Last Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted 128-9, with 35 countries abstaining, to underline the international consensus of non-recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This was after the U.S. vetoed a similar Security Council resolution that attracted the votes of all the other members, including France and the United Kingdom. Though neither resolution bluntly censured the United States, their timing in response to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and references to actions “imperiling” the two-state solution certainly suggested that.
But as Eli Lake noted in his column at Bloomberg, this story alone would project the wrong picture of America’s week in Turtle Bay.
On Friday, the Security Council unanimously enacted stringent sanctions on North Korea, which included a commitment to expel North Korean foreign workers, whose wages serve as a source of income for the Kim regime. If the United States faced unusual humiliation on Wednesday, it was more or less business as usual by the end of the week: through careful multilateral negotiations with adversaries and competitors like Russia and China, the U.S.achieved an important foreign policy objective.
However, the UN votes also revealed a striking consensus of a different kind: Despite the legion of obituaries, the two-state solution is alive and kicking with no serious competitor in sight. The Trump Administration may have suffered a personal humiliation, but its international standing has not diminished to such an extent that radical alternatives to the two-state solution are now taken seriously.
After the Jerusalem announcement, former Palestinian negotiator and perennial peace-processor Saeb Erekat declared the quest for an independent Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines finished. “President Trump has delivered a message to the Palestinian people: the two-state solution is over. Now is the time to transform the struggle for one-state with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine, from the river to the sea,” he told Ha’aretz.
For his part, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also threatened at least twice in the last six months that the P.L.O. will have no choice but to seek the creation of a single democratic state between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea if two states cease to be a realistic possibility.
Yet, in practice, the Palestinian and Arab response to the Trump administration’s announcement has not deviated one iota from the two-state solution. Since 2011, Abbas’s main alternative to the American-led peace process has been the so-called strategy to “internationalize” the conflict. This has ranged from applications to join treaties such as the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, to which even some pro-Israel analysts said Halevai, to more controversial bids at UNESCO and the International Criminal Court. Much can and has been said about these efforts, including accusations that they violate the Oslo Accords. What cannot be credibly said, however, is that they are attempts to undermine the two-state solution in favor of one state.
One reason for Palestinian reluctance to abandon the two-state solution is that there is little support internationally for a one-state solution that would see the end of a Jewish majority in Israel. Russia, which shepherded through some of the most acidic anti-Israel UN resolutions of the Cold War era, has a complicated but working relationship with Israel; the leaderships of the Gulf Arab states, while still strongly opposed to the occupation of Palestinian territory, have no appetite for such a solution as they confront the growing hegemonic threat of Iran; and, of course, the one-state solution has not gained any popularity in the halls of power in the United States and Europe.
Another reason is historical. Despite the Israeli government’s protestations to the contrary, President Abbas is of a generation of Palestinian leaders who long ago discarded any notion of replacing Israel with a single state of Palestine. The Oslo Accords may not be perfect, but they still represent the single most significant accomplishment of the Palestinian national movement, which, in addition to being a pariah in the West, was entirely unsuccessful in advancing any Palestinian interests when its goal was supplanting the State of Israel. Even when couched in lofty terms like democracy and human rights, the end result of the one-state solution is simply unpalatable for much of the world. There is no political sense in pursuing such a strategy, which would involve swapping a goal that enjoys wide international support for one that garners virtually none, and I imagine most of the Palestinian political elite understands this.
Finally, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 made it far more difficult for one state to materialize. The coastal enclave is cut off from territory in which Israelis (settlers and citizens within the Green Line) and Palestinians, including Arab citizens of Israel, reside. While a scenario in which Palestinians in the West Bank agitate for equal rights is plausible, it is not clear how or why Israel would decide to incorporate Gaza, which it has not directly governed for over ten years.
This, however, does not mean Israel should rest easy. The status quo can still lead to damaging consequences, particularly in the event the West Bank is annexed. Even if the predictions of a Palestinian majority between the river and the sea prove imprecise, Israel will not be able to function as a healthy democratic and Jewish state if the current demographic balance is suddenly upended. As the historian Gershom Gorenberg has pointed out, if one factors in the rosiest demographic projections from supporters of the settlements, which are almost certainly inaccurate, Israel would still face a serious governing problem: Will Labor, Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beteinu and the ultra-Orthodox parties routinely sit in the same coalition for the sole purpose of perpetuating Zionism? And if some Arab parties are willing to join a governing coalition, it is doubtful they would go along with the continued isolation of Gaza. As for the plan floated by Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi party to annex only Area C and leave the Palestinians with a sub-state in areas they currently govern, “autonomy plus,” it is a naïve pipedream that would be rejected by both Israel’s allies and Palestinian leaders whose cooperation would be required for the plan to succeed.
For Israel, too, there is no sustainable alternative to a mutually acceptable partition of the land.