Former UN secretary general recently warned that the two-state solution is no longer relevant. His statement joins the calls of others, who believe that the time has come to abandon the ‘land for peace’ formula and focus on the demand that Israel grant equal rights to Palestinians
When Ban Ki-moon was the secretary general of the United Nations, his office issued hundreds of statements endorsing the two-state solution as the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, it was during his tenure that the UN chose to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member observer state.
But on a visit to Israel last month, Ban sounded very different. The two-state solution, he said in a conversation with journalists, had lost its relevance. The international community, he added, should consider the possibility that a “one-state reality” now exists in the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River – meaning Israel proper and the occupied West Bank.
Ban explained that the situation has deteriorated since he left office in 2016, adding that like many other people, he thought the situation here could be an apartheid regime. He said that during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he was presented with convincing evidence of the existence of a one-state reality in which those systematically violating international law were given immunity and human rights were being violated.
The one-state reality to which Ban repeatedly referred has increasingly become common parlance in diplomatic and academic circles in recent months when speaking about Israel and the occupied territories. It was recently highlighted in an article entitled “Israel’s One-State Reality” in the leading American publication Foreign Affairs.
The article, which was written by four leading foreign policy scholars, claims that Western countries’ continued acceptance of a two-state solution is divorced from reality and that Israel’s settlement expansion in recent years has been preventing any prospect of a division of the area between Israel and a Palestinian state.
The article’s authors – Michael Barnett, Mark Lynch and Nathan Brown from George Washington University and Shibley Telhami from the University of Maryland – noted that they themselves had supported a two-state solution, thinking it better than any of the alternatives but have become convinced that the situation on the ground has rendered it irrelevant. They implore the Biden administration and its allies to take a new approach. They suggest forgoing a solution to the conflict, instead concentrating on ensuring the human rights and civil rights of the both the Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants of the territory of the single state.
Such a step would have far-reaching policy implications. Effectively, even if not officially, it would mean giving up the “land for peace” formula that has guided U.S. policy for decades, and instead pressuring Israel to grant human and civil rights to the millions of Palestinians living under its control. The chances that the Biden administration would adopt such an approach in the year and a half remaining before the 2024 presidential election are negligible, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, told Haaretz. But he added that in private conversations, there are officials in Washington who already agree with the assessment.
“They keep condemning settlement construction, but when asked what they’re going to do about it, they offer no answers,” Indyk explained. “In private conversations, some people in the administration admit that this will ultimately be Israel’s problem. They say Israel will pay the price for its policy and the United States won’t be able to save it.”
The series of settlement construction announcements in recent weeks by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government only buttresses attention to the question whether the two-state solution is still on the table, Indyk said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a rare public hint of this approach last Wednesday in Washington.
‘If Israel were to find itself – either by intent or by accident – responsible for the West Bank with 3 million Palestinians and 500,000-plus settlers, what is that going to mean in terms of the allocation of resources, including security resources, that Israel otherwise needs to be concerned about when it comes to Gaza, when it comes to Lebanon, when it comes to Iran? It doesn’t really add up,’ Blinken said.
This was the first time since the current Netanyahu government took office at the end of December that Blinken chose to highlight the risk to Israel of a one-state reality rather than just repeating America’s desire to advance a two-state solution.
There are Americans and Europeans who are expressing the expectation that such a scenario would become more likely after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is 87 years old, leaves the political scene. A senior Western diplomat told Haaretz that any attempt to offer alternatives to the two-state solution would require a “mental shift” that many countries would have difficulty adopting.
But, he added, Israel isn’t leaving the world a choice with its massive settlement construction. “The death of Abbas could very well be the point when the diplomatic discourse will shift from two states to equal rights,” the diplomat said.
Since the current Israeli government took office, it has experienced several clashes with Western allies on issues involving the government’s legislative plans. President Joe Biden and other leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have publicly criticized the government’s judicial overhaul plans, which would curb the independence of the country’s courts – warning that it would distance Israel from the world’s group of democratic countries.
There was also a clash over the government’s attempt to enact legislation limiting contributions from foreign countries to civil society organizations in Israel. On that issue, strong backlash from abroad caused Netanyahu to defer consideration of the legislation.
On the other hand, on the issue of settlement construction, the American and European response has been mainly rhetorical. European diplomats who spoke with Haaretz describe a “sense of weariness” on this issue. One of them explained that “some are saying that if Israel wants to become a binational country, that’s Israel’s problem.”
The same diplomat also explained why the proposed curbs on contributions to nonprofit organizations were met by such a broad, swift and effective international response, leading Netanyahu to backtrack, in contrast to the impact of the more tepid condemnations of settlement construction.
The legislation on the contributions, he said, would have wiped out human rights organizations in Israel, including those working in the territories. If there is recognition that the situation is moving toward a single state, it’s particularly important that these organizations be protected.
Just after Ban Ki-moon’s comments in Israel, the Washington Post published an article about whether a two-state solution remains viable or whether a single-state situation is irreversible. Ishaan Tharoor, a foreign affairs columnist for the paper, wrote that “the reality on the ground belies any wishful thinking about Palestinian self-determination or sovereignty. Instead, there’s entrenching of de facto Israeli supremacy over the Palestinian territories [and] the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank ….”
In Jerusalem, it is primarily the professional ranks at the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council who are aware of the growing attention to the issue. There has been no discussion of this trend in the senior ranks of the government, and one European source who had raised the former UN secretary general’s comments with Israeli officials, said none of them had been aware of it.