On Wednesday, Reuters reported that George Mitchell, the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to salvage the current round of peace talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership. These talks aim to achieve a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict between the two groups inhabiting Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The idea of a two-state solution for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one that is taken for granted by many as being the only path towards peace in this troubled region.
Unfortunately, the two-state solution, as decades of failed talks have demonstrated, is a flawed, and seemingly unreachable goal. If peace is truly desired by all, subsequent negotiations must focus on the goal of creating a democratic, egalitarian, and multi national state comprised of the totality of the areas now known as the state of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The main problem with a “two-state solution” is that it is simply not a very realistic goal. To start, figuring out the borders of these two states is next to impossible. There are currently thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis living on what would most likely end up being the “wrong” side of the border. As well, there are many contentious locations that both sides furiously claim as their own. Jerusalem, the current capital of Israel, is seen by both Palestinians and Israelis as the capital of each of their states. What would happen in the event of the implementation of the two-state solution?
As well, one has to consider what the Palestinian state that would result from a two-state solution would actually look like. There is no way that Israel would allow a Palestinian state, which would be comprised of so many of its enemies, to have any real independent power, especially in the areas of foreign policy and defense. Israelis and their government have seen too many examples of Palestinian ill will to allow for the creation of a truly independent, and most likely hostile Palestinian state.
One cannot consider the possibility of a two-state solution without considering who would administer the Palestinian state which would result from this. The first problem one encounters when considering this is that the currently occupied Palestinian territories are ruled by two separate and ideologically incomparable groups. The West Bank is controlled by Fatah, a secular party, which has its roots in the early struggle for Palestinian independence, while Gaza is controlled by the Islamic group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by most western states. Violence erupted between the two factions in 2007, and any sort of reconciliation between the two groups does not seem likely in the near future.
The lack of unity between the two parties which claim leadership of the Palestinian struggle for independence has taken the form of what is essentially a civil war. That being the case, it seems unlikely, even if a Palestinian state were created, that the two groups would stop fighting, and unite towards the goal of providing the Palestinian people with the sort of peace and democracy that they deserve.
If a two-state solution is not a viable option, then what is? One possible answer to that question is one that comes from, of all places, Canada, which, like Israel and occupied Palestinian territories, is a country with two distinct groups, which traditionally differed both religiously and linguistically. Like the Israelis and the Palestinians, the English and French in Canada fought, both culturally and militarily for many years, but since Confederation in 1867, the English and French segments of the Canadian population have been able to work together to form one of the most egalitarian and democratic states in the world.
As in Canada, the Israelis and Palestinians could find the peace in the form of a binational, multi-religious state comprising the entirety of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. A constitution could be constructed that would guarantee equal representation for the Palestinian and Israeli segments of this state, much as Canadian constitutional documents give equal protection and representation to Canada’s French and English communities.
The idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is simply not viable. The improbability that a truly independent, peaceful, and democratic Palestinian state could actually be created, coupled with the democratic deficiencies inherent in the existence of a Jewish state have only one possible solution: the creation of a binational, multi-religious state in what is now Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Only with such a state can the people of this troubled region hope to achieve real democracy and peace.