Can a Two-State Solution Survive?


French foreign minister in front of officerFrench Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hosted the foreign ministers of some 70 countries on January 15 at a Paris conference to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “re-launch” the peace process. Mr. Ayrault hoped that the meeting would “reaffirm the necessity of having two states.” France supports “a viable and democratic independent Palestinian State, living in peace and security alongside Israel.” Jerusalem would be the capital of both states. The border between them would be based on the ceasefire lines prior to the Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, with mutually agreed modifications and equivalent land swaps.
Since the 1980 Venice Declaration of the European Union (then called the European Economic Community), international opinion has gradually reached near unanimity that something like this is the only viable resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the French initiative, like many other well-intentioned efforts, produced no concrete results. Indeed, there was no reason to expect it would.
On April 18, 2013, as Secretary of State John Kerry was launching his effort to restart Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that, “the window for a two-state solution is shutting…I think we have some period of time – a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.” If Secretary Kerry’s words have any meaning, the two-state solution has been clinically dead for nearly two years. Nonetheless, international diplomatic activity aimed at keeping it on life support continues zealously.
France’s initiative was a diplomatic continuation of the December 23, 2016 UN Security Council Resolution (2334) which condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including… the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians…” That resolution broke no new ground. Despite the frenetic cries of betrayal in Israel and Congress, it is consistent with long-standing U.S. policy and the 4th Geneva Convention, which every country but Israel regards as the applicable international law. Unlike all of its predecessors since 1967, the Obama administration previously blocked all Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. The novelty was simply allowing the measure to pass on a vote of 14-0 with the United States abstaining.
This week’s Paris conference is also consistent with Secretary of State Kerry’s December 28, 2016 speech on Israel-Palestine in which he reasserted both U.S. opposition to settlement construction and long-standing Washington policy supporting the two-state solution as the only way to secure Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. The United States was a Johnny-come-lately to the two-state solution. It did not publicly and officially support it until President Clinton issued his “parameters” for resolving the conflict – five months after the failed July 2000 Camp David summit and a month before he left office.
Many people believe that the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles signaled that a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement on the basis of two independent states was a foregone conclusion. In fact, the term “Palestinian state” does not appear in the document. Israel’s Labor Party accepted the two-state solution only on the eve of its 1996 electoral defeat by the Likud, which has always opposed establishing a Palestinian state.
Ehud Barak led the Labor Party back to power in 1999. But he never had a parliamentary majority for a two-state solution requiring Israel to recognize Palestinian sovereignty over any substantial part of Jerusalem or to acknowledge significant responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem.
Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami participated in the 2000 Camp David summit. In his judgment, its failure was “not exactly an unexpected accident; rather it was a failure written into the genetic code of Oslo.”
In a 2009 speech three months after becoming Prime Minister of Israel for the second time, Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the two-state solution with several limitations. Many questioned Mr. Netanyahu’s sincerity. But more importantly, the platform and prominent members of his Likud party have never ceased to proclaim their vehement opposition to a Palestinian state. Key coalition partners in the current Israeli government provocatively demand that Israel annex all or large parts of the West Bank. The day after Donald J. Trump’s election as President, Israeli Minister of Education and leader of the Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett, declared forthrightly, “the era of a Palestinian state is over.”
Mr. Bennett is very likely correct. The Obama administration is a lame duck. The Trump administration is expected to encourage the most extreme elements among the religio-nationalist settlers. France and most of the rest of Europe are alarmed but unwilling to admit that the Oslo process is dead and American diplomacy has failed.
“The peace process” has become a propaganda exercise blocking the consideration of new thinking. Perhaps it is time to return to first principles. Israeli-Palestinian peace should be based on acknowledging the full equality of the two peoples in all respects and their right to a life of dignity and justice in the framework of international law.
Joel Beinin is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University and the author of Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2016).

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