In 1993 Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords, in which the PLO recognized the state of Israel, and thus accepted the legitimacy of Israeli sovereignty over 78% of the historical land of Palestine. In return Israel gave nothing except recognition of the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
The PLO relied on United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which obliges the Israeli occupation to withdraw from all the lands Israel occupied in 1967. Israel, however, uses the English version of the resolution: “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” which does not define which territories. Thus its negotiation strategy is not based on withdrawal from all the lands it occupied, including East Jerusalem, to resolve the conflict based on the two-state solution.
Israel and the PLO continued the negotiation process for 25 years without achieving any results. On the contrary, Israel succeeded in changing the reality on the ground, and many observers of the Palestinian scene are convinced that the two-state solution is no longer viable. Thus, the international community’s current approach to it contradicts the reality on the ground.
This article will address the following questions: What are the indicators of the erosion of the two-state solution? What are the chances the Palestinian leadership and the international community can keep this solution viable? What are possible alternatives to the two-state solution? And what is Hamas’s vision for the two-state solution and its alternatives, given the new reality?
I. Indicators of the Erosion of the Two-State Solution
There are three indicators that support the assumption that the two-state solution is no longer viable: Land, Jerusalem and the holy sites, and water.
Since 1967, the Israeli strategy toward the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) has been designed to control more land — with fewer Palestinians living in it. Building settlements and the Separation Wall is described by many as apartheid, because it segregates Israelis and Palestinians and comes with the objective to steal as much land from Palestinians as possible, and a road system that is aimed directly at destroying any chance for a Palestinian state by dividing the geographical contiguity of the Palestinian territories and the livelihoods of the inhabitants. Furthermore, all the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are in Area Ci, which comprises 62% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli control. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statisticsii report of 2017, the Palestinian population in the West Bank is 2,881,000, of which a total of 393,163, or 14% of the entire West Bank population, live in Area C.
A study by Dr. Nadia Abu Zaher states that the settler population in the West Bank has reached 460,000, while other studies report that 800,000 settlers live on 42% of the total geographical area of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and on 68% of the total geographical area of Area C. Area C contains 87% of the natural resources, 90% of the green forests and 49% of roads and transportation infrastructure. Palestinians are not allowed to use more than 1% of that area, on the grounds that Area C is a closed military area, in addition to other justifications that forbid the Palestinians from using their lands.
Jerusalem and the Holy Sites:
All the measures the Israeli government has taken in the past few years confirm that Israel is pursuing a systematic policy directed at controlling Islamic and Christian religious sites, by denying Palestinian Jerusalemites their residency rights, by evicting Palestinians from their houses by force, and by buying property. This may be seen as transfer policy that is no less dangerous than what Israel did in the 1948 Nakbaiii or the Naksa of 1967iv. Israel has never ceased to evict Palestinians from their houses and to expel them from their lands, and it continues to do so in Jerusalem in order to change the nature of the city. This is not happening in West Jerusalem, whose population composition of Jews is 99.1%; the reference here is to East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future capital of the state of Palestine. All the international legitimacy resolutions confirm that it is part of the OPT, but Israel continues to undermine international law and ignores these resolutions while working continuously to change the facts on the ground.
There is an increase in settlement building activities in East Jerusalem, and there are several Israeli municipality plans to change the nature of the city, for example, by changing streets names from Arabic to Hebrew. Add to that the excavations of tunnels underneath al-Aqsa Mosque, based on Jewish claims that they are looking for Solomon’s Temple, despite the fact that there is no evidence for its existence. These excavations may lead to the collapse of al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and this, in and of itself, strengthens the religious dimensions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A geopolitical study was carried out by Dr. Ahmad Dahlan under the title “The Israeli Palestinian Demographic Struggle in Jerusalem” states that “Israel succeeded in changing the population composition of East Jerusalem. In 2010 the percentage of Jews in East Jerusalem was 40.7% compared to 59.3% of Arabs.” According to some observers, Israel has conducted ethnic cleansing in West Jerusalem, which is why the percentage of Jews there nowadays is 99.1%. While the fertility rate among Arab women dropped from 4.51 to 3.92 in 2010, the rate among Jewish women increased from 3.69 to 4.17 during the same period. Add to that the harsh living conditions of Palestinian Jerusalemites resulting from Israeli systematic policies directed against their livelihood, including taxes, lack of housing as a result of restrictions on obtaining building permits by Palestinians, and house demolitions making the lives of Arabs in the city hell in order to force them to leave — while at the same time annexing set tlements to the Jerusalem municipality borders to increase the city’s Jewish population. Finally, the Trump admini s t r a t ion destroyed the two-state option by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
According to Abu Zaher's study, the percentage of the Palestinian population in the West Bank is constantly decreasing compared with the settlement population. In 1999, the Palestinians comprised 82% of the total population. That percentage is expected to drop to 72% in 2025. There will be an increase in water consumption, which will reach 58% for the Palestinians and 42% for the settlers. Settlers’ increasing needs would mean continuous decrease in the water supply provided to the Palestinians, reducing their ability to meet water consumption needs and thus their water security. In my view, the Zionist strategy in the field of water targets the Palestinian existence in the West Bank.
Based on the three indicators mentioned above, one can conclude that the two-state solution is no longer viable, unless the international community acts to stop Jewish settlement activities and dismantles them and the Separation Wall, especially with the increase of right-wing extremists in Israel. It is a waste of time for peace activists and those seeking stability in the world to continue calling for the two-state option. Therefore, the Palestinian leadership ought to accept the fact that the two-state solution is clinically dead, and it ought to start adopting other options.
