March 22, 2017

KRAVITZ’S KORNER | Ditching The Two-State Constraint

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Part of President Donald Trump’s unorthodox approach to his presidency is his perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He recently declared that the conflict may be solved in ways other than a two-state solution, bucking several decades of U.S. policy. Many groups, both inside and outside Israel, have blasted the president for his views.

A two state solution may sound like a reasonable resolution to the problem since it establishes two states for two peoples. However, the realities on the ground prevent such a solution from being implemented smoothly. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, the body in charge of administering Palestinian affairs in the West Bank, relies on Israeli security forces to stay in power and prevent an Islamist insurrection. Abbas is also wildly unpopular in among Palestinians. Thus, an Israeli withdrawal from this region would pave the way for fundamentalist groups in the region to seize power—much like what happened in the Gaza Strip after Israel’s withdrawal. The ensuing situation would gravely imperil Israel, and it would also subject West Bank Palestinians to a brutal Islamofascist government, as exists now in Gaza. Given the already deteriorating situation in the nearby region—from the Syrian civil war to the reign of I.S.I.S.—the last thing Israel (or the world) needs is another dysfunctional and terror-ridden Arab state.

Aside from the legitimate security concerns involved in Israel withdrawing from the West Bank,  there are clear practical challenges involved in removing Israeli settlements. The number of settlers in the West Bank currently exceeds 400,000, a quarter of whom live outside major settlement blocs and would need to be evicted in order to carry out a two-state solution. Over ten times as many settlers that left the Gaza Strip in 2005—which was itself a painful and controversial move in Israeli society—would have to leave the West Bank. There’s no way to unwind the clock, and removing roughly a hundred thousand people—even if Israel permanently ends future settlement expansion—is both politically and practically impossible.

There is little reason why the U.S. should be exclusively committed to a two-state solution towards achieving peace. The two-state solution may work in theory, but it need not be the only way of reaching coexistence. To solve a conflict that has evaded all prior presidents may require outside-the-box thinking.

Last year, Cornell Professor of Near Eastern Studies Dr. Ross Brann lectured students—as part of a Cornell Political Union event—on how the two-state solution is not feasible. At the end of his talk, Dr. Brann argued that a confederation of states—a hybrid between a one-state and a two-state solution that creates a unity government but allows for local Jewish and Arab control—is a possible solution to the conflict. Such an agreement would preserve Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while allowing Palestinians to live across the Green Line. Areas with high concentrations of Jews would be subject to different laws than those areas with high concentrations of Arabs. A national government composed of proportional representation from both groups would be in charge of the overall administration of the country. Though this concept is rife with flaws—some of which may be critical—it should not be immediately dismissed, especially in light of the decades-long failure to implement a two-state solution.

Regional peace plans, which settle the conflict through the engagement of several countries in the Middle East, could also produce fruitful results. Jordan—a country with a majority Palestinian population—could annex the West Bank and absorb its people as citizens. In the eyes of Israel, Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank is a better assurance of peace and stability than Palestinian sovereignty. The major problem with this idea is that neither Jordanians nor Palestinians desire this solution; Palestinians want their own independent state, and Jordanians don’t want to deal with Palestinian terrorism in their country. Another option for regional peace, though, is for Israel to form diplomatic ties with the Arab world as a prerequisite for serious negotiations with Palestinians. This would guarantee Israel that its concessions to the Palestinians are not a grand ploy, orchestrated by the Arab world, to eventually destroy the Jewish state.

It is unclear whether President Trump has sidelined the two-state solution out of sheer ignorance to the issues or out of a calculated plan to solve the conflict. But regardless of President Trump’s intentions, understanding the barriers to a two-state solution at the present time and considering alternative resolutions to the conflict is beneficial for anyone genuinely interested in the cause of peace.