How the Israel-Gaza war revived talk of a two-state solution

Before October 7, the idea of an Israeli and Palestinian state side by side was dismissed as moribund. Now it is back

Pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters face off at a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on November 13. The Hamas attack of October 7 and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza have re-focused international attention on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. EPA
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When Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary general of the League of Arab States, speaks, he speaks for a body that represents 22 countries and over 460 million people. Although there is a range of opinion about the Palestine-Israel conflict among the league’s members, there is uniform agreement on the right of the Palestinians to have a state based on the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. This week, comments from Mr Aboul Gheit in London about a two-state solution represent a broad consensus.

“I tell all my friends and colleagues that I interact with in the western world: wake up,” he told diplomats and decision-makers attending the Arab-British Economic Summit on Monday. “Every day that passes without stopping this evil war increases the feelings of hatred and hostility. It moves us further away from the only possible solution to this conflict, which is a two state-solution."

Amid the horrors of the past weeks in Israel and Palestine is a political and diplomatic development of note: the tentative rehabilitation of the two-state solution.

In the months before the Hamas attack of October 7 that spurred this latest round of violence, commentary on the conflict was nearly unanimous in suggesting that those proposing a Palestinian state side by side with Israel along the 1967 borders were wasting their time. This was perhaps understandable given the almost non-existent state of dialogue between the Israeli government and the Palestinians – as well as Israel’s aggressive programme of settlement building in the West Bank.

However, since October 7 and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza re-focused the international community’s attention on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the two-state idea has gone from being an afterthought to the main solution being championed at the highest levels. Mr Aboul Gheit’s support in London for a two-state solution echoed other comments made on Monday by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who said it was essential to “move in a determined and irreversible way to a two-state solution”.

Similarly, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week that Britain “wrote the original UN resolutions setting out a two-state solution, and we’ve argued for it for decades but now we must help make it a reality”.

The two-state solution has also been recently and publicly referred to by King Abdullah II of Jordan, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President. The Arab League – which held a recent extraordinary summit on the Israel-Gaza war with the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation in Riyadh – released a communique which called for “the implementation of the two-state solution with international guarantees”.

It is clear that whatever the outcome of this current war, there can be no going back to how things were on October 6. Things have gone too far for that. It may be that this horrendous violence will – by necessity – focus attention once more on finding a lasting solution. There is precedent for this: the Oslo Accords of the 1990s came shortly after a period of intense violence and suffering for Palestinians and Israelis.

Sadly, the two-state solution has been deliberately undermined for years, particularly by the division of the West Bank into powerless Palestinian cantons by illegal Israeli settlements. Polls have recorded a steady fall in support for two equal states among Palestinians: a Gallup poll in October 18 found that only 24 per cent of Palestinians now support two states, down from 59 per cent in 2012. Worryingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the research also found that young Palestinians were significantly less likely to believe in two states living side by side. On the other side of the fence, polling among Jewish Israelis has found little enthusiasm for two states. One-state solutions have also found little support from either side, as the belief in the possibility for such a state giving equal rights for all is low.

To reverse this trend, the promise held out by a logical and just solution to this ruinous conflict needs to be rekindled. The fact that so much of the international community already supports this vision should be encouraging. However, no step can be taken until the war stops. A ceasefire is needed immediately, and the following step must be to renew serious efforts to work for a just settlement among the people that matter most: the Palestinians and Israelis themselves.

Published: November 22, 2023, 3:00 AM
Updated: November 23, 2023, 1:47 PM