For Israelis and Palestinians, the Two-State ‘Solution’ Isn’t a Solution At All

After 176 days, Israel’s assault on Gaza has not stopped, and has expanded into what Human Rights Watch has declared to be a policy of starvation as a weapon of war. More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed, and the international community has reverted to a deeply familiar call for a two-state solution, where Palestinians and Israelis can coexist in peace and security. President Biden even declared “the only real solution is a two-state solution” in his State of the Union address last month.

But the call rings hollow. The language that surrounds a two-state solution has lost all meaning. Over the years, I’ve encountered many Western diplomats who privately roll their eyes at the prospect of two states — given Israel’s staunch opposition to it, the lack of interest in the West of exerting enough pressure on Israel to change its behavior, and Palestinian political ossification — even as their politicians repeat the same phrase ad nauseam. Yet in the shadow of what the International Court of Justice has said could plausibly be genocide, everyone has returned to the chorus line, stressing that the gravity of the situation means that this time will be different.

It will not be. Repeating the two-state solution mantra has allowed policymakers to avoid confronting the reality that partition is unattainable in the case of Israel and Palestine, and illegitimate as an arrangement originally imposed on Palestinians without their consent in 1947. And fundamentally, the concept of the two-state solution has evolved to become a central pillar of sustaining Palestinian subjugation and Israeli impunity. The idea of two states as a pathway to justice has in and of itself normalized the daily violence meted out against Palestinians by Israel’s regime of apartheid.

The circumstances facing Palestinians before Oct. 7, 2023, exemplified how deadly the status quo had become. In 2022, Israeli violence killed at least 34 Palestinian children in the West Bank, the most deaths in 15 years, and by mid-2023, that rate was on track to exceed those levels. Yet the Biden administration still saw fit to further legitimize Israel, expanding its diplomatic relations in the region and rewarding it with a U.S. visa waiver. Palestine was largely absent from the international agenda until Israeli Jews were killed on Oct. 7. The fact that Israel and its allies were ill-prepared for any kind of challenge to Israeli rule underscores just how invisible the Palestinians were and how sustainable their oppression was deemed to be on the global stage.

This moment of historical rupture offers blood-soaked proof that policies to date have failed, yet countries seek to resurrect them all the same. Instead of taking measures showing a genuine commitment to peace — like meaningfully pressuring Israel to end settlement building and lift the blockade on Gaza or discontinuing America’s expansive military support — Washington is doing the opposite. The United States has aggressively wielded its use of its veto at the United Nations Security Council, and even when it abstains, as it did in the recent vote leading to the first resolution for a cease-fire since Oct. 7, it claims such resolutions are nonbinding. The United States is funding its military while defunding the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, a critical institution for Palestinians, bolstering the deeply unpopular and illegitimate Palestinian Authority, which many Palestinians now consider to be a subcontractor to the occupation, and subverting international law by limiting avenues of accountability for Israel. In effect, these actions safeguard Israeli impunity.

The vacuity of the two-state solution mantra is most obvious in how often policymakers speak of recognizing a Palestinian state without discussing an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Quite the contrary: With the United States reportedly exploring initiatives to recognize Palestinian statehood, it is simultaneously defending Israel’s prolonged occupation at the International Court of Justice, arguing that Israel faces “very real security needs” that justify its continued control over Palestinian territories.

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