Thirty years after the adoption of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the paradigm of the “two-state solution”, i.e., the partition of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River often referred to as Israel/Palestine into two separate nation-states, seems no longer relevant. There is therefore a need to discuss a possible paradigm shift: from partition and ethnic separation towards an alternative political horizon of sharing the land.
Yoav Shemer-Kunz teaches European politics at the University of Strasbourg. He studied sociology and political science at the University of Paris–VIII and at the University of Strasbourg, and obtained his PhD in political science from the Free University of Amsterdam.
The Oslo process was, in fact, a series of interim agreements between the state of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) regarding the governance of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The core element of these peace accords was the gradual “transfer of power and responsibilities” from the Israeli military to the newly established Palestinian Authority (PA) in the territories Israel had occupied since 1967.
Gaza and Jericho were the first cities the Israeli military forces withdrew from, transferring the authority over them to the PA. In 1994, additional Palestinian cities followed, including Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jenin. The images of Israeli flags being replaced by Palestinian ones outside government buildings were a strong symbol of these euphoric years, when the Israeli occupation seemed to be finally coming to an end.
As the territorial administrative division of the West Bank indicates, the main paradigm behind the Oslo peace process was one of separation between the populations and partition of the land. However, the Oslo Accords never actually mentioned the creation of a Palestinian state, nor did they refer to any borders of such a future state.
The Oslo process did not address other core issues of the conflict either, such as the status of Jerusalem, the question of the Palestinian refugees and their “right of return”, or the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It was agreed that these “remaining issues” would be discussed later, during the “permanent status” negotiations which should have concluded by May 1999.
Although several attempts were made to reach an agreement, they proved unsuccessful. The Camp David peace summit of July 2000, attended by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the President of the PA, Yasser Arafat, ended in failure, with both sides blaming each other. The Second Intifada erupted soon after in October 2000, and continued until 2004.
Since then, a right-wing hegemony has consolidated in Israeli politics that opposes the very notion of negotiations toward a meaningful territorial compromise with the Palestinians. The new Israeli government is an expression of this development. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who both live in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, now head ministries that control key aspects of the apparatus of the occupation — from granting construction permits to having authority over the Border Police.
The development of Israeli settlements in the West Bank puts the relevance of the Oslo Accords in question. Today, almost 700,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem: 229,377 in East Jerusalem and 465,400 in settlements in the West Bank, which were built in violation of international law. One-hundred-and-thirty-two of these settlements were established by the Israeli government, whereas 147 “illegal outposts” have been established since the 1990s without any formal approval of the government.
Israel's settlements in the West Bank are destructive to the prospects of a viable Palestinian state — not only because of their sheer numbers, but also because the Jewish settler movement is an extremely influential sector in Israeli society, army, and politics. The settler movement is based on a combination of extreme nationalist ideology and orthodox religious beliefs.
Following the historic victory in the general elections held on 1 November 2022, the political bloc of the settler movement, Religious Zionism, currently holds 14 seats in the Knesset, making it the second-largest faction in Netanyahu’s new government, with his Likud party the largest. The alliance of the three extreme-right parties, Religious Zionism, Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit), and Noam, holds four important ministries. Finance Minister Smotrich also holds a minister post in the Defence Ministry, with authority over the civil administration in the West Bank.
The Israeli policy of massive investment in building and developing settlements, in infrastructure, and in services in the West Bank over the past few decades is a policy of de facto annexation, and not, as its governments claim, a policy of temporary occupation. The result today is an entrenchment of a “one-state reality of unequal rights” between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in which the Israeli and Palestinian populations live on the same territory but do not enjoy equal rights. In recent years, a growing number of Israeli and international human rights non-governmental organizations haven concluded that this situation amounts to a system of “apartheid”.
All of these developments indicate that an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian Territories is very unlikely, if not already impossible. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the two-state solution has been severely undermined since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the paradigm of separation of the two national groups and partition of land remains relatively uncontended in the international community. At the same time, however, more and more scholars and policymakers are considering alternative options. Acknowledging the one-state reality on the ground, they ask what alternative solutions not based on partition are possible, and what concrete steps would be necessary to promote such alternatives.
A new study from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Israel Office’s, Towards a Shared Land, takes up these questions. Based on 38 interviews with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the report argues that a paradigm shift is required from partition and separation towards an alternative peace paradigm based on partnership and equality.
The report also suggests three recommendations for how to get there: dealing with the roots of the conflict, promoting genuine Palestinian–Israeli partnership, and thoroughly reassessing the European approach to Israel/Palestine 30 years after Oslo. These elements constitute a roadmap that could accompany the paradigm shift from partition and separation towards a peace paradigm based on partnership and equality.