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The Gaza War Marked the End of the Two-State Solution: Here’s What’s Next

In an excerpt from an important new political analysis, an introduction to the ‘One Land, Two State’ solution

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Jerusalem, July, 2014. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)
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The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has now raged for the better part of a century. Israel was established as a state in 1948, but the origins of the conflict go back much further, at least to the first days of the Zionist movement. Some say the conflict was born more than 3,000 years ago, when Moses espied the green strip of Jericho from Mount Nebo, on the other side of the Jordan River; or earlier still, when Abraham first passed through the land of Canaan and rested in Shechem, close to today’s Nablus.

From the biblical period through the present day the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River has been the site of innumerable conflicts over territory and the identities that have taken shape within it. As we go to press, prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians remain bleak, primarily because a territorial division acceptable to both sides is not in sight. Israel continues to strengthen its presence across the West Bank while remaining in control over many aspects of life in Gaza. Among increasing numbers of both Palestinians and Israelis the view is gaining ground that time has run out for a traditional two-state solution—that is, a division of historic Palestine/Eretz Yisrael into two territorially distinct states.

If a two-state solution seems increasingly remote, a one-state solution remains unacceptable to the vast majority of Israelis for political and cultural as well as demographic reasons. A significant percentage of Palestinians is similarly not ready to give up the long-sought-after dream of a sovereign Palestinian state. Facts on the ground have led to loss of hope, and the belief is widespread that the two-state solution is dead.

Could a concept with two parallel state structures, both covering the whole territory, with one answering to Palestinians and one to Israelis regardless of where they live, be envisaged? Could such a concept contribute to unlocking positions on key issues and thus opening up a way forward?

In a Parallel States structure, one Israeli state and one Palestinian would both cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In such a scenario, military, political, and economic barriers would be lifted, and a joint security and defense policy, a common and equitable economic policy, and joint and harmonized legislation would replace existing divisions. Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and would permit free movement over the whole area for both peoples, as well as providing a vision for an end of conflict.

This vision of two states on the same land is, of course, only a vision. It may be that it is far too remote from present realities ever to be implemented or seriously contemplated as such. But considering the present lack of movement and of ways out of the present deadlock and even of ideas, more imaginative scenarios may have to be reflected upon. It cannot be excluded that such a discussion might reveal elements of solutions not previously considered and thus indicate other ways forward.

The international situation is constantly changing, not least in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings have created a completely new situation across the region. Old truths are being questioned and new thoughts introduced, while long-stable balances of power, alignments of forces, and strategic principles and concepts have been challenged and even upended.

Today neither sovereignty nor the role of the nation-state is what it was even a generation ago. Despite the ongoing political and ideological salience of the nation-state, in practice national sovereignty is now divided and circumscribed in unprecedented ways, while control of territory has lost its power to determine the shape, path, and speed of development or the broader well-being of peoples.

Developments in international law; the growth and proliferation of international institutions; and economic, technological, and political globalization have all contributed to creating more porous borders between states, as well as limiting a state’s capacity to exercise indiscriminate power. The concept of power itself is gradually gaining both new content and new dimensions. The scope of military power is increasingly challenged and complemented by economic, technological, and political power, as well as the power of information. Economic and political power no longer flow mainly from control of land.

But the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is like few others, stubbornly focused on control of land. Developments on the ground have in many ways gone too far to permit a workable territorial division of Palestinians and Israelis into distinct political entities. Physical and political obstacles continue to grow. Politically, the Israeli electorate is increasingly skeptical, not to say hostile, to a deal with the Palestinians built upon the principle of dividing the land. The thirst of the Israeli right to settle more and more land remains unquenched. Physically, the web of Israeli roads and settlements on the West Bank is forming a geological sediment on top of the existing Palestinian society, and politically the Israeli “matrix of control” is slowly making substantial and sustainable development impossible for the Palestinians. In Gaza, economic and social conditions remain miserable, while the recently celebrated economic growth in the West Bank has been limited to a few cities and is not built on a stable political framework or an autonomous economic foundation. The Palestinian Authority’s attempt to build a state under occupation has all but failed. Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel, despite their citizenship, continue to suffer discrimination in various ways.

Israel continues to control almost all the territory of what was once the Mandate for Palestine and has so far not been willing to part with what Palestinians regard as the minimum necessary to enable the creation of a territorially viable Palestinian state. Demographic developments are making Palestinians a majority in the whole area of pre-1948 Palestine. A situation with a minority controlling more than 80 percent of the territory and suppressing the majority of the population is not sustainable.

The so-called peace process has brought neither peace nor process. That is, not only has it failed to provide peace, but its continued existence is also owed to the necessity of maintaining the “process” at the expense of a peace whose contours and implications none of the interested parties would likely accept. The failed Palestinian attempt in 2011 to gain recognition at the United Nations has been characterized as the final burial. The new U.N. vote in 2012 to grant Palestine nonmember state status was an important Palestinian psychological and political victory, but it changes little in reality.

The present paradigm of dividing the land geographically has not worked, in spite of 30 years of continual efforts, numerous plans, and endless talks—or talks about talks—involving the two parties, the United States, the European Union, and large parts of the international community. And there are solid reasons why it is not working: Physically there is not much left to divide, and politically the necessary political will has not been mobilized.

Put simply, a two-state solution seems no longer in the cards. A one-state solution most likely never was. If the land cannot be shared by geographical division, and if a one-state solution remains unacceptable, can the land be shared in some other way? Is it possible to imagine another way that can provide an opening out of the present deadlock?

***

It is into this situation that we introduce the concept of parallel states. Can one design a scenario with a new type of two-state solution: one Israeli state structure and one Palestinian state structure, in parallel, each covering the whole area, and with equal but separate political and civil rights for all? Such a scenario would mean decoupling the exclusive link between state and territory, and replacing it with a link between the state and the individual, regardless of where he or she lives. Two state structures, parallel to or “superimposed” upon each other, would thus cover the whole area of Mandatory Palestine.

The question of who should belong to which state could be addressed either by nationality or by choice or by some combination of both. Thus people in the whole area could be able to choose freely to which state they would belong, and at the same time have the right—at least in principle—to settle where they liked within the whole territory. Citizenship could then be the result of an individual’s free choice or nationality, and would follow the citizen throughout the territory.

Such an arrangement would likely lead, on the one hand, to a mainly Jewish-Israeli area consisting of the bulk of present-day Israel and a number of the larger Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But this area should also be open for Palestinians wishing to live there, initially perhaps in limited numbers, until the structure won general acceptance and confidence from both sides. Israelis living in this area would be under Israeli jurisdiction, but individuals living there could also be free to choose to belong to the Palestinian state, and thus to be under Palestinian jurisdiction.

In the same way, one could imagine a Palestinian area consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, and maybe parts of the areas in Israel where Palestinians now predominate. Such an area would, however, in the same way be open for Jews-Israelis—and others—who wished to live there, perhaps with corresponding numerical limitations initially. These Jews-Israelis would be under Israeli jurisdiction and belong to the Israeli state, despite living in Palestinian-predominant areas. Dual citizenship could be an option in some cases, while differing levels of political rights could be elaborated, allowing Palestinians or Jews to participate in local or regional governance while maintaining national ties to their own state.

The application of such a structure to present geographic and demographic realities might have to be complemented with the notion of separate “heartlands”: areas where present separation patterns remain and continue to be legally protected. These should be more limited areas around the major economic and security concentrations, such as Tel Aviv and Ramallah.

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The Gaza War Marked the End of the Two-State Solution: Here’s What’s Next

In an excerpt from an important new political analysis, an introduction to the ‘One Land, Two State’ solution