Why the Two-State Solution Is Dead

For decades the “two-state solution” has been the U.S.-preferred panacea to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but its practicality has long been in doubt and the latest collapse of the U.S.-backed “peace process” leaves little doubt that the option is dead, as Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett explain.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian “final status” deal highlight American foreign policy elites’ rhetorical attachment to a negotiated “two-state” solution as the only acceptable basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, though, underscores a fundamentally different reality:  the two-state solution is dead. And no matter how much Israel and its supporters object, the reigning paradigm for addressing the conflict is shifting ineluctably from a two-state model to a one-state model.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (State Department photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (State Department photo)

The two-state solution is the illusory end product of a U.S.-conceived “peace process” that has always been about things other than actually achieving peace, just as, contrary to the conventional trope, the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” is not really about “shared values.”

From Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 to 1967, when memories of the Holocaust were fresh and Israel was arguably at its most democratic, America provided it no appreciable military or economic assistance; indeed, Washington barely gave it food aid. During the same period, there was plenty of fighting between Israel and various Arab parties, yet America did not initiate any kind of “peace process.”

Washington only began providing substantial military and economic assistance to Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel showed itself capable of unilaterally defeating and seizing territory from Arab states allied with Moscow.

From Washington’s perspective, supporting an Israeli military that would periodically show up Soviet-supplied Arab opponents was, in a Cold War context, strategically valuable. After the Cold War’s end, U.S. policymakers continued calculating that U.S.-facilitated Israeli military superiority helped keep the region subordinated.

Likewise, Washington only launched a “peace process” after 1967, to elicit Arab states’ buy-in for what were going to be ever-increasing flows of U.S. weapons and money to Israel’s military. The process was never meant to constrain Israel and help Palestinians exercise their right to self-determination as part of genuine conflict resolution; it has always been about empowering Israel and subordinating Palestinians and other Arabs as part of an increasingly militarized U.S. sphere of influence in the Middle East.

– In its first proposals, Washington suggested in 1969 that Israel return some of the territories it had conquered to Arab states, but not to Palestinians.

– Henry Kissinger’s 1974-1975 “shuttle diplomacy” sought to give Saudi Arabia political space to break with the oil embargo imposed in 1973 by key members of OPEC.

– To facilitate Egypt’s transformation into a subordinated American “partner,” the 1978 U.S.-brokered Camp David Accords posited a self-governing administrative council for Palestinians, with some recognition of their “legitimate” (but not political) rights.

– As the Cold War ended, Washington was challenged to appear more forthcoming on the Palestinian issue to maintain Arab state buy-in to a heavily militarized, U.S.-led political and security order in the Middle East. So, at the 1991 Madrid Conference, America brought Palestinian representatives into the “peace process” for the first time.

Two years later, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops still deployed in the region after the first Persian Gulf War, the 1993 Oslo Accords held out the prospect of a self-governing, but not sovereign, “authority” in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, with some recognition of Palestinians’ “legitimate and political rights.”

– President George W. Bush’s 2003 “Roadmap” finally proposed two states,” Israel and Palestine, “living side by side in peace and security”, but neither his administration nor his successor’s made appreciable progress toward this goal.

(While the Obama administration also endorsed the two-state model, if it were serious about “peace” and helping the parties achieve their rights, it would not be using every lever at its disposal to block Palestinian membership in international institutions and access to the International Criminal Court; it would instead be leading the charge.)

As Washington’s “peace process” strategy has become harder and harder to sustain, U.S. officials have hid behind pious claims that America can’t want peace more than the parties. In reality, though, Washington is the only party that truly wants the “peace process.”

Certainly Israel has never wanted it; Golda Meir’s “leftwing” Labor government rejected Washington’s first peace plan in 1969. Palestinians, for their part, have never come together to accept a “process” meant to deprive them permanently of genuine sovereignty and self-determination.

The two-state solution’s demise inevitably conditions long-term erosion in the perceived legitimacy of the current Israeli political order. The proposition that Israel cannot continue occupying Palestinians while claiming to be both Zionist and democratic is no longer predictive analysis.

The U.S. government’s own demographic data show that the number of Arabs living under Israeli control, in “Green Line” Israel, Gaza, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the rest of the West Bank, already exceeds the number of Israeli Jews.

In other words, what we call the state of Israel is already a minority regime for the people it governs. In the context of the current Gaza campaign, Israeli officials’ descriptions of Hamas as a foreign threat that must be defended against are disingenuous. Hamas is a homegrown movement, born in 1988 in Gaza under Israeli occupation.

Even with the 2005 closure of Israeli settlements there, Gaza remains under Israeli control. Thus, Hamas is not an “external” threat to Israel, it is an internal challenge to what the movement’s constituents see as an unjust and illegitimate political order still dictating their interactions with the world and exercising harsh and indiscriminate police powers over their daily lives.

This leaves the one-state option, some version of one person, one vote for people living under Israeli control. For the foreseeable future, the one-state model will be opposed by the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews and supporters of Israel.

It will also threaten current regional governments, e.g., in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, that have bought into Washington’s vision for a U.S.-led political and security order in the Middle East that includes nearly absolute freedom of unilateral military initiative for Israel. But other important actors, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and any other regional state where government becomes more representative, would support it.

A one-state scenario has profound implications for America’s position in the Middle East. For the United States to “lose” Israel as a proxy for projecting hard power would severely circumscribe Washington’s capacity to keep its Middle East strategy oriented toward regional dominance. It would instead push Washington toward a strategy of stabilizing the regional balance through serious diplomatic engagement with all relevant players (Iran as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia).

