With Palestinians facing greater and greater difficulties in their struggle to achieve an independent state in the territories occupied by Israel in the war of 1967, a serious debate has been sparked over the viability of the two-state solution.
The continuing Israeli changes to the reality of these territories--whether through the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements and related infrastructure including the wall, or the disintegration of these territories through a comprehensive system of checkpoints and other forms of barriers--and the stagnation of the political process have further shaken Palestinian faith that a two-state solution is the most viable and suitable.
The Israeli-imposed separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank -,which was deepened after the Israeli redeployment from Gaza and further exacerbated by the subsequent confrontations between Fateh and Hamas that left Gaza under the control of one and the West Bank under the control of the other--have also raised further question marks about the possibility of a two-state solution.
In addition, Palestinians are nonplussed as to why the international community would allow this bold contradiction between the two-state strategy and vision, which seems to be the international consensus, and what's happening on the ground to develop. This includes both the separation and division between the West Bank and Gaza and the changes that are being made by Israel in the West Bank.
Judging by Israel's behavior, the best way to understand Israeli objectives, it is easy to conclude that Israel is interested in and working on a future for the Gaza Strip that is different from that of the West Bank. Ultimately, Israel appears happy to have separate and different leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership and public moved from demanding a solution based on a single secular and democratic state for both Palestinians and Jews in all of historic Palestine to a two-state solution because of two factors. First, the reality created by Israel rendered the one-state idea a utopian dream. Second, efforts by constructive and friendly elements in the international community convinced Palestinians to adopt a strategy compatible with international legality, which recognizes Israel but considers its control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza as a belligerent and illegal military occupation.
In other words, both friends and enemies of the Palestinians, in the region and beyond, convinced the Palestinians that a two-state solution was a possibility that the international community would support. But the same pragmatic mentality that led to this historic change in direction of the Palestinian cause is now questioning the practical possibility of a two-state solution.
Yet, in spite of eloquent and articulate views and analyses by Palestinian intellectuals, the vast majority of the public, according to public opinion polls, and the majority of the political elite consider the idea of a bi-national state a dangerous alternative strategy. There are several reasons. First, a bi-national state strategy will ease the international pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation and thus solve the main political, legal and ethical conundrum for Israel, i.e., that it is an occupying, oppressive and colonial state.
Second, the one-state approach will abort many achievements that Palestinians have already made in terms of building a state and its institutions and could bring them back to a situation where Israeli military officers not only control their movement as is the case now, but also control their school curricula, the hiring and firing of teachers and other basic aspects of authority that Palestinians now control and have controlled for the past ten years or so.
Third, calling for a bi-national state, a less likely and practical solution than that of two states, will also confuse the international community and international legality that are committed, if only in word, to ending the occupation.
Finally, there are several related dangers in calling for a bi-national state. One is that Israel will implement a practical arrangement for such a bi-national solution but only in the West Bank, which already comprises both Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Another is that Israel will seize upon this call only in East Jerusalem, contributing to the Israelization of the city and realizing its illegal annexation.
It should, however, be noted that many of the voices calling for a bi-national state seem to be using this approach mainly to warn against the failure of the two-state approach. This is unfortunate since it gives the impression that a bi-national approach is a tactical and PR exercise rather than a strategy.
In fact, the only alternative to the two-state solution is the continuation of confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians with all the negative consequences this will have on the regional level. There are only two options for Israelis and Palestinians: conflict or ending the occupation according to international law and allowing Palestinians to establish an independent state on all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.
* Ghassan Khatib is vice-president of Birzeit University, member of the Political Bureau of Al-Sha’b Party, and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham. He is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications where he published this article.