US President Donald Trump’s announcement on December 6 last year of his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a real shock not only for Palestinians but also for the international community as a whole.
For many people, this decision was the final nail in the coffin for the two-state solution. But even before Trump’s controversial announcement, some western politicians were arguing that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer feasible due to Israel’s expansionist policies in the West Bank.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reacted to Trump’s Jerusalem decision with fury and went so far to say that the Palestinians would no longer accept the United States as a mediator in the peace process. Abbas also refused to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence when he visited the region.
The international community joined Abbas in condemning Trump’s decision, with a resounding majority of United Nations member states voting to declare the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void”. But in the end, neither Abbas nor other world leaders were successful in convincing Trump to reverse his decision.
After the storm of anger dissipated, the world came to its senses, and most leaders realised that no peace process in the Middle East could ever advance without the support and approval of the US. This was clearly put by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini when she said “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone”.
Despite attempts by the EU to change the current mechanism and create a negotiations framework that would involve multilateral brokers, the Palestinians were disappointed to find out that this was nothing more than wishful thinking – especially after senior Palestinian officials, who were dispatched to Moscow, Beijing and several Arab capitals after the Jerusalem announcement to find new international sponsors for negotiations, returned home empty-handed. This meant that the role of the US is and will be very central to any peace process in the Middle East regardless of Palestinians’ perception of the US as a dishonest broker.
Palestinian Authority did not abandon the two-state solution
Even though the Palestinian Authority (PA) said it would not accept US mediation after Trump’s Jerusalem decision, it did not renounce the two-state solution completely. Instead, the Palestinian leadership tried to limit the damage caused by the announcement and strengthen their position within the existing framework. The same tactic was adopted by other political parties involved in the peace process, such as the EU.
Thus, many people, who thought the Jerusalem decision was the end of the two-state solution, now wonder why most stakeholders of the peace process still have hope for this approach, despite its failure to bring about sustainable peace decades after its conception.
The answer to this question is simple: It is unbearable and costly for all stakeholders – albeit for different reasons – to abandon this solution. Currently, there are only three alternatives to the two-state solution, formation of a single democratic state with a one-man-one-vote system, formation of an Apartheid state like the one existed in South Africa in the eighties, or abandonment of all state-building efforts, which would undoubtedly result in a political vacuum.
Obviously, the first option means the end of Israel as we know it. In this scenario, the demographics of Israel would change drastically, with Palestinians becoming the majority in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. There are around two million Palestinians in Israel and the same number of Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Therefore, this option is vehemently rejected by Israel. Far from considering accepting Palestinians as equal citizens, Israel’s far right-parties are currently working hard to drive them outside the borders of Israel.
On the Palestinian side, this idea has also not been taken seriously or discussed properly among the current Palestinian leadership or other prominent political factions. The PLO’s strategy since the 1960’s has been to establish an independent state. Some Palestinian players, such as Hamas, do not even believe in a peace process in the first place.
On the European side, the EU has already invested huge amounts of money, time and energy to make the two-state vision a reality and it is finding it very hard to change direction after all these efforts. Also, trying to implement a democratic one-state solution would be hard for the EU, as Israel is strongly against this strategy. Many European states do not have the will or courage to have a full-blown confrontation with Israel, a state they view as an indispensable ally in the Middle East. And let’s not forget that the EU is not a government, but a union, and it needs the consensus of all its 28 member states to adopt a new foreign policy. This necessity slows down the decision-making process in the EU and limits the union’s capabilities when significant policy shifts are needed.
The second alternative to the two-state solution is an Apartheid state. Although this strategy is already de-facto implemented in the West Bank and even inside the state of Israel, no one is recognising it as a real option to end the conflict and achieve peace between the two parties. It is morally and politically costly, and would most certainly be strongly condemned by the international community.
The final alternative to the two-state solution is to do nothing. But, if the international community denounces the two-state solution without offering an alternative, a major political vacuum, which would undoubtedly be filled with “extremist” non-state actors like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), will materialise. Obviously, no one can afford this to happen.
All in all, the two-state solution is still the only game in town. However, the rules of the game seem to be changing in Israel’s favour. Both Israel and the US still theoretically accept this solution, but they want to shape it in a way that would benefit Israel and further victimise Palestinians. They have already laid the foundations for their version of the two-state solution by taking Jerusalem off the table. They will likely continue with abolishing the right of return for Palestinian refugees, permanently condemning them to bantustans in the West Bank. All this can be done under the umbrella of the two-state solution.
For Palestinians, there is no way out of the two-state solution. What everyone needs to focus on now is not unlikely alternative solutions, but the shape the two-state solution is going to take under Trump’s leadership.