On June 6, 2017, it will be the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine by Israel, after its victory in the 1967 Arab–Israeli War. During those 50 years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become the definitive issue of friction between the Arab world and the West. As the occupation remained at the heart of Middle Eastern politics, notions, views and policies concerning it, have changed, shifted or entirely transformed, due to evolving circumstances and dynamics, through the years. One concept, however, has maintained its dynamic to the present day. The notion that the solution to the conflict can be achieved only through the creation of two states based on the 1967 borders has been the basis of every single peace process.
In recent weeks, the international community reiterated its conviction to the Two-State solution as the only way of ending the conflict. On December 23, 2016, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2334, which called for both parties to refrain from actions that inhibit the peace process. The Obama administration chose not to veto the resolution. This unusual move by the White House, only a few weeks before the end of Obama’s presidential term, was the culmination of eight years of bad relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The resolution was particularly harsh towards Israel and its continuing settlement expansion. The UNSC expressed its concern that Israel’s “settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the Two-State solution based on the 1967 borders”. It called for the need to “reverse negative trends on the ground, which are steadily eroding the Two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality”, and reiterated its demand that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. The resolution also called for steps that will prevent any acts of violence, including acts of terror, against civilians.
The Israeli and Palestinian reactions to the resolution were unsurprisingly exactly opposite. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the resolution as “shameful”. The shock in Israel from the refusal of the US to veto the resolution sparked unprecedented fury. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, praised the resolution by saying that “the world stood in unison next to us and supported us“.
Three weeks after the UNSC resolution, the international community again emphasized its commitment to the Two-State solution, in the Joint Declaration that the seventy countries that participated, signed at the Paris Middle East Peace Conference, which took place on January 15, 2017. The Paris Summit, which Israelis and Palestinians did not attend, once more “reaffirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace”. While the declaration in spirit was similar to the UNSC resolution, its phrasing was much subtler, leaving the Israeli side fairly satisfied by the outcome of the Summit which it had beforehand systematically undermined. President Abbas thanked the participants for “committing to the Two-State solution, and rejecting the Israeli settlements”.
Despite the international community’s commitment to the Two-State solution, facts on the ground in the occupied territories constitute almost immovable obstacles to its implementation. While the Palestinian side’s disillusionment with the Two-State solution stems from ever worsening living conditions due to the occupation and deteriorating hopes of ever achieving a peace agreement, Israel’s rejection of it is clearly ideological in nature.
The Israeli society has undergone a massive ideological shift in the past four decades, which has led it from being fairly liberal to becoming a conservative, almost reactionary society. With little room for tolerance, the Israeli public increasingly views any possibility of coexistence with the Palestinians as an anathema. This shift began gradually in the 1970’s through a combination of events that helped sow the seed. The Yom Kippur war of 1973 crashed the feeling of invincibility Israel was enjoying after the 1967 victory. The existential fear of annihilation, as it forms an important part of the Israeli national identity, resurfaced and found ample ground to take root. At the same time, the settler movement and its messianic message of a divine right on the land of Palestine began to evolve and grow. In just a few years, it managed to turn the settlement enterprise of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into an official policy of every Israeli government since, and most importantly, it succeeded in gaining the acceptance of the Israeli public. In the following decades, consecutive Israeli governments would expand settlements across the West Bank, particularly during the Oslo peace process. Today, Israel has the most extreme far-right government it ever had. As a result, this has rendered the peace process essentially dead, given that the occupation is harsher than ever, and the settlement expansion continues unabated, disregarding any (minor) reactions from the international community or from within Israel.
This outcome is not surprising. In terms of ideology, Zionism has for many years lost its groundbreaking vigor as a nationalist movement. After 1948, and especially after 1967, when the survival of the state of Israel was finally secured, there was an overarching sensation that Zionism had fulfilled what it set out to achieve. The need for a new narrative was evident; a narrative that could once again reinvigorate the Israeli society and offer it a raison d’être, especially in light of the occupation. At that crucial point, where narratives falter and change, neo-Zionism, with its messianic fervor, and its “mission” for the conquest of Eretz Israel, managed to catch people’s minds. It grafted the popular imagination with a belief of holy entitlement to the land of Palestine, with a feeling of superiority against the Arabs, which this time stemmed from divine imperatives, and not just from a Western colonialist sense of might. In absence of a strong alternative narrative from the left that could potentially inspire the Israeli society, neo-Zionism eventually became the dominant political ideology in Israel. Today, members of the government coalition are parties, such as the pro-settler party Habayit Hayehudi of Naftali Bennett, which supports the annexation of Area C of the West Bank, and the ultra-Orthodox religious party Shas. The government policies adhere to the basic ideas of neo-Zionism, i.e. marginalization of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, and cultural cleansing of Israeli society of any Arab influence. Most importantly, neo-Zionism is incompatible with the Two-State solution, as it preaches Israel’s divine right to the entirety of the land of historic Palestine. Arabs simply have no place there. As deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud has declared in the past, while citing biblical texts to support her claim: “This land is ours. All of it is ours”.
