Creating the state of Israel was a mistake. It was an injustice for European settlers to create a new state on Arab territory without the consent of the Arab peoples. It would have been better to admit all the European Jews who survived the Holocaust to the United States. However, it was a mistake made more than sixty years ago. People often learn to live with awkward circumstances. People in the democratic, capitalist West came to accept the existence of the Soviet Union without wanting to take long, soapy showers with Communism.
In 1948 Israel’s war for independence created many Palestinian refugees in camps in Egypt’s Gaza Strip and the West Bank that was absorbed into Jordan. Had Egypt and Jordan so desired, they could have created a Palestinian state out of these territories. Thus, the “two state” solution initially failed because of the ambitions of predatory Arab states.
In 1967 Israel’s armed forces over-ran the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the course of fighting a preventive war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. In 1974 the UN proposed ending the conflict by creating two states, with Israel transferring sovereignty over the occupied territories to new Palestinian state. This became the accepted solution for the next forty years.
Late in his second term, President Bill Clinton worked out a peace offer from Israel to the Palestinians. Israel would transfer Gaza, 95 percent of the West Bank (eventually), and a big chunk of East Jerusalem to a Palestinian state. In return, the Palestinians would end the struggle with Israel and accept its right to exist, and also abandon the “right of return” for Palestinians displaced in the 1948 war. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected the deal, insisting that Israel had to evacuate all of the West Bank, including Jerusalem.
In 2005 Israel ended its occupation of Gaza. In 2007, Hamas—the rival to the PLO for leadership of the struggle against Israel—seized control of Gaza. Hamas soon launched missile attacks on Israel. In response, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) battered Gaza until Hamas cried “uncle.” Then they clamped a tight blockade on Gaza meant to starve Hamas of military resources and to make life so miserable for the people inside the “world’s largest open-air prison camp” that they might re-think their support for Hamas. It didn’t work. Moreover, the “Arab Spring” rebellion in Egypt brought to power a government of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, so long-standing Egyptian border controls were relaxed. Hamas rushed to bring in thousands of missiles in preparation for a new attack on Israel. Hamas then began the war in Gaza in Summer 2014. That war put the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution to the Palestine conflict.
The Palestinian situation on the West Bank soon deteriorated following Arafat’s rejection of the peace deal. Israeli settlements increased in number and size. This created “facts on the ground” that will shape any future peace negotiations. In sum, in any future peace settlement, the Palestinians will have to accept less than they were offered in 2000. Fat chance.
Israel is a small place, but Gaza is relatively remote from the centers of Israeli population. The West Bank in contrast, is close to these centers. A West Bank that came under Hamas rule would pose a mortal danger to Israel. There is little reason to think that the PLO could put up much more of a fight against a Hamas coup in the West Bank than it did in Gaza.
In addition, states have certain rights under international law. It would be impossible to impose effective disarmament on Palestine. It would be difficult for Israel to respond to terrorist attacks out of Palestine without bringing down a hail of criticism and international action.
Solving this problem is going to take a lot of new thinking, not old nostrums.
“Giving up on the two-state solution,” The Week, 12 December 2014, p. 11.