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Who's Against a Two-State Solution?

"Two states, living side by side in peace and security." This, in the words of President Barack Obama, is the solution to the century-long conflict between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the Middle East. Washington is fully and determinedly on board. So are the Europeans. The UN and the "international community" vociferously agree. Successive governments of the state of Israel have shown their support for the idea. So far, there is—just as there has always been—only one holdout.

The story begins a long time ago. In April 1920, the newly formed League of Nations appointed Britain as the mandatory power in Palestine. The British were committed, via the Balfour Declaration, to facilitating the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. But they were repeatedly confronted with violent Arab opposition, which they just as repeatedly tried to appease. As early as March 1921, they severed the vast and sparsely populated territory east of the Jordan River ("Transjordan") from the prospective Jewish national home and made Abdullah, the emir of Mecca, its effective ruler. In 1922 and 1930, two British White Papers limited Jewish immigration to Palestine and imposed harsh restrictions on land sales to Jews.

But the violence mounted, and in July 1937 it reaped its greatest reward when a British commission of inquiry, headed by Lord Peel, recommended repudiating the terms of the mandate altogether. In its stead, the commission now proposed a two-state solution: the partitioning of Palestine into an Arab state, united with Transjordan, that would occupy some 85 percent of the mandate territory west of the Jordan river, and a Jewish state in the remainder. "Half a loaf is better than no bread," the commission wrote in its report, hoping that "on reflection both parties will come to realize that the drawbacks of partition are outweighed by its advantages."

But partition did not happen. While the Zionist leadership gave the plan its halfhearted support, Arab governments and the Palestinian Arab leadership (with the sole exception of Abdullah, who viewed partition as a steppingstone to the vast Arab empire he was striving to create) dismissed it out of hand.

The same thing happened in November 1947 when, in the face of the imminent expiration of the British mandate, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine. Rejecting the plan altogether, the Arab nations attempted to gain the whole by destroying the state of Israel at birth. This time, however, Arab violence backfired. In the ensuing war, not only did Israel confirm its sovereign independence and assert control over somewhat wider territories than those assigned to it by the UN, but the Palestinian Arab community was profoundly shattered, with about half of its members fleeing to other parts of Palestine and to neighboring Arab states.

But the results hardly won the Arabs over to the merits of the two-state solution. Rather, the Arab states continued to manipulate the Palestinian cause to their own several ends. Neither Egypt nor Jordan permitted Palestinian self-determination in the parts of Palestine they had occupied during the 1948 war. Jordan annexed the West Bank in April 1950, while Egypt kept the Gaza Strip under oppressive military rule. No new Palestinian leadership was allowed to emerge. Only after the conquest of these territories by Israel during the June 1967 Six-Day war, and the passage five months later of UN Security Council Resolution 242, would their political future become a question of the first order.

At the time, though, nobody envisaged a return to the two-state solution. To the contrary:  Palestinian nationhood was rejected by the entire international community, including the western democracies, the Soviet Union (then the foremost supporter of radical Arabism), and the Arab world itself (as late as 1974, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad openly referred to Palestine as "a basic part of southern Syria"). Instead, under Resolutions 242's "land for peace" terms, it was assumed that any territories evacuated by Israel would be returned to their pre-1967 Arab occupiers: Gaza to Egypt, and the West Bank to Jordan. The resolution did not even mention the Palestinians by name, affirming instead the necessity "for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem"—a clause that applied not just to Arabs but to the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab states following the 1948 war.

What, then, about the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), established in 1964 at the initiative of Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser? Through a sustained terror campaign in the late 1960s and early 1970s, most notably including the massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the September 1972 Munich Olympics, the PLO would gradually establish itself as a key international player. In October 1974 it was designated by the Arab League as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people, and in the following month PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat became the first non-state leader ever to address the UN General Assembly. Soon afterward, the UN granted observer status to the PLO despite that organization's open commitment to the destruction of Israel, a UN member state; within a few years, it was allowed to open offices in most west European capitals.