In that context, the settlement expansion constitutes the cornerstone of the official government policy towards the occupied territories, or “Judea and Samaria” per the biblical term of the area that is commonly used in Israel these days. In verbalizing the defiance with which Israel faces the international community, Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that “We are building, and will continue to build”. In addition, Netanyahu recently announced, that a new settlement will be built in a yet unspecified location in the West Bank, to accommodate the settlers of the illegal Amona outpost. The Israeli authorities were forced to evacuate it in late January, due to a Supreme Court ruling that deemed Amona illegal three years ago, as it was built on privately owned Palestinian land. In essence, the rampant expansion of settlements renders the Two-State solution completely void of any substance. According to human rights organization B’Tselem, there are 247 settlements and outposts scattered across the West Bank, with almost 400,000 settlers residing in them.
Moreover, on February 6, the Knesset passed a bill that retroactively legalizes 4,000 settler homes in the West Bank that were built on private Palestinian land. The “Regularization Law”, as it is called, which is a flagrant violation of international law, marks the first time that Israel openly expropriates Palestinian land in the occupied territories, and according to many analysts will make way for the de facto annexation of land in the West Bank. The rhetoric of high-ranking Israeli officials is making things even clearer on the subject. Naftali Bennett in a recent interview declared that “continuing to push for a Two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ‘messianic behavior’”. Many more members of the government or the Knesset have made similar statements, declaring the peace process and the Two-State solution as “dead”. As radical as these views may seem, they reflect specific social trends and a political culture of intolerance and isolationism that has grown in Israel. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in March 2016, 48% of Israelis agree to the statement that Arabs should be expelled from Israel. There is an ongoing policy of dehumanizing the Palestinians in Israel that has its roots in neo-Zionism, and which attempts to portray them as the perpetrators in the conflict, instead of the victims of the occupation. In a televised statement, Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of conducting “ethnic cleansing” against “peaceful” Israelis, i.e. the settlers in the West Bank. While his attempt to depict the settlers as victims was a truly poor one, and his argumentation was debunked and condemned in Israel and abroad, it is still indicative of the mentality that governs Israel nowadays, which is, to put it plainly, that Israel has no interest in implementing a Two-State solution.
... the Palestinians...
The Palestinians, on their side, have been in a political and diplomatic deadlock for years. The last major diplomatic breakthrough towards a solution to the conflict that could be regarded as a Palestinian victory came more than 25 years ago, with the Oslo accords. Since then, the peace process has collapsed, the occupation has been ever more punishing and the Palestinian leadership has offered no new initiatives that could push the Palestinian people towards liberation. The standard policies followed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah for the past decades, i.e. the rallying of the international community to the Palestinian cause and the appeals to international organizations, have proven ineffective.
The recent Fatah conference only solidified the view that the Palestinian leadership is failing its people. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, at the age of 81, was reelected as head of the Fatah movement for another five years, as he ran without rivals. The reaffirmation of Abbas’ power over the movement only emphasizes the deep crisis of the PA. There are no new leaders that could rise to power and reinvigorate the movement, or they are being suppressed by the current authoritarian leadership, as its hold on power has become an end in itself. Whatever the case, the reality is that the ageing leadership of the PA is incapable of instilling hope to a destitute Palestinian population. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas is also unable to cope with the realities of the economic blockade. According to a UN report, by year 2020 the Gaza Strip will become uninhabitable. High unemployment, poor living conditions, shortages in electricity and drinking water and poor health care will make life there impossible.
Meanwhile, the endemic corruption within the PA paints a bleak picture. The PA has been repeatedly accused of misappropriation, nepotism and embezzlement of public funds. In 2006, according to the PA’s attorney general, officials had embezzled more than 700 million dollars. This chronic problem of the political system in Palestine, with which people have to deal on an everyday basis, in combination with the structural problems of the Palestinian economy e.g. unemployment, poverty, has made the Palestinian public very uncertain of its government. In a survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research (PCPSR) conducted in December 2016, 31% of Palestinians identified poverty as the most serious problem in their society, while the occupation is considered as the most serious problem only by 28%. As a result of the PA’s misconduct, in the same survey, 54% of the public said that they do not have confidence in the new leadership that came out of the recent Fatah conference.
While the Palestinian leadership seems preoccupied with hanging on to whatever power it has, the Palestinian society holds a grim view of the future. The occupation is becoming harder and harder to tolerate. The house demolitions in the West Bank have increased exponentially under the current Israeli administration, while freedom of movement is severely obstructed. With deteriorating living conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the peace process in ruins, a 65% of the Palestinians today believe that the Two-State solution, the dominant narrative in the liberating struggle since the 1970’s, is no longer possible. On the contrary, a 36% of the population feels that a one-State solution might be the answer to the dead end they are facing. This talk over one unified state has become more frequent in recent years, as the two-state solution slowly evaporates as a possibility. This option entails the establishment of a single state, in which all Israelis and Palestinians will be able to live under the same law, with equal human and political rights. In essence, this would mean that either Israel would absorb the Palestinian population granting it full citizenship ,or that a bi-naitonal state would be created. Any of these two choices would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state in favor of a democratic state that would encompass all its citizens, Israelis and Palestinians.
