What does the return of the “two-state solution” mean?
By Amb. Alan Baker
Since the inauguration of the Biden administration in January 2021, leading officials repeatedly advocate the “two-state solution” as the only means to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
Immediately after taking office and in his first interview as Secretary of State, Antony Blinken told Wolf Blitzer on CNN on February 8, 2021, that President Biden strongly supports the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since:
Three days later, on February 11, 2021, the State Department spokesman Ned Price repeated this message during the daily State Department press briefing:
On February 23, 2021, Price repeated and strengthened the message:
In response to an additional question, he continued:
On March 1, 2021, he repeated the mantra:
Similar references were made in further daily press briefings by both spokesman Ned Price and by his deputy Jalina Porter on March 18, March 23, March 31, April 1, and April 21, 2021.
In the April 1 briefing, Price amplified the administration’s position, stressing:
On April 8, spokesman Ned Price again repeated the refrain:
On April 21, Price added a warning:
This position by the Biden administration echoes and even parrots similar views expressed by officials of the Obama administration prior to 2016.
For instance, in her explanation of the U.S. vote to abstain in the voting for Security Council Resolution 2334 of December 23, 2016, condemning Israel’s settlement activity, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN Samantha Power referred to the “two-state solution” twelve times.
Similarly, in his parting speech on the Middle East dispute on December 28, 2016, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry advocated the “two-state solution” no less than 24 times!
In other formal international documentation emanating from international bodies and other sources, the “two-state solution” was advocated fifteen times in the July 1, 2016 statement by the principal members of the Middle East Quartet (United States, Russia, EU, and UN), and nine times in the January 15, 2017, Joint Closing Declaration of the Paris Peace Conference.
Recitation by the “Pro-Peace” Lobby, J Street
At the April 18-19, 2021, “J-Street” annual virtual conference, the “two-state” refrain figured high among the stated priorities of the participants.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmud Abbas, invited by J Street as a keynote speaker at their conference, affirmed the belief by the PA in “the two-state solution based on pre-June 1967 borders based on international law” with “East Jerusalem as its capital.” Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his own firm belief in the importance of a two-state resolution to the conflict.
Similar calls supporting the two-state solution were expressed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer.
Mechanical and Habitual Recitation by Rote
The term “two-state solution” seems to be a form of “lingua franca” within the international community and especially within the new U.S. administration – a magic panacea for all the ills of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the broader problems of the Middle East.
Not a day goes by without some leading politician, journal, or international body mentioning it as the “buzzword” for the ultimate outcome, while in many cases, accusing Israel – and only Israel – of “undermining the two-state solution.”
Indeed, the “two-state solution” is considered by virtually all major international actors associated with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to be the only way to achieve an enduring peace that, in their view, meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty.
However, the question remains whether such glib and pre-judgmental officials and international actors, fully understand the terms, implications, and the outcome of the dispute by advocating the “two-state solution,” in light of the history and realities of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle?
The “Two-State Solution” Has No Formal and Binding Basis in International Documentation
The evolvement of the vision of “two states” was, from the start, hinged on the inherent realities of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and based on the premise that a Palestinian state will only emanate from direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. This premise included the requirement that it be demilitarized and limited in its military and security capabilities and other sovereign prerogatives.
Similarly, the border between it and Israel would be the result of bilateral negotiations between them and not the pre-1967 armistice delimitation lines that were distinctly not intended to serve as an international border.
This is borne out by the following international documents:
This vision foresees a demilitarized Palestinian state that would include a prohibition on importing missiles, maintaining an army, making pacts and alliances with terror elements, and limited use of airspace. It involves effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory. It also includes Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem outside Israel’s borders.
Evolution of the “Two-State Vision” in International Documentation
While the two-state vision has become a standard component of non-binding UN political documentation, it has never been part of any formal, binding resolution or agreement between the parties.
The accepted and logical assumption has been that whatever solution will be achieved, it will only be through negotiations and agreement between the parties, and not through the imposition of such a solution, through prejudgment of the outcome of such negotiation, or through glib declarations expressing the hope for a two-state solution.
The “vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side-by-side within secure and recognized boundaries” first figured in a preambular provision of Security Council Resolution 1397 (2002) adopted on March 12, 2002, calling for an end to the violence during the second Palestinian intifada.17 In this context, the reaffirmation of the UN Security Council’s call in its 1967 Resolution 242 for “secure and recognized boundaries” clearly implies that borders have to be negotiated, and the 1967 lines cannot be imposed by third parties as if they are international borders.
General Assembly resolution 75/172 of December 2020 on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination affirmed the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders and stressed the need for a peace settlement based on the Quartet’s “road map to a permanent two-state solution.”
The question arises whether the massive, liberal, effusive, and generally “off-the-cuff” usage of the term “two-state solution” by all and sundry has any relation to the historical and substantive context in the Israeli-Palestinian realities and whether it takes into account the complex and practical aspects of its realization.
The term “two-state solution” has become a useful slogan and political declaration by leaders in the international community, often as the result of “political correctness” and lip-service to a growing international trend.
This liberal and glib repetition of the phrase “two-state solution” as if, in and of itself, it can solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute indicates a lack of understanding of its meaning and historical evolvement in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
However, no such two-state solution could materialize without cognizance of the inherent realities of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a basis for acceptance by the parties, as well as by the international community, of several basic assumptions:
It is hoped that the vision of a “two-state solution” will not be a meaningless mantra but will indeed take into account the wide range of serious and genuine issues arising from the long dispute between the parties. Such a solution must be predicated on the acceptance of the principle that any such solution cannot be imposed and can only be achieved through negotiations between the parties concerned.
Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.