News | War / Peace - Israel - Palestine / Jordan Dispelling the Two-State Illusion

A Palestinian perspective on why the so-called “two-state solution” has inevitably failed


PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin accept the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on putting together the Oslo Accords. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Photo: Flickr/Government Peace Office

For decades, the bedrock of most international discourse or foreign policy concerning the conflict between Palestine and Israel has been the “two-state solution”, namely, the proposal to establish two states for two peoples, which in turn can only be achieved through a peace process. The two-state solution mantra is deeply imbedded in the language and policy of the international community, including the United Nations and the European Union.

Shatha Abdulsamad is a Palestinian researcher, academic, and political analyst, and a Policy Member at Al-Shabaka: the Palestinian Policy Network. Her work focuses on international law, human rights law, and Palestinian refugees.

Yet, the international community’s dedication to partition as the sole political solution to the conflict is fundamentally unjust, as it disregards the inalienable right of the Palestinians to self-determination. Also, in the context of the Israeli military occupation, sticking to the two-state solution only serves to conceal the reality on the ground and perpetuate the subjugation of Palestinians under the premise of an ongoing “peace process”.

Partition’s Troubled History

The seeds for the partition of historical Palestine were sown by the colonizer, Great Britain, in 1917 when British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour committed his nation to the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”. Ignoring the wishes and rights of Palestine’s native inhabitants, colonial Britain supported Zionist leaders’ claims to settle what they saw as Biblical territory and its reclamation as the cradle of the new Jewish homeland. By incorporating the Balfour Declaration into its mandate of Palestine, Britain vioated its responsibility as a mandatory power, which obliged it to grant Palestine independence, instead committing itself to Zionist settler sovereignty over Palestine.

The idea of partition gained momentum when it was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 following the outbreak of the Great Arab Revolt of 1936. A decade later, the logic of partition was endorsed by the international community with the adoption of UN Resolution 181, known as the Partition Plan, which recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.

Specifically, the Partition Plan proposed the Jewish state be established on more than half of Mandate Palestine at a time when the Jewish population there comprised less than one third of the total population and owned less than 7 percent of the land. The Partition Plan, which did not even consider the legality of partition itself, was rejected by Palestinians as unjust, as it violated and dismissed their basic rights — particularly the right to self-determination — at the height of the anti-colonial struggle in the region.

The Partition Plan plunged Mandate Palestine into unrest. Militarily superior, the Zionist forces used force to implement partition and establish a Jewish state in May 1948, triggering a coalition of Arab states to declare war on it. When the war ended 15 months later, Israel controlled not only the territories that the Partition Plan had granted to the Jewish state, but also a significant part of the territories intended for the Arab state. Jordan annexed the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and Egypt administered the Gaza Strip.

The creation of the State of Israel and subsequent war also commenced the flight and systematic displacement of the Palestinian population. In the eight months following the passing of the partition plan, 450 Palestinian villages were razed to the ground by Zionist forces. Nearly 85 percent of the Palestinian population in the territory that became the State of Israel was displaced.

Using force, the newly born state of Israel enlarged its territory from the 55 percent proposed by the Partition Plan to 78 percent of historical Palestine. Nevertheless, this forced partition became the internationally accepted paradigm for the peace process.

Expanding the Zionist State

Following the establishment of the State of Israel on parts of Mandate Palestine, Israel occupied the rest of Palestine in 1967, namely the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with the historic Old City of Jerusalem (as well as the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights). Since then, Israel has pursued a systematic policy of maximizing its control over the occupied territories for the benefit of Zionist Jews.

Successive Israeli governments have instrumentalized a combination of urban and road plans — most notably the Allon Plan — and land transfers to expand Israel into the occupied territories. Israel mainstreamed the expropriation of Palestinian land in order to install settlements and

integrate settler populations into the Israeli polity, in violation of international law. By practicing a policy of forced displacement and dispossession, the Israeli state expanded its military control and power over Palestinian land and resources while controlling and managing both the Palestinian population and its movements.

By establishing Jewish-only settlements, Israel fragmented Palestinian communities and thwarted their population expansion. Israel spatially reconstructed the occupied territories on an ethnic basis using settlement policy, discriminatory planning, and housing schemes as instruments for its nation-building project beyond the so-called “Green Line” that demarcates the pre-1967 borders between Israel and its Arab neighbours. For settlers living in these illegal settlements, the Green Line is made invisible and permeable through the imposition of a two-tiered system of unequal rights that privileges settler interests at the expense of the Palestinian people.

Since 1967 until today, Israel continues to formally and institutionally engineer its governance and control of the occupied territories so as to preclude the emergence of a viable Palestinians state. Its on-the-ground systematic polices are designed to make the occupied territories not only interlinked, but part and parcel of an expanded Zionist state in all of Mandate Palestine. This objective was made explicit in the 1980 World Zionist Organization Plan, stating  that the purpose of settlements is “to reduce to the minimum the danger of an additional Arab state being established in these territories”, as being cut off by Jewish settlements, the Palestinians “will find it difficult to form a territorial and political community.”

Peace between Unequals?

Partition is not unjust merely because it dismisses the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and disregards Palestinian refugees’ claims to their homes. The Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, laid the groundwork for further injustices. Under international watch and support, Israel used the smokescreen of an inherently unviable peace process between the oppressed and the oppressor to mask the colonial reality on the ground.

Existing under Israel’s rule and effective control, the quasi-state of the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not have sovereignty, jurisdiction, or authority except that which is allowed by Israel. Shouldered with the responsibility of security coordination with Israel, the PA is deemed a subcontractor of occupation, acting to safeguard Israelis while surveilling and policing Palestinians.

Boxing Palestinians out of their right to self-determination, the Oslo Accords allowed Israel to use the facade of a peace process to intensify its systematic dispossession and control of Palestinians in favour of managing the demographic distribution and territorial space towards its own nation-building across the whole of Mandatory Palestine.

Without addressing the imbalance of power between the two sides, the peace process has thus only enabled the status quo of inequality to remain unchanged and unchallenged. The failure of the international community, including the EU, to recognize the failure of the two-state solution continues to provide a complicit cover for the entrenchment of what Palestinians and several human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or BˈTselem have called a colonial settler and apartheid regime in the occupied territories.

Instead of the futile quest for a flawed two state solution, the international community has the responsibility to focus instead on creating spaces for Palestinians to move beyond and outside of the partition framework that has disenfranchised them for so long — towards reclaiming and exercising their right to self-determination at last.