Perry CammackFellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
In the sense envisaged by the 1993 Oslo Accords, yes, the two-state solution is over. The so-called “peace process” has collapsed. For the foreseeable future, there will be no negotiated solution, and thus no two-state Israeli-Palestinian outcome. By giving away one of America’s most valuable chips for nothing in return, President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem certainly constituted negotiating malpractice. But, in fact, the Oslo paradigm had not been viable for a decade.
Perhaps the more important question is: Where does the Palestinian national movement—on the cusp of a generational passing of the guard—go from here? The answer will help define the conflict’s new contours. Violence may become a real possibility. Another is a struggle for human- and civil-rights protections within the context of a single state.
Israel will certainly never agree to a one-state outcome. Thus, as the emerging Palestinian majority becomes a demographic reality in the decades ahead, the two-state solution cannot, in a categorical sense, be said to be over. But it is a highly uncertain outcome, in a story whose future turns are likely to painful for all parties involved.
Florence GaubSenior analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies
No, for a simple reason: short of enemy annihilation, conflicts end only when both parties get enough of what they want. In that sense, saying that the “two-state solution is over” is like saying “the Palestinians no longer want a state.” But Israel can’t decide what the Palestinians—or indeed, what the Arabs—want. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t be more wrong when he said, “Peace is founded on reality. Peace is based on recognizing reality.” Peace sets in when compromise is reached, not by creating a reality the antagonist cannot accept. Just ask your wife to test the hypothesis.
What are over, however, are the mechanisms used so far to achieve the two-state solution. While many technical details of the Oslo Accords have been fulfilled, key elements—such as the status of Jerusalem—remain on the negotiation table, where they have been stuck for three decades. Until now, commonly-held wisdom was that only the United States had enough leverage over both parties to break through these deadlocks; if that was ever true, it certainly isn’t now. One can only hope that this opens new possibilities—who knows, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates could use their new-found contacts with Israel to act as a mediator.
Ariel (Eli) LeviteNonresident senior fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program and the Cyber Policy Initiative at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital makes little practical difference. By itself, it is unlikely to have a lasting impact on the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian (IP) settlement or the viability of a two-state solution. Here’s why:
- Jerusalem has always been Israel's capital and has been united under Israeli control for over 40 years. President Trump’s declaration hardly changes this reality.
- The president has not moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, nor is such move feasible for several years to come.
- The president has refrained from offering any judgement on the territorial delineation of Jerusalem, or how the Jerusalem issue might be resolved in the context of an IP settlement.
- The IP peace process has been on life support for several years, and for serious reasons. Thus, Trump’s declaration could hardly meaningfully set back its prospects. In fact, the declaration, by shaking up the status quo, might actually have a beneficial impact by catapulting some actors to take bolder steps toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
- There is no viable alternative to a two-state solution, creative as the operationalization of this concept might have to be in order to address regional and local realties and aspirations. The president’s declaration leaves wide open all options for resolving the IP conflict, including through a two-state solution.
Looking ahead, the EU has been a marginal player in the peace process to date. Absent fundamental changes to its policies, it is unlikely to become a more meaningful player in the aftermath of Trump’s declaration.
Daniel LevyPresident of the U.S./Middle East Project
The two-state option was not vanquished by a White House declaration on Jerusalem’s status. The two-state option is likewise not sustained by European rhetorical pushback on Jerusalem. What relentlessly undermines the two-state paradigm is the Israeli campaign of settling civilians on the very territory of a future Palestinian state, in violation of international law and entrenching a matrix of Israeli control over Palestinian lives.
The bottom line is that Palestinians have accepted a state, alongside Israel, on just 22 percent of the former British Mandate (not the 43 percent proposed by the UN partition plan), and Israel has rejected the possibility of an independent sovereign Palestinian state, even in these reduced dimensions.
Conflict resolution is not an exact science. While Israeli negation of the two-state option looks irreversible, events might prove otherwise.
Neither two states nor one state is imminently attainable, and the peace process only perpetuates the inequitable status quo.
