The two states solution idea became popular during the Clinton presidency. It was embraced by the European Union, the United Nations, moderate Arab countries, and by most secular Israelis. It was seen as a logical and fair way to end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all. It was also a way out for most politicians and world leaders, who wanted to be seen as impartial.
There were two important groups who never supported this idea: The Palestinians, and the Jewish religious-Zionists.
When terror attacks by Palestinians on Israelis intensified, the majority of the secular population in Israel became disillusioned and stopped believing that the Palestinians are truly interested in peace. The public opinion in Israel shifted from willingness to trade land for peace, to the realization that true peace with the Palestinians is impossible. Israelis shifted their efforts from building bridges to self-defense, segregation, and isolation. This attitude is clearly visible by the high walls built between Palestinian and Israeli urban areas.
The political will for establishing two states, living peacefully next to each other, lost momentum with the murder (by a radical religious-Zionist Jew) of the Israeli prime minister Itzhak Rabin in 1995. The last serious attempt to move forward with the two states solution was by Ehud Barak (1999-2001). Since then, in the past fifteen years, there was no significant attempt to renew the negotiation. Politicians pay lip service to the idea, but everyone knows that neither Israelis, nor Palestinians want it, so it doesn’t go anywhere.
Fifteen years is a long time: The Middle East is a dynamic place; situations and alliances change daily. The strong geopolitical forces that pushed for the two state solution are no longer sure that it is such a good idea. If the late 1990s period was all about the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and living in harmony with each other, in 2016 the world is concerned with the rise of radical Islam, which is well represented among Palestinian organizations.
The Israeli Palestinian conflict is a land dispute where the two sides are fighting for the same land.
Without clear agreement on how to divide the land, each side is doing the best it can to grab as much land as possible.
It is most noticeable in two areas:
1. Judea and Samaria:
In these areas the religious-Zionist movement is pushing relentlessly for expansion. The Israelis are divided and cannot decide if they are for it or against it. In this political vacuum the Israeli population continues to grow. The settlements growth is fueled by shortage and high prices of residential units in Israel’s major cities. Many Israelis chose to live in new settlements, not for ideological reasons, but for economic benefits. The end result is that there is a steady Jewish population growth in these areas.
2. Palestinian towns and cities within Israeli jurisdiction:
While officially they are called “Israeli Arabs”, Palestinians in these urban areas are Israeli citizens. However, their national aspiration is similar to the Palestinians living on the other side of the wall. They define themselves as Palestinians, they support their relatives in Judea and Samaria, and they elect to the Israeli parliament (Knest) representatives who openly support Palestinian activities against Israel in ways that sometimes border treason. (For example: Haneen Zoabi, an Arab Israeli woman and a Kneset member, who participated in the Gaza flotilla in attempt to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Zoabi was arrested and briefly held by authorities.)
Land grabbing by Palestinians living in Israeli jurisdiction is viewed by most Israeli Jews as a land lost to the Palestinians. The construction of a new house in an Israeli Palestinian village is not viewed as a simple need of a family to have a home. It is seen in the context of Palestinian expansion into Jewish land, the same as Palestinians in Judea and Samaria feel about new Jewish settlements near them.
Significant portion of the construction in Palestinian villages and towns in Israeli jurisdiction is illegal. Getting construction permits to build on public land around these villages is difficult if not impossible. The Israeli policy of destroying illegal houses is not enforced. As a practical matter, the Israeli government cannot authorize the destruction of entire Palestinian villages. Instead, the government releases land to build Jewish towns around Palestinian villages in order to curb their ability to expand.
However, this solution is only partially successful: In cities like Upper Nazareth and Karmiel, which were built in order to bring Jewish people into densely populated Palestinian areas, has only limited success: Over time, the percentage of Palestinian people living in these cities is growing. The Israeli High Court of Justice protects against housing discrimination in these cities and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship exercise their rights for housing.
Without clear guidelines, Jewish population is moving into Palestinian areas while Palestinian population is moving into Jewish areas. Drawing a line on a map to mark the international agreeable border between Jews and Palestinians is becoming impossible.
If not two state, than what?
Jewish Israeli population is growing by birth and by Jewish immigration to Israel. Palestinian population is growing by birth. The more people living on this tiny piece of land the more difficult it becomes to find a place for everyone. Since politicians on both sides are not doing anything to solve the problem, and since extremists on both sides are pushing their agenda, there are only two possible outcomes:
- The situation will become so unbearable for both sides that they will be forced to come to an agreement.
- One side will win the demographic war and will push the other side out.
At this time it seems that both sides are positioning for a demographic advantage.
My prediction is that the Palestinians will lose this war because the low standard of living in their towns is a strong motivator for immigration out of the country, while rising antisemitism around the world is a strong motivator for Jewish people to immigrate to Israel.
Demographic shift is slow but permanent. It may take few generations to make a difference, but if the Palestinians won’t wake up and come to the negotiation table they may lose it all.