The two-state solution's inconvenient truths

Because of the basis of "Palestinian" national identity, the two-state solution basically makes peace impossible. The objective factors that preclude a two state soluton should have been obvious to anyone analyzing the situation.

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Dr. Yale M. Zussman,

Dr. Yale Zussman
Dr. Yale Zussman

As long as there was some hope that negotiation could produce a solution to the conflict with the Arabs, Israel and it supporters generally refrained from calling attention to several objective factors that have always made the so-called "two-state" solution impossible. In the wake of UNSCR 2334 and several more recent developments, the prospects of successful negotiations have dimmed further, even with all the talk of the Trump Plan, so the time has come to call attention to those factors.

There are five objective factors, "inconvenient truths" if you like, that preclude a successful "two-state" solution that should have been obvious to anyone thinking about the issue seriously:

1. Opposition to Jewish rights in the region comes, at least in part, from religious sources. Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who led the Arabs during the Mandate, was a religious authority and appealed to his people to oppose the Jews using religious terminology. For Muslims, the entire Land of Israel is a Muslim waqf or religious trust, territory that, having been conquered by the Muslim sword, can never revert to its previous and rightful owners. As long as that belief isn't countered, no Muslim can accept that Jews will rule anywhere in the Land. The conflict over security for the Temple Mount complex is a manifestation of this problem as is the dispute over recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Both are largely driven by theological, even eschatological, factors because they directly challenge this Muslim belief.

There can be no peace between Muslims and Jews that fails to address the Islamic dimension of the problem. It is possible that finding an answer here will provide insights enabling solution of the other apparently intractable problems of the Muslim world. Given what is going on in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, etc., such insights cannot come too soon. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a result of the same factors that generated those others, and not the cause of them. Conventional wisdom has had it exactly backwards. Establishing a Palestinian state would do nothing about this issue.

2. The demographics of the region require that either Israel or the putative Palestinian state be non-contiguous. While it is topologically possible to make both states contiguous, by exchanging the Jordan River valley for territory linking Gaza and Judea, the absurd borders this will produce, and the need to move tens, or hundreds, of thousands of citizens to get there, guarantee that this will not be done. The contiguity problem led to the Partition Commission's clever, possibly elegant, but conceptually flawed, borders in 1947. Because the wider region is mainly Muslim, it is more important that Israel remain contiguous, which it currently is, and that means that any Palestinian state established must consist of non-contiguous pieces.

Non-contiguity enables separate development in economics and culture at the very least, and these lead to divergent political paths. We see this phenomenon in "Palestine" with the Islamist Hamas controlling Gaza and the avowedly secular PA in power on the 'West Bank'. As long as "Palestine" is conceived as a single entity, the groups ruling its two lobes must compete for control of both by upping the ante against Israel, because hostility to the Jews is the only issue that unites their various peoples.

The track record of non-contiguous states is rather bad. The most obvious examples are Pakistan, from which Bangladesh seceded in a bloody war in 1971, and Germany and East Prussia, which contributed to the outbreak of World War II. Non-contiguity, by itself, may guarantee that the putative Palestine will be a failed state almost from birth. In turn, that makes the notion of a "Palestinian state" part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

3. A solution to the conflict that includes Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line, division of Jerusalem, and withdrawal of all the settlers to enable the establishment of a fully militarized Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, what "two-state" solution advocates claim they want, and what is envisioned in the 2002 Arab initiative and UNSCR 2334, would demonstrate that the cause of all Palestinian suffering, for the last 49 years, if not since 1949, is the unwillingness of their leaders to make peace with Israel: This is the solution they could have had in 1967, or even 1949, but chose not to pursue.

Such a solution would mean that all Arab "suffering" since 1967, or even 1949, is the result of decisions made by their leaders and will have been "for nothing." No-one who has been part of the decision-making process during this period can escape responsibility for the costs they have imposed on their people, and many would undoubtedly pay with their lives. The longer the conflict continues, the more "suffering" there is and the higher the price the leaders will have to pay.

Palestinian Arabs would benefit by being told the truth, but their leaders have never done so and can't start now; they have backed themselves into a corner. For this reason, all concerned must recognize that a solution before Mahmud Abbas' death is basically inconceivable.

