Is the international consensus on a “Two State solution” starting to break down?

A recent edition of the internationally renowned magazine “The Economist” devoted its front page, an editorial, and a long article to analysing the Israel/Palestine situation. Its conclusion: the peace process is “hopeless” and the chances for a two state solution are diminishingly small. Is this a sign that the international consensus on the two state solution beginning to break down? Read more…

Since the signing of the Oslo Accords more than 30 years ago, there has been an “international consensus” that the ONLY POSSIBLE SOLUTION to the Israel/Palestine issue has been to divide historic Palestine into two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab. Indeed, this has been the “international” (read “Western dominated”) consensus since the Peel Commission in 1937, and certainly since the 1947 UN Partition Plan. But as Israel continues to colonise more and more of the West Bank, and to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem, its now very hard to envisage what a “Palestinian” state might look like on what land Israel has not already seized.

As a result of the Oslo accords, the PLO agreed to recognize the State of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine. On the contrary, Israel did not have to recognize a State of Palestine. The accords left many issues to the side – including the rights of the Palestinian refugees whose right to return was ignored. Nor did it address the issues of the more than a million Palestinians who continued to live inside Israel following the Nakba of 1947/48.

At the time, the Accords were opposed by a many Palestinians, including Palestinian philosopher Edward Said who famously described them as a “Palestinian Versailles.”

But the Palestinian negotiators were faced with huge pressures not only from Israel but from the USA and the other European powers which said that the 2-state solution was the ONLY solution they would back. Although the Accords gave Israel most of what it wanted, and the Palestinians little of what they wanted, the Palestinian leadership reasoned that the Palestinians had few other options. Two states became, reluctantly, the official position of the PLO.

With the PLO’s acceptance of a 2 state solution, Arab and Third-World nations joined the international mantra recognized by the West and a UN Security Council controlled by the major powers.

A negotiated two-state solution remains the ONLY VIABLE OPTION to prevent perpetual conflict and to achieve the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.” UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon, 2016

The “two state solution” is Canada’s official position (although in practice Canada has done almost nothing to defend it in the face of continued Israeli expansion in the West Bank.)

But Israeli activities over the last 30 years have made a “2 state” solution seem ever less possible.

In fact, based on its actions, it now seems that Israel never really had any intention of allowing the Palestinians to have a state of their own.

Since the signing of Oslo, Israel has encouraged over 700,000 Jewish settlers to move into East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It has also created a university and dozens of secondary education institutions, shopping centres, libraries and sports facilities in the occupied territories, all of which is contrary to international law. Many Israeli cabinet members live in the West Bank, and the whole area is connected by a series of “Jewish only” roads which isolate the Palestinians into small enclaves.

Willful blindness

In June 2020, a huge Netanyahu poster reassured Israeli voters “No to a Palestinian State!!. All the other candidates had the same position. But Canada preferred to believe that Israel sincerely wanted a two state solution.

Western countries like Canada choose to believe professions of Israeli support for a 2 state solution, despite the growing evidence on the ground.

This can only be attributed to willful blindness because at the same time that Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders were swearing to Western audiences that they were sincerely seeking a two state solution, they were saying the EXACT OPPOSITE to Jewish Israeli voters.

In fact, there is very little support anywhere in Israel for a 2 state solution.

What does the Economist say?

Here are a few selected quotes from the Economist editorial of May 29th.

Support for a 2 state solution has been falling for both Jews and Palestinians
  • “[Palestinian President] Abbas rules by decree, but he has no legitimacy to speak on behalf of Palestinians, half of whom are outside his remit anyway”.
  • The idea that the two-state framework is harmful will not come as news to Palestinians. Under it (i.e. the peace process) the vision of a viable, contiguous, sovereign Palestine has receded. Palestinian Territory in the West Bank today is an archipelago in an expanding sea of Israeli settlements.”
  • The Oslo figleaf lets Israel claim that the occupation will be undone in a final deal. (…) But 54 years after the 6 day war, the idea of a “temporary occupation” rings increasingly hollow.”
  • The Palestinian demand for rights is resonating abroad, not least in the halls of America’s Congress
  • “Peace starts by acknowledging reality. Then one day, the parties can start talking about a deal, whether of one state or two.

