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Opinion | The Two-State Solution Is an Unjust, Impossible Fantasy

Opinion | The Two-State Solution Is an Unjust, Impossible Fantasy

This moment of historical rupture offers blood-soaked proof that policies to date have failed, yet countries seek to resurrect them all the same. Instead of taking measures showing a genuine commitment to peace — like meaningfully pressuring Israel to end settlement building and lift the blockade on Gaza or discontinuing America’s expansive military support — Washington is doing the opposite. The United States has aggressively wielded its use of its veto at the United Nations Security Council, and even when it abstains, as it did in the recent vote leading to the first resolution for a cease-fire since Oct. 7, it claims such resolutions are nonbinding. The United States is funding Israel’s military while defunding the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, a critical institution for Palestinians, bolstering the deeply unpopular and illegitimate Palestinian Authority, which many Palestinians now consider to be a subcontractor to the occupation, and subverting international law by limiting avenues of accountability for Israel. In effect, these actions safeguard Israeli impunity.

The vacuity of the two-state solution mantra is most obvious in how often policymakers speak of recognizing a Palestinian state without discussing an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Quite the contrary: With the United States reportedly exploring initiatives to recognize Palestinian statehood, it is simultaneously defending Israel’s prolonged occupation at the International Court of Justice, arguing that Israel faces “very real security needs” that justify its continued control over Palestinian territories.

What might explain this seeming contradiction?

The concept of partition has long been used as a blunt policy tool by colonial powers to manage the affairs of their colonies, and Palestine was no exception. The Zionist movement emerged within the era of European colonialism and was given its most important imprimatur by the British Empire. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British in 1917, called for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine without adequately accounting for the Palestinians who constituted a vast majority in the region and whom Balfour referred to simply as “non-Jewish communities.” This declaration was then imposed on the Palestinians, who by 1922 had become Britain’s colonized subjects and were not asked to give consent to the partitioning of their homeland. Three decades later, the United Nations institutionalized partition with the passage of the 1947 plan, which called for partitioning Palestine into two independent states, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish.

All of Palestine’s neighboring countries in the Middle East and North Africa that had achieved independence from their colonial rulers and joined the United Nations voted against the 1947 plan. The Palestinians were not formally considered in a vote that many saw as illegitimate; it partitioned their homeland to accommodate Zionist immigration, which they had resisted from the onset. The Palestine Liberation Organization, established more than a decade later, formalized this opposition, insisting that Palestine as defined within the boundaries that existed during the British Mandate was “an indivisible territorial unit”; it forcefully refused two states and by the late 1970s was fighting for a secular, democratic state. By the 1980s, however, the P.L.O. chairman, Yasir Arafat, along with most of the organization’s leadership, had come to accept that partition was the pragmatic choice, and many Palestinians who had by then been ground down by the machinery of the occupation accepted it as a way of achieving separateness from Israeli settlers and the creation of their own state.

It took more than three decades for Palestinians to understand that separateness would never come, that the goal of this policy was to maintain the illusion of partition in some distant future indefinitely. In that twilight zone, Israel’s expansionist violence increased and became more forthright, as Israeli leaders became more brazen in their commitment to full control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel also relied on discredited Palestinian leaders to sustain their control — primarily those who lead the Palestinian Authority and who collaborate with Israel’s machinations and make do with nonsovereign, noncontiguous Bantustans that never challenge Israel’s overarching domination. This kind of demographic engineering, which entails geographic isolation of unwanted populations behind walls, is central to apartheid regimes. Repeating the aspiration for two states and arguing that partition remains viable presents Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — separate from its occupation — giving it a veneer of palatability and obfuscating the reality that it rules over more non-Jews than Jews.

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