The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas has once again raised the question of whether a two-state solution is possible or desirable for the decades-long conflict. While many world leaders and diplomats have reiterated their support for the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, the reality on the ground seems to make it a distant dream.
The obstacles to a two-state solution
One of the main obstacles to a two-state solution is the lack of trust and dialogue between the two sides. Israel and the Palestinians have not held any meaningful peace talks since 2014, when the US-brokered negotiations collapsed. Since then, the situation has deteriorated, with Israel expanding its settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Hamas consolidating its control over the Gaza Strip.
Another obstacle is the division among the Palestinians themselves. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and many Western countries, does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and rejects any compromise. It has been in a bitter rivalry with the Fatah movement, which leads the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and is more willing to negotiate with Israel. The two factions have failed to implement a series of reconciliation agreements, leaving the Palestinians politically and geographically split.
A third obstacle is the changing regional and international dynamics. The Arab world, which once supported the Palestinian cause, has shifted its priorities and interests. Several Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, have normalized their relations with Israel in recent years, in exchange for economic and security benefits. These moves have weakened the Arab leverage and solidarity with the Palestinians, and have also alienated Iran, which backs Hamas and other militant groups in the region.
The US, which has traditionally played a key role in mediating the conflict, has also changed its stance and approach. Under former President Donald Trump, the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved its embassy there, cut aid to the Palestinians, and unveiled a controversial peace plan that favored Israel. Although President Joe Biden has reversed some of these policies and called for a two-state solution, he has also reaffirmed the US’s unwavering support for Israel’s security and right to defend itself.
The alternatives to a two-state solution
Given the challenges and obstacles to a two-state solution, some analysts and activists have proposed other alternatives, such as a one-state solution, a confederation, or a regional framework.
A one-state solution would entail the creation of a single, democratic and secular state that encompasses all of historic Palestine, where Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights and representation. This option is favored by some Palestinians who see it as a way to restore their historic rights and end the occupation, and by some Israelis who see it as a way to preserve the Jewish character and control of the land. However, this option faces strong opposition from both sides, as it would entail the dissolution of their national identities and aspirations, and the risk of violence and instability.
A confederation would entail the creation of two separate states, Israel and Palestine, that would share some aspects of sovereignty, such as security, economy, and infrastructure. This option is favored by some moderates who see it as a way to balance the needs and interests of both sides, and to foster cooperation and coexistence. However, this option faces practical and political difficulties, such as the definition of borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of refugees, and the role of external actors.
A regional framework would entail the involvement of other Arab countries and regional powers, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, in the resolution of the conflict. This option is favored by some pragmatists who see it as a way to address the broader issues and challenges in the Middle East, such as security, stability, development, and extremism. However, this option faces geopolitical and ideological obstacles, such as the rivalry and mistrust between different actors, the divergent agendas and interests, and the lack of consensus and coordination.
The prospects for a two-state solution
Despite the difficulties and drawbacks of the alternatives, a two-state solution remains the most widely accepted and endorsed option by the international community and the majority of Israelis and Palestinians. According to a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Israel Democracy Institute, 43% of Palestinians and 45% of Israelis support a two-state solution, while 56% of Palestinians and 49% of Israelis oppose a one-state solution.
However, a two-state solution also faces significant challenges and risks, such as the lack of political will and leadership, the influence of hardliners and extremists, the erosion of public support and trust, and the deterioration of the humanitarian and security situation. Moreover, a two-state solution does not guarantee a lasting and comprehensive peace, as it would still leave many unresolved issues and grievances, such as the status of Jerusalem, the fate of refugees, the recognition of Israel, and the reconciliation of the Palestinians.
Therefore, a two-state solution is not a magic bullet or a pie in the sky, but a complex and contested process that requires courage, compromise, and creativity from all parties involved. It also requires the support and engagement of the regional and international actors, who can play a constructive and balanced role in facilitating dialogue, providing incentives, and ensuring accountability. Ultimately, a two-state solution is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve a more just and peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians.