Before throwing the two-state solution onto the garbage heap of history, we would be wise to consider the long and difficult path that led to acceptance of this solution, eliminating the zerosum nature of the conflict. Indeed, the idea of two states evolved out of a good deal of internal discussion and dissent within the Palestinian national movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and even longerterm rejection by the government of Israel. At the core was a basic identity issue that denied legitimacy of each side’s right to statehood. Palestinians viewed Jews as belonging to a religion rather than a nation (deserving of selfdetermination) and Zionism as a colonial movement that usurped the land and expelled its rightful, historic owners. In a mirror image, the mainstream of the Zionist movement viewed the Palestinians not as a people (nation) but rather as merely a part of the broader Arab nation that had migrated into historic Palestine over the centuries, usurping the (exclusive) Jewish right to the land. So went the narratives on both sides. The denial of the other’s nationhood remains in many circles on both sides; nevertheless, there were those who gradually placed the discourse on a more pragmatic level with the idea of a two-state solution.
The PLO’s movement towards accepting a two-state solution
A detailed, authoritative account of the PLO’s consideration and gradual acceptance of the idea can be found in Yezid Sayigh’s monumental volume, The Armed Struggle and Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement 1949-1993. Fateh, the largest party in the PLO (after joining the organization in 1969) set as its goal “the establishment of an independent democratic state with complete sovereignty on all Palestinian lands, and Jerusalem is its capital city, and protecting the citizens' legal and equal rights without any racial or religious discrimination,” according to Article 13 of the Fateh Constitution. This was popularly referred to as a secular, democratic state, to be established in all of Palestine once “the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated” (Article 19, http://www.mideastweb.org/fateh.htm#Goals).
Discussions and debates within the PLO were to change this gradually, with Nayif Hawatmeh, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) arguing for the idea of a state in the territories occupied in 1967. Hawatmeh was a Marxist and apparently in agreement with Soviet efforts to persuade the PLO to accept the idea of a state limited to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as I have documented in The Soviet Union and the Palestine Liberation Organization: Uneasy Alliance. Anxious to avoid confrontation with the United States, Moscow was not willing to challenge Israel’s existence within the pre-1967 lines. Thus, it opposed Palestinian talk of replacing Israel, and at the close of the 1973 war, it contacted the leaders of the PLO’s three main movements — Fateh, the DFLP and the PFLP — with the admonition to define and limit their national demands to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
This is not to say that the PLO was guided by Moscow’s wishes. The Soviet request at that time was prompted in part by discussions under way within the PLO itself regarding Palestinian goals, ahead of the Arab League meeting of October 1974. At the meeting of the Palestinian National Council on June 8, 1974, primarily at the urging of the DFLP, the PLO adopted a 10-point program that called for the establishment of “the independent combatant national authority for the people over every part of Palestinian territory that is liberated.” The idea was statehood of a sort (authority or entity were the terms used) in liberated areas until all of Palestine were liberated — often viewed as a step-by-step approach. This same decision was subsequently adopted, secretly, by the Arab League at it meeting. The term “state” finally appeared in the PLO’s 1977 Six Point Program, but from 1974 onwards (if not earlier), the term “national rights” was interpreted inside and outside the organization as a reference to statehood. As spelled out in 1977, the PLO would strive to establish “…an independent Palestinian national state on any part of Palestinian land, without reconciliation, recognition or negotiations, as an interim aim of the Palestinian Revolution.”
The 1974 and 1977 programs did not bring an end to the PLO’s internal debate over statehood or, more specifically, over the location of such a state and the tactics for achieving it. The PFLP, under its founder George Habash, was also Marxist but more militant on virtually all issues including the use of international terror (abandoned by Fateh in 1973) and Fateh-supported tactics such as meetings with Israelis. Finally, Habash and the PFLP openly opposed Arafat and his policies, leading to a split in the 1980s.
The internal debate that had been taking place since the early 1970s over statehood and the idea of a mini-state limited to the West Bank and Gaza came to a head after the Lebanon War of 1982. In the debates over tactics as well as goals, there were those, for example Issam Sartawi of Fateh, who urged diplomatic measures in view of the failure of quasi-military tactics used against Israel from Lebanon. Understanding that the PLO could not defeat Israel militarily, many also realized that help from outside for such an effort was not forthcoming. The failure of either the Arab states or the Soviet Union to assist the PLO against Israeli in1982, or at least prevent its expulsion from Lebanon, was a lesson advocated by Sartawi and others. In 1983, Sartawi was assassinated by the renegade Palestinian organization of Abu Nidal, presumably for these views. His advocacy of the need to find a political path and compromise echoed many of the ideas of the PLO’s London representative Said Hamami, who had been assassinated by the Abu Nidal group in 1978. Both Hamami and Sartawi apparently had the backing of Arafat, who had in fact authorized the earlier meetings with Israelis.
