It’s Time to Give Up on the Two-State Solution. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in Israel with a narrow, extreme right-wing coalition has shattered even the illusion of a two-state solution. Members of his new government have not been shy about stating their views on what Israel is and what it should be in all the territories it controls: a Greater Israel defined not just as a Jewish state but one in which the law enshrines Jewish supremacy over all Palestinians who remain there. As a result, it is no longer possible to avoid confronting a one-state reality. Excerpts from ‘Israel’s One-State Reality’.
Israel’s radical new government did not create this reality but rather made it impossible to deny. The temporary status of “occupation” of the Palestinian territories is now a permanent condition in which one state ruled by one group of people rules over another group of people. The promise of a two-state solution made sense as an alternative future in the years around the 1993 Oslo accords, when there were constituencies for compromise on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides and when tangible if fleeting progress was made toward building the institutions of a hypothetical Palestinian state. But that period ended long ago. Today, it makes little sense to let fantastical visions for the future obscure deeply embedded existing arrangements.
It is past time to grapple with what a one-state reality means for policy, politics, and analysis. Palestine is not a state in waiting, and Israel is not a democratic state incidentally occupying Palestinian territory. All the territory west of the Jordan River has long constituted a single state under Israeli rule, where the land and the people are subject to radically different legal regimes, and Palestinians are permanently treated as a lower caste. Policymakers and analysts who ignore this one-state reality will be condemned to failure and irrelevance, doing little beyond providing a smokescreen for the entrenchment of the status quo.
Some implications of this one-state reality are clear. The world will not stop caring about Palestinian rights, no matter how fervently many supporters of Israel (and Arab rulers) wish they would. Violence, dispossession, and human rights abuses have escalated over the last year, and the risk of large-scale violent confrontation grows with every day that Palestinians are locked in this ever-expanding system of legalized oppression and Israeli encroachment. But far less clear is how important actors will adjust—if they adjust at all—as the reality of a single state shifts from open secret to undeniable truth.
U.S. President Joe Biden seems fully committed to the status quo, and there is no evidence that his administration has thought about the issue or done much beyond crisis management and mouthing displeasure. A strong sense of wishful thinking permeates Washington, with many U.S. officials still trying to convince themselves that there is a chance of returning to a two-state negotiation after the aberrant Netanyahu government leaves office. But ignoring the new reality will not be an option for much longer. A storm is gathering in Israel and Palestine that demands an urgent response from the country that has most enabled the emergence of a single state upholding Jewish supremacy. If the United States wants to avoid profound instability in the Middle East and a challenge to its broader global agenda, it must cease exempting Israel from the standards and structures of the liberal international order that Washington hopes to lead.
From unsayable to undeniable
A one-state arrangement is not a future possibility; it already exists, no matter what anyone thinks. Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, one state controls the entry and exit of people and goods, oversees security, and has the capacity to impose its decisions, laws, and policies on millions of people without their consent.
A one-state reality could, in principle, be based on democratic rule and equal citizenship. But such an arrangement is not on offer at the moment. Forced to choose between Israel’s Jewish identity and liberal democracy, Israel has chosen the former. It has locked in a system of Jewish supremacy, wherein non-Jews are structurally discriminated against or excluded in a tiered scheme: some non-Jews have most of, but not all, the rights that Jews have, while most non-Jews live under severe segregation, separation, and domination.
A peace process in the closing years of the twentieth century offered the tantalizing possibility of something different. But since the 2000 Camp David summit, where U.S.-led negotiations failed to achieve a two-state agreement, the phrase “peace process” has served mostly to distract from the realities on the ground and to offer an excuse for not acknowledging them. The second Intifada, which erupted soon after the disappointment at Camp David, and Israel’s subsequent intrusions into the West Bank transformed the Palestinian Authority into little more than a security subcontractor for Israel. They also accelerated the rightward drift of Israeli politics, the population shifts brought about by Israeli citizens moving into the West Bank, and the geographical fragmentation of Palestinian society. The cumulative effect of these changes became evident during the 2021 crisis over the appropriation of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, which pitted not just Israeli settlers and Palestinians but also Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel against each other in a conflict that split cities and neighborhoods.
Netanyahu’s new government, composed of a coalition of right-wing religious and nationalist extremists, epitomizes these trends. Its members boast of their mission to create a new Israel in their image: less liberal, more religious, and more willing to own discrimination against non-Jews. Netanyahu has written that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens” but rather “of the Jewish people—and only it." The man he appointed as minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has declared that Gaza should be “ours” and that “the Palestinians can go to . . . Saudi Arabia or other places, like Iraq or Iran.” This extremist vision has long been shared by at least a minority of Israelis and has strong grounding in Zionist thought and practice. It began gaining adherents soon after Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in the 1967 war. And although it is not yet a hegemonic view, it can plausibly claim a majority of Israeli society and can no longer be termed a fringe position.
The fact of a one-state reality has long been obvious to those who live in Israel and the territories it controls and to anyone who has paid attention to the inexorable shifts on the ground. But in the past few years, something has changed. Until recently, the one-state reality was rarely acknowledged by important actors, and those who spoke the truth out loud were ignored or punished for doing so. With remarkable speed, however, the unsayable has become close to conventional wisdom.
Photo. © Guillem Casasus