
- Both sides should reaffirm the unacceptability of acquiring territory by force. This includes the settlements whose legal standing might be a matter of argument but clearly are a serious threat to any comprehensive peace.
- The matter of refugees must be settled and both sides will lose a little. Israel will provide compensation and readmit a small number of people, and the Palestinians will surely not flood the state of Israel with large numbers of descendants and families claiming property rights.
- Efforts at Palestinian state building must be recognized and supported by international organizations as well as Israel. Palestine must make progress on the matter of developing institutions (educational, cultural, state) that are stable and consistent with the constitution of the state.
- The two sides must solve the problem such that it is an “end of conflict” status. In other words, they need to satisfy the obligations and expectations of both sides and resolve any questions of recognition, political status, and legitimate demands. This includes a negotiated end of conflict including issues related to refugees, borders, and legal standing. This end of conflict status will be based on the following issues:
- All planks of a negotiated end of conflict are facilitative of the desire to establish democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous states.
- Clear recognition of borders along the 1967 border guidelines with the acceptance of agreed-upon exchanges and swaps.
- Specified security arrangements.
- Rigorous control of terrorism.
- An agreement as to the status of Jerusalem which might include sharing Jerusalem as the capital of two states.
- Firm and fair agreements on outstanding issues related to water, electricity, and environmental concerns.
- Firm restraints on the incitement of violence.
For some period of time after negotiated agreements the two polities will engage in trust and confidence building designed to develop an atmosphere of cooperation. The two sides will work to achieve the full potential and possibilities of neighborly relations. This will include the development, for example, of trade and educational exchanges as well as systematic efforts to learn about the other culture.
Of course, many of these will be difficult to achieve and there will always be those who claim naïveté with respect to actually solving this prototypical intractable conflict. But if you have another way, show me.
Most people who are considered “rational” resonate with the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In other words, there seems to be something coherent and right about both sides having their own state including cultural, religious, artistic, historical, and political traditions that define the nature of the state. In this nice rational world the two sides have clear borders and tolerate one another even if it means little more than going about their business. They would share business interests to each others mutual benefit and perhaps one day even find themselves in a certain amount of cultural convergence – just enough to appreciate the other side.
I continue to support and argue to keep the two-state solution alive. There are a variety of reasons for this but most important is the maintenance of Israel as a “Jewish” and “democratic” state, not to mention what would be an act of justice for the Palestinians. There is just no way Israel can maintain its democratic traditions and its Jewish identity if it has to oversee an angry and disenfranchised ethnopolitical group. The conflict with Palestinians has been damaging to Judaism as well as Zionism. And, it has been damaging to the Palestinians. Again there are many arguments about the history and nature of Palestinian identity and national culture but what matters most is the future and the reality of Palestinian national consciousness. A national consciousness that is inevitable.
A binational (one state for two nationalities) solution is a nonstarter and barely justifies consideration. It is opposed by the majority of Israelis and even plenty of Palestinians. In fact, it would be counterproductive with respect to the goal of securing a Jewish and democratic state living in peace. The two-state solution is the only path to avoiding a binational state. If handled correctly it could result in the dignity and cultural development of both groups allowing each to flourish. But alas settlers and Netanyahu are infuriatingly intent on preventing a Palestinian state.
The current thinking
Among many who see the demise of the two-state solution, along with the right wing who reject the two-state solution, the current thinking is summed up in the phrase “manage the conflict.” In other words, leave things just as they are. There will be no binational state and no state for the Palestinians. Things will stay just as they are and occasional tension and even violence is just the price you pay for normal political reality. “Managing the conflict” makes two foundational arguments.
The first is that Israel is doing just fine. It is a wealthy and prosperous country with a rich economy and a per capita income about 15 times the Palestinians. Israel maintains a strong relationship with the United States – Netanyahu’s insults to Obama notwithstanding – and continues to collect about 4 billion a year in foreign aid. Israel is a world leader in research, high-technology, and medicine. Typically, you hear the argument that these successes will not be improved by the creation of a Palestinian state.
The second point concerns the conscious settlement and geographical control of the West Bank. The Netanyahu government continues to support settlement expansion (under the guise of “natural” expansion) and the annexation of certain areas. This includes a recent announcement that about 100,000 Jews will be settled in the Golan Heights taking advantage of Syria’s inability to respond because of its civil war. Palestinians in areas A and B will not be citizens or have voting rights in Israel itself thus making employment difficult and increasing the possibilities for immigration. Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, therefore, see no need for a Palestinian state. Just “manage the conflict” and issues will settle themselves over time.
The proposal for a one state solution in Israel usually comes from the far left, which defends a one state solution on the basis of a pure liberal democracy and universal values that would not privilege a Jewish state, or from the far right that wants to simply appropriate the land and maintain its controlling stance. That’s why my ears perked up when I began to see announcements of Caroline Glick’s new book on the one state solution. You can read something more about it here.
Glick is a tough and articulate conservative who writes for The Jerusalem Post and has been an assistant foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu. Over the years I have found her to be worth reading, even though I often disagree, and a relentless conservative defender of Israel.
Glick has given up on the two-state solution. She claims that the whole thing was doomed from the beginning and she has now become a defender of a one state solution. I found myself eager to read on because I can’t imagine a one state solution that does not significantly disadvantage Israel. Most sensible defenders of Israel – the ones who realize Israel’s mistakes and don’t want to oppress anyone – just want a state to be standing in the end that is devoted to Jewish particularity with the Constitution or Statement of Principles that makes it impossible to eliminate the Jewish character of the state. So how would Glick reconcile this?
