Face Off: Should Palestinians have a state?

The ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians has yet to be resolved. Contentious debates and conflicts arise over mutual recognition, borders, security, settlements and the status of Jerusalem. The international community has attempted to broker the two-state solution, which proposes the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The set of agreements, called the 1993 Oslo Accords, set the two-state process in motion.

The two-state solution is unworkable

By Ben Edwards

Twenty-five years after the Oslo Accords, the two-state solution has yet to be attained. A cluster of problems have ensued: frequent eruptions of violence, the 2006 election of the extremist party Hamas and a systemic breakdown of negotiation between the relevant parties. The Palestinian Authority was set up as the interim government responsible for addressing these problems. They have consistently failed at nearly every measure necessary for legitimacy, which explains why this interim regime has yet to evolve into a real state as the Oslo Accords intended.

Despite all of these obvious problems, the international community remains obsessed with the defunct two-state solution. This degree of diplomatic tunnel vision is so pervasive that it completely stalls any meaningful progress on the Palestinian question. It isn’t hard to see why. Borders, refugees and access to Jerusalem are all issues left unresolved, and the proposals for addressing them require concessions that neither side believes to be acceptable.

The two-state solution implies the creation of the State of Palestine. However, there is good reason to be skeptical about the stability of such a nation. From the lowest civil servant to the presidency, corruption and incompetence reign supreme in all echelons of Palestinian governance. The Palestinian security forces are over 83,000 strong, but Amnesty International reports that they frequently abuse the rights and welfare of the civilians they’re charged to protect. The rivalry between two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, entrenches political dysfunction and fosters violent infighting. The weakness of Palestinian institutions makes them prime targets for Saudi and Iranian influence, who are more concerned with thwarting each other in geopolitical chess than improving the lives of Palestinians. The two territories of West Bank and Gaza Strip share no border with each other, thus limiting the PA’s ability to maintain control over both. If a two-state solution is declared today, then the new State of Palestine would immediately devolve into a failed state. Israeli national security cannot be gambled away on such a volatile neighbor.

Escaping our collective tunnel vision on this issue requires deeper consideration of the alternatives. The three-state solution is the best path forward. This proposal requires cooperation between Israel, Jordan and Egypt. It would invite Jordanian control over the West Bank and Egyptian control over the Gaza Strip. Israel’s national security would be better served if its neighbors are established and predictable Arab states, as opposed to a turbulent Palestinian failed state that the two-state solution would conjure.

Jordan controlled the West Bank before 1967. It could easily resume administration over portions of the West Bank predominantly populated by Palestinians. Israel and Jordan will have to work through a case-by-case process to decide which settlements are legitimate and which are not. The age of the settlement, its security and its population are some of the factors that would be pertinent to its legitimacy. The biblical-based arguments that some Israeli settlers use should be disregarded in this secular process. On the other hand, the argument that the West Bank constitutes occupied territory, and therefore all Israeli settlements are illegitimate, is flawed. Supporters of the occupied territory mantra point towards Israel’s invasion of the West Bank in 1967. Curiously, they do not apply the same attention to Jordan’s invasion and annexation of the West Bank between 1948 and 1950. Only two countries in the world at that time recognized the legality of Jordan’s conquest. Effective diplomacy recognizes that history is only useful as supporting evidence, not as an argument in itself.

If Jordan controls the West Bank, then the seat of government for Palestinians will be Amman. This renounces the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem as a capital. If Israel is truly committed to a sustainable peace, then it will need to retain its capital in Tel Aviv and treat Jerusalem with impartiality. There is already a tradition of collaboration between Israel and Jordan that will make Jerusalem’s neutrality realistic. The Hashemite dynasty that rules Jordan currently acts as the custodian for important Muslim holy sites in the city. This provides a guarantee that Palestinian Muslims will still have access to Jerusalem as needed.

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Egyptian control over the Gaza Strip will be trickier, but it is still a superior option than continuing the irresolute blockade of the territory. However, Israel does have a common enemy with Egypt’s military dictatorship: terrorism. The Egyptians are already struggling to tame an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel’s highly effective intelligence agency, Mossad, can offer cooperation to the Egyptians on the Sinai problem. The fragility of that area is just as concerning to Israel as it is to Egypt. In exchange, Egyptian leaders should be open to finding a decisive conclusion for the Gaza Strip. Since Hamas is unlikely to willingly cede control, Israel should advocate for a coalition-based invasion to ensure the destruction of the terrorist organization. This coalition would include Israel and Egypt as core participants with Saudi Arabia as a possible ally on the promise of thwarting Iranian influence in Gaza. If such an alliance can be arranged, even temporarily, then it would pave the way for future coexistence between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Charting a realistic path forward for Israel and Palestine is not easy, but moving forward is better than being stuck on failed ideas. Twenty five years of intermittent violence and no diplomatic breakthrough has exposed the two-state solution as wholesomely unworkable. Persisting on it amounts to kicking the can down the road.


