Gwynne Dyer: The vanishing two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

What does it mean when the United States, Britain, France and Spain upgrade the diplomatic status of the Palestinian delegations in their capitals, as they all did in the past year? When the number of countries recognizing Palestinian statehood now exceeds one hundred?

Binyamin Ben Eliezer, former deputy prime minister of Israel and minister of industry, trade, and labour in the current government, thinks he knows. “I wouldn’t be surprised if within one year the whole world supports a Palestinian state, including the United States,” he warned his cabinet colleagues recently.

Ben Eliezer doesn’t mean a hypothetical Palestinian state at some point in the distant future, after Israelis and Palestinians have miraculously agreed on borders, refugees, et cetera. He means a real Palestinian state, declared this year and promptly recognized by practically everybody.

It would have a seat at the United Nations and the right in principle to control its own borders, though in practice it would still be under Israeli military occupation. Exactly where its borders are, like a host of other issues, would have to be settled afterward, by direct negotiation between Israel and Palestine.

At first glance, the immediate creation of an independent Palestinian state sounds like an idea whose time has come. The “peace process", now 17 years old, has clearly run out of road, goes the argument, so we might as well try something different. As a rationale for creating a fully-fledged Palestinian state now, that’s not very convincing—but it’s not really why people are talking about this.

Many Arabs and Americans support the idea because they hope that the creation of a legitimate and theoretically independent Palestinian state would give Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, enough credibility to keep the West Bank out of the hands of Hamas a while longer. (Hamas, which rejects any permanent peace with Israel, already controls the Gaza Strip, the other part of occupied Palestine.)

Some Israelis back the idea too, but not many, and none in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Netanyahu does everything he can to avoid direct peace talks, because any Israeli concessions would break the ruling coalition apart. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that even an “intermediate” peace deal could take decades.

So despairing advocates of a peace settlement are now lining up behind the idea of declaring Palestinian statehood even in the United States, where former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk recently endorsed the idea. But it is, alas, an idea whose time has not only come but gone.

It has suddenly become popular because a lot of people are finally realizing that the “two-state solution", seen for the past quarter-century as the only possible foundation of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, is dying if not already dead. The proposal to create a real Palestinian state, even without agreed borders, is meant as a last-minute rescue mission, but it probably comes too late.

Popular support in Israel for a land-for-peace deal collapsed years ago, but now the Palestinians are also losing faith in a two-state future. They are concluding that the peace talks have been a charade from the very start, because Israeli politicians, even the best-intentioned ones, will never find the political courage to stop the process of spreading Jewish settlements across the West Bank.

What is the point, Palestinian critics ask, of a truncated Palestinian state that is riddled with Jewish settlements and utterly dominated by Israel? What do Palestinians have to lose if they forget about a state for now and just wait until a higher Palestinian birth rate makes them a majority across all of former colonial Palestine (i.e. Israel and the occupied territories)?

They would have to live through another 10 or 15 years of military occupation and occasional Israeli punishment campaigns like the 2008 operation in Gaza. They would have to accept that there will never be an exclusively Palestinian state. But once they became the majority, they would launch a nonviolent civil rights movement demanding one person, one vote in all the lands between the Jordan and the sea.

That demand—One Big State with equal rights for all—is what wise Israelis fear most, because it would put Israel in the same position as apartheid South Africa. All these people, both Arabs and Jews, live on lands that are under your permanent control, the rest of the world would say. Why won’t you let the Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank vote? Israel would survive, but it would become a pariah.

That is why Netanyahu has suddenly demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a specifically Jewish state: if they agreed to that, they could never credibly demand One Big State. It is also why various non-Israelis have begun to advocate the early creation of a Palestinian state: they are hoping to keep the two-state solution alive. But it is already on life support, and the oxygen is running out.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book, Crawling from the Wreckage, was published recently in Canada by Random House.




Jan 4, 2011 at 10:14pm

Why there isn't a question about Arabs settlements in Israel?..

glen p robbins

Jan 5, 2011 at 10:00am

So, according to Mr. Dyer Israel NEEDS a Palestinian State to be declared as such, beyond noteworthy diplomatic upgrades (signals), beyond World recognition (suasian), despite that a terrorist organization is part of the mix - in facto or de facto - with the new Palestinian nation having a seat at the United Nations - in ORDER for Israel - over the mid term to SURVIVE as a "specifically Jewish state".