Time to recognize reality” – The Economist, May 29, 2021

“The Arabs and Jews must decide (…) the world cannot dictate a solution. That will require a new peace process, a genuine one, with legitimacy and popular support on both sides. (…) But to acknowledge reality would be a start. What came before has failed, and what comes next will need to talk less of partition and more of parity.”

CTIP’s conclusion

CTIP agrees with the Economist that it is time to recognize reality.

The reality today in Israel/Palestine is that there already is ONE ISRAELI STATE from the “river to the sea”. It controls the borders, the air, the water, the road network and the telecommunictions system in all of historic Palestine. For a breakthrough to occur, the western nations will have to stop telling the Palestinians that the only acceptable outcome is a 2 state solution which gives Israel most of the land, leaves the Palestinians with a discontiguous rump state with little more than municipal-level powers, and denies Palestinian refugees their rights.

The Palestinians and the Israelis will have to decide how to live together in historic Palestine. The West cannot dictate a solution. But the West, including Canada, CAN AND MUST insist that Israel’s continued violations of international law be met with sanctions. Otherwise, there is no incentive for Israel to talk seriously to the Palestinians. Canada should indicate that it would support ANY solution based on equality, democracy, and protection of minority and refugee rights.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

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  1. There are fundamental moral issues at stake here. Is the “reality” which has been brought about by brute force, massive international public and private funding, unconscionable acquiescence by Canada and other countries, persistent and blatant transgressions of international law, and assorted forms of commission by the international community, acceptable? The realities brought about by the Third Reich were accepted by many as a “natural” unfolding of power, and just another chapter in European geopolitics. The same with Soviet expansionism. And with Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. The “Irish question” was long seen by an imperial Britain as an aberration in the normal scheme of things. And many First Nations’ claims for rights and a life on their traditional lands in Canada are seen as anti-modern, futile and sentimental preoccupations. And notably, unfeasible given the irrevocable passage of history in this part of the globe.Yes, the expansionist Israel has been allowed to occupy lands outside of its internationally legalized borders, and create an archipelago of remnant Palestinian settlements. Yes, the Palestinian leadership is extremely weak and has not served the Palestinian people well. But if the moral end objective is a secure, liberated and self-determining Palestinian people, then we cannot compromise this just because the means left available to us have been eroded by over a half-century of unconscionable neglect and the accommodation of the Israeli Lebensraum project. We would, in effect, be saying that the residue of means justifies a radical diminution of what has been accepted to date, as a desirable and morally justifiable end. While the State of Israel is a legitimate international construct, continuing acceptance of the policies and practices of an expansionist Israel is perhaps the most heinous collective crime of our times, ironically and tragically analogous to the deaf ears, averted eyes, and comfortable acquiescence which accommodated the attempted extermination of the very people celebrating Israel as their promised homeland.

  2. No two-state solution was ever a possibility. No matter where you draw a dividing line, there will be people on both sides of that line who believe that they have the right to occupy places on the other side. Moreover, whenever Israeli politicians talked about a Palestinian State (in English) they added enough conditions to make it clear that what they would accept would not be a state. It would not be in control of its borders and would not be able to defend itself.

    However, it is a cop-out to say “The Arabs and Jews must decide (…) the world cannot dictate a solution”. The “world has been intervening on the Israeli side since this dispute began. We have allowed the Israeli side to become one of the strongest military powers in the world while actively preventing the Palestinian side from acquiring any power. We have supplied Israel with arms, money and technology while depriving the Palestinians of all those things. We have given Israel access to the world while Israel has been allowed to control Palestinian access to the world. To step back and say, “Now you guys must work it out” is to ignore the fact that we have already determined the outcome of such a process.

    The first step is not “recognizing reality”; the first step is to stop doing harm. The next step is to provide a “level playing field” for both sides.