Yet others in the PLO, like Habash, drew opposite conclusions from the war, based on an appraisal that Israel would always prefer military means. There were a number of reasons for the split in the PLO and (a Syriandominated) rebellion against Arafat after the 1982 war, but their opposition found expression in their criticism of Arafat’s conciliatory attitude toward Jordan in 1984, the convening of the PNC in Amman (boycotted by PFLP and others), followed by the joint statement with King Hussein in February 1985. All of these acts by Fateh pointed to a PLO move toward acceptance of UNSC Resolution 242 (with its recognition of the right of all states in the region to live within recognized and secure borders, i.e., implied recognition of Israel’s right to exist) and negotiations with Israel.
The internal rift in the PLO was healed in 1988 but Fateh was the winner. The November 1988 PNC and Arafat’s subsequent UN speech and press conference declared acceptance not only of UNSCR 242 but also of UNGA Resolution 181 (1947 Partition Plan), the creation of a Palestinian state and the two-state solution. This was known in the PLO as the “ministate option” based on an “historic compromise” whereby Palestine would be limited to 22% of British Mandate Palestine. This was a long way from the 1964 PLO charter and even Fateh’s Constitution of that year.
Popular Palestinian support followed that of the leadership, reaching a high of 71% in support of the two-state solution by 2010.1 It has remained the position of the PLO and of the Palestinian Authority, but the frustration and failures of Fateh’s preference for negotiations and compromise, under both Arafat and Abbas, has reduced this support to just 43% as of December 2018.2 The hard-won option of a Palestinian state alongside, rather than instead of, Israel, the option that eliminated the zero-sum relationshipand opened the way to a solution via two states, would appear to be in jeopardy today among the Palestinians.
Israel’s Movement toward Accepting the Two-State Solution
Israel’s path to the two-state solution was neither shorter nor less complicated than that of the Palestinians. Basically denying the Nakba or the existence of a Palestinian people (viz. Golda Meir’s claim that she was a Palestinian because of her British Mandate pre-state passport), the general Israeli attitude was that the “Arabs of Israel” or “Israeli Arabs” could realize any national aspirations within the broader Arab nation and the many Arab countries. There were, of course, other opinions within the
Zionist movement and even within Israel, such as the nearly miniscule Brit Shalom group and the Marxist-Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement that favored a bi-national state. But until 1967, the conflict was considered by Israel, and the international community, as one between states, while the Palestinians was treated as refugees, not a national, issue. This was reflected in the 1967 UNSC Resolution 242, to which the PLO objected, for this very reason. Thus, after 1967 the ruling Labor coalition favored a Jordanian option for whatever territory occupied in 1967 might be relinquished.
There was early consideration of the creation of a Palestinian state but this was to be exclusive of East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel at the end of June 1967. Such a state was also to consist of enclaves in the West Bank, completely surrounded territorially by Israel. This formula was discussed in the Israeli government meetings of June 18-19, 1967. The 1968 Allon Plan had similar parameters but for the Jordanian option rather than a Palestinian state. Both strongly resemble the present attitude toward Area C. This limited “Palestinian state” was discussed with local Palestinians in 1967, and rejected.
In response to growing international attention to the PLO, largely as a result of aircraft hijackings, attacks on Israelis in Europe, and a political campaign following Arafat’s assumption of PLO leadership, two figures of the Labor Alignment, Mapam’s Victor Shem Tov and Labor’s Aharon Yariv, introduced in 1972 the Shem-Tov-Yariv condition for dealing with the PLO: “acceptance of Israel’s right to exist and renunciation of the use of terror.” Negotiating the 1975 Interim Agreement with Egypt, Labor Prime
Minister Yizhak Rabin obtained an American promise that it would not deal with the PLO until and unless it adhered to the Shem-Tov-Yariv formula.