The very debate over two states risks distracting attention from the more urgent challenges facing policymakers: holding Israel accountable for its violations of international law and of Palestinian human rights; sanctioning Israel for those measures and ending its impunity; supporting an end to the debilitating internal Palestinian political divisions; and averting the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Only after Europeans and others focus policies on realizing Palestinian rights and holding Israel accountable will power asymmetries be addressed and will it make sense to circle back to the question of two states or one state—this time with a more realistic expectation of progress.
Jonas Parello-PlesnerSenior policy fellow at the Hudson Institute
Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem follows decades-old bipartisan legislation from Congress. Accordingly, the move had support from Senate Democrats, such as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who reportedly urged Trump to make the move. The decision doesn’t face much criticism at home. Abroad, fuming Palestinians—who now question the mediator role of the United States—might turn to other international partners to step up as negotiators, although it is hard to see who that would be.
Yet don’t blow the death trumpet over the two-state solution prematurely. Trump’s announcement didn’t settle the boundaries of Jerusalem. It still leaves room for two capitals in Jerusalem as part of a final peace agreement. Trump has personally promised to deliver the “ultimate deal” in the Middle East peace process. He must come up with something to advance that deal next.
Here’s a suggestion: American leverage on the peace process could be restored by including in its parameters that the United States would—within a certain timeframe and if no progress among parties has been made—also recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Such a move could regain Palestinian confidence, create new leverage, and inject energy into a moribund two-state process.
Yezid SayighSenior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center
The window of opportunity for a two-state solution closed 17 years ago, following the start of the Palestinian “second intifada” in late 2000, and the decisive shift of successive Israeli governments toward eviscerating Palestinian autonomy while accelerating the colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. I was working in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, at the time; this was my conclusion then and has remained so ever since, even as I hoped I was wrong.
Since then, irreparable political and institutional fragmentation on the Palestinian side, and increasingly anti-democratic ethno-nationalism on the Israeli side, have made meaningful peace talks impossible, while deepening the divide over the political status and legal entitlements of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. External actors could have shifted the trajectory appreciably, but abdicated their role: the United States used its leadership of the international “Quartet” to sideline its partners—the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations, who proved all too willing to cede the lead—even as it abandoned any serious diplomatic intervention.
The partners could have done much more to defend the two-state solution, for example by underlining their support for East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital (as Russia did earlier this year), responding more forcefully to settlement expansion in and around the city, and promoting representation of Palestine at the UN—while leaving all other substantive issues for negotiation. Pious declarations of commitment to a two-state solution by those who wouldn’t meet even these minimum thresholds sound virtuous, but ring completely hollow.
Dan SchueftanDirector of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa
The “two-state solution” is a misleading mantra. Expecting a “solution” to the Palestinian issue (or assuming that this will considerably contribute to the pacification of the Middle East) requires ignorance of its contemporary history and its prevailing political culture, or European delusions that cloud analytical judgment.
The quarter-century-long failure to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is structural. Not only are the minimum positions on the key issues irreconcilable. On both sides, public opinion is drifting further apart, there is no leadership that is willing and able to shoulder the responsibility of a historic compromise, and the political alternatives are even worse. Even American (let alone European or “international”) pressure is ineffective.
In rejecting every historic compromise—notably in 1937, 1947, 2001, and 2008—including those that proposed the partitioning of Jerusalem, the Palestinians secured a veto power over the progress of Israeli cooperation, not only with its Arab neighbors but also with Europe and even with its American ally.
Trump’s statement will have little or no effect on that peace process: it can’t kill what is not alive. Its importance is in removing a part of that veto power. Arab states work with Israel to defend their existential interests. Publically, they must pretend solidarity with the Palestinians; but the frightening prospects of a failing and crumbling region has already produced remarkable tacit cooperation that will only deepen. Few are still hoping to satisfy the insatiable Palestinian appetite for unilateral concessions or are impressed by their habitual violent outrage.
Shimon SteinSenior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University
The rumors about the death of the two-state solution are, to say the least, premature. Even President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital can’t change the fact that all the other proposed solutions that experts and some politicians are toying with (probably out of despair) will sooner or later end in a blood bath. In the end, the two-state solution is the only way for us Israelis to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the state.