The PLO's ascendance, coupled with Jordan's renunciation of its claim to the West Bank, led to a reinterpretation of Resolution 242 as in fact implying a two-state solution: namely, Israel and a Palestinian state governed by the PLO in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Conveniently ignored was one glaring fact: the PLO rejected any such solution. In June 1974, the organization adopted a "phased strategy," according to whose terms it would seize whatever territory Israel was prepared or compelled to cede and use it as a springboard for further territorial gains until achieving, in its phrase, the "complete liberation of Palestine."

It is true that, in November 1988, more than two decades after the passage of 242, the PLO made a pretense of accepting the resolution; but this was little more than a ploy to open a dialogue with Washington. Shortly after that move, Salah Khalaf, Arafat's second-in-command (better known by his nom de guerre of Abu Iyad), declared: "The establishment of a Palestinian state on any part of Palestine is but a step toward the whole of Palestine." Two years later, following the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait (which the PLO endorsed), he reiterated the point at a public rally in Amman, pledging "to liberate Palestine inch by inch from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river."

Despite all this, Israel's Labor government, which had backed the "land for peace" formula in the immediate wake of the 1967 war, decided to enter into its own peace negotiations with the PLO. In 1993 it signed the "Oslo Accords" providing for Palestinian self-rule in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip for a transitional period not to exceed five years, during which time Israel and the Palestinians would negotiate a permanent settlement. Although the Oslo accords were not based explicitly on a two-state solution, they signaled an implicit Israeli readiness to acquiesce in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But once again the PLO had other plans. In its judgment, the Oslo "peace process" offered a path not to a two-state but to a one-state solution. Arafat admitted as much five days before signing the accords in Washington when he told an Israeli journalist that "In the future, Israel and Palestine will be one united state in which Israelis and Palestinians will live together"—that is, Israel would cease to exist. And even as he shook Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's hand on the White House lawn, Arafat was assuring the Palestinians in a pre-recorded Arabic-language message that the agreement was merely an implementation of the PLO's phased strategy.

The next ten years offered a recapitulation, over and over again, of the same story. In addressing Israeli or Western audiences, Arafat would laud the "peace" he had signed with "my partner Yitzhak Rabin." To his Palestinian constituents, he depicted the accords as transient arrangements required by the needs of the moment, made constant allusion to the "phased strategy," and repeatedly insisted on the "right of return," a euphemism for Israel's destruction through demographic subversion.

And that was the least of it. Further discrediting the idea of "two states living side by side in peace and security," Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) launched a sustained campaign of racial hatred and political incitement.  Israelis, and Jews more generally, were portrayed as the source of all evil and responsible for every problem, real or imagined, in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians were indoctrinated in the illegitimacy of the state of Israel and the lack of any Jewish connection to the land, supplemented with tales of Israeli plots to corrupt and ruin them.

Nor did it stop there. Embracing violence as the defining characteristic of his rule, Arafat set out to build an extensive terrorist infrastructure in the territories—in flagrant violation of the accords and in total defiance of the overriding official reason for his presence there: namely, to lay the groundwork for Palestinian independence. Israeli concessions had no effect, or worse. In 1997, Jerusalem gave the PA full control over virtually the entire Arab population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as some 40 percent of the land, as a prelude to final-status negotiations. But Israel's civilian casualties only mounted. At the American-convened peace summit in Camp David (July 2000), Ehud Barak offered Arafat a complete end to the Israeli presence, ceding virtually the entire territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the nascent Palestinian state and making breathtaking concessions with respect to Jerusalem. Arafat's response was war, at a level of local violence unmatched in scope and intensity since the attempt to abort the creation of a Jewish state in 1948.