  3. I see two fundamental problems with leap-frogging to a “one state solution” — quite aside from its secular, non-ethnic, democratic desirability. One is that if Israeli governments are virulently opposed to a Palestinian state, it can be imagined how those governments will (not) welcome the end of a “Jewish state” and beginning of a fully democratic Israel-Palestine. The other problem is that the violations of international law by Israel to date have been premised on assumptions about “occupied territories” based on a future two state solution. Remove the two state option, and the violations are significantly compromised. Like many others, I see a two state solution as the beginning of a process towards a federated Israel-Palestine, and then hopefully one day a single democratic secular state. Missing those steps in-between seems more problematic than an initial yet difficult two state solution, given in particular the one state option has no official international support.

    1. Robin,

      Doesn’t your first argument and your step-by-step approach assume that a two-state solution is possible? If you can’t take the first step, the second step will never happen.

      Israeli opposition is actually irrelevant when discussing one-state vs two_state because they will oppose any change at all.

      The legal argument strikes me as unreal. Whether the occupied land is part of a future Palestinian state or part of no state, it was clearly not part of Israel when the crimes happened.

      1. We can agree that if nothing is possible, then there is no point in a debate about one or two states. Let’s assume the international community is willing to impose its will on Israel — then which option has international support? (Clearly: currently only the two state option.) The legal proposition was simply that occupied territory (outside Israel) could not exist in a new single state that combined Israel and Palestine. As a domestic land dispute, it would be largely outside the purview of international law. How much more or less likely is it that Palestinians and Israelis would amicably agree to a single state where what are now occupied territories are decided only by a domestic judiciary? My assumption is that a one OR two state solution would both need agreement to transfer that land prior to establishment of either new state. The legitimacy of that necessary transfer (1967 borders) lies in international law.

      2. Robin,

        We do not agree that nothing is possible so the rest of your first sentence is irrelevant.

        My position is that a one-state solution would be easier to find than the mythical two-state solution. Further, my position is that mythical solution was never possible.

        I also do not agree that the international community should “impose its will on Israel.”. I think that it should stop supporting Israel and treat Israel exactly as the Palestinians are now treated. That would not change anything as far as the applicability of international law is concerned. I think that being isolated and deprived of the support that it now receives, Israel would change from its delaying strategy to looking for a real solution. Some members of the outside world could be helpful at that time if they have the trust of both sides.

        My impression is that when Canada and other countries say, “We support a two state solution” what they are really saying is that we do not want things to to go on as they have been going. Were the parties to agree on a one-state solution, those countries would not stand in its way. They don’t call for a one-state solution because they, like you, think it is impossible not because they think it is undesirable.

        To see why I do not believe a two state solution is possible, consider a “Solomonic” approach. Allow one side to draw a dividing line but the other gets to choose which side it gets. I don’t think either side would agree to that and both “true mothers” would realize that they had to leave the “baby” undivided. That’s not a real proposal – it is just food for thought.

      3. I wrote “if” nothing is possible, then there is no reason to discuss 1 vs 2 states. Either option depends on the possible happening. Neither of us thinks nothing is possible, however. “Stop supporting Israel” would be an example of the international community imposing its will, in my opinion.

      4. Hey Robin,
        Isn’t the international community (i.e. the west) CURRENTLY imposing its will? I think $3.5 billion of US support for Israel per year, or the insistance that we would only accept a 2 state solution, are examples. “Stop supporting Israel”, IMHO would be an example of the international community ceasing to impose its will.

      5. Yes, supporting or ceasing to support would both be examples of political will.

  4. The talks for the two state solution had been stuck for 25 years, Israeli governments are stalling it, the Palestinian authority is not helping. some would say that the process is dead. I think it could be brought back to life.
    in light of that, raising the option of a one state solution is a smart way to call off the bluff of the Israeli governments. I get it.

    However, the danger in pushing that idea is what every good drug dealer can warn you about: you must be able to push it to other people but never fall for it yourself.

    Recently I see more and more diaspora Palestinians who are falling for it, believing that its a viable option.
    It’s not.
    There is zero chance that any meaningful portion of the Israeli public will accept it, not under strong American duress, not now not even in three generations.

    There are already two cases of one-state-solutions in the Levant, one is Lebanon the other is Syria, the gold and silver medalists in civil wars. no one should want Israel/Palestine to be the bronze medalist.

    we wasted three generations in pursuing the two state solution, we should’nt waste another three generations in pursuing the unattainable and very dangerous one state ‘solution’

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