U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to endorse the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has understandably triggered sharp responses. At least since the 1993 Oslo Accords, giving statehood to the Palestinians has been the bedrock of any proposal to solve the oldest conflict in modern West Asia. It’s the internationally acknowledged solution. But Mr. Trump’s refusal to endorse the idea did not come out of the blue. For decades, the U.S. has played a partisan role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After the failed 2000 Camp David summit, hosted by President Bill Clinton, Washington never made any meaningful attempt to push the Israelis to accept the two-state proposal. The 2007 Annapolis conference hosted by President George W. Bush was not more than a photo opportunity. Under President Barack Obama, State Secretary John Kerry launched a peace bid which collapsed at an early stage. Over the years, particularly after Oslo, Israel steadily expanded the settlements in the West Bank, killing the two-state solution. The settler population in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem which Israel has annexed, has increased by about 2,70,000 since the Oslo pacts. During the Obama presidency alone, more than 1,00,000 settlers moved to the West Bank. Now, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is more than 7,00,000.
The promise of statehood
Land grabbing has been a fundamental element of Israel’s approach towards the Palestinians. Israel has the monopoly to use force, both against Palestinian civilians and militants. During the Obama years alone, Israel bombed Gaza three times, killing thousands. In these circumstances, how would a Palestinian state come up? Or if the state of Israel was committed to Palestinian statehood, why did it allow more of its citizens to move to territories that should be part of any future Palestinian state, and build settlements? More worryingly, Israel never came under significant international pressure to revert this aggressive settlement policy. For the average Palestinians, statehood remained elusive. International conferences were held in their name and statements were made by their leaders about a “peaceful two-state solution”, but in reality the occupation only deepened. This is because Israel on paper remains committed to two states, but has always preferred a no-state solution.
If the two-state solution is dead, what is the alternative? One is to retain the status quo: a militarised Jewish state permanently occupying the Palestinian territories and even annexing parts of it, without giving full citizenship rights to the Palestinians. The other is to have a single democratic federal state with equal rights to Jews, Muslims, Christians and others. It’s clear that Israel wants the former. But it’s perhaps time for international actors who care about the plight of the Palestinians to start pushing for the latter.