II. Alternatives to the Two-State Solution
Palestinians must choose between four alternatives:
1. To continue struggling for the two-state solution
This might be the most preferable option in front of the Palestinian leadership, especially in President Mahmoud Abbas’ era, but for the reasons discussed above, its chances of succeeding are almost nonexistent. Therefore, interest groups would aim to maintain the status quo for a period, until the U.S. administration presents its deal, which, according to Jared Kushner, will be announced after the Israeli elections, and after the composition of the new Israeli government, which usually takes about two months. According to what has been leaked so far, the Palestinian leadership would be requested to take a clear stand.
2. One secular democratic state
This option is not new. Political elites in both Palestine and Israel were debating this option for a long time. Former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi raised it in one of the Arab Summits once. Some think that this option has been gaining momentum in Palestinian society in recent years. Even when the left-wing had weight in Israeli society, the debate about it was very weak, which indicates that Israeli society is very biased toward its nationality. Those who insist on the Jewish identity of the state, and the Nation-State Law, cannot accept one secular democratic state. Nonetheless, this option is attainable if there is goodwill on all sides, and if all benefited from the European experience with the modern state model, one that is not against religion and where the rule of the law is upheld above all.
Three thoughts concerning a Palestinian struggle for this option:
- A Palestinian political maneuver to pressure Israel into accepting the two-state solution and an immediate withdrawal from the OPT to the June 4, 1967 borders.
- If the Palestinian leadership succeeded in achieving this objective, we might envision one secular democratic state, the most advanced in the region.
- If the Palestinian leadership fails to achieve this objective through nonviolent resistance beyond its borders, this would expose the fake Israeli democratic system and would help form a basis for withdrawing from the mutual recognition agreement and the Oslo Accords. This could result in a comprehensive intifada against the Israeli occupation of all of the lands of historical Palestine.
A confederation between Palestine and Israel
I paused a little during a ‘Sky News Arabia’ TV interview with Jared Kushner, when he talked about the unity of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and about removing the borders. It was possible to interpret his statements as the confederation option between Palestine and Israel: removing the borders and ensuring freedom of religion in Jerusalem for all faiths, strengthening economic peace by integrating Israel into the Middle East, and supporting Palestine with funds that would enable it to create economic growth — an option that might win acceptance from the American perspective in this miserable situation.
Dissolving the Palestinian Authority, going back to the PLO Charter and starting a new struggle with the Israeli occupation
This option is the weakest one, taking into consideration the Palestinian leadership’s psychology and the strategic nature of the Arab and Islamic region. The option of confrontation is not an easy path, and it would come with severe consequences. However, despite its weakness, it is still possible, would have support among the Palestinian resistance movement and would lead to a real Palestinian unity. It would officially represent the failure to establish the PA under the Israeli occupation and would release it from problems that were created by the Zionist movement and Western powers, who were supposed to find solutions.
III. Hamas’s Vision for the Two-State Solution and Other Options
In May 2017, Hamas published a political declaration. Article (20) stated its position about the two-state solution option as: “there will be no compromise over any land from the historical land of Palestine, no matter what were the conditions, circumstances, or pressure and no matter how long the occupation remained.” Therefore, Hamas in principle rejects any alternative over the liberation of the entire land of historical Palestine from the river to the sea. Which means that Hamas will not recognize the state of Israel and will not compromise on any of the Palestinian rights — despite that fact, it accepts the Palestinian national consensual formula of an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty, on the borders of June 4, 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, with the right of return of refugees to the lands which they were expelled from.
The international community’s problem is that it hears about Hamas but doesn’t hear from it. It hears about what the Israeli intelligence, and what directed Israeli media presents, or what their political rivals report in Palestinian society. All of this can’t present a vision that would integrate Hamas into the Palestinian political system as a positive element to find a solution, instead of as a problem.
From this perspective, Hamas’s position about the two-state solution is very advanced and very close to the PLO position. It is not easy for a religious political party to present compromises on its religious values, especially when considering the PLO’s negative experience with how Israel and the world dealt with the PLO and Abbas’ pragmatism: with more Jewish settlements, Judaization and political and financial blackmail.
According to my knowledge, an ongoing debate is taking place inside the Hamas movement about how to deal with the failure of the two-state solution, especially after the Trump administration's recent steps in relation to the conflict and moving its embassy to Jerusalem. This debate is heading toward a position for the one democratic state alternative instead of the twostate solution. Some thinkers close to the movement have adopted the idea that one democratic state for all its citizens is a new resistance method that would break free of the Quartet conditions, such as recognizing Israel, its position on the right of return and Jerusalem. The movement believes that the mindset of the Jews in Israel is not tolerant and won’t accept coexistence. According to some analysts, acceptance by Hamas of such an idea creates a place for political maneuvering in local and regional politics. It would open up the horizon for a new confrontation with the Israeli occupation while removing Hamas from the terrorist lists of some countries.
Others believe that it is not requested of Hamas to present solutions to Israel. Those who created Israel are supposed to find a solution, and those observers believe that what is needed is to continue managing the conflict with the occupation until victory is achieved and all the lands of Palestine are liberated.
In my view, there will be an increase in the number of those who prefer the one democratic state option instead of an apartheid state, if the two-state solution fails and Hamas is not treated as part of the solution. This option would be maximized among a large sector of intellectual and in public opinion. Therefore, future scenarios will not serve Zionist expansionist plans. Palestinian society is capable of transforming all the political scenarios in front of the Zionist movement and the international community, and all the indicators support that. The Palestinian leadership ought to start working immediately on adopting a national strategy to evaluate this experience and start planning its future based on the failure of the two-state solution. Moreover, it should adopt the one secular democratic state solution and start a phase of national struggle to achieve that objective.