Palestine–Israel: The Next Stage

The Two-States Solution: a Short Bio of an Ill Solution

The two states solution has interesting history. It was born in 1937, when the Palestinian revolt of 1936 made clear that it is impossible to impose on the Palestinian majority the Jewish state that Balfour declaration of 1917 envisioned.

Nor were the Jews and their British patron ready to let the Palestinians establish their own state. Instead, the colonial patron and its Zionist client tailored a division of Palestine, the concept that later will be known as the two states solution. In November 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the partition plan of 1936 with modifications. Only the Zionists officially accepted it, while Jordan just in practice. The 1948 War that the Arabs declared ended with Israel and Jordan dividing Mandatory Palestine between them. Unauthorized internationally Jordan and Israel implemented a two-state solution on the account of the defeated Palestinians.  

The two states formula regained international momentum as the preferred solution to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict following the Israeli failure to end the PLO in 1982 war and to crash the Palestinian uprising of 1987. Together with the PLO agreeing in 1988 to accept the 1947 partition resolution, the road to Oslo agreements was ready. Oslo style two states solution is based on international law and the right of self-determination of each of the two nations. The common wisdom then was that the road to two nation states living in peace is open, the goal reachable and soon implemented. 

Yet, Oslo agreement of 1993 was not a peace agreement just an interim one. Since it did not lay down a framework for the end station, Israel could accelerate its settlements building. Recovered from the shock of Oslo agreement and PLO – Israel mutual recognition, Oslo opponents worked to fail it. When politicians and civil society activists discussed peace in attractive resorts or foreign office discussion rooms, Israel created new facts on the ground by expanding settlements to the extent that Oslo style two state solution looks impossible to implement. Half-hearted Israeli ministers and doubtful government operators joint settler organizations in this operation. Consequently, Israel rules over the whole area between Jordan and the Mediterranean despite the demographic equality between the two peoples. After destroying the Palestinian Authority in retaliation to the second Intifada, 2000-2005, Israel let it reestablished conditioned functioning as her sub-contractor. Thus, a single regime rules over the whole area. In other words, the Palestinians are de-facto annexed to Israel whereas the settlers enjoy de-jure citizenship rights. This hierarchy of collective rights and power led the Israeli NGO Yesh Din to conclude that Israel commits apartheid in the West Bank.[1]

It is widely agreed that the two states solution is almost dead if not already passed away. Outside the emergency room where this solution lays, one group of worried Israeli, Palestinian and West European relatives refuses to give up hope that it will survive. Outside the hospital, another group cannot hide its satisfaction. The illegal inheritors plan annexing parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank including Israeli settlements. They include not only Israeli settler and state agencies but also American evangelists and Trump administration members. Coordinated with the Israeli PM, earlier this year Trump published its Israeli – Palestinian “peace” plan.[2] It recognizes Israeli sovereignty over all settlements and nearly all of East Jerusalem. Until then annexation was not on the table, just a long-term target. Settlements expansion aimed to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. In 2020 Trump and Netanyahu put annexation on the top of their agenda. The Israeli PM set 1 July as the date he will bring his annexation plan to the Knesset for approval. 

If you wish to see how annexation looks like, take a trip to East Jerusalem, Israel’s national annexation laboratory. Annex and discriminate is the guiding principle that Israel exercises there since its unilateral annexation in 1967. Driven by demographic fears of a small Jewish community in Arab Middle East and serial imagined existential dreads, the Jewish state systematically discriminates its non-Jews citizens[3] and more so in annexed East Jerusalem where about 40 percent of the city population are Palestinians. Indeed Israel provides them residency and national insurance but only 13 percent of the land Israel took in 1967 is left for them to build on and rarely the municipality provide them a permit. According to 2017 data, 76 percent of the residents of East Jerusalem and 83.4 percent of their children live below the poverty line, against the average poverty rate in Israel that was then 21.7 and 30 percent among children. At that year, there was a shortage of about 2000 classrooms in East Jerusalem.[4] In 2012, there was a shortage of 50 km of sewage pipes, only six municipal pre-kindergartens and 9 post offices operated in East Jerusalem as compared to 66 and 42 (respectively) in West Jerusalem.[5] These gaps did not close up to date. Practices used in detaining East Jerusalem minors and teenagers are illegal or unimplemented when Israeli Jewish citizen is involved.[6]      

