Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 The death of the two-state solution
 Terje Roed-Larsen, USA
 October 17, 2002
A fundamental concept has defined all peacemaking attempts between Israelis and Palestinians. It is called the two-state solution.

Would-be Middle East peacemakers have long determined that justice, security and peace between the two peoples is best achieved by creating two sovereign states west of the Jordan River, Israel and Palestine. That includes me, as one of the facilitators of the 1993 Oslo Accords and now the United Nations Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

A viable, independent Palestine alongside Israel is still possible. But perhaps not for much longer, given four undeniable trends at work today. The first two are readily apparent: a deteriorating security situation fueled by vicious terror attacks and widespread violence against civilians, and an unprecedented Palestinian humanitarian crisis. The other two, while less visceral, have serious long-term implications: the gradual destruction of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel's accelerated expansion of its West Bank settlements.

These trends force me, and I am far from alone, to ask two very troubling questions. Are we nearing the death of the two-state solution, the bedrock for all our peacemaking efforts? And if so, are we prepared for the consequences?

If indeed we are at a critical juncture, it is most vividly seen in the growing chasm between the diplomatic efforts to forge a peace agreement and the catastrophic situation on the ground. Diplomatically, an unprecedented international consensus has been formed around a three-year, three-phase roadmap by the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russia and UN) that would lead to a comprehensive peace.

The roadmap builds on major diplomatic initiatives: from last spring's Arab League announcement to fully recognize Israel based on the two-state solution to U.S. President George Bush's Rose Garden speech last June (reinforced recently in statements by British Prime Minister Tony Blair) which clearly outlined the vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Moreover, the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed the Quartet Plan, which was unveiled in detail on September 17. The bottom line: we have a way forward.

But these promising diplomatic moves clash foursquare with the disastrous situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today. To understand this better, consider two competing views found on both sides of the conflict: the constructionist and the destructionist. In simple terms, the constructionists believe in a two-state solution and the destructionists do not.

Israeli and Palestinian constructionists have similar outlooks. They say the best way to foster peace, security and prosperity for both sides is through the creation of a democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This state would work for the benefit of its people, and in the process control and stop violence against Israel. In this scenario, both sides win.

Israeli and Palestinian destructionists both seek total control of the land at the expense of their adversaries, and are in a kind of unholy embrace that is fueling today's downward spiral. For them, only one state can emerge west of the Jordan River: Israel or Palestine. It is a zero-sum game.

Today's trends show that the destructionists control the day.

First, major bloodletting over the past two years has killed more than 600 Israelis and 2000 Palestinians. This death toll has sown deep grief and massive distrust on both sides, making negotiations difficult to begin, much less conclude.

Second, the Palestinian humanitarian situation is almost unfathomable. Hundreds of thousands remain under 24-hour curfew and the economy is in ruins. International aid is the primary factor in stopping total societal and economic collapse, and the anarchy, hunger and disease that would follow.

Third, Israel has, through military action, come very close to destroying the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, and with them any semblance of a central government. These institutions took nearly a decade to build, and are essential for building a peaceful and prosperous Palestine.

The fourth trend is perhaps the most significant of all: Israel's continued expansion of West Bank settlements, and the land confiscation that goes with it. Even as the world repeatedly calls for a freeze to all such activity, it continues apace. The settlements, and the highways that serve them, will soon completely envelope East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank, which would then also be split in half. Other settlement projects will bisect the northern West Bank and encircle Bethlehem and Hebron to the south.

Israelis and Palestinians are warning that these trends will soon make it impossible to create a viable Palestinian state in control of its own land, borders and resources. The result: the death of the two-state solution.

What does that mean? Let's be frank. If Israel retains overall control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it will be faced with a difficult choice, given the sheer presence of the Palestinian population. Palestinians could soon be left living in a string of unconnected homelands run by local warlords, which will not give them the freedom they covet and almost certainly guarantees continued insecurity for Israel. The other option is Israel controlling the land, but without the people. That is known as "transfer".

We have not yet reached the death of the two-state solution. But it will take immediate and steadfast efforts from Israelis and Palestinians, backed by the international community, to take us off the destructionists' path. In this I have confidence, recently bolstered by two polls conducted last August, which show that a majority of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state, provided Palestinians follow a policy of non-violence. Moreover, one of the polls says that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians approve of using non-violent means to establish their state.

We all know what must be done.

To the Israeli people, I ask: are you prepared to ask your government to go back immediately to the negotiating table, to stop all settlement activity and work together with Palestinians and the international community to build a peaceful and viable Palestine? If not, are you prepared to deal with the outcome?

To the Palestinian people, I ask: are you prepared to stop not just terror, but all forms of violence, whether you consider them legitimate or not? Do you recognize, as many of your leaders now do, that violence and terror have only served to undermine your national ambitions and create a crisis for your people unmatched for more than two generations?

To the international community, I say: it is time to move decisively to put this peace process back on track and reach a two-state solution. Otherwise we must be prepared to address the consequences of its death.

Terje Roed-Larsen is the United Nations Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

From the Arabic daily al-Hayat (London), October 17, 2002.