The two-state solution is the only path to justice for Palestinians

Robert Hockema

The story of the Israeli state is a tale of tragedy. Forced from Europe during the Second

World War, Jews who were subjected to gruesome anti-Semitism came home to their native lands seeking refuge. Their return to the promised land was marked by celebration and rejoice and set a model for historic and religious claims for statehood that have lasted decades.

Unfortunately, the Israeli state is a tale of more than just one tragedy. What followed after the birth of Israel was also the disenfranchisement of a peoples who had long resided on the lands before Jewish refugees returned. Palestinian peoples were pushed from their homes after the failure of British partition in 1948 and again during the Six-Day War of 1967. Defying agreements proposed by the United Nations, Israel blew past territory reserved for them and invaded Palestinian lands well past the historic ceasefire line.

The Israeli government then used their newfound authority to cement the presence of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, violently pushing Palestinians from their homes in the process. The occupation of the Gaza Strip, beginning after the Six-Day War, threw the area into economic disarray and fomented deep divisions as a result of Israel’s violent enforcement of their territorial claims.

To this day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip suffer atrocious human rights abuses. Though a primary culprit is Hamas, an armed insurgency governing the strip as the Palestinian Authority, their creation stems from Israeli subjugation of the Palestinian people. The Israeli government arbitrarily and routinely shuts down access to electricity and water. They monitor who comes in and out of the state, which makes access to import and export markets more difficult. Human Rights Watch and other international organizations maintain a laundry list of abuses perpetrated by Israel that keep the Gaza Strip extremely poor and demoralized.

Palestinians in the West Bank to this day are in a slightly better position. But illegal settlements continue to squeeze families out of their communities, which the Israeli Defense Forces enforces with a brutal hand.

As a whole, Palestinians have been cut off from productive sources of wealth, freedom of movement and access to necessary institutions in society, like education. There is nobody to represent Palestinians but an uncompromising state that enforces a 21st-century apartheid.

Solutions to solve this decades-long humanitarian catastrophe have stalled or failed. Most famously, the Camp David and Oslo Accords have proposed a two-state solution, which would guarantee a Palestinian state alongside the existence of Israel. This solution is difficult because it requires an agreement on whose territory is whose and a willingness by both sides to recognize each other’s right to national sovereignty.

However, a Palestinian state is far better than its alternatives. A three-state solution, which would cede Palestinian territories to Egypt and Jordan, requires neighboring states to co-opt the economic crisis ravaging the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Another solution proposed is the formalization of Palestinian rights under the Israeli state, effectively expanding the state of Israel to include the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This idea is preposterous. Israeli citizens fearing that their interests would be outvoted by Palestinians in the Knesset, the Israeli Legislature, would surely resent Palestinians. At worst, it could lead towards a larger conflict and exacerbate the crisis.

These are mostly practical considerations that make alternative solutions nearly impossible. But most importantly, rooted in these alternative solutions is an overarching principled issue at stake: these solutions fail to return any land to Palestinians. Anything other than a two-state solution concedes the system of colonization and apartheid that has shackled Palestinians to an unjust state. The only rightful restitution of that theft is a solution that places control of governmental, economic and territorial rights in the hands of the Palestinian people.

Challenges are certainly present in the two-state solution, but the Israeli government has the ability to cooperate with the international community in a way that alleviates concerns. Those who oppose two states say it is impossible to partition land in the West Bank being occupied by Israeli settlers.

I would remind those critics that the Israeli government not only incentivized the creation of those settlements, but that they also have the ability to remove them just as they created them. When Israel evacuated the IDF from the Gaza Strip in 2005, they removed many Israelis from their settlements. It was not easy, but other actors from the UN could send peacekeepers to ensure the safe passage of peoples to territory reserved for former Israeli settlers.

To this day, Palestinians are prisoners in a house that they built. Though the solution would not be easy, a two-state solution is the only way to free them.