In the aftermath of one of the bloodiest conflicts between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, a renewed debate has emerged about the viability of the two-state solution to the enduring Israel-Palestine crisis. While the exact timeline for the “day after” remains uncertain, world leaders are grappling with the urgent need for a vision that can pave the way to lasting peace.
The two-state solution, endorsed repeatedly by global leaders, envisions the establishment of two independent, sovereign states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, coexisting side by side between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. However, reaching a consensus on this solution has proven elusive for decades, and pessimism has prevailed since the collapse of talks in 2014 and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Opinion polls conducted prior to Hamas’s recent assault on Israeli citizens underscored a decline in public support for this solution. A Pew Research Center survey in September revealed that only 35% of Israelis believed in peaceful coexistence between Israel and an independent Palestinian state, marking a 15-percentage point drop since 2013. Among Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, just 24% supported the two-state solution, down from 59% in 2012.
The prospect of reviving the two-state solution is fraught with challenges. A lack of leadership and political will on both sides, combined with the deeply traumatized societies post-conflict, pose significant obstacles. Israel’s far-right government has historically opposed the idea of an independent Palestinian state, while the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, faces credibility issues and a leadership vacuum. Marwan Barghouti, a potential successor, languishes in an Israeli prison.
Despite these challenges, many experts argue that there are no better alternatives. Yossi Mekelberg of Chatham House asserts that the two-state solution remains the most viable option to secure political, civil, and human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. Aaron David Miller, a Middle East adviser, acknowledges the aspiration but deems it a mission with low odds of success.
In the United States, President Joe Biden’s focus is primarily on his domestic political battles. A change in leadership could impact the future prospects of the two-state solution. Regional tensions, civilian casualties, and a dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza may restrain Arab states’ involvement in the peace process.
The core challenges of borders, Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security, and Gaza persist. However, Hiba Husseini and Yossi Beilin suggest a proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian confederation, offering a detailed approach. The concept envisions incorporating some Jewish settlements near the pre-1967 “green line” into Israel, with land swaps compensating for a new Palestinian state. An “open city” administration in Jerusalem, encompassing holy sites, is another integral component.
Gaza’s inclusion in a future Palestinian state necessitates land corridors, a challenge with existing blueprints. A Palestinian state would have a police force but no military or air force. The right of return for Palestinian refugees and a symbolic number of descendants returning to Israel would be accommodated.
The principle of two states coexisting is critical, although dark times overshadow the moment. The EU supports the two-state solution and calls for a peace conference within six months of the war’s conclusion.
Ultimately, reviving the two-state solution demands fresh political leadership on both sides. With the right leaders and political will, a framework agreement could be reached, igniting public support for a lasting resolution.
The one-state solution, favoring a single democratic state for Israel and the Palestinian territories, gains traction but presents challenges. The demographic shift is already evident, with the Palestinian population growing faster.
As the debate continues, the two-state solution, though laden with hurdles, remains the most viable path to long-awaited peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.