The existence of a Palestinian people crept into Israeli political discourse, notably in party platforms, sometime in the 1970s. Labor, while maintaining the preference for the Jordanian option, spoke of Palestinian national aspirations, but in the context of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.3 In 1973, for example, Yigal Allon spoke of the Arabs who “lived in Eretz Israel for hundreds of years and … developed their own unique characteristics … in historic Eretz Israel on both sides of the River
Jordan.” Thus, a national identity, and a homeland, for the Palestinians were acknowledged, but within the Jordanian option rather than in “Eretz Israel.” Rabin also expressed this principle in 1974. Only small parties to the left, such as Uri Avnery’s HaOlam Hazeh, spoke directly of a “Palestinian Arab people” and their right to a state at the time. Slightly later they were joint by the Communists (Hadash) and the newer Sheli. But on the right, the 1973 platforms of both the Likud and Mafdal (the National Religious
Party) continued to speak of the “Arab residents of Eretz Israel.” In 1975 Menachem Begin told the Knesset: “There is no Palestine here and therefore there is no entity, no identity and no nation that is called Palestinian.”
A change occurred around 1977, as U.S. President Jimmy Carter strove to reconvene an international conference. The right-wing party Shlomzion, created by Ariel Sharon, maintained the “Jordan is Palestine” idea, but Sharon also spoke of the need to speak with “the Palestinians,” even going so far as to assert that “Israel should speak with the PLO representatives if they represent the Palestinians.” Begin maintained his use of the term “Arabs of Eretz Israel,” and I would argue that he opted for bilateral talks with Egypt and full withdrawal from the Sinai in order to avoid an international conference and its likely discussion of Palestinian independence in the West Bank. However, given Sadat’s insistence upon linkage, at Camp David, with at least autonomy for the West Bank, Begin agreed to the formulation of “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.” Still, he continued to use the term “Arabs of Eretz Israel” when speaking to Israelis.4 Labor’s 1977 platform acknowledged the “Palestinian Arabs” but “negates the establishment of an independent Arab-Palestinian state west of the River Jordan.”
While the right-wing and religious parties maintained their positions, Labor introduced a pragmatic change in the early 1980s. It spoke increasingly of the demographic issue and the dangers of a bi-national state emerging from continued control of all of the territories.5 Still, even as it acknowledged Palestinian rights, Labor continued to favor the Jordanian option (Palestinian-Jordanian confederation) and explicitly opposed the creation of a Palestinian state. This was often expressed over the issue of speaking with the PLO, to which Labor often responded that there was nothing to discuss. It explicitly ruled out withdrawal from various parts of the West Bank (Jordan Rift Valley, north Dead Sea, East Jerusalem etc.) in what greatly resembled the positions of the Eshkol government on June 18-19, 1967. And within Labor’s political committee debates raged between hawks and doves over the future of the territories. Public pronouncements initially focused on Israel’s exclusive claim to the lands but later security
considerations dominated.6 Further to the left, Mapam (that left the Labor Alignment in 1988) and Ratz (Shulamith Aloni’s Movement for Civil Rights and Peace) called for Palestinian self-determination in 1988. This coincided with the first intifada and Jordan’s transfer to the Palestinians of its claim to the West Bank in August 1988.
The positions and even language of the parties on the right remained unchanged — with the exception of Netanyahu’s brief lapse in 2009 when he supported the two-state solution in his Bar-Ilan speech made in response to President Obama’s Cairo speech, albeit with a list of conditions. However, Labor underwent a gradual, some would argue very slight, shift after the 1992 elections. With the Oslo Declaration of Principles, Rabin began implementation of an autonomy plan that he had advocated for some time.
His greatest innovation was the recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, along with a never-explicit understanding that the final status talks, scheduled for completion by 1998, would produce some form of Palestinian self-rule. In his last speech before the 1995 assassination Rabin spoke of “an entity less than a state” and repeated some of the earlier Labor party territorial-security demands. The platform under Shimon Peres’ brief turn as party leader spoke of separation and end of
rule over Palestinians, but it did not mention statehood. That year, Meretz, created in 1992 by Ratz, Mapam and Shinui, directly called for creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
In 1999, in the platform to the elections that brought Ehud Barak to power, Labor expressed opposition to a Palestinians state “as a goal” but allowed that if such a state were to result from a peace agreement, certain Israeli interests were to be preserved.7 Barak himself said he preferred a solution via Jordan, and, like Rabin, he too announced that Israel would not return to the pre-June 1967 lines.8 However, in preparation for the elections of 2003, the Labor party under Amram Mitzna finally adopted
the two-state solution.