De jure annexation, as it is in East Jerusalem, provides Israel with legal tools to confiscate Palestinian land and expand settlements without international law of occupation limits that Israeli High Court have kept through the years in the West Bank. Palestinians caught in those enclaved without land and legal protection will face the threat of deportation or force to leave.[7]

Today, however, de-jure annexation of West Bank areas besides Jerusalem seems no less ill than the two states solution. Israeli peace activists lobbied abroad to prevent, limit or postpone the annexation. So did concerned West European governments and Jordan. They were afraid of regional destabilization consequently to the collapse of Israel – Jordan peace treaty or of an outbreak of bloody clashes between Israeli soldiers and anger Palestinian protesters. Regional instability, most probably, will spill over West Europe cities where many Muslim immigrants live, as happened during bloody Israeli operations in Gaza Strip. The deal between Israel and the UAE finely cleared the political table from the annexation plan. The deal, to which other Arab states consider joining, is based on establishing full bilateral relations in exchange of suspending annexation indefinably. It should be noted that Israel agreed to suspend only de-jure annexation but not its de-facto one. Neither evacuating nor freezing settlements’ spread is part of the deal. Shattering the one regime that Israel established is not a precondition for maintaining formal relations with Israel.   

The Regional Strategic Shift

UAE – Israel announcement on upgrading their secret relations to full diplomatic relations, shows that a strategic shift happened in the region. Earlier Israel’s occupation was a foreign relations issue. Land for peace was the key to achieve peace as UN Security Council resolution 242 accepted shortly after the 1967 war has put it. Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 is linked to the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Israeli – Jordanian peace in 1994 was possible only after Israeli – PLO Oslo agreement.  The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 conditioned normalization and peace with Israel full withdrawal to pre-June 1967 war lines, the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestine and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance of UN resolution 194.[8] None of these conditions exists in the UAE – Israel agreement.

The Arab League is broken and Iran threatens Arab conservative regimes. They seek protection in Israel’s arms with the US backing. Europe has its own divisions between authoritarian and liberal regimes and Britain stepping out of the EU. Therefore, West Europe is not ready to replace the US as the broker between Israel and Palestine, nor China or Russia.  

More than a generation after Oslo, there is no Arab consensus on keeping the Palestinian issue as a pure foreign policy issue. The Palestinians in 1967 areas are part of the Israeli ruling system, not outside of it. The big shift, in my view, is not marginalizing the Palestinian case but turning it primarily to an Israeli domestic problem.  

This shift calls for a new strategy to topple the one regime that Israel already created. Recognizing the state of Palestine by major European countries, first and for most permanent UN Security Council members, can improve its political status internationally but not rebuild the paralyzed national movement domestically or replace national liberation struggle. A renewed liberation agency is needed inside the Israeli ruling system. Moreover, this shift undermines an Israeli view that through moderate Arab state incentives Israel may get Palestinian concession on issues that previously prevented concluding Israeli – Palestinian peace.[9]    

Needed: a New Agency

The Palestinians are weak and divided politically and geographically between Hamas regime in Gaza Strip and Fatah authority in the West Bank. Under Abbas, the Palestinian polity hardly exist beyond benefitted aging elite. Fearing that non-violent popular resistance will escalate to armed struggle or turn against his rule, Abbas prevents Fatah activists building anti-occupation popular resistance capacity.[10] However, the Palestinian national identity is not eliminated, just its active political agent. Within these circumstances, armed resistance or an outbreak of new Intifada by frustrated public are possible agencies to shake the ground of the de-facto annexation. Given the power imbalance between the sides, those clashes can end with Israel reoccupation and re-establishing Military Administration on the ruins of the Palestinian Authority. Other carriers, both verbal-symbolic and institutional, have to be formed.   

The Israeli peace camp is too weak to function exclusively as an agent of change. With the expansion of settlements, more Israelis benefit materially and make their living from the controlling the Palestinians, in addition to their ideological commitment to ‘our forefathers land’ or answer their security anxieties by supporting the de-facto annexation. Materially Israelis have much to lose if the current order ends. Moreover, the gap between what the Israeli public understands instinctively from its everyday life experience, i.e. the death of the 80’s style two states solution, and Israeli peace camp sticking to it dogmatically, perceives the latter as unrealistic and irrelevant. Indeed, the BDS movement achieved few gains and raises awareness to Israeli practices, but it fails to impose on Israel to withdraw or expanding. Several countries tag the BDS as anti-Semite and limit the movement activities. [11]  Finely, the BDS movement operates outside Palestine, with very limited impact inside on boycotting Israel.  

