The two-state solution refers to the idea that the most practical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one that divides the land historically called Palestine between a Jewish and a Palestinian Arab state. Part or all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, which were captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, would become the Palestinian state. Israel, which has existed since 1948, could see its borders adjusted to fit a new reality. Such an arrangement could effectively end the state of war that has existed between Israel and its Arab neighbors since Israel’s establishment and bring a degree of stability to a region that has suffered four major Arab-Israeli wars, two Palestinian uprisings, cross-border raids and instability, as well as the continuing cycle of violence fed by suicide bombings and targeted assassinations.
The first two-state solution proposal was made in 1937 by the Peel Commission, sent by the British, who then ruled the area, to investigate the motives for Arab unrest. Jewish immigration from Europe, driven by anti-Semitic violence and seemingly backed by the British, provoked Arab fears of Jewish dominance in historical Palestine, which was overwhelmingly populated by Arabs. The Peel Commission Report claimed that Arab-Jewish coexistence in a single state was impossible because of the unyielding mutual hostility and the conflicting demands for statehood made by the two communities. The report proposed the creation of a Jewish and an Arab state, but the plan was never implemented due to continued Arab rioting.
In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and to internationalize Jerusalem. The Jewish state would comprise 56 percent of Palestine, although Jews only comprised 31 percent of the population, at most, and owned only 20 percent of the land designated for the Jewish state, a fact that caused the Arabs to angrily reject the plan. Zionists, however, argued that many Jews had recently escaped extermination in Europe and had no place to go, and the long history of violent anti-Semitism had demonstrated the need for a Jewish state. The Zionists, therefore, accepted the UN partition plan, if somewhat reluctantly, since they had hoped for more territory.
The 1947 UN partition plan was not fully implemented since no peacekeeping troops enforced the decision. Instead, from 1947 to 1949, war determined the outcome on the ground. In what is called in Israel the War of Independence and by Palestinians the Nakba (Disaster), Zionist forces managed to fight back Palestinian irregulars and military contingents sent by six Arab states to capture more territory than that allotted by the 1947 UN plan. The territory allotted to the Palestinians was taken over by Jordan and Egypt, so no Palestinian state was created. Over half of the Palestinian people fled their homes, creating a massive refugee crisis.
A long stalemate endured until 1967, when Israel captured the remaining parts of historical Palestine from Jordan and Egypt, as well as the Golan Heights from Syria and Sinai from Egypt in the Six-Day War. This war marked a turning point in the history of the two-state solution. Henceforth, the conflict was primarily over the recovery of lands taken in 1967, rather than attempting to reverse the effects of the 1947–1949 war. This turning point became much more apparent in the political arena during the 1980s. The Palestinian leadership gathered in Algiers, Algeria, in November 1988 to both formally recognize Israel and symbolically proclaim a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, the first time that the two-state solution was officially accepted by the Palestinians. Since this time, efforts to solve the conflict on the basis of the two-state solution have been undermined by violent extremists on both sides, as well as diplomatic quibbling over the details of an agreement.
The Oslo Accords of 1993 represented another attempt to solve the conflict based on the principle of “land for peace,” the concept that underlies the two-state solution; however, Oslo was an interim agreement and did not explicitly make provisions for a Palestinian state. Nevertheless, it was widely expected that the final status arrangements that were to be concluded by 1998 would result in the establishment of a Palestinian state. Negotiations broke down before the final status agreement could be concluded. In July 2000 Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat (1929–2004) attempted to reach a peace agreement at a summit held at the U.S. presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, with the mediation of U.S. president Bill Clinton. Although many far-reaching proposals were considered, the negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful.
International efforts to solve the conflict have revolved around the “Road Map,” a plan sponsored by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia. According to the plan, if the Palestinians cease violence against Israelis and reform their political system, a Palestinian state will be created with provisional borders, to be adjusted during later negotiations. For their part, the Israelis must stop settlement activity in Palestinian lands. As of 2006, the Road Map had not resulted in a peace agreement. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza, in which Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip and evacuated Israeli settlements there, reinvigorated interest in peace efforts such as the Road Map.
The 1990s saw the rise of a challenge to the two-state solution in the binational (one-state) principle. There is more than one version of the one-state solution, but common to all is the vision of both Palestinians and Israelis sharing the entire land of Palestine as equal citizens, rather than dividing it between them into two states. The binational solution has risen in popularity, particularly among Palestinians and some leftist Israelis due to the increasing difficulties of implementing the two-state solution. Because the growing number of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, including Arab East Jerusalem, as well as the “separation barrier” that Israel began constructing in 2002, may drastically reduce the territory available for a Palestinian state, proponents argue that the two-state solution is no longer viable and a shared state is preferable. Such a solution would eliminate the Jewish character of the state, since its Jewish majority would soon disappear under Palestinian demographic pressure, a problematic proposition from an Israeli standpoint. The binational solution does not have the significant international or domestic support that the two-state solution currently enjoys, but it increases in popularity with each failure of the two-state solution.
SEE ALSO Arab-Israeli War of 1967; Palestinians
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Smith, Charles D. 2004. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict . 5th ed. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Thomas, Baylis. 1999. How Israel Was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict . Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Sherry R. Lowrance