Public opinion too underwent transformation. In the late 1970s, some 90% of Israeli Jews perceived a Palestinian state as a threat to Israel and opposed its creation.9 Around the middle of the 1980s opposition began to decline, but nonetheless in 1987 one poll found only 20% in favor of a Palestinian state.10 Still, the decline of the numbers opposed continued until 2006, when slightly fewer than 50% remained opposed.11 Actually, one poll found that by 2007, Jewish support for the two-state solution had risen to
70%.12 and another found an all-time high of 71% in 2010.13
This positive long-term trend may have been the result of pragmatic considerations, as it had been for the PLO. Rabin expressed this in positive terms when he spoke of changes in the international community (collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of American-led new world order), changes within the PLO (its weakening during the first Gulf War but also its post-1988 policy), and also negative changes in the region (growth of Islamism and Iranian nuclear plans). He noted both an opportunity but also
a need to resolve the conflict. In addition, Rabin had concern about the resilience of the Israeli public. Like Ehud Olmert in 2008, and even Sharon earlier, the demographic issue and fear of a bi-national state (or as Rabin once put it, “democracy without the territories or apartheid with them”) was the major motivating factor for some, also among the Jewish public. A gradual shift to greater willingness to part with most or all of the territories was under way. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this was related to the
first intifada, namely, the resistance of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, prompting Israeli concern that the quiet of the earliest period of the occupation had become impossible to sustain.
Decline in Israeli Support for Two States
However, beginning in 2008 (or 2011, according to other polls), the positive trend was gradually reversed. The Peace Index of August 2018 found that only 47% of Israeli Jews supported the two-state solution; 46% would not. At the end of 2018, this was down to 43%. (As noted, there was a similar decline to 43% among Palestinians in 2018.)
Yet even among those favoring two states, there were potentially deal-breaking conditions. Labor, for example, persisted in advocating many of the same exceptions (e.g., the Jordan Rift Valley, East Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and more) as in the past. The new centrist Blue and White party led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has adopted most of those limitations as well, without any mention of Palestinian statehood. Only Olmert (and, to a lesser extent, Barak) was willing to make serious concessions on territory and Jerusalem. Netanyahu, for his part, added the pre-condition of Palestinian recognition of Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” in addition to other restrictions on the future state and Israeli retention of East Jerusalem. More recently, Netanyahu has come out firmly against the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and his party, along with parties to his right, call for annexation of all of the West Bank.
Settlement construction, begun by Labor almost immediately after the 1967 war, has greatly handicapped the possibility of the two-state solution. In addition, past failures, along with the rise of extreme views on both sides, have led Israelis and Palestinians alike to doubt the possibility of reaching a two-state solution or its viability. This may account for a slight decline in support even among left-wing Israeli Jews. Indeed, polls suggest a connection between pessimism and the general decline to less than 50%
support, on both sides, over the past decade.
Given the reluctance on both sides, and the long struggle to obtain support for the two-state solution, the present trend is alarming. Mutual acceptance was hard to achieve; a return to the zero-sum impasse would likely provide nothing more than continued conflict and bloodshed.
1 Khalil Shikaki and Dahlia Scheindlin, “Role of Public Opinion in the Resilience/ Resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, December 2018,” Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Ramallah, 2018.
2 “Public Opinion Poll No (70), Press Release, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Ramallah, 2018.
3 Neta Oren, “Israeli Identity Formation and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Election Platforms 1969-2006,” Journal of Peace Research, 47/2, 199.
4 Galia Golan, “Sadat and Begin,” in Robert Hitchings and Jeremy Seri, Foreign Policy Breakthroughs, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015) 121-147; Magal, T., Bar-Tal, D., Oren, N., & Halperin, E., “Psychological Legitimization—Views of
the Israeli Occupation by Jews in Israel: Data and Implications. “ in D. Bar-Tal & I. Schnell (Eds.), The Impact of Lasting Occupation, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) 122-186 (ebook)
5 Years 1981, 1984 (Magal, et.al.)
6 Magal, et.al.
7 Neta Oren, “Israeli Identity Formation and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Election Platforms 1969-2006,” Journal of Peace Research, 47/2, 199.
8 Magal, et.al.
9 Magal, et.al.
10 Asher Arian, Security Threatened, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 105.
11 Magal, et.al.
12 William Cubbison, “Two States for Two People? A Long Decline in Support,” Israel Democracy Institute, October 23, 2018 (based on Peace Index).
13 Khalil Shikaki and Dahlia Scheindlin, “Role of Public Opinion in the Resilience/ Resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, December 2018,” Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Ramallah, 2018