The death of the two state solution

Most people seeking a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict have clung to the hope of some form of a two-state solution, where each group has its own viable independent state. But Robert Wright writes in The Atlantic that it is rapidly disappearing as a realistic option.

Krieger’s critique focuses on this quote from my piece: “There are just too many settlements, interconnected by too many roads that restrict the movement of too many Palestinians, for a two-state deal to result in anything Palestinians could proudly call a ‘state.'”

Krieger agrees with me that a two-state solution would require uprooting the vast majority of the West Bank’s settlements–but, he notes, this doesn’t mean uprooting the vast majority of settlers. Since most of the settlers live in big settlement blocks fairly close to the 1967 “green line,” Israel could keep just 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the West Bank (and give Palestine compensatory chunks of Israel proper), and thus leave around 75 percent of the settlers where they are.

OK, fine. But, according to Krieger’s numbers, this would still involve uprooting 125,000 settlers! If anyone considers this a readily doable project, I recommend going to Hebron, where fewer than one percent of those 125,000 live, and asking the settlers whether they’d go peacefully. Compounding their assured intransigence is that the Israeli army, which would be doing the extracting, is itself increasingly populated by intensely religious settlement supporters, some of whom say they won’t carry out settler-eviction orders.

But that’s why it’s crucial that those of us who live at a safe remove from the conflict, and can in theory summon detachment, should try hard to see the situation clearly, succumbing neither to paralyzing fear nor cozy illusions. And the most common cozy illusion is that, though the time may not be right for a two-state solution now, we can always do the deal a year or two or three down the road.

The truth is that a two-state solution is almost completely dead, and it gets closer to death every day. If there’s any hope at all of reviving it, that will involve, among other things, somehow delivering a shock to the Israeli system. Peter Beinart has an idea for how to do that. Does Zvika Kriegert? Do any of the other well-intentioned liberal Zionists who keep affirming their allegiance to a two-state solution as if that ritual incantation was somehow helping things?

This week saw the dreary repetition of a familiar scenario. The Israeli government evicted one settler group with great fanfare from a single house in Hebron while at the same time it authorized construction of 800 new settler houses and announced plans “to seek the necessary permits to retroactively legalize three other West Bank settler outposts that went up without authorization.”

The well-known Israeli commentator Gideon Levy uses this story to go even further than Wright and declare that the two-state option is already dead, except for symbolic futile gestures against settler encroachment.

If the apartheid neighborhood in Hebron could not stir Israelis from their moral fog – and any decent person who visits there is shocked to the depths of their being – and if life goes on undisturbed, with no moral questions, even as this horror occurs in our own backyard, then what difference does another stolen house make? Let it go, let other houses go; the chance for a solution is long past.

The battle for Hebron has been decided. All that remains is to ask what will replace the solution that was put to death. There will not be two states. Even a child knows the alternative: one state. There is no third option. Israel’s most radical left won. For years it said one state, even as we played with ourselves at two states. Now everyone says two states, in unison, only because they know that train has left the station, and the great train robbery was pulled off.

From now we need only take care with our definitions: The extreme left is whoever endeavors toward a single state – the plundering settlers, the establishment that embraces them and the majority of Israelis, who do not lift a finger to stop them.

Stephen M. Walt says that Israel’s policies of occupation and settlement have also pretty much shut the door on the two state option, that it is time to realize that Israeli leaders have no intention of giving up the West Bank, and that we should stop allowing American politicians to prattle on mindlessly about a two state solution (which he refers to as 2SS) and instead ask then some pointed hard questions.

So Netanyahu’s aim is clear: keeping control of the West Bank forever. And the reference to “doing everything according to the law” is revealing, because “law” here means the law of the occupation, which is the same law that has allowed a half a million Israelis to move onto the territories conquered in 1967 over the past forty years.

And if you haven’t given up in despair already, please revisit this piece of mine from 2009. I asked it then and I ask it today: Once the two-state solution is really and truly buried, then what position is the U.S. government going to take? For that matter, what position will the hardliners at AIPAC or the ADL defend, and what will so-called progressives at groups like J Street favor? Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians to ensure a Jewish majority? Binational democracy and equal rights for all residents of a single state? Or permanent apartheid, with the Palestinians confined to self-governing enclaves under de facto Israeli control? Those are the only other options to the 2SS and every AIPAC rep, Christian Zionist, and supposedly “pro-Israel” Congressperson ought to be asked repeatedly which of these three options they now endorse. Ditto State Department and White House spokespeople, and anyone who aspires to be president, including the current incumbent.