Although it had become abundantly evident by then that the PLO had no interest whatsoever in statehood, the international community responded by condemning Israel's defensive measures against the Palestinian intifada and urging it to accelerate the "peace process." It also maintained the massive influx of international aid to the Palestinian Authority, making the Palestinians the largest recipients of foreign aid per-capita in the world—though most of the funds were promptly siphoned off to the personal bank accounts of Arafat and his cronies and/or channeled to terror operations. Even after Arafat's death in late 2004 and the landslide victory of the militant Islamist group Hamas in Palestinian parliamentary elections twelve months later, Western governments insistently maintained the façade of a "peace process," now embracing Mahmoud Abbas and his defeated Fatah as the epitome of moderation.

But is there in fact a fundamental distinction between Hamas and Fatah when it comes to a two-state solution?  Neither faction formally accepts Israel's right to exist; both are formally committed to its eventual destruction. Moreover, for all the admittedly sharp differences between Arafat and his successor Abbas both in personality and in political style, the two are warp and woof of the same dogmatic PLO fabric.

In a televised speech on May 15, 2005, Abbas described the establishment of Israel as an unprecedented historic injustice and vowed his unwavering resolve never to accept it.  Two-and-a-half years later, at a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, he rejected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal of a Palestinian Arab state in 97 percent of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, and categorically dismissed the request to recognize Israel as a Jewish state alongside the would-be Palestinian state, insisting instead on full implementation of the "right of return."

In June 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke with longstanding Likud precept by publicly accepting a two-state solution and agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state, provided the Palestinian leadership responded in kind and recognized Israel's Jewish nature. The Arab world exploded in rage. Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, whose country had been at peace with the Jewish state for 30 years, deplored Netanyahu's statement as "scuppering the possibilities for peace." Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that Netanyahu "will have to wait 1,000 years before he finds one Palestinian who will go along with him."

At Fatah's sixth general congress, convened in Bethlehem in August last year, the delegates reaffirmed their longstanding commitment to "armed struggle" as "a strategy, not a tactic . . . . This struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated." More recently, even as Abbas has publicly mouthed the Obama formula for "two states living side by side in peace and security," he pointedly insists on preconditions impossible for Israel to accept.

The Peel Commission had the principle right. While a two-state solution "offers neither party all it wants, it offers each what it wants most, namely, freedom and security." It is a great historical irony that this "half-a-loaf" solution should have been repeatedly advanced as a response by others—Europeans, Americans, Israelis—to the actions of its most implacable opponents, who have then repeatedly proceeded to repudiate it in word and deed.  On the Palestinian side, not a single leader has ever evinced any true liking for the idea or acted in a way signifying an unqualified embrace of it. The same is true, with the partial exceptions of Egypt and Jordan, for the larger Arab world.

Nearly two decades and thousands of deaths after the launch of the "peace process," one might hope that Western policy makers would at last begin to take the measure of what the Palestinian leadership tells its own people and wider Arab audiences. For the lesson of history remains: so long as things on the Arab side are permitted, or encouraged, to remain as they are, there will be no two-state solution, and therefore no solution at all.


Efraim Karsh, editor of the Middle East Quarterly and author most recently of Palestine Betrayed (Yale), is professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University of London.

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Kenneth Besig on July 20, 2010 at 11:07 am (Reply)
The Palestinians have only one consistent and immutable goal in mind when dealing with Israel, and that is the destruction of the Jewish State and the genocide of our Jewish citizens.
Everything else one could say is commentary and a huge waste of time. Indeed, the only thing that the seemingly endless negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has produced is a huge waste of time, money, and resources.
Israel would settle with the Palestinians on almost any terms and almost immediately even though there would be tremendous security risks for Israel involved in any settlement.
Not to worry because this is not a problem, since the Palestinians will never settle with Israel if that settlement includes the continued existance of the Jewish State of Israel.
Saul Chapnick on July 20, 2010 at 11:17 am (Reply)
Efraim Karsh hit a bulls-eye. The Peel Commission was established prior to the War. They were only going to grant the Jewish population living in Palestine the sea coast from Tel Aviv on north and the Galil. The Zionists, as he stated, accepted this. There were going to be mass population transfers to insure the arabs lived with arabs and the Jews lived with Jews.

