For more than two decades, most Israelis and Palestinians have accepted the “two-state solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This solution has been the official stance of the international community, including the United States. However, the situation has changed since the election of President Donald Trump.
Although Trump has previously said he favors the traditional two-state solution, his administration now avoids any specific mention of it. Instead, White House officials are working on a new peace proposal they call “the deal of the century”—which aims to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, the Palestinians rejected the deal before the Trump administration could even propose it. From a Palestinian perspective, the so-called deal of the century seems to both undermine the Palestinian right of return and change Jerusalem’s status quo. For Palestinians, the US decision to cut aid for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) signals that America intends to take the right of return off the negotiation table. The US decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem is also seen as taking Jerusalem off the table. For these reasons, Palestinians accuse the Trump administration of killing the two-state solution.
Did the “Deal of the Century” Kill the Two-State Solution, or Was the Two-State Solution Already Dead?
The Palestinian leadership sees the new American position as a betrayal of the two-state solution. In the words of the chief Palestinian negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erekat, “the policies of the US administration have led to undermining any chance of establishing two states.” Palestinians see America’s position as utterly biased in favor of Israel, and they think the US is forsaking Palestinian aspirations to build a future Palestinian state that would fulfill their national hope.
Although many Palestinians believe the deal of the century will end any hope for a two-state solution, others believe the two state-solution failed long before Trump, and certainly long before his administration even outlined the deal.
However, if the two-state solution has failed, the reason is that neither side can see in the other a serious partner for peace. From a Palestinian perspective, Israel has a far-right-wing government with which they cannot negotiate. This is particularly true since Israel has continued to build settlements in the Palestinian territories and has refused to stop the settlement expansion as a precondition to negotiation.
While the Israeli government fails to stop settlement expansion, the Israeli army continues to violate the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) sovereignty in “Area A,” which the Oslo Accord states is under complete Palestinian control.
Meanwhile, Israel claims the Palestinian Authority is neither transparent nor a viable partner for peace. Israel maintains that the process cannot advance as long as the PA pays salaries to the families of Palestinians whom the Israeli army killed or to the families of those in prison. While Palestinian society may consider these individuals martyrs, Israel considers them terrorists. The Israeli government sees such salaries as an outright incitement of violence against Israel. Additionally, the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state also hinders Israel from seeing Palestinians as real peace partners.
The Rise of the Right-Wing in Israel
Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have gone through an evolution since the Oslo Agreement and Camp David II. The latter failed due to the Second Intifada, during which thousands of Palestinians and Israelis died. The extreme violence armed Palestinians perpetrated against Israeli civilians during the Intifada led Israelis to support governments that prioritized security. Israeli support for left-wing parties and their preference for a two-state peace subsided, and support for right-wing parties grew.
The last time Israel proposed a state based on the 1967 border was under its previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed to support the two-state solution in 2009, he has since changed his position in speeches and actual policies. The two decades since the Second Intifada have altered Israeli politics so much that many Israeli thinkers now say that leftist parties in Israel that had represented the “peace camp” have disappeared.
Palestinian Must Take the Israeli Objections Seriously
Palestinians who believe in the two-state solution have two options. The first is to continue unhelpful complaining about the absence of a partner for peace and the difficulty of needing to negotiate with a right-wing government. The second is to take the right-wing in Israel seriously since it represents the majority of Israelis. Palestinians have to take the right-wing in Israel as the only possible partner for peace at this time and to work with them to reach a comprehensive and just peace agreement. However, this prompts the question, Can Palestinians work with a government that denies their existence as a distinct people?
Here, I can speak as a Palestinian living in the West Bank. We as Palestinians must continue to prove to the world and Israelis that we are a people with culture, history, and a connection to the land of Palestine. We should not give up our right to define our national identity or our right to self-determination. However, if Palestinians want to help foster the possibility of a two-state solution, we must recognize that some of the Israelis’ objections are legitimate and realistic.
So, What Should Palestinians Do?
First, we have to recognize the Jewish history and civilization that existed in the land. The Palestinian nationalist movement committed a terrible mistake when it denied any history of Jewish presence in or connection to the land. In the Arabic and Islamic literature that preceded the creation of the state of Israel, we read about the Jewish holy sites in the land, which implies that the denial of Jewish history in the land has occurred only to delegitimize the creation of a modern Jewish state. So today, instead of trying to disprove the Jewish history in the Palestinian Territories, we have to start advocating for religious freedom so that they may safely visit their Jewish holy sites in a future Palestinian state. If Israel’s objection to the establishment of a Palestinian state is based on a Jewish historical connection to the West Bank, then Palestinians should guarantee the Jewish people safe access to their holy sites and land to which they feel connected.
Second, we must address Israel’s objection that a future Palestinian state would cause a threat to Israel. We have to ask these questions: Isn’t Israel’s concern reasonable considering our history? Why are we expecting Israelis, who experienced life during the Second Intifada with suicide bombings and rockets from Gaza, not to fear a return to violence, especially since many Palestinians still dream of the day when Israel will cease to exist? It may behoove Palestinians and Israelis to ask international forces to help secure the borders. In 2014, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the New York Times that a “third party can stay. They can stay to reassure the Israelis, and to protect us.” “We will be demilitarized,” he added. “Do you think we have any illusion that we can have any security if the Israelis do not feel they have security?”
The deal of the century is due for release after the Israeli election. If the new peace proposal does not consider Palestinians’ sincere aspirations to establish an independent state, then it will immediately fail to gain any traction with the Palestinian people. Palestinians have great national pride, and they will not trade this for the promise of economic prosperity. Meanwhile, the question for Palestinians is, Must we wait for a renewal of the Israeli left-wing that could agree to our vision of peace? Such a government does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon. Instead of waiting endlessly for this, we should accept the reality of public opinion in Israel and start working toward the creation of a peace camp among the right-wing and center in Israel. This can happen by affirming the Jewish history of a presence in and connection to the land, as well as by working to ensure Israeli security next to the future Palestinian state.