I have brought this reality to the attention of a few diplomats involved with the issue, and none of them has acknowledged being previously aware of it. Once it is pointed out, it's sort of obvious, and they recognized immediately why it would prove to be a problem.

Where would the so-called Palestinians be if the Jews had decided to retain the name "Palestine" for their country?
The only solution that can vindicate that suffering is the destruction of Israel, but there is no obvious reason why Israel should agree to that... This means that only the prospect of future losses can provide the incentive for Palestinian Arab leaders to settle sooner rather than hoping for better later. Since, apart from its propaganda value, these leaders don't appear to be bothered by the suffering of their people, Israel's only real leverage on the Palestinian Arabs is the possible loss of land.

Contrary to the widely-held assumption in the West, this means the prospect of additional 'settlements' is a net positive for getting the Palestinians to make peace, and the campaign against them has undermined the pursuit of a solution. It is no coincidence that as the campaign against the 'settlements' has gathered momentum the prospects for a negotiated solution have dimmed. Palestinian leaders understand this, which is why they are so adamant about building freezes, and why, when they get one, respond by doing nothing. Freezes do nothing more than remove Israel's leverage; they don't advance the cause of peace.

4. "Palestinian" history demonstrates that there is no "Palestinian People." The 1910/11 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica lists more than a dozen identifiable nationality groups within the Muslim population of the land claimed by the Palestinians. During the Mandate, they were joined by additional Muslim groups, including some from Syria.

Some Palestinian Arab leaders are willing to acknowledge that there is no Palestinian people. Thus, Zahir Muhsein, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told the Dutch publication Trouw in 1977:

"The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct `Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism."

In an official PA TV special broadcast for the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, (Nov. 1, 2017) Palestinian historian Abd Al-Ghani Salameh responded to a question about the Declaration's impact on the Palestinian people with:

"Before the Balfour Promise (i.e., Declaration) when the Ottoman rule ended (1517--1917), Palestine's political borders as we know them today did not exist, and there was nothing called a Palestinian people with a political identity as we know today (emphasis added), since Palestine's lines of administrative division stretched from east to west and included Jordan and southern Lebanon, and like all peoples of the region [the Palestinians] were liberated from the Turkish rule and immediately moved to colonial rule, without forming a Palestinian people's political identity."

Pinhas Inbari (Who Are the Palestinians? August 7, 2017 pointed out recently that the histories and genealogies of the various clans confirm that essentially all of them are new-comers, from Arabia, Egypt, or even Central Asia. Thus, contrary to Mahmud Abbas's claims, none of the clans or tribes claims to be descended from the Canaanites, much less the Natufians, the name anthropologists give to the people who may have discovered agriculture 10000 years ago.

Even Hamas minister Fathi Hammad acknowledges that "half the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis."

During the mandate, the Arabs of Palestine had no name for themselves; "Palestinian" referred to the Jews. When they took a name, in the 1950s, it was the name the imperialists -- Roman Empire or British, take your pick -- gave to the territory where they had lived. Where would they be if the Jews had decided to retain the name "Palestine" for their country?

Two or three generations of separate development followed 1949, so there has been no opportunity for Palestinian Arabs to coalesce into a single people. If they had, the "Refugees of 1948" would be willing to forego their claimed "right of return" to their homes in 1947 for the opportunity to have a Palestinian state. Insistence on this right means the "Palestinians" aren't a people even today. They remain, as they were a century ago, a grab-bag of clans and tribes, some newly arrived in the Middle East, never mind "Palestine," and often at war with one another.

Even if their leaders wanted to, this collection would be incapable of making the decisions necessary to establish peace. Indeed, as long as hostility toward Israel is the glue holding the "Palestinian People" together, they cannot make peace without putting themselves out of business. They are incapable of either unifying, which is a prerequisite for the "two-state" solution, or abandoning maximalist  claims because that means abandoning the "Refugees of 1948."