And if they try to say that they are still in favor of 2SS, someone should ask why they still believe it is possible, and what they concrete steps they intend to do to make it happen. And while we are at it, someone might also ask them why they believe U.S. taxpayers should continue to subsidize settlement construction. And make no mistake: Because money is fungible, that is exactly what our aid package does.

But of course, such questions will not be asked of the candidates. The charade of the ‘peace process’ that seeks a ‘two-state solution’ will continue while the settlers keep expanding their reach under this rhetorical cover and the Palestinians continue to be consigned to live under a permanent state of occupation.


  1. says

    Keep in mind the saying that,”Everyman has his price”.
    True or not, wouldn’t it be worthwhile, in the few future years that you mention, when the
    current world wide Recession has been left behind & nations
    have the funds to do so to…offer a buy out amount to the estimated 125,000, obtained from a world contribution pool,that
    the individuals to be
    moved can’t resist.
    Surely, in a very long run this approach may end up
    costing the world less than the potentiating the current cancerous situation from persisting?

  2. Interrobang says

    There never was a viable way of making a “two-state” solution, without cutting off part of Israel to connect Gaza and the West Bank, and that was never going to happen. The options at this point are either one state, or three.

  3. Kevin says

    Sometimes I just don’t know how to react to such nonsense.

    As an atheist, I do not see any piece of the Earth as more-sacred than any other piece of the Earth. This entire fight started because some people think that piece of the Earth is theirs by virtue of a pact with an invisible sky fairy. Ignoring the fact that there were already plenty of people there in the first place, who worshiped that sky fairy in a different way and were quite insistent that the land was theirs.

    If I were a “Palestinian”, I would get my brown ass as far away from that blighted region as I possibly could. Only their stubborn pride keeps them there, hoping against all odds and the reality of their sad situation that doing the same thing over and over again will give them a different result.

    In my MBA program, we called this “overcommitment to a failed plan.”

    In a non-religious world, the two groups could live and work together peaceably. Not now; perhaps not ever.

  4. Alverant says

    The other problem is that people think that criticizing anything Isreal does, no matter how bad, is anti-semetic.

    Oh and Kevin, where are the Palestinians suppose to go and how are they suppose to get there?

  5. slc1 says

    This is a real problem because the Palestinians are not wanted anywhere else in the Arab World.

  6. slc1 says

    Aside from everything else, I don’t think that any of the nations in the Western Hemisphere are in a good position to criticize Israel, given the genocide committed against native Americans by European Settlers.

    Of course, if the Israelis had done to the Palestinians what the European settlers did to native Americans, there wouldn’t be a problem with Palestinians because there wouldn’t be any Palestinians. This should not in any way, shape, form, or regard be construed as an advocacy for such an action.

  7. David Hart says

    At some point it’s going to get so bad that the cheapest / least war-causing option will be a massive sea-reclaiming operation to extend the Gaza Strip far enough into the Mediterranean to accommodate all the Palestinians. Maybe we should start tendering for quotes now.

  8. slc1 says

    Unfortunately, there are large deposits of natural gas in the Mediterranean near the shorelines of the Gaza Strip and Israel. Such an extension will lead to further conflict over who owns what.

    There is another problem which most commentators do not address, namely that rising sea levels due to global warming will threaten the Gaza Strip, most of which isn’t very far about sea level as we sit here today.

  9. says

    I’m encouraged to see more and more mainstream news sources like the Antlantic (hardy the fringe at least) recognize the reality of the situation in the west bank. For a long time it seemed when I was growing up you couldn’t even find accurate maps of the region on the news. The entire conflict was reported in a kind of nebulous fog wherein the actual geography of the occupation was somehow irrelevant to the politics.

    Also, could we stop calling them “settlements” and “settlers”. The image I always had was of scared Israelite pioneers huddled around a fire in the cold desert night, keeping a wary eye out for marauding bands of fierce PLO warriors. Then you finally see these “settlements” and you realize no… Those are condos. Nice ones.

  10. Dunc says

    If I were a “Palestinian”, I would get my brown ass as far away from that blighted region as I possibly could.

    They can’t leave – Israel won’t let them out, nobody else will take them in, and they’re mostly very, very poor, so even if they had somewhere to go, they couldn’t afford to. What exactly do you suggest they do?

  11. EwgB says

    Well you mentioned part of the problem right there. The other arab countries are quite happy to “help” the Palestinians’ struggle by supplying them with weapons and meager aid, but are not willing to accept their “brothers” into their countries, or at the very best settling them in refugee camps near the border (which are perfect breeding grounds for future terrorists and suicide bombers).

  12. Mano Singham says

    I am surprised at the number of comments by people who think that the problem is finding a place for the Palestinians to go to. Why should they be displaced from their homes at all?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *