The strange resurrection of the two-state solution

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 27 Feb 2024

Abdel-Moneim Said reflects on the history and prospects of the Palestinian issue’s most touted solution


I am borrowing the title of this article from a piece by Martin Indyk that appeared in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs (March-April 2024). The rest of the title — “How an Unimaginable War Could Bring About the Only Imaginable Peace” — takes us to the heart of the matter. Indyk, who served in a number of senior positions under the Clinton and Obama administrations, including US ambassador to Israel and US special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, is well-informed about the eight decade-long history of the two-state solution. It started with the Peel Commission, a British Royal commission established in 1936 following the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising of 1936 and tasked with recommending a solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine. The commission’s report was published in 1937. Essentially, the article is one of many recent attempts to contribute to the discussions on the “day after” in Gaza, referring to political and practical steps that should be taken once the war against Gaza ends.

Indyk seems sceptical regarding the prospects of the two-state solution which has failed to materialise during its long journey through several stages and several agencies, from the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine to the Oslo Accords and Camp David II. The collapse of the latter, which was sponsored by US president Bill Clinton in 2000, ushered in the end of the possibility of the two-state solution. Nevertheless, Indyk believes that the context of the current war presents an opportunity to revitalise this formula, and that the US should play a leading role in translating the project to reality. But for this to come about, fundamental changes need to take place both in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and in Israel. The Arab countries, for their part, would play a critical role in supporting the realisation of the solution, on the one hand, and reconstructing Gaza, on the other. The processes are many and complex, but regardless of the details, it is clear that the Arabs must come up with a conception of their own for dealing with this crucial issue.

Indyk’s piece in Foreign Affairs and the recent spate of articles like it depart from the general “day after” tradition. Post-World War II negotiations started after it was clear that the allies were on the path to victory and that the world stood on the threshold of a new international order led by the US and the Soviet Union. The Vietnam War ended after a series of negotiations aimed at formulating the relationship between North and South Vietnam. But the north’s invasion of the south after the Americans left Vietnam put paid to the outcomes of the negotiations.

The current “day after” discussion is based on several premises. First, it assumes that both sides have learned their lessons — Israel from its negligence, and Palestinians from the cruel toll in human life, numbers of wounded, and massive urban destruction — and that they are war-weary and ready to move on. Secondly, it holds that all other previously proposed solutions are unfeasible. Neither the “one-state” in which Arabs and Jews are endowed with full and equal citizen rights in a democratic state, nor the binational state which provides equality in a federal format, nor the continuation of the fragile status quo based on the fait accompli of full Israeli hegemony, nor the Netanyahu formula of severing Gaza from the West Bank and letting Zionist settlers run rampant in the latter offer hope for any lasting stability.

The third assumption is that the US leadership and its foreign policy approach will remain firm and stable enough in the coming years to steer the two-state solution to its intended aim of peaceful coexistence between the two peoples living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The current state of the presidential campaigns in the US does not bode well for this premise. Fourthly, it assumes that the parties in the ongoing war will remain the same, namely Hamas and Israel. Unfortunately, all signs forebode a widening scope of the war to the Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi and Yemeni fronts and potentially to a direct clash between the US and Iranian.

We cannot ignore the fact that the current war is unfolding in the very heart of the Arab region, jeopardising its stability and the sustainability of the reform and development projects that are underway there. Without a doubt, the Arab countries most immediately concerned with the crisis have exerted great efforts to support the Palestinian people, to aid and assist them, and to spread awareness of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. More generally, they have stepped up advocacy of the Palestinian cause in international forums to build up a tide of global public opinion in support of this cause, including in the US.

However, the “next day” requires more than this and in a very short time. First, it is essential to prevent the conflict from spreading. Second, preparations for the two-state solution must begin now and the Arabs have various duties to perform in this regard, such as helping to develop a Palestinian reality conducive to a politically and militarily unified Palestinian state, or so the US expects. This entails a lengthy list of tasks which will entail financial expenses, on the one hand, and dealing with Hamas, on the other, since Hamas does not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on its West Bank and Gazan components. Third, the two-state solution also involves thinking about the Israel part of the equation, as the two sides are mutually dependent. For this purpose, it may be useful to return to previous peace efforts, from the “Sadat model” which aimed to alter the Israeli political environment, to the “Abraham normalisation model” founded on the convergence of strategic interests and the “Jordanian model”, which fused the previous two.

The Arab countries have a lot of thinking to do. For this, they need think tanks for purposes of research, analysis, deliberation, and making recommendations. This is a subject that might be worth returning to in another article.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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