Palestinian leaders must be aware of this at some level, which explains their ridiculous claims about the antiquity of their people and their denial of demonstrable Jewish history and claims to the land, a lie made "official" by UNESCO. Reality doesn't support their political goals, so, in the absence of a real one, they have simply invented a history for themselves.

Curiously, the only time all the parts of the "Palestinian" people could intermingle freely was when there actually was an 'occupation'. It was also during the 'occupation' that their living conditions improved markedly, now labeled "suffering." Maybe Arafat concluded that if he didn't destroy these gains his hope to destroy Israel would never come to pass, and thus the intifadeh.

Any solution now would demonstrate that the "Palestinian narrative" has been a lie all along, and without that narrative, Palestinian claims would be seen for what they are: a pretext for avoiding making peace.

That there is no "Palestinian People" does not mean there are no Palestinian people; there is a difference. The sad irony of this situation is that what is good for Palestinian people, like the economic and social progress that occurred during the 'occupation', is often bad for the notion that there is a "Palestinian People;" while what is good for that idea, like more "resistance," violence, and death, is usually very bad for individual Palestinians.

5. The solution suggested in item 3 does nothing for the "Refugees of 1948" because it doesn't include the "right of return" or enable them to destroy Israel, so they have no reason to support it or to pay any price to get it. That most of the leaders of the various Palestinian factions come from those "Refugees of 1948" means they won't consider settling on this basis, and as long as Palestinian society is not governed democratically, the "Refugees of 1948" faction will hold power and prevent a solution.

Consequently, resolution of the refugee issue is a prerequisite for achieving a peace settlement of any sort; it must come before the Palestinians will be willing to get serious about making peace. The solution will have to come from outside, perhaps a buy-out of their "refugee" status. Arab leaders have understood this since 1949, which is why they have refused to address the refugee issue and why there are Palestinian "refugees" living in camps under the jurisdiction of the PA and Hamas, the two candidates for their prospective "government." UNRWA must be closed down since its survival depends on perpetuating the refugee problem.

The above items are incontestable facts, and note that I have not included that the Palestinian Arabs have a different idea about what the "two-state" solution is intended to achieve: not peace but a new status quo from which they can pursue the destruction of Israel.

Now for the implications:

There are at least three alternatives to the establishment of a Palestinian state as envisioned in the "two-state" solution:

a) Continuation of the current situation. This is basically a non-starter because since Oslo it has been understood as temporary and that has contributed to escalating violence. "Temporary" does not mean it is going away any time soon, just that ultimately it must end.

b) Israeli annexation of the West Bank. Caroline Glick has proposed this, but her solution doesn't really explain why the Arabs would accept it and how Israel might address the consequences of having a large hostile minority inclined to engage in violence with free access to everywhere in the country.

c) Look back to the situation between 1949 and 1967. In this scenario, Gaza is either annexed by Egypt or recognized as the Palestinian state (appropriate because Gaza approximates the territory once inhabited by the Philistines) while Israel and Jordan draw a border between them to resolve territorial issues in Judea and Samaria. Because both Egypt and Jordan have already recognized the legitimacy of Israel, such a solution doesn't require the conceptual breakthrough necessary for an agreement between Israel and "Palestine." Jordan can agree to demilitarize its West Bank territories without losing sovereignty, something a Palestinian state in the same territory could not do.

The counter-argument here is that this strategy will convert Jordan into a possibly second Palestinian state, but if the "Refugees of 1948" have already been resettled, they might be open to adopting a Jordanian identity that enables them to avoid Islamist rule, which Hamas has brought to Gaza.

This approach ends the "occupation" without empowering forces committed to destroying Israel, and may well be sufficient for the larger Arab and Muslim worlds to declare the problem solved.

The notion of a "Palestinian State" may be one of the worst ideas ever to come from the political elite. Because of the basis of "Palestinian" national identity, it basically makes peace impossible.

The question before diplomats who wish to address this conflict now is simple: Are they more interested in vindicating the theory that requires Israeli concessions or do they wish to find a solution to the problem? It is said to be intractable, but maybe what must actually change is the mind-set of those who seek to deal with it and their understanding of what it will take to find a solution.

(The author holds a doctorate in Political Science from MIT)