Given that the short road to two states solution along the 80’s and the 90’s model is blocked and the one state reality, honorable Israeli – Zionists and their supporters worldwide cannot escape the following dilemma that is not theoretical: do they prefer Jewish Israel with its Apartheid methods or equality for all living in historical Palestine? Indeed, opting for equality is problematic from a Zionist perspective, at least according to its common definition that the Right wing hammered in the public discourse. Accordingly, Zionism means exclusive Jewish polity in the Land of Israel. The Zionist left failed to challenge this definition despite rich historical alternatives. “I no longer believe in a Jewish State”, wrote recently Peter Beinart that until then powerfully advocated for the two-state solution. “Since Israel annexed the West Bank long ago… it’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state”.[12] 

Against Beinart’s view, calling for equality does not necessarily negate the two state solution. Political equality can be realized in a state of all its individual citizens, or in a joint state of its two Jewish and Arab nationalities, in a confederation between two states or in two fully independent states each enjoying self-determination right and equal international status.

Under current circumstances, the road to revive the two states solution or any of its alternatives goes through opposing Jewish Apartheid and struggle for equality. Palestinian self-determination claim lit European and Third World political imagination in the 70s and the 80s. Similar impact is achievable by raising equality between Jews and Arabs in historical Palestine contrary to annexation, Jewish superiority, and inequality.

Israel rules historic Palestine by dividing the Palestinian collective to several groups allocating to each different civil and political rights.[13] Struggle for equality calls to build a big tent of all ethnic discrimination victims and opponents living in Mandatory Palestine. Beyond restructuring Israeli political opposition by bridging the sharp division to Jewish and Arab opposition parties, West Bank and Gaza Strip officials and civil society activists have to change their minds.  Palestinian activists boycotting cooperation with Israelis on the ground it looks like normalization with occupiers and Palestinian Authority officials that continue operating along  Oslo period codes, have to reconsider their strategies. The one regime that rules the area between Jordan and the Mediterranean should face joint or at least coordinated opposition spread all over the territory.

Within such front, Israeli-Palestinians would permitted moving to the driver’s seat. As long as the Palestinian goal was establishing a state on 1967 territories, they remained on the margins, excluded from the national leadership and PLO institutions. The PLO expected them to advocate inside Israel for its goal. Their claim for equality inside the Jewish state was separated from the overall national struggle to establish independent Palestine on 1967 occupied territories. As the struggle changes course to equality, the Israeli – Palestinian leadership may advance to the fore of the national movement. Whereas oppression prevails in the Palestinian Authority areas, Palestinians inside Israel of 1948 lines enjoy political freedom and basic civil rights. Many of them integrate in Israeli Jewish urban fabrics, the arts, professional occupations and academia. These open for them new opportunities for political action and leadership that are unavailable for the Palestinians in 1967 occupied territories. The main Palestinian struggle has to move from the colonized periphery to the metropole.                                                     


[1] Menachem Klein, The Shift Israel – Palestine from Border Struggle to Ethnic Conflict, NY Columbia University and London Hurst 2010. Yesh Din, The Occupation of the West Bank and the Crime of Apartheid: Legal Opinion, in 


[3] Recently in the Basic Law Israel the Nation State of the Jewish People in




[7] Interviews by Meron Rapoport, The Middle East Eye, 20 May 2020, in



[10] Menachem Klein, Arafat and Abbas Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed, NY Oxford University and London Hurst 2019, pp. 93-126

[11] On Germany see  and in the USA see in

[12] New York Times, July 8, 2020 in See also his essay Yane :a Jew Case for Equality in Israel – Palestine, Jewish Currents, July 7, 2020 in 

[13] Klein, The Shift.


  • Menachem Klein

    Menachem Klein is professor emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University. He was an advisor to the Israeli delegation in negotiations with the PLO in 2000 and was one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative. His most recent book is Arafat and Abbas: Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed.

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