Opinion

Why Israelis and Palestinians Increasingly Think War, Not Two States, Will Solve Their Conflict

A poll shows Israeli and Palestinian support for a two state solution falling below 50% for the first time since Oslo. Rising numbers support ‘armed resistance’ or a ‘definitive war’. What to do when the people don’t want what the peace industry is pushing?

TOPSHOT - Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP

Along with many others, I have cautioned anyone who would listen that the window for the two-state solution is closing. Woe be the day, I warned, when highly-regarded public opinion polls finally showed that support for partition on both sides fell below 50 percent. 

It appears that day has now finally arrived. 

The latest Joint Israel-Palestinian survey poll from December 2017 found that only 46% of both Israelis and Palestinians currently support the two state solution. In other words, a majority of stakeholders on both sides reject the framework the international community has sought to implement over the past quarter century. 

The people no longer want what the peace industry is pushing, and there is no longer communal buy-in for basic contours of the "ultimate deal." 

Drilling down into the details of the data brings more depressing news.

When presented with a detailed nine point plan replicating the Clinton parameters, support for a peace deal drops to 40% of Palestinians and 35% of Israelis.

In particular, conditions which were once considered consensus views in the 1990s – that the future state of Palestine would be a de-militarized nation protected by a multilateral force - is now opposed by 77% of Palestinians. Another point of former agreement, that East Jerusalem would be the Palestinian capital, is now opposed by 77% of Israelis. 

Only about a third of both populations envision a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with settlement blocs absorbed into Israel.

Moreover, when confronted with other options for conflict resolution other than peacemaking, an increasing plurality (38%, up from 21% in the previous survey) of Palestinians would prefer armed resistance and almost a fifth (19%) of Israelis called for a protracted "definitive war." 

A plurality on both sides still prefer the two-state solution to a one-state option, or to more extreme scenarios such as an apartheid arrangement, or a policy of population transfer/expulsion (whether of Jews or Palestinians).

That might seem like good news, but it’s not the same as solid support for the two-state outcome, which is just slightly less unacceptable to majorities on both sides.

Does this sound like a just, durable, and claims-ending situation to you?

Is the two state solution really now dead?

A mass demonstration in Tel Aviv against 50 years of occupation entitled "Two States - One Hope". May 27, 2017
Oded Balilty/AP

Well-intended and highly-skilled policy makers have made great efforts to prove that a technical solution is still possible despite changes on the ground, not least in the form of settlement building, that makes land for peace increasingly unfeasible. But even the smartest software visualizing border options can’t overcome what has become significant popular opposition to the two state option.

For historians, the idea that the peace process would have been predicated on partition - or land for peace - seemed doomed from the start. 

Any serious investigation of the history of the conflict reveals that the era of the Oslo Accords was a historical aberration rather than a political absolute for the Palestinian national movement, whose leadership and laity have largely advocated for a one-state solution of a sovereign Palestine between the river and sea. 

While some secular nationalists within the PLO convinced themselves (and Israel and the international community) that compromise was possible - at the height of Oslo some 80% of Palestinians were conditionally in agreement - this support has wavered since Camp David II in 2000. . 

Given 20 more years of occupation, war, and diplomatic stalemate, it’s hardly surprising that the two-state solution does not reflect Palestinian societal preferences anymore. 

Meanwhile, the Zionist movement has always been divided between territorial maximalists (religious and revisionist) and mainstream statists (including those only temporarily wedded to the status quo, awaiting opportunities for expansion).

An Israeli soldier keeping watch as the children of Israeli settlers play in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, May 29, 2017.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

But the balance of power with the Jewish-Israeli community has shifted more decisively toward one-state advocates of various forms since the second intifada - from the creeping annexation policies of the Netanyahu administration or the full-throated advocacy for retaining the settlements by Habayit Hayehudi.

Today, the discourse of annexation (especially of Area C), once a political taboo, is now common talk across the Israeli political spectrum – not just by the likes of Naftali Bennett, but more moderate figures like Michael Oren.

For both Palestinians and Israelis, the winds have changed — and correspondingly the political will has waned.  So when will world leaders using the same plans for the past 20 years wake up to the new reality?

It seems logical we must think seriously about alternatives to the two-state solution – especially confederal frameworks that would honor for both Zionist and Palestinian sovereignty without entirely severing economies and borders. 

Yet as long as the international community remains unwilling to support other frameworks and the specter of violence looms over other options, it leaves those who care deeply about peace in Israel/Palestine will little recourse but to keep asking ourselves, "What would it take to get Israelis and Palestinians back to considering the clearest iteration of the two-state solution - the Clinton parameters?" 

The poll holds out a faint promise that - if concerns about feasibility were addressed and confidence-building measures put into place - both Palestinians and Israelis might re-evaluate their positions. 

A banner supporting the creation of a single state for Israelis and Palestinians: 'If I had to choose between one state and two states, I would choose one state.' Ramallah, West Bank. Feb. 23, 2017
Nasser Nasser/AP

But what steps could be taken to achieve this in practice?

A truth and reconciliation commission should precede a return to a technical peace process in order to build popular trust and will. The current two-state solution rubric does nothing to address core issues of conflicting national narratives or historical grievances. The survey shows that both sides would be more amenable to two states if their main concerns (for Israelis: security and terrorism and recognition of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount; for Palestinians: acknowledgement of the Naqba and the refugee question) were put on the table. Both Palestinians and Israelis express fears about the other that find no expression in the dry context of a land for peace framework. 

Palestinian citizens of Israel have a critical role to play in the quest for peace. Interestingly, the survey highlights them as the only constituency clamoring for a two-state solution – a full 83% are in favor. This population group must be more actively consulted and could possibly play a key role as a mediator. 

Co-opt the most volatile peace process spoilers or face dire consequences. Young, religious Palestinians and Israelis are the most vociferous opponents of the two-state solution. Outreach to disaffected youth - including exposing one side to the other - is vital to keep the process viable now and in the future.

Palestinian buy-in increases if their putative future state would uphold liberal democratic values. While Palestinians largely describe life under the occupation as "very bad," (interestingly, worse in the West Bank than in the Gaza Strip ), Palestinians are concerned about the character of the future Palestinian state. The international community must not only call for an end to the occupation, but put more effort into the creation of a real Palestinian civil society

Think out of the two-state box. There is compelling evidence that the stakeholders have some interest in confederation and semi-separation alternatives. No longer can world leaders refuse to consider other options and think seriously about what their implementation may look like.

Last but not least, unless Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community embrace a sense of urgency about the support for the two-state solution amongst the stakeholders it will certainly be too late.

Two decades since the Oslo Accords, it's foolish to think that a framework of land for peace can be implemented in the face of popular support, or that the consensus from the heyday of the peace process would stand the test of time. It’s never been clearer that the ‘status quo’ was an illusion, disguising by force or words deep popular shifts on both sides in the conflict.

No one needs a poll to tell them that both Israelis or Palestinians are capable of missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn is the University Research Lecturer and Sidney Brichto Fellow in Israel Studies at the University of Oxford. Her first book "City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement" (Harvard University Press) was published in 2017. She is currently working on a new book on post-1967 Diaspora Zionism and identity politics. Twitter: @SaraHirschhorn1