WWII unfortunately broke out and the Peel Commission was shelved. Not only that, but the term "population transfer" became very unsexy due to how the Nazis used that term as a euphemism for mass murder.

History may have been very different had the Peel Commission succeeded.
Carl Sesar on July 20, 2010 at 11:31 am (Reply)
Mr. Besig:
Your first sentence says it all.
But endless negotiations are not a waste of time for those who wish to destroy Israel. They foreshadow and give impetus to their aims.
John Sholl on July 20, 2010 at 10:08 pm (Reply)
If the United States and Europe would stop giving money to support the PLO, and let the arab states support the PLO, how long would they refuse to live in peace with Israel?
S Flamer on July 20, 2010 at 10:24 pm (Reply)
I think a three-state solution may be better - Israel, West Bank, Gaza. WB and Gaza are already in disagreement. Even if the WB were willing to negotiate with Israel, this would keep Gaza on the sidelines. This will only create problems. If all three states buy into a plan - great. If, during a three-state negotiation, only Israel and WB came to an agreement, this would be all right too. Gaza would be isolated even more and would be held more accountable internationally for any bad behaviour on its part.
Jeremiah Haber on July 21, 2010 at 4:09 am (Reply)
This is such a poor article -- I am surprised that Jewish Ideas Daily would run it.

No mention is made of:

1) Ben-Gurion's remark that partition was only a first stage, and that all of Eretz Yisrael was the goal of statist Zionism.

2. The Saudi Peace Initiative.

3. The importnat fact that not a single Israeli (to the right of the so-called extreme left) is in favor of a genuine two-state solution, which would provide for a genuine Palestinian state. Not even the Geneva Initiative, which requires the Palestinian "state" to be non-militarized, does that.

4. The Likud Platform still opposes the idea of two states, even the castrated one proposed by Bibi. And prominent Likud members, like Moshe Arens and Reuben Rivlin, have publicly backed the one state option. A recent article by Noam Sheizaf in Haaretz talks about the rightwing support for One State.

In short, who is against the two-state solution? So far, it seems that nobody is for a two-state solution -- except Fatah and the Arab states. What others call a state is a sham state.

Just ask youself the following questions: would the Zionist movement have accepted a "state" with no security control of its borders, no exclusive rights to natural resources -- and no Israel Defense Force?

If you say, we will let the Palestinians have a provisional state until they prove their, too, are opposed to a two-state solution.

Just be honest about it.
Jonathan Ross on July 21, 2010 at 4:18 am (Reply)
Of course we should also thank the British and French for their sub rosa carving up of the Middle East in 1916 post-Ottoman Empire: the Sykes-Picot Agreement, where a bunch of military cartographers from each country drew lines across the map in an arbitary manner.

Don't you just miss the days of Imperialism? Good to keep in mind next time Britain or France tells us what Israel should be doing.
I Sarras on July 21, 2010 at 4:43 am (Reply)
I do not think Prof Karsh was fair, though it was interesting to read his article. To suggest that one party (the Jewish party) was always right, and the other party was always wrong is simply unfair. Karsh omitted many things, for example there was no mention of the first Intifada, which took place before the Oslo and several years before the PA rule started. Besides, he quotes some rhetoric by Palestinian leaders which is often nothing more than hot air. There is a lot more of course which I have no space to write here. If we want to get out of the current misery, an element of fairness is essential. There is no doubt that the Palestinian people have accepted a historical compromise. If you just focus on the performance of their political elites, you totally miss the point.
DF on July 21, 2010 at 7:04 am (Reply)
There is another narrative of the events from Madrid through Oslo through Camp David that is altogether sidestepped. But all of the self-righteous blaming in the world can't change one strategic and moral reality: for Israel to be sustainable the map has to be redrawn by consensus - regardless of whether the Palestinians are sincere in their offers to compramise or how entrenched violence is in their ethos.
Larry Snider on July 21, 2010 at 3:00 pm (Reply)
Dear Dr. Karsh,

