Is the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine dead in the water?

During the central, most active phase of my professional life I travelled a great deal. One of my many destinations was Kampala, Uganda. To get there by plane, usually via Nairobi, I would enter the country through the airport at Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria and yes, it was all as exotic and beautiful as it sounds.

I travelled this route three times and whenever I disembarked, amid the roaring of US Air Force transports supplying the vast war in the Democratic Republic of Congo next door, I would look over at the derelict old international terminal skulking shamefully in its inactive corner of the airfield.

The building interested me because, of course, it is where the final act of the hijack and hostage crisis of June and July 1976 played out. Briefly, a French airliner was hijacked by a group of terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof Group) from Germany. The Israeli government sent a detachment of special forces to free the hostages and kill their captors.

The mission was famously successful and only one member of the Israeli force was killed in the gun battle, Lt. Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu -- yes Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother. I continue to ponder this astonishing connection and of course have often wondered if the circumstances of his brother’s death drove “Bibi” in his desire for uncompromising political power.

I’ve watched the conflict between the Arabs of Palestine and the Israeli state evolve from the tank battles of Sinai and the Golan Heights to the streets of the West Bank, Gaza and Israel itself. And I can’t imagine that a single family in that tiny slip of land does not mourn the loss of many close family members, sometimes in the most barbaric and tragic fashion. You can almost see the hatred and distrust rising above the towns and cities within the borders of Israel and the territories beyond.

Each Israeli settlement is a little fortress with heavy machine gun barrels sticking out of fortifications at every access point. In Beirut, when I visited, walls around the city still bore the holes made by shell fire from the bitter factional and proxy wars that continue to simmer below the surface.

So when I see individual politicians from around the world proclaiming on TV that greater effort must now be made to establish a lasting peace on the basis of the renowned “Two-State” solution, I’m inclined to wince.

The Israeli government is not promoting the Two-State solution moment, nor is Hamas, the power in Gaza, nor Fatah who run the West Bank. Nor for that matter is Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. For them to accept this compromise would require each of them to recognise the existence of the other. They are the actors who would take responsibility for establishing, maintaining and developing two viable states, presumably existing in peace, side by side. I just don’t see how that’s going to happen now or in the future.

It would take too long to examine the many differences that exist between the Arab groups active in the West Bank and the Gaza strip and their varied histories, ideologies and sponsors. Fatah and Hamas do not get on. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank of the Jordan river has, since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995, tried to find a reasonable way of working with the Israeli state, realising that continuing down the path of war would end in disaster.

Hamas emerged from the strength of Arab opposition to the Fatah compromise and resulted in Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. But the prominence of the Two-State Solution began to wane with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a young Israeli representing the view that there should be no compromise with the Arabs.  


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From that point the hardening of no-compromise has continued almost exponentially with a continuous state of low-level war between right-wing Israeli governments and militant Islamic militia. This has been characterised by: unhindered confiscation of and Israeli settlement building on Arab land, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and southern Lebanon, kidnappings and hostage taking, Israeli incursions into Gaza and a full scale war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, periodic bombardments of civilian areas in Gaza, the bulldozing of Arab homes in the West Bank and so on and so forth until the current escalation by Hamas with clear regional political and military involvement.

And all the time death, destruction, mourning and calls for vengeance and annihilation inform the actions of this multi-headed monster.

In these circumstances it is impossible to see how any Two-State solution is credible. Could all of the Arab political and militia factions combine to even discuss the formation of a viable state? Where would that state be situated? How would it be structured? What would its constitution look like? Who would support and help bring it viably into the world.

How would a seriously divided and insecure Israeli state deal with a new, obviously hostile, independently resourced and policed legal entity on or within its borders? Would this new situation be any different from what we see now? Where is the new vision and breakthrough momentum to come from?

I think the world needs to get real and put all its effort into patiently changing the political and military situation that currently exists on the ground, viable, successful and secure for the people of both the Arab and Israeli communities. Obviously a reconciliation project within and between the various fractured societies in the region (and they are all deeply fractured) would be a massive and complex undertaking, dwarfing the work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Economic growth on the back of huge infrastructure investment and construction would have to take place to bring security and stability to all of the people. Israel and the West Bank could no longer be under siege and Gaza could no longer be allowed to function as a concentration camp. The West and the indescribably wealthy Arab Gulf states would have to set their own interests to one side and become positively involved and there would have to be realistic and reasonable engagement with Iran. Then the issues surrounding the city of Jerusalem, unresolved since the Romans destroyed the great Temple in 70 AD, should be placed peacefully on the table.

There could be no more Israeli settlement of Arab land and a review of the status of all existing settlements should take place. This would be only one of a considerable number of confidence and relationship building programmes to be activated over a long period, including the end of the doctrines of each society threatening to drive the others into the sea.

Each and every community in the region would have to choose life instead of the carnage the world has seen since 1947 and there would have to be concrete proposals for a lasting and meaningful disarmament of all parties.

All of this seems every bit as impossible to realise as the Two-State solution and time is never on the side of reason in this most intractable of conflicts. But for there to be real and lasting peace to exist in this most fraught region of the world, people have to choose this difficult path.

