On December 28, 2016, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, delivered a candid speech that was widely described as a “last-chance effort” by the Obama administration to salvage the prospects of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. The speech followed the passage of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed the international consensus on the two-state solution, as well as the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).
In the speech, Kerry declared that Israelis and Palestinians have two choices when it comes to their political future: either live together in a single state, which would be Jewish (apartheid) or democratic (“it cannot be both”), or separate into two states. At the same time, if serious measures are not immediately taken, there will soon be no option. The “status quo is leading towards one state,” Kerry warned, and, if current trends continue, it will become an irreversible reality.
While Kerry’s speech was surprisingly harsh for a high-ranking U.S. government official, his concerns regarding the two-state framework are hardly novel. Given the political environment in Israel and the material realities that have developed in the oPt since the “peace process” began in 1993, skepticism about the viability (even desirability) of two-states has steadily grown.
Over the past several weeks, however, this criticism has taken on increased force, as dozens of obituaries for the two-state solution have been published. While Kerry’s speech and the passing of Resolution 2334 have triggered these analyses, so have recent actions and declarations by Israeli ministers, such as Naftali Bennett’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, that threaten to further dissect the territory upon which a Palestinian state is to be formed.
A core argument presented by critics of the two-state solution is that its implementation is impossible, given contemporary political and material conditions. Like Kerry, these observers have concluded that the one-state solution (preferably democratic) is the only alternative.
To be sure, the obstacles to the two-state formula are significant. The idea of a single, democratic state also undoubtedly carries great political and moral power. Unlike the two-state program, it draws on democratic ideals and a commitment to social justice for all. Nevertheless, some of the assumptions, upon which the one-state narrative have been built, deserve to be challenged.
Decolonization of the West Bank is certainly implausible at this point. There is no sufficient political force in Israel to stop the process of creeping annexation in the oPt and the current government is vocally determined to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Decolonization is not, however, impossible. As scholar Mouin Rabbani recently wrote in a blog for the Institute of Palestine Studies, removing settlements from the West Bank is a matter of “politics not of physics. And in politics these things can always be changed…by mustering sufficient political will and resources.” The horizon of the possible is, in other words, constantly shifting.
If one state is established, apartheid and secular democracy are not the only possible routes it could take. It could also result in mass expulsion of the Palestinian population. Given the balance of power, the level of ultra-nationalism in Israeli political culture, and the history of (continuous) ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since 1948, this is a horrifying, but likely scenario, if the two-state paradigm is buried without a second thought.
Now is certainly the time for serious reassessment of political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the means to get there, including the potential consequences of a binational reality.