By Casey Babb, February 28, 2024

Over the last four months, as Israel has waged a devastating war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, politicians, scholars, and observers from around the world have debated the future of a post-war Middle East.

As is often the case – and understandably so – the majority of these discussions, proposals, and pleas revolve around the idea of a “two-state solution”: Jewish and Palestinian states living side by side, in peace. In fact, when it comes to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this has been the favoured solution of most for many decades.

However, over the last number of years, the idea of a two-state solution has been gradually losing support in Israel and the Palestinian territories; after the heinous terrorist attacks Hamas carried out on October 7 – which included the rape, murder, torture, and kidnapping of civilians – the prospects of achieving this goal seem more like a pipe dream than a viable political solution.

Yet, for US President Joe Biden and a handful of Arab partners, now appears as good a time as any to forcefully push, without Israel’s backing, for Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution. For a variety of reasons, this is both reckless and naïve.

At first glance, formally recognizing an independent Palestinian state might seem like the right move. For starters, having another Arab nation coexisting next to a Jewish one is the last thing Hamas would want (the Sunni terrorist group is vehemently opposed to Israel’s existence). So, from that perspective, a two-state solution could deal a significant political and ideological blow to Hamas while it is already scrambling to survive.

Moreover, it could be seen by some as a legitimate pathway to ending this war, while simultaneously ushering in a new era of peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians alike. It has also been reported that recognition of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state would be tied to a U.S. defence pact with Saudi Arabia and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem – positive developments that could potentially change the region for the better.

However, the downsides to pushing for Palestinian statehood and a two-solution in the middle of a war are significant, and the obstacles virtually insurmountable. As former U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Frank Lowenstein recently remarked, getting these things done is “like you’re trying to complete a Rubik’s Cube while running 100 miles an hour and sinking in quicksand.”

Ultimately, there are several key steps that must be taken before recognizing an independent Palestinian state and working towards a two-state solution.

The most important is deradicalizing Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Without this, any future Palestinian state will look the same as the one that led to October 7. This process will take at least several decades, and require the overhaul of the Palestinian school curriculum, which currently teaches Palestinian children to hate and kill Jews. It will also mean enforcing a zero-tolerance policy – in mosques, in government departments and agencies, on social media, and elsewhere – on the use of language that incites violence against Israelis.

Fundamentally – and at the very heart of the conflict – it will also mean teaching Palestinians that Israel isn’t going anywhere: it isn’t a blip in history, and there will be no “great return.” Further, it means abandoning “from the River to the Sea” – not only as a slogan, but more importantly, as an ideology and a way of life.

To achieve a two-state solution, there must also be a fresh and realistic process to determine and to challenge what Palestinians and Israelis would be willing to accept.

For instance, consider the matter of recognizing a Jewish state in any form. For years, Palestinian National Authority President and autocrat Mahmoud Abbas has vowed that Palestinians “will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.” That hardline stance seems to be supported by a majority of Palestinians. Just over a month after the October 7 attacks, a poll conducted by a reputable West Bank polling firm asked Palestinians living in both Gaza and the West Bank whether they favoured a two-state solution or a “Palestinian state from the river to the sea.”

Nearly 75 percent of respondents chose the latter.

With that in mind, it would be foolhardy for the Biden Administration or any other government – including Canada’s – to try to force something on a people that they themselves do not want and have no interest in.

Likewise, polls carried out prior to October 7 found that positive views of a two-state solution among Israelis was gradually fading. For instance, one poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2023 found that only 35 percent of Israelis agreed that “a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully.” Undoubtedly, since October 7, that number would now be much lower.

In addition, pushing right now for an independent Palestinian state risks absolving Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip of the severe human rights abuses, corruption, and the extremist ideology they have engrained in Palestinians for three-quarters of a century. As Elliott Abrams with the Council on Foreign Relations recently suggested, recognition of a Palestinian state might ensure Palestine is “free,” but there is “no commitment to assuring that Palestinians will be.”

If Palestinian elites aren’t held to account for their crimes, and Palestinian society continues along the same path, then the US and other countries risk creating and empowering another Middle Eastern nation devoid of human rights and the rule of law.

Indeed, its important to note that Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians has risen since October 7. Should the terrorist group be allowed to govern a new Palestinian state? Will the new state become a vassal of Iran? What good is a two-state solution if a newly independent Palestinian state continued to wage war against Israel? These are just some of the crucial questions to consider and address.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently said that a “concrete, time-bound, and irreversible path” to a Palestinian state is the best way to address ongoing hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians – and many others agree. But this is neither the time nor the way to go about making that a reality.

If Israelis and Palestinians are ever going to coexist peacefully alongside each other, the dust of this war must settle, and the wounds of grief and fear must begin to heal. Hamas must be defeated, and Palestinians must be held to the same standards as their Jewish neighbours – upholding democratic principles and the rule of law cannot only be expected of Israel. If any of these elements are missing from a two-state strategy and dialogue, then failure and the cycle of war is the inevitable outcome.

Dr. Casey Babb is a Fellow with both the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and the Royal United Services Institute in London, England. He teaches courses on terrorism and international security at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa. 


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