Palestine and the two-state phantom

A combination of political changes and shifts in attitude are making the possibility of a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine increasingly remote, says Ghassan Khatib.
Ghassan Khatib
25 January 2012

As time passes, discussion over the permanence of the two-state solution is increasing among Palestinians and, to a lesser extent, Israelis and others involved. The official line of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority is still that the two-state solution is the path of peace. But several developments are introducing serious question-marks about its prospects.

The two most important areas of change that are provoking this debate are changes in the public opinion of both Palestinians and Israelis, and changes on the ground. A thorough analysis of trends in Israel over the last fifteen years - more precisely, since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin - shows, with some fluctuations, a clear drift towards radicalisation and away from the peace process built on the two-state plan. The evidence here is threefold: shifts in the political composition of successive Israeli cabinets, similar changes in the composition of Israel's Knesset (parliament), and the results of surveys and public-opinion polls on ideological issues related to the conflict.

The signs were also visible in two important speeches made in 2011 by current Israeli prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and to the general assembly of the United Nations. In these he presented his own political position, one based on historical and ideological considerations rather than political, legal or even security references. Netanyahu, speaking from a new Israeli consensus, portrayed illegal Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank as people living on land belonging to their ancestors.

Such extreme Israeli positions and practices, as I have often argued, only reinforce similar attitudes on the Palestinian side. Palestinian society has also witnessed a process of radicalisation, which led to the election of Hamas in 2006 and its subsequent armed takeover of Gaza.

The ongoing dismal failure of the peace process, together with its abandonment (or at least ineffective handling) by the international community promises the continuity of both of these trends in public opinion. The current direction of travel contradicts completely the two-state solution.

At the same time, illegal Israeli practices in the occupied territories, particularly the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem, have been stepped up in recent years. These are creating a practical reality that is not conducive to the creation of two independent states, but rather intertwines the two people's economies, land-use, resources and populations.

Together, public opinion and the reality on the ground are creating conditions that preclude the two-state possibility. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that these will be reversed in the foreseeable future. That is leaving many analysts to conclude that, if the two-state solution is not already impossible, it is only a matter of time before it is a thing of the past.

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