This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
The two-state solution is not a matter of if, but when. U.S. elections and the current composition of Israel’s government coalition have caused extremists on both sides to rejoice and believe two states is in jeopardy. They are mistaken.
Two states for two peoples remains the only outcome for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is not to say it is around the corner, but it is inevitable, and it is the duty of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take steps to advance it before more blood is spilt. We have compiled the ten foremost reasons why the opportunity for the two-state solution has not expired – and why Israel must initiate advancing it through separating from the Palestinians in the West Bank.
1. An overwhelming majority of Israelis are still in favor of a two-state solution, and only a small minority support annexation.
Israelis may believe there is currently no Palestinian partner for peace, but the idea that the majority of Israelis do not support a two-state solution is false. A Reshet Bet poll from December 30th, 2016, indicates 61% of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state, while the remaining 39% either do not see a solution in the foreseeable future or support annexation. This broad public support for the two-state solution is especially noteworthy given the current political climate and concerted efforts against such a solution.
2. A majority of the governing coalition may not support a two states, but a majority of Knesset Members do.
It is difficult to envision concrete steps taken by the current Israeli government toward separation from the Palestinians, given the sentiment against it within Likud along with the political leverage held by Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, who together with other governing factions represent roughly 38-43 Knesset seats that oppose relinquishing the West Bank. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Israel’s parliament (120 total seats) knows that maintaining the status quo in the West Bank compromises Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic, secure state. That is why even outspoken right-wing “hawks” such as the current defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, support separation from the Palestinians. Taking into account the prime minister, who publicly supports two states and opposes annexation, it becomes clear that legislation to annex the West Bank would not be passed in the Knesset.
3. Almost the entire retired and current Israeli security establishment unequivocally states: taking steps to advance two states is the only way to ensure Israel’s security.
Just as doctors know best about fighting disease and scientists about combatting climate change, the Israeli security establishment knows best about advancing Israel’s security, which is why every retired IDF Chief of Staff, Mossad Chief, and Shin Bet Director has clearly indicated that a two-state arrangement is the only way for Israel to achieve long-term security. Even further, 80% of all retired IDF generals and their equivalents in the Mossad, Shin Bet, and Israeli Police (Commanders for Israel’s Security) are currently calling for immediate actions to be taken to ensure Israeli security through separation from the Palestinians. The far-right would have you believe that those advocating for a two-state solution today are unrealistic “leftists,” but with the safety of millions of Israelis on the line, we think it is wise to listen to the Commanders with over 7,000 collective years of military and national security service.
4. Advancing two states is the only way to ensure that Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in the West Bank continues.
The Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank continue strong security cooperation with the IDF and Israeli authorities, working together to prevent terror from reaching Israelis and Palestinians. While these security forces may have significant political interests at stake in working to prevent a Hamas takeover in the West Bank, their continued cooperation with Israel amidst significant public pressure should not be forgotten when people question if there is a partner for peace on the Arab side. If Israel does not take steps to advance two states, the Palestinian public may lose faith in this security cooperation, risking its deterioration and bringing about a serious blow to the safety of Israelis.
5. Advancing two states will encourage moderate Arab states to increase their public, diplomatic support for Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of Israel’s unprecedented security cooperation with regional Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but the recent breakdown Israel experienced at the United Nations in late 2016 indicates its diplomatic isolation. The broad Arab support for the two-state solution by way of the Arab Peace Initiative is a clear indication that steps to advance two states will open the door for greater regional cooperation. The coalitions led by Western and Arab powers against the Islamic State, Iran, and Islamic jihadist efforts only further incentivize Israeli action on the two-state front.
6. Advancing two states is the only way Israel will truly improve its global standing.
The idea that the world, and specifically the United Nations, unfairly and disproportionately targets Israel is true – yet with genuine steps towards two states, such as finishing the security barrier and ceasing construction in remote settlement and outposts, Israel can reshape the diplomatic conversation and work alongside the international community. Those vocally opposed to such cooperation are dangerously naive in their dismissal of the international repercussions to be expected following annexation of the West Bank.
7. Advancing two states would reaffirm the unconditional bipartisan support from the United States that is now in jeopardy.
The rough relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, accompanied with an Israeli coalition government opposing two states, has led Israel to become a partisan issue in the United States. Notably, the GOP omitted its two-state language from the party platform in 2016 – while the rise of Bernie Sanders-supporting Democrats ensures Palestinian statehood remains a top priority on the opposite side of the aisle. Taking steps to advance two states, which satisfies core American interests in the region, would realign bipartisan support for Israel in Congress.
8. The vast majority of settlers live in settlement blocs, not in illegal outposts.
Most of those believing the two-state solution is in jeopardy wrongly assume that over 500,000 settlers currently live in what will become a Palestinian state. Just like UNSCR 2334, they ignore important details such as the settlement blocs. The problem lies with those settlements situated deep in the West Bank, such as Beit El and Amona, that endanger the contiguity of a future Palestinian state. If we look where previous negotiations left off, only 15-20% of Israeli settlers would be forced to move in a future agreement, while mutually-agreed land swaps would be offered in return to the Palestinians to compensate for the settlement blocs.
9. Israel must pursue two-states to maintain its demographic identity as a Jewish State.
By the end of 2017, there will be more Arabs than Jews in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. As such, separation from the Palestinians in the West Bank is the only way to ensure Israel remains Jewish and democratic. If Israel were to annex parts of the West Bank, a Palestinian and international campaign demanding equal rights would force Israel into either a binational state or a pariah state.
10. Israelis and Palestinians do not want to share a state.
The current status quo is not much of a status quo, and eventually a decision will be made, imposed, or fought over for the fate of the West Bank, Palestinian statehood, and Israel’s broader territorial sovereignty. What is clear from the decades of violence and political clashing is that the vast majority of the two peoples do not want a shared state. The one-state solution is an impractical and unfeasible illusion, propagated only by those interested in dragging along the current status quo.
Realizing that there is no viable alternative to the two-state framework that guarantees Israel’s security and its Jewish and democratic character, it becomes clear that ‘two states for two peoples’ is far from “dead.” The Zionist project has been historically defined by innovative and bold actions based on advancing Israel’s security and protecting the values written in Israel’s declaration of independence. The two-state solution continues the best of that Zionist tradition.