This is a radically different approach from the one envisioned by U.S. policymakers during the Cold War and pursued in relatively unconstrained fashion by U.S. administrations after the Cold War’s end, entailing a highly militarized U.S. presence and American micromanagement of regional political outcomes.

Given the deeply counterproductive results of America’s Middle East strategy over the last quarter century, one may hope that Washington will finally stop making policy in defiance of on-the-ground reality.

In the near-to-medium term, though, American politicians and policymakers are more likely to continue doubling down on the sorts of policies, including ever-increasing military assistance for Israel, that have put the United States on a trajectory of ever-declining influence in one of the world’s most strategically vital regions.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of  Going to Tehran. [This article previously appeared at The National Interest and can be read by clicking here.]

7 comments for “Why the Two-State Solution Is Dead

  1. Mohan
    July 16, 2014 at 00:54

    There will be no peace with or without two state solution. Increase sanctions on Iran, and Gaza. Let Sunny and Shia in Iraq fight it out.

  2. Hillary
    July 15, 2014 at 11:15

    The Israel of Theodore Herzl (1904) and of Rabbi Fischmann(1947)In his Complete Diaries—-
    , Vol. II. p. 711,
    Theodore Herzl, the founders that the area of the Jewish State stretches: “From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.”

    Rabbi Fischmann, member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared in his testimony to the U.N. Special Committee of Enquiry on 9 July 1947
    “The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt up to the Euphrates, it includes parts of Syria and Lebanon.”

    The Zionist dream will happen as they are all fanatical and their M.O. is establishing “facts on the ground ” while jawboning and “reasoning” ad infinitum.

    Israel the size of New Jersey has probably the 4th. most powerful military in the world to enforce its ethnic cleansing when the truth is that 80% of Jews are Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe with no historical connection to the Middle East.

  3. Mohan
    July 15, 2014 at 05:36

    Palestinians were offered, East Jerusalem, states rights, Gaza. No good? They will be ruled by Hamas. Will not recognize Israel, back to square one. It is not going to go anywhere.

  4. N Dalton
    July 15, 2014 at 05:13

    This subject “two-state solution” matter was another BS – decoy from day one,as it had been yet another Israeli – Jew-nited PR – creation just to serve the impression resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,but was actually never Israel`s intent all along with the Zionist controlled US Gov in full support,period.

    One can forget this entire phony subject all together and start realizing that – as long as the `Zionist – bought` Congress and Senate – stooges blindly support every evil – Israel actions, absolutely nothing will stop Israel from destroying
    Palestine and the never – ending assault on Gaza – with the US standing by idle.

    Some needed realization by the general public has to set to see what`s going on.
    Just like the Nazi`s of the past, Israel ultimate goal is its expansion at all cost –
    stealing and killing for as long as they get away with and no one is going to stop them – all along using the ` bad Nazi`s ` as their guiding Hero`s, but always
    pointing out at every opportunity > how they had to suffer ` despicable times`.

    It is about time that responsible people,Nations and World Organizations waking
    up to these ` inhuman crimes racist Israel ` is committing for several years.


  5. ariely shein
    July 14, 2014 at 12:10

    We – the Israelis are saying “” NO MORE””

    –We demand our government to furfill its duty to protect us>
    Put an end forever to the vicious last 8 years rocket attacks.
    — The international hypocrites demand from the defending Israel to accept to be targeted by Arabs(Hamas) and Islamist Iranian(Hezbollah) terrorists rockets as has been for the last 8 years.
    We – the Israelis are saying “” NO MORE””
    — ‘Can you imagine that while Nazi Germany rocked UK with the V rockets , the ally’s air forces stopped bombing the German infrastructure and cities?

    You should be aware of the difference between Nazi and Hamas.
    **The Nazi wanted only to replace governments to semi Nazi governments. (And exterminate the Jews).
    **The Hamas charter wants to exterminate the Jews (and impose Islamism all over).
    Their vision of the future world is:
    “”quite and peace for Christians and Jews is possible only under Islam wings”‘

    • F. G. Sanford
      July 14, 2014 at 16:39

      Oh, the humanity! I guess this kind of sanctimonious outrage is to be expected given that so many people neither understand nor remember the history which provides more fitting analogies. Those forced into the Warsaw Ghetto and systematically decimated would today no doubt have more sympathy for Palestinians than for Londoners, given that their plight is almost exactly the same. And, a misrepresentation of the truth this absurd, though it represents a complete reversal of the facts, is likely to succeed due to universal media misrepresentation of the facts. That said, the truth sometimes trickles out. Joseph Zernik, Ph.D. reports from Tel Aviv. His article titled, “What part of the missile attacks on Tel Aviv is an Israeli hoax?” appears on OpEdNews. He notes that he continues to enjoy his daily swim on the beach at Tel Aviv, and although sirens wail predictably to maintain heightened pretense of an attack, he has yet to personally see any missiles. Who should we believe…him or you?

      • John J
        July 14, 2014 at 23:06

        Ariely Shein, just as you whimper about how a few none guided missiles fly over Israel, put yourself in the Gazan’s shoes. Most are refugees Zionists threw out of their homes in 48 and have been refugees ever since. Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t you think when you treat people badly, deny them international law of return, deny them freedom from collective punishment, steal their land, deprive them of water and electricity, and burn their crops or chop down their olive trees there is going to be a severe negative reaction. And how do a desperate people fight a modern force in tanks, aircraft and drones. Stand up and say here I am. Bully tactics on Israel’s part and there don’t seem to be many with a conscience, the good Jews left or are leaving. More and more I consider the Israeli religious / political union fascist and it’s going to be a problem for all for a long long time.

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