Can Extending Sovereignty Help a Two-State Solution?
JNS.org – In January, the United States government announced its latest peace plan to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under the plan, Israel was authorized to extend its sovereignty over 30% of Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank”), primarily over areas where Israelis are clustered and in the majority. Upon meeting certain criteria, such as renouncing violence and terrorism, the Palestinians would commence negotiations to establish a state for themselves in the remaining 70% of the territory where they are in the majority.
Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas immediately rejected the plan. Israel accepted it, and began preparations to extend sovereignty over (or, as some call it, to “annex”) the designated area. As of yet, that has not happened.
In May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was able to form a national unity government and move forward on sovereignty. He proclaimed that it would begin on July 1. However, July 1 has come and gone without any steps in that direction and any announcement about the status of the plan.
A main argument on the part of many of those who strongly oppose the proposed application of sovereignty is that it would mean the end of the long-discussed “two-state solution,” according to which a newly created state of Palestine would live side-by-side in peace next to the Jewish State. The problem with this argument is that the two-state solution has long been dormant or, as some would contend, dead.
After all, throughout the past century, the Palestinians have rejected proposals for their own independent state on at least six separate occasions (in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2000, 2008, and 2013). The 2000 and 2008 proposals consisted of virtually the entire West Bank, up to the 1967 Green Line, which the Palestinians repeatedly have insisted must comprise their new state. And yet, the Palestinians rejected these offers out of hand.
Indeed, a strong case can be made that the Palestinians themselves put an end to any notion of a two-state solution. An even stronger case can be made that the Palestinians never really sought an independent state living in peace next to the Jewish state, but rather have always aimed for “liberating” all of “historic Palestine” — “from the river to the sea” — in other words: Israel.
Nevertheless, some critics of Israel still persist in their improbable hope that a two-state solution remains viable — if not right now, then when a new generation of “moderate” Palestinians suddenly arises. These critics, who advocate an eventual two-state solution and presently oppose Israel’s plan to extend its sovereignty, should think again. This could be the last realistic chance for the two-state solution they seek.
At present, there are two paths forward — applying sovereignty or the status quo. Which path preserves the chance of a two-state solution in the future?
Under the proposed plan, 70% of the West Bank, including all the major Palestinian population centers, would remain reserved for a future Palestinian state for at least four years, in the hope that the Palestinian leadership will come to the negotiating table during that time. In addition, and more importantly, if Israel moves forward with its plan to apply sovereignty, it would also agree to freeze further settlement activity within Area C for four years. At present, Israel controls all of Area C under the Oslo Accords, but plans to annex only half of that area.
Israel is potentially agreeing that the annexed 30% of the West Bank constitutes its final borders without further settlement in the territory reserved for the proposed Palestinian state. This freeze is precisely why many right-wing settlers oppose the plan, as they would prefer to settle the rest of Area C or even the entire West Bank.
If the plan is abandoned, as its critics desire, that leaves the status quo in place indefinitely. Under the status quo, the number of settlers in the West Bank has grown to almost 500,000, and there is no reason to think that this number could not easily exceed one million in the next decade. Should that occur, the two-state solution would almost certainly be off the table, as that size of a population would likely encroach upon any planned Palestinian state, making any such state unrealistic (especially given the Palestinians’ demand that any Palestinian state be “judenrein” — free of Jews).
Critics of the proposed plan who remain wedded to a two-state solution to the conflict should therefore get on board with Israeli sovereignty before it’s too late. It might be the last chance for such an outcome.
Steve Frank is an attorney, retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, DC. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and Moment magazine.