Beyond the Two-State Solution

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In this article, IDI Vice President of Strategy Dr. Jesse Ferris argues that the one- and two-state paradigms are no longer relevant. He suggests instead a redrawing of boundaries among Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

The "Two-State Solution" has become something of a mantra that flies increasingly in the face of reality. First, there is the geo-political fact that not two, but three states are at present emerging on the territory west of the Jordan River. Ever since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the West Bank and Gaza have resumed the independent political trajectory that geographical separation dictates and that history enacted from 1948 to 1967. It is not at all clear whether it is in Israel's strategic interest to overcome this division by providing a land bridge between the two state-lets emerging on its borders. In any event, from a geo-strategic standpoint, the situation cannot last.

Arafat's "no" at Camp David in 2000 symbolized the fact that the maximum Israel can offer territorially is less than sufficient to permit a viable Arab state to emerge on the West Bank. For the sake of argument, even were Israel to abandon all settlements beyond the green line and surrender 100% of the territory controlled by Jordan prior to the 1967 war, it is doubtful whether a state established on that territory would survive for long or leave its neighbors in peace. Landlocked, squeezed between Israel and Jordan, and surrounded by states harboring significant percentages of identical ethnicity, strong irredentist aspirations would be difficult to stifle and almost impossible to contain. Within years, instability would seep eastward to Jordan and westward to Israel. Yet even such a maximalist solution is unlikely today. The difficult experience of two recent wars, in which huge swathes of Israeli territory were smothered by short-range rocket fire (from Lebanon in 2006 and from Gaza in 2009), makes it increasingly unlikely that Israel would be prepared to cede security control over much of the West Bank anytime in the near future.

Gaza's predicament is even worse. Although nominally independent ever since Israel withdrew in 2005 and Fatah was evicted in 2007, geography conspires against the survivability of Gaza as an independent state. With one and a half million people crowded into a narrow strip of 360 square kilometers, it is virtually impossible to conceive of the emergence a Singapore-like Gaza on the Mediterranean that would prosper in peace without the acquisition of substantial territory from adjacent lands—whether from the Israeli Negev or the Egyptian Sinai. To be sure, the current reign of obscurantist terror does not preclude the emergence of a more positive regime in the future, but the experience of Hamas rule over Gaza—and of blockade by both its neighbors—does not augur well for the future of an independent state of Gaza.

It bears repeating that the two fundamental objectives most Israelis seek are peace with our neighbors and self-determination for the Jewish people in a democratic state of their own. The Two-State Solution, along with other models for a future geo-political order in the Levant, is merely a means to achieve those objectives. So the real question is: which model offers the best chance of a durable peace while preserving the right of the Jewish People to self-determination? The so-called "One-State Solution", which is fervently advocated by those who claim to be the strongest proponents of peace, is in fact a recipe for Balkan-style civil war and the negation of self-determination—for Jews and Arabs alike. The "Two-State Solution" is not viable because there are in fact three states emerging on the land west of the Jordan River, and because that land is barely big enough to support one state.

Although the thought is abhorrent to many, history teaches that peace is little more than the interlude between wars. We, who live in the heart of the one of the most volatile regions of the world, would be foolish to assume that our fate will be much different than that of the rest of humanity over the last several millennia of recorded history. But rather than give up hope for at least a respite from war, the complex reality in which we find ourselves six decades after the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel behooves us to contemplate political solutions that are perhaps not as conceptually elegant as the "Two-State Solution" but are more suited to the messy reality in which we live. Rather than fend off well-intended but misguided pressures from Washington, Israel, which cannot shoulder the burden of occupation forever, should seek to engage both Jordan and Egypt, with US support, in a responsible effort to redraw the unfortunate boundaries bequeathed by the British Mandate in accordance with current geo-political realities, the security interests of all four countries, and the legitimate aspirations of all the peoples of the region. 

Dr. Jesse Ferris is Vice President of Strategy at the Israel Democracy Institute.