One wonders how the “two-state solution” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians ever became the gold standard against which all other possible approaches to Middle East peace must be measured.
Considering much of the reaction to President Trump’s refusal to exclusively commit to that formulation, one would think he violated some eternal, fundamental truth. Yet now that the president has indicated he is open to different formulations in addition to “two states” – even without specifying exactly what he means – skepticism over the efficacy of a two-state solution is slowly taking root.
For one thing, the usual two-state formulation calls for two democratic states existing side by side, one Jewish and one Palestinian. Yet there is no Middle East state other than Israel that could in any way be described as “democratic.” Why should it be anticipated that the Palestinians would be the first? Do the PA-governed areas give any evidence of such a possibility? And then there’s Gaza, ruled by the profoundly undemocratic Hamas terrorist enterprise that seeks to overtake the PA in the West Bank.
For another thing, the usual two-state approach calls for the establishment of a “demilitarized” Palestinian state. Can anyone contemplate the Palestinians accepting this sharp restriction on their sovereignty, especially when the region is in the throes of so much unrest?
And then consider the intransigence of the Palestinians in refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and in insisting on an unlimited “right of return” for Palestinians dislodged since 1948. Is there anyone who doesn’t see a pattern here – namely, that the Palestinians want all of Israel and the notion of “two states” is, in their view, just an interim phase?
Consider also that Israel sits atop the land it now controls by dint of a series of providential victories in wars launched by the Arabs in the hope of destroying Israel. Yet a two-state approach tends to equalize the two sides and treat Israelis and Palestinians as geopolitical equals. But when has there been a historical precedent for this? Has it ever been logical to expect Israel to simply relinquish the leverage it achieved in defending itself against wars of aggression?
During the Obama years, these rather legitimate concerns never came to much given the force-feeding by President Obama of the June 1967 lines as the only framework for negotiations – and in the context of a two-state solution. Nor was any significance allowed to attach to the unfolding disaster of the Arab Spring and the rise in influence of Iran, which upended all notions of security in the region.
President Trump, however, has now indicated that his approach to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians will involve factoring in (a) the recent events that have dimmed the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation to stability in the Middle East generally and (b) the Iran nuclear agreement that has drawn many Arab states together and closer to Israel in terms of shared interests.
In short, President Trump is seeking to refashion conceptions of how to seek peace in the Middle East, with a focus on a regional approach. That is the import of his comment about his being okay with whatever arrangement Israel and the Palestinians come up with, whether in terms of a two-state solution or otherwise.