The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) hosted a conference Wednesday discussing a question not usually asked in polite company: “Two States or One?” Challenging the usual presumption that a two-state solution is necessary and sufficient, Thomas Mattair, Executive Director of MEPC, described the Israel/Palestine conflict as one that has severely affected both sides, with countless lives destroyed for the sake of “a pile of rocks called the Holy Land. Call it idolatry.” The panel included four speakers, with two advocates for each solution.
Ian Lustick, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Two State Illusion,” believes that a two state outcome is possible but will not happen as a result of negotiations, which only perpetuate divisions that already exist. The odds are against the two-state solution because of the increasing Islamization of the region and the influence of the Israeli lobby on US foreign policy. The route to a two-state solution is not through negotiations, but through “rough politics.” History has shown that civil wars and revolutions, rather than negotiations, have led to the formation of democratic states. They also produce a result that no one would have expected. Lustick does not advocate a one-state solution but sees one already in place. There are slim prospects for a two-state solution in the absence of a huge political shift.
Also arguing for a one-state solution was Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center. He believes the negotiations have never been further from a two-state solution than they are now – it is a one-state reality. The one-state advocates are mostly concerned with ensuring the rights of Israelis and Palestinians are afforded to all equally. He sees and debunks 3 myths in the ongoing negotiation rhetoric:
- Middle East peace is a vital US security interest, or the US will be at a greater risk of attack if Israel is not protected. He explains that a vital security interest means that the US would get involved militarily, which is not necessarily the case.
- It is in Israel’s interest to end the occupation. In reality, Israel reaps many benefits from the occupation, including many resources from the West Bank.
- The status quo is unsustainable. On the contrary, Israeli occupation is sustainable and profitable. The US is supporting the status quo diplomatically and financially.
He does not see the negotiations yielding a just solution; rather, Israel will continue to impose its will as the stronger power with the backing of the US. Thus, Munayyer concludes that Israel has no reason to change this one-state reality because there is no outside pressure to do so.
On the other hand, President of J-Street Jeremy Ben-Ami argues for a two-state solution. He sees a necessity for a Jewish homeland and the justice of its existence. There will only be justice, peace and security for the Jewish people if there is justice, peace and security for the Palestinians as well. This has been a conflict between two groups who have legitimate, yet conflicting, rights to the same piece of land. The only viable option: division of the land between the two groups. The one-state “nightmare” would not give both groups equal rights. The two-state solution would allow both groups to have national self-determination, security and independence from one another. He sees real hope for the two-state solution with Secretary Kerry’s renewed energy for negotiations.
Finally, Ahmad Samih Khalidi, Senior Associate Member of St. Anthony’s College at Oxford University, sees the Palestinian conflict as the convergence of many conflicts, including ethnic tensions and national conflicts with a global resonance because of the historicity of its location as well as Israel’s international support. The two-state solution is nothing new. It was adopted by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1988 and was rejected by Israel and the US for decades after. However, now it is the only common ground among the US, PLO and Israel. There can be no other negotiated solution. However, it will be difficult to create a just and sustainable solution that factors all the issues such as the division of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Khalidi does not see a one-state or two-state dichotomy. There could eventually be a union in one-state, after the establishment of two separate states.