Mainstream public discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolves entirely around the two-state solution. Under such a peace agreement, the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist and jettison terrorism, tacitly proclaiming that violence is neither an an act of justice nor a means of achieving it. On the other side, Israel ends its military blockade of the Gaza Strip and occupation of the West Bank, thereby recognizing the Palestinian state as an independent sovereign nation. 68 years worth of bilateral and international peace talks have included these stipulations as a basis for any agreement. All of those efforts have failed.
Why is it, then, that the two state solution has become a kind of sacrosanct Holy Grail, a dogma that not even the most presumptuous heretic would dare to challenge? There are two other oft-ignored but feasible proposals to “bring peace to the Middle East” — one calling for a binational state, and the other for a three-state solution.
In a piece published in the New York Times in 1999, Columbia professor Edward Said propounds a solution in which a lasting peace would be achieved by establishing a binational state, wherein Israelis and Palestinians would live alongside and amongst each other. A former aid to PLO chairman Yassir Arafat, Said grew disillusioned with the two-state peace process initiated in Oslo in 1993, from which the first Oslo Accords were born. To Said, the process of bargaining for a two-state solution encourages separation and highlights the stark differences between the stances of the two parties, which does nothing to contribute to a legitimate and lasting peace. As a result, it just delays what he views as the real reconciliation that needs to happen between “Zionism and the Palestinian people.”
However, Said also acknowledges that the differences between the Israelis and Palestinians seem irreconcilable. Israelis believe, for instance, that they fought a war of liberation in 1948 and rightfully achieved independence, while Palestinians view the same war as a nefarious attempt by settler-colonialists to expel Palestinians and destroy their society. Said contends that the Palestinians are the “victims of the victims,” implying that the Jews, victims of the Holocaust, came to Israel and oppressed the Palestinians in a manner similar to that which they endured. To Said, it is unfair to blame the Palestinians for not accepting the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947, since it allocated about 55 percent of the land to the Jews, even when Jews comprised only eight percent of the population.
Although Said blames Israel almost exclusively, which does not provide a good framework for a peace deal, he also recognizes the need for pragmatism in approaching the conflict. Consequently, he rejects the two state solution as unfeasible at best and impossible at worst. Although the Palestinians have enduring, fervid nationalist aspirations for self-determination, he argues, the prospect of a separate, autonomous and sovereign state is unworkable because the Israelis will not magically disappear or leave Israel proper. As well, unless Israel ethnically cleanses like he accuses it did in 1948, the Palestinians in Israel proper will not be moved. Said believes that Arafat knew this too, but was too in love with his own power and reputation to accept the failure of the two state peace process.
In order to realize a binational state, Said posits that it would need to amplify the concept of citizenship and its concomitant equal rights for all. To Said, both the Jewish and Palestinian calls for a homogeneous Palestine have no grounding in history, as, until recently, Palestine has been a multiethnic, multi-religious and multinational land. To regain this cosmopolitanism, he argues, the Jews need to do away with the notion of Israel as God-given land for the Jewish people, and the Palestinians need to do away with the notion of Palestine as an Arab land part of the pan-Arab world. With all of these conditions met, Said believes a binational state could help effect a lasting regional peace.
Danny Danon, former MK and current Israeli envoy to the U.N., shares views that diametrically oppose almost all of those expressed by Said. Danon does actually align with Said on one idea, however: that the peace efforts aiming to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution have failed. Danon propounds what he labels a “three-state solution,” but the solution does not actually involve the creation of any new state.
Danon proposes that in order to establish a peace, Israeli ought to annex areas of the West Bank predominated by Jewish settlers. Israel would leave areas in the West Bank predominated by Palestinians alone, offer linkage routes between unconnected Palestinian controlled areas to help create a more contiguous land mass, and remove current Israeli roadblocks on all pertinent roads. Since Jordan is 70 percent Palestinian and Egypt has long wielded considerable influence on Palestinian political society, Danon contends that Egypt and Jordan would then be handed the problem of dealing with Gaza and the remaining portions of the West Bank. He does imply, however, that Egypt should annex and assume control over the Gaza strip, while Jordan should do the same in the West Bank.
Ultimately, both Said’s and Danon’s proposals prove less worthy, and less feasible, than a two state solution. The Palestinian people have a right to self-determination, and despite feigned support from Arab countries, they can only truly establish themselves as a nation via the realization of statehood, which Israeli Jews know firsthand. Danon’s plan ignores this truth, and also calls for the Israeli expropriation of land in the West Bank, the most viable place for a Palestinian state.
Edward Said’s proposal incriminates Israel as the sole instigator and sustainer of the conflict, hardly a foundation for peaceful coexistence. Said asserts that Palestinian inequality has been built into the conflict from its start, since neither the Balfour Declaration nor the British Mandate of Palestine affirmed Palestinian political rights. Ironically, his solution would create the problem of apartheid that he professes to so vehemently resent, only with the Jewish/Israeli side as the victim, not the Palestinian side as in the status quo (so he argues).
The two state solution is flawed, and those who peddle it incessantly would benefit from exploring alternatives. A diversity of opinion either strengthens an argument — like that for the two-state solution — or replaces it with a stronger alternative. If a healthy exchange of ideas could create a better solution for Israelis and Palestinians, why should policymakers not consider it? When they rely on the same logic as their predecessors to solve a problem that eluded their predecessors for 68 years, there is no reason not to be more open-minded. The two-state solution offers a chance for both parties to live autonomously, it offers Jews their own refuge, and it offers Palestinians legitimacy as a nation. It is the most moderate solution, and it may be the only one that can help lead to peace. But to arrive at that certain conclusion, the two-state solution must be vigorously and constantly challenged.