This discussion is held for the time being mostly in academic circles and principally left-wing media in Israel and abroad, with a heated debate between advocates and opponents going on. The former insist on the need for any solution to adjust to the reality on the ground. The creation of one state is inevitable, they say. The only thing to be determined is its nature. It will be either a non-democratic Jewish state, or a non-Jewish democratic state. The latter argue that the demographic imbalance of the new state would quickly turn Israeli Jews into a minority, and eventually it would lead to further violence and bloodshed. Notwithstanding the growing discussion, the notion of a One-State solution to the conflict, still remains in the margins of the public discourse. The actual influence it exercises on the shaping of politics in Israel and Palestine is minimal, if not entirely non-existent, and it will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.
...and Donald Trump
After the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States (which the Israeli government was eagerly waiting for), Netanyahu announced the construction of 6000 new housing units in existing settlement blocs. Given the new Trump administration’s pro-Israel stance and reassuring statements during his electoral campaign, the White House statement that “the construction or expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal [peace]” took the Israeli establishment by surprise. Despite this statement, Trump’s policy vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians is pretty clear. A look at his choice for new US envoy in Israel is reflecting enough of his intentions. David Friedman, a known settler advocate, is also the president of the ‘American Friends of Bet El Institution’, an organization that has funded the Beit El settlement outside of Ramallah. Furthermore, the implementation of Trump’s promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could have far-reaching consequences to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and could strike the final blow to the peace process and the Two-State solution, which former US administrations always advocated for. This move would affirm the Israeli narrative of Jerusalem as the only capital of the Jewish state. It would give incentive for an even further expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and would reinforce calls for the immediate annexation of at least parts of the West Bank, like the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The chances for the peace process to restart and to achieve a Two-State solution are at this point, nonexistent. Israel’s mindset is locked on maintaining the occupation, and creating facts on the ground that will eventually lead to the annexation of parts or the entire West Bank. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are facing a humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Deprived of human rights and facing a grim future of occupation and oppression, the continuation of Israel’s policies of dispossession could lead to a new Intifada, unlike any of the previous ones in terms of despair, anger and sacrifice.
 Beaumont, Peter, “Israel rejects ‘shameful’ resolution amid criticism of Netanyahu”, The Guardian, (24/12/2016) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/24/israel-rejects-shameful-un-resolution-amid-criticism-of-netanyahu
 In the same time, Israel even took actions against the countries that brought forward the resolution for voting. Israel saved its most aggressive response for Senegal, to which it cancelled all aid programs.
 Ragson, Adam, “Resolution doesn’t solve Palestinian issue, but rather defines it” The Jerusalem Post, (25/12/2016) http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Abbas-Resolution-doesnt-solve-Palestinian-issue-but-rather-defines-it-476461
 Recent policies of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, include the ban of books from the school curriculum that recount the love between an Israeli and an Arab. Also, there is a bill pending in the Knesset for the ban of the morning call to prayer from mosque speakers, on the grounds of “combating noise pollution”.
 The Guardian, “Israel’s new deputy foreign minister: This land is ours. All of it is ours” (22/5/2015) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/israels-new-deputy-foreign-minister-this-land-is-ours-all-of-it-is-ours
 Keinon, Herb and Lazaroff, Tovah, “Israel announces plans to build 2500 new West Bank housing units”, The Jerusalem Post, (24/1/2017) http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Israel-announces-plans-to-build-2500-new-West-Bank-housing-units-479456
 Eldar, Akiva, “Why UN anti-settlement resolution won’t make a difference”, Al Monitor, (27/12/2016) http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/originals/2016/12/us-israel-palestinians-un-security-council-settlements.html
 Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Germany says trust in Israel ‘shaken’ by legalization of West Bank settlements on Palestinian land”, (8/2/2017) http://www.jta.org/2017/02/08/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/germany-says-lost-confidence-in-israel-after-outpost-law. The international community has been fast to condemn the bill. Germany stated that “our trust to Israel’s commitment to the two-State solution has been fundamentally shaken”. The EU, the UN, France and Great Britain have also condemned the passing of the bill, and they have called on Israel to withdraw it.
 Keinon, Herb, “Bennett to Post: Two-State Solution ‘messianic’”, The Jerusalem Post, (3/1/2017) http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Bennett-to-Post-Two-state-solution-messianic-477287
 Pew Research Center, “Israel’s religiously divided society”, (8/3/2016) http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society/
 Harvard, Sarah, “Report: Gaza will be uninhabitable in five years”, The Atlantic, (2/9/2015) https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/09/gaza-united-nations/403570/
 The Economist, “The West Bank tires of its government”, (2/10/2015) http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21670484-extravagance-and-graft-fuel-growing-disenchantment-west-bank-tires-its-government
 Kershner, Isabel, “What you need to know about Trump’s statement on Israeli settlements”, The New York Times, (3/2/2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/03/world/middleeast/what-you-need-to-know-about-trumps-statement-on-israeli-settlements.html?_r=0