This week the Trump administration unilaterally decided that West Bank settlements are no longer illegal, making a sovereign Palestinian state less likely and bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one step closer to a one-state solution. This presents a challenge to advocates of a two-state solution because it is now abundantly clear that the two most powerful and influential proponents of a single state are the Israeli government and its supporters in the Trump administration. The one-state reality they are creating, though, is not a binational state founded on ethnic and religious equality, but rather an apartheid state that denies basic political and human rights to the Palestinians who constitute roughly half the population living under Israeli rule.
Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war and has never really supported turning the occupied land into a sovereign Palestinian state. Soon after the West Bank and Gaza were occupied in 1967, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol spoke at a security cabinet meeting not about Palestinian sovereignty, but about encouraging mass emigration by cutting off resources: “…precisely because of the suffocation and imprisonment there, maybe the Arabs will move from the Gaza Strip.” Those who remained, he mused, might be encouraged to emigrate: “Perhaps if we don’t give them enough water they won’t have a choice, because the orchards will yellow and wither.”
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who negotiated the Camp David Accords in 1978, was staunchly opposed to a Palestinian state. In a 1979 speech before the Knesset, Prime Minister Begin firmly declared, “… in Judea, Samaria and Gaza there will never be a Palestinian state.” “We never agreed to autonomy for the territories,” he continued, “but only for the inhabitants.”
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who negotiated the Oslo Accords that created the Palestinian Authority, would also reassure the Knesset in 1995 that the Palestinian Authority would not be a sovereign state: “We would like [the PA] to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority…The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
Soon after his speech, Prime Minister Rabin was killed by a right-wing Israeli who opposed even limited self-rule for Palestinians. The right-wing Likud Party came to power after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin and shifted the Israeli government even further to the Right. In 2017 Likud party officials held a vote in which party leaders affirmed their total opposition to a Palestinian state anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Today Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party is hailed as the more liberal alternative to Likud. In its platform, though, the party does not support Palestinian sovereignty or a two-state solution. When Prime Minister Netanyahu declared his intention to formally annex the Jordan Valley, Blue and White accused Netanyahu of copying their plan: “Blue and White has declared that the Jordan Valley will be part of Israel forever. It was Netanyahu who concocted a plan to surrender the Jordan Valley in [peace talks in] 2014.” Indeed since 1967 the Israeli government has maintained a remarkably consistent policy position: the land between the River and the Sea belongs to Israel, and only to Israel.
In the United States, though, many still speak of a two-state solution but with no plan for how that goal might be achieved. As the Israeli government, with the full backing and support of the Trump administration, forcefully and determinedly pushes toward a single state, a tiny handful of American politicians have tentatively suggested that conditioning military aid might encourage the Israeli government to reverse a course it has set and maintained for half a century. Others admonish those politicians for being too harsh, believing that unconditional financial support will somehow encourage the Israeli government to grant the Palestinians a sovereign state.
Supporters of a two-state solution also seem unaware of what their policy would actually entail. Today there are almost 620,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. A truly viable Palestinian state will require not just stopping settlement construction, but reversing it by uprooting tens of thousands of settlers from their homes and communities. While supporters of a two-state solution hope the transfer will take place peacefully, the sad history of population transfer instead suggests uprooting the settlements will be ugly, painful, and another grim human tragedy.
The two-state solution therefore consists of little more than empty words and wishful thinking. Proponents of the two-state solution offer no concrete plan to achieve their goal, instead engaging in a great deal of hand-waving over its most critical details. Meanwhile the Israeli government is furiously building even more settlements in the West Bank as it firmly and determinedly pushes for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Supporters of a two-state solution, if they are to be taken seriously, must come up with an actual plan to encourage the Israeli government to reverse the course it has pursued and maintained for the last half-century. That plan will have to include many carrots as well as some heavy sticks. If supporters of a two-state solution are unable or unwilling to come up with a plan then Israel, with the full support and encouragement of the Trump administration, will very soon have the distinction of being not just the world’s only Jewish state, but the world’s only apartheid state as well.