The Balfour Declaration was passed 100 years ago when former UK Prime Minister and later Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour ensured there would be a Jewish homeland in the British Mandate of Palestine. The Arabs were promised statehood through the League of Nations charter stating a right to self-determination and the Sykes-Picot agreement.
This shows a constant aspiration for statehood on both sides. The two-state solution, however, has been sidelined and not been prioritised by any of the involved parties.
Palestinians have been trying to go to the UN without Israeli consent to be recognised as a sovereign state. The Israelis are pushing for tighter security measures in light of Islamist insurgency in the greater region, and the US seems to be an enigma under the Trump administration.
Obama clearly failed in trying to get a two-state solution achieved; he even failed in preventing the Israelis from building the illegal settlements so change may be positive. That said, the particular type of change is very important and with Trump having declared he is heavily biased towards Israel, what incentive does Israel have to negotiate?
Leadership’s role in the peace process cannot be understated. In 1993, the conditions for peace was ideal with a Democrat President of the United States Bill Clinton, a Labor Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, and the Chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat.
All three were charismatic and had the support of their own people. The US could finally treat foreign policy regarding human rights and peace rather than merely trying to beat the Soviet Union.
Now, however, the scene is very different. From having three moderate, centre-left leaders with broadly similar outlooks, Trump and Netanyahu both stand on the more nationalistic side of politics. Abbas, on the other hand, is part of the rather inactive old guard of the Fatah party.
The populations of all sides appear not to seek a two-state solution. Netanyahu himself declared that there would not be a Palestinian state on his watch in March 2015 and no talks have happened since.
The Palestinian side has not held elections since Fatah lost the 2006 legislative elections to Hamas. However, sentiment and support for Hamas are still strong in the West Bank with the party winning university elections including the last two held by Birzeit University.
There are some pivotal stumbling blocks to the peace process. The first and most pressing conflict is with the settlement building in the West Bank by Israelis in which only Jews can live.
These settlements are illegal under international law yet the Israelis have no plans to stop, and around 4,000 additional homes were legalised in 2017. These settlers would have to be evicted if there is to be a two-state solution as the residents are all Israeli Jewish.
The next problem is that of Jerusalem and who it belongs to. Both sides have a legitimate claim with the Israelis wanting the entirety of the city while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem. This particular conflict has been the reason why previous talks failed. This topic is particularly difficult as it adds a more religious dimension to the politics making a compromise more difficult.
The Israelis want the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. At first glance, this seems harmless, but it is rather sinister. They are not asking the Palestinians merely to recognise Israel as having a Jewish majority, they are asking them to accept that the character of the state is not secular, but Jewish. This also means that Jews have a right or entitlement of sorts to the lands of Israel.
This comes in direct conflict with the Palestinian demand that the ‘right to return’ should be granted to all exiled Palestinians who fled the Holy Land after 1948. This point of conflict is potentially the most potent and stagnating.
Confidence in the Two-State Solution
Palestinians are slowly starting to doubt the two-state solution. This can be seen through electing parties that oppose Fatah in university elections. Israelis elected Netanyahu when one of his pledges was to ensure there will not be a Palestinian state under his watch.
Furthermore, mistrust between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs and Palestinians are at record high levels. A Joint Poll was released by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah found 86% of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 71% of Israeli Jews do not trust Palestinians.
The majority of Israelis, however, do believe in a two-state solution at 68% which offers some hope, especially since it is the Israeli side that holds all real power.
The One-State Solution
The two-state solution does is not likely to be achieved anytime soon because of leadership, fundamental conflicts and a lack of confidence. That does not mean that the two-state solution is not still the best answer.
The next alternatives are a one-state solution that can take two forms. One is a binational state with equal civil and political rights for both nations. The other is the Israeli annexation of the West Bank and Gaza. Both of these outcomes are unfavourable for both peoples.
The binational state may seem appealing but this would require a fundamental change to existing institutions so the other nation can be accommodated. This would most likely mean Israeli institutions having to change.
For Israeli Jews, the fear is that Jews will become a minority in the land and not have control over their own state. For Palestinians on the other hand, in a hypothetical binational state, they would form the less-skilled portion of the labour market. Accordingly, they would not earn as much as Israeli Jews, which would foster further resentment.
Furthermore, there is already mistrust and resentment on both sides so that a binational state does not seem achievable. The other one state solution is to annex the West Bank and Gaza meaning Palestinians would be under Israeli sovereignty but not have the same rights as Israelis. This would mean a de facto apartheid state would be formed in which Palestinians are oppressed and Israelis lose international backing.
The Two-State Solution Is the Way
The two state solution on the other hand affords benefits to both sides. Israelis can see more trade as Arab states would have normalised relations and the Palestinians would seek as much trade as they can get to support their new state.
In terms of security, the new Palestinian state would have to work with Israelis to counter the terrorist threat. The Palestinian authorities already claim to be effective in this as they claim to have intercepted over 200 plots against Israel. Palestinian self-determination will appease many of those currently tempted by terrorism and will hopefully leader to greater stability.
The future may look bleak, but the two state solution is the most beneficial way in dealing with this conflict. Obama himself said that the opportunity to save the two-state solution is slipping.
One must hope that the leadership shown in 1993 can be replicated again as these two nations both deserve more.