Ever since November 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, known as “the Partition Plan” — calling for the establishment of “Independent Arab and Jewish states” along with a special international status (corpus separatum) for Jerusalem and an economic union in what had been Palestine under the British Mandate — the two-state paradigm has been the accepted international formula for resolving the conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Jews in Palestine.
Although there had been a minority among the Jews — the associates of Prof. Martin Buber in the Ichud and Brith Shalom movements and the Hashomer Hatzair movement — which had advocated a bi-national state, that version of a one-state solution was rejected by a clear majority of the Jews, who preferred an independent Jewish state in part of Palestine.
At the time, the Zionists who represented the Jewish national movement accepted the Partition Plan, while the Arabs and Palestinian nationalists rejected it, except for the Arab Communists. For the Palestinians, who owned about 93% of the land and made up two-thirds of the population in 1947, were given less than 50% of the land under the plan; they were unable to accept sharing what they believed to be their country with immigrants coming from outside.
The 1948 War did not put an end to the belligerency between the two peoples. On the contrary, it embedded the conflict in the hearts and minds of many Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom believe that Palestine or the Land of Israel is their historic homeland and reject the narrative of the other.
The uniqueness of this conflict is that it is a conflict between two peoples who claim to have national rights over the same land.
In the early ’70s, the Palestinians started a process of adapting themselves to the reality on the ground and, at the 1988 Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers, they adopted the idea of sharing the land — two states for two peoples — by recognizing the Partition Plan of UNGA Resolution 181 and UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which were passed after the June 1967 War.
While this positive development was taking place within the Palestinian national movement, an opposite negative development was taking place within Israeli society. Ever since the right first assumed power in Israel in 1977 with the election of Likud leader Menachem Begin as prime minister, it has opposed a two-state solution and partition, while grudgingly supporting the idea of “Palestinian autonomy” for the residents but not for their land. The post-1967 settlement project in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, begun under Labor-led governments, accelerated under subsequent Likud led governments with the clear goal of preventing the implementation of a viable two-state solution. In fact, the notion of two states was not revived until U.S. President George W. Bush presented his “Vision for Peace” in June 2002. While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared support for a two-state solution in his 2009 Bar Ilan speech under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama, he did nothing to promote it and has since reversed his position, talking about “a state-minus” and forging ahead with settlement activity. He also conveniently absented himself from the July 2017 vote at which his own Likud party rejected the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state.
On the eve of the 2019 election, emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights (a move that violates international law and has been totally rejected by the rest of the international community) and his earlier recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Netanyahu declared his support for annexation of parts of the West Bank and vowed that not a single settlement would be uprooted. Annexation of all or part of the West Bank without guaranteeing the Palestinians equal rights would not only put an end to the two-state solution, it would constitute Israel’s creation of an apartheid-like regime in the area and a total deviation from the aspiration for democracy, equality and peace articulated in Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence.
Although there are still two important unknowns down the road — the nature and impact of the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” and Netanyahu’s fate in the face of the corruption charges against him — it is clear that the Israelis and Palestinians have arrived at a very dangerous crossroads. The options for the future are limited: either an ongoing bloody conflict with no end in sight; living together and sharing the land in one state for all its citizens; or dividing the land into two sovereign independent states based upon the borders of June 4, 1967.
This issue is devoted to exploring whether and how the two-state solution can be saved and whether there are viable alternatives. Many distinguished Palestinians and Israeli experts and scholars, together with involved internationals, contributed their views to this double issue. Many of the articles were written prior to the Israeli election, and only time will tell how its outcome will factor into the prospects for achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, we believe this issue will serve as a very important reference for anyone interested in knowing more about the conflict, its future prospects and the search for a solution.
We hope it will provide a much-needed resource for all who care about the fate of the Israelis and the Palestinians.