She begins by making arguments such as the following: the two-state solution it turns out makes it impossible for Jews to live and pray in Jerusalem and to assert any rights to the traditional lands of Judea and Samaria. This is because Palestinians would be there and living in a Palestinian state including areas of Jerusalem. I never thought of this as a problem but rather an integrative solution. Yes, in some hypothetical two states sections of Jerusalem would be Palestinian and make for a peaceful and coordinated community rather than one that denies Jews access to holy sites. Such a solution, I always presumed, would not have been negotiated in the first place. For all intents and purposes Glick’s argument here is to establish a dominant Israeli Jewish society that somehow magically treats the Palestinians appropriately but keeps them from full power in the political system. I don’t know how this is supposed to work.
Then, Glick makes the argument from history about Israel’s legal claim to sovereignty over Judea and Samaria and how it is grounded in international law. She cites a few experts and documents and then seems actually to believe that the issue is settled. She lists out the standard statements about cease-fire lines not being political borders and the Arab rejection of the partition and again seems to accept these as a given. Surely she does not think that Arab states will simply accept Israel’s rights to the West Bank,that arguments about borders from history are clear and cannot be confounded. These arguments have been contested for decades. Their easy rejection is part of the nature of intractable conflicts where history becomes the plaything of each side.
Glick’s solution is essentially to extend Israeli law to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. She seems to think the Palestinians will accept Israeli law the same way the Druze and Arab residents have. Additionally, one of her reasons for the rejection of the two-state solution is that Palestinian leaders are deeply anti-Semitic and the establishment of a state would be problematic for Israel. I accept that the Palestinians probably have more than a few misconceptions about Jews, but transforming these stereotypes and prejudices must be part of the peace process and can be facilitated by the existence of their own state.
In the end, I found Glick’s proposals to be reasonably shallow and unworkable. The Palestinians are deserving of their own national entity and if they turn their attention to the noble work of state building then both groups of once or now displaced people (Jews and Palestinians) can experience a “return.”
Apparently, monster computers deep in the bowels of universities are cooking up bizarre political solutions that have grotesque shapes and unlikely survival rates. Last week in the New York Times Ian Lustick of The University of Pennsylvania wrote an opinion piece arguing that the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead and based on false assumptions. You can read the article here. The essence of Lustick’s arguments are that Palestine is more likely to be Islamist and unreceptive to the two-state solution, as well as the end of Israel’s Zionist project, demographic threats, and cultural exhaustion. Lustick goes on to explain that the two-state solution has become a slogan kept alive only by the “peace process” industry.
Ian Lustick is a highly capable well-respected political scientist who is interested in state expansion and contraction. He has written cogently about Israel for decades and offers examples of sudden changes in nations and states that result from crossing certain thresholds of acceptability. He cites the sudden rise of revolts in Ireland leading to the establishment of an independent Ireland, the powerful French influence in Algeria which seemed to matter little as Algeria became independent and the Europeans disappeared, and the supposed stability of the Soviet Union that finally broke up and morphed into other arrangements. Ian Lustick is always worth reading.
But Professor Lustick often uses computer simulations to model political polities and institutions that lead to conclusions about what forces in society might expand or contract, or overwhelm other forces in society. These models include measurement of the forces that produce change in one institution caused by another. You can see an explanation of these computer simulations here. One can recognize the language of these simulations in the Lustick article when he says things like “when those thresholds are crossed, the impossible suddenly becomes probable, with revolutionary implications for governments and nations.” These models operate by establishing thresholds that resist change but are often “crossed” and result in new and sometimes creative combinations of unity. If the theory and the simulation are sound the model can generate predictions about shifts in power, new alliances between organizational entities, and the effects of such processes as argument and deliberation.
I fear that Professor Lustick’s computers have now taken on a “Hal” persona and begun saying things that make little sense. The new predicted alliance structures are certainly creative and could only have sprung forth from the mind of an iterating computer model, but that does not make them any less silly. Here are some alliances and new environments stated by Lustick – and predicted as possibilities by his computer, and described as potentially peaceful and secure environments. I quote from the New York Times article.
“Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global Village Israeli entrepreneurs.”
“Ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists.”
“Israel’s families that came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab.”
“Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or original formula that is more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.”
Predictions of new alliances such as these could only come from a machine modeling theoretical processes – a machine incapable of deep political and cultural understanding. Secular Tel Aviv citizens are going to form an alliance with foreign workers and non-Jewish Russians? How exactly does that work and what do these groups have in common other than secularism. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslim traditionalists make common cause just because both sides are sealed in their respective religious traditions! Are there any computer models that input the history, politics, and differences between these religions and see whether such amalgamations amount to anything? I think these two groups are more likely to escalate competition and violence than form alliances. Israel’s “Eastern population” should ally with Arabs? Professor Lustick is actually suggesting that Israeli citizens develop an Arab identity rather than an Israeli or Jewish one? Difficult to imagine.
The two-state solution has plenty of life in it and is truly the best answer even though Lustick is correct that it is becoming more difficult to grasp even after all this time. Two states for two peoples is the most humane and politically democratic solution. It is a consequence of the belief that the Palestinian people constitute a collective existence deserving of political and cultural expression.