It is nice and even appropriate to review the history of the development of the State of Israel highlighting Palestinian recalcitrance toward the acceptance of the two state solution. However, Yasser Arafat is gone now and the battle over the direction of his bones as fought by Israelis and Palestinians alike is carried on all the time. I believe that while you mentioned the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Commission, the UN Partition Plan, Munich, Resolution 242, the Oslo Agreements and "Land for Peace," you managed to forget a little thing known as the Occupation which has now plagued the Palestinian people for over 43 years. As recently as yesterday "the IDF's Civil Administration destroyed a Palestinian village, (Farasiya), that had earlier been cleared out when its water supply was cut off."
The terms of this Occupation have been violent and often immoral, (even as they have repeatedly been met by terror attacks against Israeli civilians). Until you an other foreign policy experts are willing to tell the whole story it will probably remain true that a two state solution is a dream that seems increasingly to be disappearing over the horizon.

Daniel M. Wright on July 22, 2010 at 10:04 am (Reply)
To many of the previous comments, naturally, Dr. Karsh did not address the whole story ... it takes BOOKS and COLLEGE COURSES and YEARS to cover ALL points!

What strikes me is that regardless of what degree to which we critique both "sides" in this conflict, no matter how detailed we get with "what was left out" or "what was unfair" it is absolutely clear and irrefutable that if the Arab partners [years ago] would honestly accept a state called ISRAEL; a jewish, zionist entity there in their neighborhood ... that the conflict would cease. At once.

The fact remains that under the cover of talks and agreements and negotiations and rhetoric [and everyone knows this] the Arabs in general and the Muslims in particular will NEVER EVER abide a Jewish state in what has been Waqf land; ie Falestin and Al Quds [as they call it]. They might tell you anything at all, but they will NEVER cede this land to Jewish sovereignty. Never! Forget it. Truce? Treaty? Cessation of conflict for 10 years? Whatever buzz term you want to use. They will never, ever, ever, EVER surrender the vision of eliminating tiny Israel! It will take a miracle alone. And only that will solve this puzzle. GOD made this puzzle and He alone will solve it.
Hershel Schoenholtz on August 6, 2010 at 4:11 pm (Reply)
Fascinating and in depth article. However, would you mind citing your sources so that I can continue my research? Thanks.
yj Draiman on January 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm (Reply)
The Palestinian Arabs are the occupiers of Jewish land.

Tell the World they are delusional in thinking that Arabs belong in Israel - There will never be an Arab/Palestinian State together or adjacent to Eretz Israel.
There has never been such a nation as the Palestinian/Arab People.
The Arab/Moslem Koran specifically states in
The Qur'an 17:104 - states the land belongs to the Jewish people

If the historic documents, comments written by eyewitnesses and declarations by the most authoritative Arab scholars are still not enough, let us quote the most important source for Muslim Arabs:
"And thereafter we [Allah] said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd'.".
Any sincere Muslim must recognize the Land they call "Palestine" as the Jewish Homeland, according to the book considered by Muslims to be the most sacred word and Allah's ultimate revelation.

Any building of housing in The Greater Israel is the right and duty of the Israeli government. There is no such a thing as occupied territory. It is the land of Israel for over 4,000 years.

Sequence of historical events, agreements and a non-broken series of treaties and resolutions, as laid out by the San Remo Resolution, the League of Nations and the United Nations, gives the Jewish People title to the city of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.
Let the Arab nation take the Palestinian Arabs and settle the in the Million plus Jewish home that they evicted from their countries and allow the Jewish nation to live in peace.
A true peace in the Middle East will be an economic phenomenon that the world has never seen. But this can only be accomplished when there is a real peace. The Arabs must stop preaching and teaching hate.
Any liberal Israeli that is delusional about Arab intention and wants to give any land in Israel to the Arabs should live Israel; he does not belong in Israel.
YJ Draiman, Northridge, CA

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