Much literature and world attention has been devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it is inconceivable to engage in a discourse about Israel or Palestine without referencing the long strife and suffering on both sides. Over the past six decades, wars have been fought, uprisings have been suppressed, over 200,000 people have been either killed or wounded, millions have been displaced, negotiations have begun, and failed and then re-started, and fingers have been pointed. Considering that Israel and Palestine are nowhere close to reaching a solution to the conflict, one does not require a tremendous amount of clairvoyance to believe that the region will continue to be embroiled in violent struggle for most of the remainder of the 21st century.
For the past few decades, the view has been widely held by the United Nations, the United States, and other foreign onlookers that the only plausible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is the two-state solution. Peace talks and negotiations between the two sides have primarily intended to attain a scenario where an independent Palestinian state co-exists peacefully with Israel based on the borders that existed prior to the 1967 war with adjustments to reflect the present demographics of the region. In recent times, however, interest in the two-state solution, among both Israel and Palestine, appears to be waning.
Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been far from enthusiastic in supporting the two-state solution. Support for an Israeli state that would encompass the current state of Israel and the Palestinian territories is gaining momentum among the Israeli population. Israeli political parties that were in favor of a two state solution were handed a massive defeat in the elections for the Knesset in January. Many Palestinians believe that their dream of a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel is unlikely to be fulfilled and are beginning to accept ground reality. On the other hand, Hamas, the Palestinian organization operating in the Gaza strip, was never at peace with a two-state solution having refused to accept Israel’s right to exist from the very beginning. The recent divergence from formulating a two-state solution to a one-state scenario has some worrisome implications, primarily for Israel.
The underlying issue arising from a one-state scenario stems from the fact that a one-state outcome is not a win-win scenario- one side is bound to be worse-off. While it is safe to assume that Hamas’ version of a one-state outcome is far from likely to materialize, the possibility of a “Greater Israel” is gradually gaining strength. Israel’s continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has put a spoke in the wheel of proponents of the two-state solution. The right-leaning Likud Party, which is currently the largest party in the Knesset, has traditionally been a vehement supporter of building settlements in the West Bank and has opposed Palestinian statehood in the past. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, has refused to hold any talks with Israel unless the building of settlements in Palestinian territories is stalled. The presence of Jewish settlements deep within Palestinian territory is undoubtedly a significant blow to the feasibility of a two-state outcome. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plain refusal to relocate the existing settlements to accommodate a potential Palestinian state has contributed to the inertia of the negotiations pushing for two states. Benjamin Netanyahu has also insisted that if an independent Palestine were to be created, it would have to be demilitarized and Israel should have control over the Jordan valley and the air space over the Palestinian territories in the West Bank- a demand that even the most tolerable Palestinian negotiator will find difficult to accept. Furthermore, Jerusalem, a city considered sacred in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, continues to be the biggest bone of contention between the two sides. The stalemate over Jerusalem proved to be one of the major factors behind the failure of the Camp David Summit hosted by President Clinton in 2000. Israel continues to be immovable as far as relinquishing control over any part of the holy city is concerned and the Palestinians cannot conceive the formation of a state without having some part of Jerusalem as their capital.
The situation has further deteriorated due to the fact that attaining a two state solution does not feature near the top of Israel’s priority list. The security of the inhabitants of the gated settlements in the West Bank has been well taken care of through security fences, security checkpoints, and a network of roads providing a connection to Israel proper and limiting contact with the Palestinian neighborhoods. The growing belief that a one-state outcome is only an eventuality will soon prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Israel, however, may soon be forced to reevaluate its belief since a one-state outcome does not work entirely in its interests.
If an Israeli state extending from the Mediterranean to the Jordan valley was to be formed, differences in the population growth rates of the Jews and Arabs would imply that the Jews would become a minority. Based on Israel’s 2012 census data and figures published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Israeli Jews currently account for approximately 54% of the 11.9 million people living in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip. Considering that the Palestinian population has been consistently growing at a faster rate than the Jewish population, the Jews will not be able to hold on to their slender majority for long. If the Palestinians are offered complete Israeli citizenship, the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs would soon outvote the Jews and dominate the politics by virtue of their numbers. The Jewish people thus face the risk of being marginalized. Bearing in mind that the formation of a Jewish state was the most important premise on which Israel was founded and that the relationship between the Jews and Arabs has been fraught with mutual distrust, it is hard to imagine Israel’s Jewish population to be at peace with being eventually governed by an Arab majority.
Israel can try to avoid this consequence by restricting the Palestinians’ civil rights in the new state and denying the nearly 3 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and other parts of the world the right to return to the erstwhile Palestinian territories. Israel, however, is likely to lose its legitimacy as a democracy and support on the international stage if it undertakes any such move. Additionally, if the Palestinians feel deprived of the rights that they have fought sixty-five years for, the violence and strife is only going to continue unimpeded.
It is for these reasons that a single state will not provide a long-term resolution to the conflict. While a two-state solution is most certainly the more ideal scenario, ground realities prevent it from coming into fruition. Multiple American Presidents have stressed the need for the creation of two states but the disinclination to compromise on the part of both the Palestinians and the Israelis has meant that no progress has been made after decades of negotiations. The present impasse can be attributed primarily to Israel’s continued expansion in Palestinian land and the estrangement between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, evidenced by the fact that the latter made no secret of his support for Republican Mitt Romney in the Presidential Elections in 2012. President Obama has been increasingly frustrated by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brazen rejection of pleas to stop settlement construction in the West Bank. On the other hand, Netanyahu has been critical of Obama’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon which it views as its biggest security threat. As Netanyahu continues to build settlements deep within Palestinian land, the prospect of creating a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with adjustments to accommodate the settlers grows dimmer.
Netanyahu has also repeatedly lamented that there have been no efforts on the Palestinian side to resume peace talks but many believe that he shares a chunk of the blame for his provocative expansionism. At the same time, the Palestinians’ faith in the US as a neutral moderator has waned since Obama took over from President Bush in 2009. While Presidents Bush and Clinton were supportive of the Palestinians’ demand for a state with East Jerusalem as the capital city, President Obama has not been as responsive in trying to persuade Israel to consider sharing the city of Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state. Additionally, many in the Palestinian camp believe that peace talks will only be used as an alibi by Israel to blame the Palestinians for being inflexible and uncompromising. To further complicate matters, the internal rift between the hardliners of Hamas in the Gaza strip and the more moderate Fatah in the West Bank has prevented the Palestinians from projecting a united voice.
While the formulation of a two state solution is far from a reality, it is the only plan on the table that can be considered a solution, unlike the one-state outcome that is gaining popularity. The demographics of the region dictate that a one-state outcome cannot possibly be in the best interests of Israel’s Jewish population in the long run. Israel must thus be quick to reconsider its growing inclination towards a one-state eventuality and consequent apathy towards the creation of two states. The first and most important step towards achieving this is to halt the construction of settlements in Palestinian territories lest it risks losing the unwavering support of its allies and international backing for its cause. Although Hamas continues to thwart any peace process with frequent rocket attacks against Israel, it is imperative that Israel and the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas resume the peace process. While the Palestinians have often been blamed for being inflexible during negotiations in the past, they cannot be blamed for insisting that a halt to settlement construction be a pre-condition for talks as they helplessly watch the land on which their future state is meant to be built being diminished. It is thus in Israel’s interests to ensure that all sides involved revitalize their desire to attain a two-state solution and make a serious attempt to resolve a bloody and costly conflict.