Since this question was raised in the context of Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, and notwithstanding the reservations that I have regarding the content and his timing of his announcement (which could have included an outline of his long-awaited peace strategy, but chose not to do it, giving priority to domestic considerations instead), it is nevertheless worth pointing out that, according to Trump’s remarks, the borders of the city and sovereignty arrangements would be the result of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As to the two-state solution, Trump supported the idea, “if agreed by both sides” (which is progress, compared to his earlier statements).
Even if there is no peace process at this point in time—and the prospects for revitalizing it depend on the United States and, ultimately, on the parties—the two-state solution is a necessity that will stay alive.
Tommy SteinerSenior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel
President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has no bearing on the “two-state” solution. Those who bothered to pay attention to what President Trump actually said realized that it was the first time that a U.S. president declared that Israel’s sovereign border in Jerusalem will be determined by Israel and the Palestinians. This was a far cry from Israel’s official position on an “undivided” and “united” Jerusalem.
So why did Trump’s statement create an uproar? Simply, Palestinians have repeatedly denied any Jewish or Israeli claim to entitlement and rights in Jerusalem. Almost 90 years ago, in 1929, Palestinians instigated riots in Jerusalem and across Mandatory Palestine because they would not accept that Jews had a right to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Those riots led to the brutal murdering of 67 Jews in the Hebron massacre.
Not too long ago, the joint slogan of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists was “two states for two peoples.” I used to chant it myself. Today, no Palestinian would be willing to accept it because it confirms the rights of two peoples—to their own states. The “two states” solution will be viable as long as both parties accept the respective people’s right to self-determination. Israel has recognized the Palestinian right. Those anxious about the longevity of the “two states” solution should ask themselves: When will the Palestinians accept the Jewish people’s right to self-determination?
Paul TaylorContributing editor at POLITICO Europe
Donald Trump’s reckless, unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without any mention of Arab East Jerusalem or its place in a Palestinian state, has dealt a heavy blow to any two-state solution. It’s not surprising some veteran Palestinian politicians have concluded a partition of the Holy Land is no longer possible and they should pursue a binational democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. There are many other obstacles to two states, such as continued Israeli colonization of the West Bank and monopolization of water resources, internal Palestinian divisions, and Hamas’ continued refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence.
Yet all alternatives are more unsatisfactory for Israelis in the long run. Either a greater Israel would cease to be a democratic Jewish homeland, which was the objective of Zionism, or some form of permanent apartheid or ethnic cleansing would be needed to ensure Jewish supremacy and prevent Palestinians becoming a demographic majority. Israel would lose its soul and face endless violence.
Enlightened Israel policymakers should pursue a two-state solution while they are ahead. Weary, realistic Palestinians should grab that option with both hands, recognizing that a divided Arab world won’t come to their rescue. America alone cannot kill the two-state solution if Israelis and Palestinians want it. But without U.S. leadership, such a peace plan has little chance.
Nathalie TocciDirector of the Italian Institute for International Affairs
For too long, far too long, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been trapped in a perceived one-state/two-state dichotomy. This dichotomy has provided life support to the so-called Middle East peace process. The irony—or rather, the tragedy—is that it is precisely the persistence of this process, and the time it has provided Israel to pursue its occupation agenda, that has invalidated the one-state/two-state dichotomy and hampered any meaningful progress toward genuine peace.
In other words, while international debates get bogged down in the sterile one/two-state debate and the peace process persists as a consequence of this, the everyday realities of Israel’s deepening occupation are overlooked, providing Israeli authorities with ample time to implement—in a phased and gradual fashion—its end goal of retaining a majority of the West Bank.
Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem does not represent a turning point in this respect: the MEPP was unlikely to be brought back to life by the Jared Kushner-Mohammed bin Salman duo, leading to a genuine and just two-state solution. President Trump’s decision merely reflects one further step down the slippery slope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on at least since the turn of the century, if not as far back as 1967.