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The Basic Case for the 2-State Solution

The 2-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is widely seen as a legitimate, logical, equitable, democratic and liberal solution to the conflict. For deep historical, cultural, economic and religious reasons, neither national group feels comfortable or safe living with the other in the same state. It is assumed that the next best solution is for each national group to form its own state alongside the other. Two rights to nationhood and two states would provide national fairness to the Palestinians and national security for Israel.

It would be preferable if this could be managed along the relatively peaceful lines of the split between Norway and Sweden in the early part of the twentieth century or the division of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic at the end of the century. This would also be a civilised way of resolving the problem.

A major attraction for many advocates of the 2-state solution in the West is that it ‘balances’ the rights and claims of the conflicting parties. It acknowledges two legitimate national rights and solves the conflict by a division of the territory into two nation-states. The conflicting parties give up a lot that they want and have to accept much that they don’t want. It is thus a reasonable compromise because everyone gets something of what they want but not all. There is no single victor. The 2-state solution thus offers a win-win solution which achieves peace with honour.

A liberal, democratic and equitable solution?

In short, establishing an independent state for each of the two competing nationalisms makes good sense. It is a decent, liberal, democratic and equitable solution to the problem. The expectation is that this will end the conflict and so achieve peace. That’s the appeal. Unfortunately, this view is badly flawed and it will not provide the Happy Ending that its supporters think.

A central problem is how to combine the aim of secure and recognised borders for Israel with a Palestinian state based more or less on the pre-1967 cease-fire lines. UNSCR 242 in 1967 proposed the first but made no mention of the second. A marriage of the two aims is proving far more difficult than simple expositions of the 2-state solution would admit. There are good reasons for this.

The core problem

The core problem with the 2-state solution is that its basic premise, the mutual recognition of two legitimate national claims, is denied by one of the disputing parties. As a result, this party is not seeking an equitable compromise. Nor is it liberal and democratic.

Instead, for decades, it has maintained a powerful and completely different understanding of the conflict and its resolution. In this view, Jewish national rights are rejected; the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state is denied. In this way, the dominant Arab/Palestinian perspective reserves exclusive national rights for itself. For this narrative, the 2-state solution is not a solution at all.

In other words, the view of the dominant Arab/Palestinian narrative is quite different to the 2-state perspective. It operates on quite different assumptions. The reasons for this are not hard to find.

The dominant Arab/Palestinian view

From this perspective, their spacious 4 bedroom house and attractive grounds were illegally and unjustifiably seized 60 years ago by thieves who have occupied the property ever since. Now, after 60 years of efforts to secure the return of their property, the Palestinians are informed that if they promise to behave themselves they can repossess the attached garage. In return for this attractive deal, the Palestinians must agree not to stock the garage with a wide variety of implements usually considered standard for properties of this type. Even worse, they must agree that this is a final settlement of their dispute with the thieves and that there will never be a full restoration of their property.

It is not difficult to see that from this viewpoint it is impossible for the Arab/Palestinians to agree that the 2-state solution is either just or reasonable. It violates their sense of justice and reason.

Further, it seems to them that its promoters want their cake and eat it: they want an amicable settlement and to retain the house and grounds for the thieves. Looked at from this angle, the deal doesn’t seem so attractive. Therefore, the advocates of the 2-state solution are generally perceived as being in-cahoots with the gang of thieves. As a result, the plan doesn’t receive much good press from the Arab/Palestinian side and there is very little traction for this supposedly ‘equitable’ solution.

No Arab cheering

Consequently, it should hardly be a surprise that there is no cheering in the streets for this solution. Instead there is a strong resistance to it. This is compounded by the fact that the dominant Arab/Palestinian narrative is neither liberal nor democratic. Acceptance of the liberal-democratic solution would plainly involve recognition of at least some Jewish rights and claims. Instead, the rejection of such claims by the dominant Arab/Palestinian narrative is amply reinforced by the historical experience of several hundred years of regional dominance and a theology of Islamic superiority.

Fuel is added to this by unrestrained anti-Semitism and an ingrained sself-image of victim-hood. This has produced a highly developed sense of injustice, indignation and a thirst for restitution and revenge. With God, history and huge numbers of Arabs and non-Arab Muslims on their side, as well as large sections of the international community, why should they surrender their claim for the return of the whole property?

In other words, despite its attraction to many western liberal democrats, the advocates of the 2-state solution fail to take into account the power of the dominant Arab/Palestinian narrative. This neither agrees with the 2-state solution nor shares the liberal and democratic values of its western advocates. As a result, the Arab/Palestinian narrative sees the 2-state solution as hopelessly inadequate, totally dishonourable and crushingly humiliating. Supporters of the 2-state solution are oblivious to this humiliation.

No room for the Jewish narrative

Therefore, rather than accept what is seen as an unwelcome, unjust and unappealing settlement, there is widespread support and sympathy for those Arab/Palestinians who prefer to take their chances for earthly glory in a war to re-conquer ‘their’ land or suffer a glorious and honourable death in the attempt. In this way, the central aim of the dominant Arab/Palestinian narrative remains the elimination of the Jewish state.

This places the upholders of the 2-state solution in an extremely difficult position. For the 2-state solution to work, the Arab/Palestinian aim of ending the Jewish state would need to be abandoned. That is, Israel would need to be accepted. As there is no sign of this, what is intended by supporters of the 2-state solution as a win-win solution is dominated by what is, in effect, a zero-sum conflict. Therefore, as long as the dominant Palestinian narrative remains committed to the destruction of Israel, crippling questions about the wisdom and feasibility of a 2-state solution to the conflict will remain.

Jon Dyson


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