Golda Meir once said, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us”. Watching the horrific and endless  bombardment of Gaza, I believe that we are very, very far from Golda Meir’s criterion. 

Ronnie Smith is a British writer. At present he is living in Languedoc, France.

Image credits: funeral procession on the West Bank / Voice of America News screenshot 


Showing 10 reactions

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  • mrscracker
    Dear Israel Kalman,
    Yes, it’s a great pity. Things haven’t changed much since Arafat’s day. Hamas has no shame in the ways it misuses & misdirects aid meant for the people they claim to govern & keeping Gazans in a perpetual state of victimhood & want.
    We have some folks from Palestine where we live. They’re hardworking, intelligent people. They deserve better than Hamas or any other self-serving terrorist overlord.
  • Israel Kalman
    commented 2023-11-10 22:46:51 +1100
    Very few people today are aware that the best period for the Palestinians was between 1967, when Gaza, Judea and Samaria were captured by Israel in the Six Day War, and 1987, when the world forced Israel to accept the master terrorist, Yasser Arafat, as leader of the Palestinians. During those two decades the Palestinians flourished. There was free travel between the Israelis and Palestinians to all of Israel and the territories. The Palestinians had unlimited work at better pay in Israel. Israelis frequented Palestinian businesses. Education, health care and infrastructure for the Palestinians dramatically improved. True, it wasn’t perfect, and sometimes the Palestinians weren’t treated with sufficient respect by the army that was managing the territories, but it was far better than life had been for them under Egypt or Jordan. Had things continued as they were under Israeli control, we would have had true peace by now. There are many older Palestinians who remember those years and would corroborate what I’m presenting.

    Then Yasser Arafat took over and immediately launched the first Intifada, with the intention of bringing down the Jewish state. One of the favored tactics of his and his henchmen was to encourage young kids to throw stones at Israeli soldiers, so that they could show the cruelty of Israeli responses and create and increasing number of real victims to spur anger of the Palestinians, as well as of the well-intentioned onlookers throughout the world, against Israel. They also killed any Palestinians who defied them, and thus the terrorists took total control of the Palestinian population.

    This is the legacy of Arafat. He put an immediate stop to relations between Jews and Palestinians and created an ongoing state of hostility, as it was dangerous for Jews to enter Palestinian towns and cities or to hire Palestinians. The more casualties on both sides, the worse the situation became. It has spiraled downwards ever since, and now we are experiencing the incredibly tragic results of allowing terrorists to represent the Palestinians.
  • mrscracker
    I think Golda Meir was a courageous woman, but Arab people are human beings just like everyone else & they do love their children. Hamas however does not love the people or children of Gaza. To Hamas Gaza’s been a never-ending source of human cannon fodder & misappropriated humanitarian aid to squander.
    A two-state solution was never going to work for Iran or Hamas. How do you live next door to a pirate state in the first place?
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2023-11-09 15:30:32 +1100
    Marty Hayden: Luckily I do have the time! Rough summary is:

    “Arabic does not have a proper translation for the word ‘Compromise’, so the concept does not exist. It translates as roughly ‘halfway solution’, a word which is associated with ’Submission, retreat, capitulation, weakness and defeat.’ "

    (Apologies David if I have misunderstood).
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2023-11-09 15:27:11 +1100
    David Elazar: Thank you very much for that. Extremely interesting and sounds quite valid to me. Why have we not heard of this before?
  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2023-11-09 13:57:56 +1100
    David thanks for the links but I don’t have that kind of time. Can you summarize? Mark Twain once said “I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have enough time.”
  • David Elazar
    commented 2023-11-08 20:01:47 +1100
    “one that does not appear to compromise easily.. " (from Marty’s comment)

    See the article: "Our need for “A Culture of Compromise.” [ ] (The Arabic version of this article was published by Al-Ahram Cairien newspaper on 29th September, 2002). The author: Tarek Heggy (born in Egypt in 1950): Political and socio-economic thinker, petroleum strategist, lecturer at several US, European and Middle Eastern universities … together with an active role in some 30 society/cultural/ educational institutions The former chairman of a top multinational petroleum company (from 1988-1996) after eight years as a senior lecturer at the Moroccan University.)

    See also my site: Compromise and the Arabs [ ]
  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2023-11-08 03:44:20 +1100
    Excellent piece Ronnie, thanks for your insight. Love the Golda Meir quote. I just see so much hate right now, I don’t know if there can ever be peace. Most of the current conflicts and wars on our big blue marble involve some form of Islam. It’s a very violent faith, one that does not appear to compromise easily.
  • David Elazar
    commented 2023-11-07 21:45:17 +1100
    Does one really think the Palestinians ever believed in a 2-state solution? Can you show me any evidence that they are trying to convince their population that this is the right path? They have had many chances in the past but have refused. The main reason being that they cannot give up their unrealist dream of the “right of return” which means the destruction of Israel. The following is the scenario of the Palestinian concept of 2-state solution: 1. “right of return”; 2) Israel and Palestine side by side; 3) referendum to combine the 2 states into 1; 4) end of Israel. Palestinian rejectionism!AhG76qq_HklXhJQZ3PPOoPG5qj5iWw?e=AyxDct
  • David Elazar
    followed this page 2023-11-07 21:45:13 +1100