The two-state solution

Our Policy

J Street believes that urgently reaching a sustainable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both a fundamental American interest and essential to the survival and security of Israel. In the seventh decade following its establishment, Israel and most of her neighbors have yet to secure internationally recognized borders or to make peace.

With the Jewish and Arab populations between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea at near-parity, demographic trends preclude Israel from maintaining control over all of Greater Israel while remaining a democratic state and a homeland for the Jewish people. As then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in November 2007, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”

The two-state solution represents the best way to ensure that Israel remains a democracy and a national home for the Jewish people. The two-state solution has been American policy across four administrations and has been endorsed by each of the most recent Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The contours of a two-state solution are well known. President Clinton outlined the parameters in 2000, and progress on this basis was made in Taba in 2001 and under Israeli Prime Minister Olmert in 2008. Various initiatives have spelled out the principles and even the details.

Unfortunately, time and political-will in the region are in short supply and it appears to many observers that the window of opportunity for achieving a two-state solution is rapidly closing. While majorities of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations continue to support a two-state solution, ongoing developments, entrenched and expanding settlements, and a growing movement in some Palestinian and international circles for a one-state outcome suggest that the trajectory is trending against the two-state option, thereby threatening Israel’s future.

Lastly, growing radicalization in the region makes achieving a two-state solution evermore challenging. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for a riper time to pursue peace; now is that time.

Tough Questions

“Has the time for achieving a two-state solution passed? Is a one-state solution the only way left to end the conflict?”

There is no such thing as a “one-state solution,” only a “one-state nightmare.” Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have given up or are prepared to give up on their national aspirations, and polls show majority support on both sides for a two-state solution.

Because neither Israelis nor Palestinians want to share the land or share their government and civil institutions, condemning them to a one-state solution means condemning both sides to unending conflict and civil war. Only a two-state solution can end the conflict and guarantee both sides self-determination and a peaceful future.

“Is there a viable partner for peace on either side? Can Israelis and Palestinians trust each other’s serious commitment to reaching a solution?”

There is no question that both Israelis and Palestinians have missed many opportunities to negotiate peace, and that leaders on both sides have said and done many things that call their commitment to achieving a two-state solution into question. Both sides also include powerful factions that openly and actively oppose the two-state solution and indeed virtually all reconciliation with the “enemy.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said “you don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” Many faults can be found, and failed opportunities debated. But given that Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic homeland depends on the realization of a two-state solution, and that the Palestinian people deserve to finally attain rights, dignity and self-determination in a state of their own, becoming mired in the assessment of blame for past failures keeps both sides from moving forward constructively.

The Palestinian government support a two-state solution, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and rejects the use of violence against Israel. The official position of the Israeli Prime Minister is that he supports a two-state solution. Israel and the PA are already working together in many ways, through unprecedented security and economic cooperation.

Polling consistently shows that the majority of the population on both sides desire a two-state solution. Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate with each other, and they must ultimately make difficult compromises to reach an agreement. The longer they go without a peace agreement the more extremists will be strengthened at the expense of pro-peace moderates, and the more the rights and aspirations of both peoples will be jeopardized.

“How can there be negotiations on a two-state solution when the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel and its status as a Jewish state?”

Actually, the Palestinians do recognize Israel. The PLO first recognized Israel in 1988 and Israel and the PLO recognized each other in 1993. The call by Prime Minister Netanyahu for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is an unnecessary precondition for making progress toward a two-state solution.

Israel forged peace with Egypt and Jordan without demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Once a two-state solution is reached, Israel should be able to identify itself how it wants.

“Can the two-state solution guarantee security for the Israeli people?”

A two-state solution is the only way to guarantee Israel’s security in the long term. Nobody can or should guarantee an end to all violence once a peace deal is reached. But it is clear that without a two-state solution, violence will continue. Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory has not made it secure; in fact the opposite is the case. A negotiated two-state solution will ensure that Israel has secure, defensible, universally recognized borders. It will include strong and enforceable security arrangements as well as an international effort that holds the parties responsible for maintaining their commitments. The solution should also recognize the right of the Jewish people to statehood and recognize the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, without prejudice to the equal rights of the parties’ respective citizens.

More resources

Nothing Beats the Two-State Solution for Israelis and Palestinians, Brookings

The Israeli Security Establishment overwhelmingly back a two-state solution, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace

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Core Issues of the Conflict