By: Tariq Kenney-Shawa
For decades, efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have been centered on the idea of separation, with official negotiations being based around the framework of prospects of a two-state solution. However, in light of the political deadlock, a failed Oslo peace process, and the current reality of ‘facts on the ground,’ is the two-state solution still the most just or feasible path towards peace?
Last summer, I spent about two months in Israel and Palestine, studying youth opinion on alternatives to the two-state solution for my senior honors thesis. I carried out over 30 interviews with NGOs, think tanks, university professors, and youth groups, giving me insight into a variety of different, often opposing mindsets and outlooks.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my discussions was the widespread issue of disinterest on both sides. While many young Israelis have distanced themselves from a conflict that doesn’t impact their lives, many young Palestinians have lost hope in a peace process that has repeatedly failed them. While the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been placed on the backburner of international focus due to the chaos that has engulfed much of the region, it is vital to regain interest through a widespread shift in discourse regarding how to continue down the path to peace.
The central obstacles to achieving a viable Palestinian state are the physical situation on the ground, the moral issues, and the leadership failure on both sides. With a settlement infrastructure that has become home to almost 800,000 Israeli settlers living throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it is difficult to imagine a contiguous, fully sovereign Palestinian state emerging as a viable entity.
Further, the existing two-state paradigm approaches the conflict as if it had started in 1967, ignoring the fact that many Palestinians would find receiving less than 22% of what they see as historic Palestine as unjust, leaving issues like the refugee right of return unanswered.
Finally, the leadership on both sides have proved unable or unwilling to contribute to Palestinian independence, with Israeli PM Netanyahu proclaiming repeatedly that a Palestinian state would not be achieved under his watch and Palestinian President Abbas repeatedly threatening to abandon the two-state initiative.
With the inviability of the two-state solution in mind, alternatives are based on theories of a one-state deal or a shared sovereignty option. Under a one-state solution, historic Palestine would be comprised of one state, becoming either a secular democracy or a bi-national state. While a secular democracy would be premised on equal rights for all, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity, a bi-national state would institute power sharing, recognizing some level of cultural and political autonomy for both peoples. The shared sovereignty alternatives offer visions of parallel independent states, deeply intertwined in matters of economy, security, and free movement of citizens of both countries.
While many of these plans sound promising on paper, practical application is a different story. Some of the main obstacles include the fact that it is unlikely that Israelis would accept a plan that would result in Israel losing its Jewish nature, Palestinian nationalist goals would come to an end, and security concerns remain largely unanswered. While the two-state solution does not represent a productive path to peace, alternative solutions raise just as many questions. With this in mind, it is vital that attention is shifted away from the failed peace process, and serious debate is given to alternative solutions.
Tariq Kenney-Shawa was an Executive Office Intern for the EastWest Institute. He is a senior at Rutgers University, majoring in Political Science and Middle East Studies with a focus on security and conflict resolution.