Sounds like a bargain to me. Could these same model for Peace ("the formula") succeed in Afghanistan?


Jan 5, 2011 at 4:07pm

If the two-state solution can't work because the Israelis won't stop stealing land then the field is open to a number of different options. I'm not sure any of them is pretty. A non-violent Ghandi type movement either secures Arabs rights that cripple Israel's identity and submerge its first world western mentality in something that is more backward or it results in the world hating Israel and Israel becoming even more brutal and racist. Or Arabs could continue to try to use violence periodically indefinitely, thus setting off endless brutal recriminations, segregations, dsicrimination, and so forth.

Of course, Israel should stop being selfish and racist and just make a freakin peace for land deal rather than blabber on about how they deserve all of the land because of some millenia old racial claim, but if it doesn't do that, the only option left that preserves a great country in the long-term is to force the Arabs into mass exodus into the surrounding countries. Any measures that go imbetween these two extremes of benevolence and evil are probably going to be too indecisive to salvage the situation.


Jan 5, 2011 at 4:28pm

As citizens of a secular, democratic state we have no business supporting a religious "Jewish state," period.


Jan 6, 2011 at 8:02am

The Israelis who live and build in Judea and Samaria are resettling Jewish land that never "belonged" to the Arabs. These Arabs have only relatively recently (circa 1964) called themselves "Palestinians" in an appropriation of a designation that had till then signified "Jewish."

Harold of Hamilton

Jan 6, 2011 at 11:15am

"One Big State with equal rights for all—is what wise Israelis fear most, because it would put Israel in the same position as apartheid South Africa. All these people, both Arabs and Jews, live on lands that are under your permanent control, the rest of the world would say. Why won’t you let the Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank vote? Israel would survive, but it would become a pariah."
What a ridiculous statement. Arabs and Jews living together in peace. Exactly where in the world does this occur. Muslim Arabs cannot live peacefully with Jews, Christians, Bahai, or any other religious minority in peace. Murdering adherents of religious minorities is what radical Islam does best. Why would Arabs in Israel live in peace with Jews when they cannot live in peace with Christians in the rest of the Middle East. A one state solution with lead to a lot of dead Jews which is of no concern to Mr. Dyer and to all anti-Semites and Israel haters.
Why should Israel give up its dream of a Jewish state? There are already 57 Muslim states, none of which are democratic and Mr. Dyer does not criticize them. The two state solution is finished, not because of Israel but because of the refusal of the Arabs to make peace with a Jewish state.


Jan 6, 2011 at 1:14pm

"Muslim Arabs cannot live peacefully with Jews, Christians, Bahai, or any other religious minority in peace."

What about Indonesia?

"There are already 57 Muslim states, none of which are democratic"

Indonesia? Turkey? Lebanon? Iraq?

Harold of Hamilton

Jan 6, 2011 at 4:09pm

What about Indonesia?

In Muslim states there are dwindling Jewish populations. Indonesia which is the largest Muslim states never contained many Jews, if any. Most Jews were expelled from Lebanon and Iraq in 1967 after Israel defeated the Arabs in battle. Christians and other minorities are routinely killed in Muslim land. Many of the Muslim countries are turning to Islamic Sharia Law which discriminates against religious minorities. There is no religious freedom there whether they have the appearance of democracies or not.

Jan 8, 2011 at 7:55am

Yes, Gwnnye Dyer is right. “Oxygen for a two state charade is running out”. After planned dismemberment of Ottoman Empire (1299 AD-1929 AD) Anglo-American politicians played God by implanting and by military means imposing a “ HOMELAND FOR THE IMPORTED, FOREIGN JEWISH PEOPLE” in the homeland of native indigenous Palestinian people. That has been illegal, unjust and unethical. Anglo-American rulers followed the pattern of USA, New Zealand, Canada, Australia where the indigenous, native people were exterminated and their homeland colonised.
In 21st century that strategy cannot be applied even with nuclear bomb. Turkish righteous, bold and courageous step, befitting to a world power, the leader of the Islamic world has changed the status quo abolishing the equation. A new world order has born and world arrogant powers might learn to live with the reality.