There has been more than a century of continuous fighting in the Middle East between Israelis and Arabs. Over time, numerous attempts at reaching a peaceful resolution have been made and always resulted in failure. Currently, the proposition for peace focuses on the idea of a two-state solution. This proposal was brought forward in 1974 and attempts to create two independent states of Palestine and Israel, hypothetically allowing each cultural group to exist autonomously from the other. From my knowledge of the conflict, further research and conversations with college students and professionals of Jewish and Islamic backgrounds, I have serious doubt concerning the ability for the two-state solution to provide lasting peace. I take this perspective as someone of Jamaican and African-American descent who is not religious — a position I view as relatively neutral.
Historically, the two-state solution has been reached for during negotiations such as the Madrid Conference of 1991, the Oslo Accords of 1993 and the Camp David Summit in 2000. None were able to realize the two-state solution, for numerous reasons. Each side blamed the other for the breakdown of negotiations, particularly at the Camp David Summit. Dennis Ross, a key negotiator for the United States, later wrote that Yasser Arafat (the political and military leader of Palestine at the time) did not desire “adjacent Israeli and Palestinian states, but a single Arab state encompassing all of Historic Palestine” and that the lack of compromise on his part lead to the lack of results. In contrast, author and journalist Clayton Swisher rebukes this notion, stating that the Israelis played an equal role in the collapse of negotiations. Despite the critiques from each other, both leaders of Israel and Palestine received support from their people for their actions during the talks.
Today, the two-state solution is failing because the leaders on both sides of the conflict are adverse to it. In July 2014, Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, stated, “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” This development in the policy of Israeli leadership rules out the possibility of a truly sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. I spoke with a Jewish student who connected with relatives in Tel Aviv who jointly expressed that even in the case of new leadership, all of the major political parties within Israel are like-minded and do not support a sovereign Palestine. On the flip side, many countries of the Arab world, including Palestine, refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and, in some cases, the right for Israel to exist as a state at all.
The reasoning behind continued support for leaders unable to peacefully resolve the conflict can be understood in terms of cost versus value: it is the cost of actively pursuing war or conflict versus the value placed on whatever one is fighting for. In the current situation, the cost to Israel and to the Arab world has not exceeded the value of what each side is fighting for.
One argument puts forward the idea of war weariness, stating that eventually each side will get tired of bloodshed and be ready to have meaningful peace talks. War weariness will in time achieve such a result. The costs of war will pile up. The hopelessness that comes from ceaseless death will pervade the society and peace will be more favorable. This can continue until the cost of conflict is higher than the value of what each side desired to achieve in perpetuating the conflict, and at that point negotiations for a two-state solution can achieve results. However, how many will have died as we wait for it to get to this point?
Data collected by the Israeli Human Rights Organization, B’Tselem, shows that a total of 9,953 Israelis and Palestinians have killed each other from Dec. 9, 1987 to July 7, 2014. Israel has been in conflict for over 70 years and the two-state solution has been failing for 40. Clearly, the value both sides put into what they fight for is great, as the costs of war have piled up to be disturbingly high, and they are no closer to a two-state resolution than they were 40 years ago. With each day of waiting, the death toll increases as people die from the terrible conditions of living in a region plagued by war. I know better than to detract from the value that both Israel and Palestine place in what they fight for, but it is a moral atrocity to simply wait it out through all the bloodshed for peace negotiations to become more than a PR stunt.
If a two-state solution were achieved, it still would not grant the lasting peace that is desired, especially if it is achieved in part as a result of war weariness. It is an active deterrent, and once the conflict ends the costs of war will gradually be forgotten and the effects of war weariness on the population will fade. In such a solution, what is there to maintain the balance of cost and value that makes conflict an undesirable response?
Besides this aspect, the religious differences that originated the conflict — though it has certainly evolved into more — remain. While speaking with an Islamic international student from a Middle Eastern country, he expressed to me how the majority of children in his home country are raised to hate the Israeli people. As long as this continues, the conflict will continue to reemerge and the idea of future generations being more open to peace cannot be relied upon. Unless something is done to incentivize the Arab people into changing this behavior, it will continue, regardless if it is identified as unethical.
When I asked a Jewish student about the feasibility of a one-state solution, she spoke of the “deep-rooted cultural hatred” that would make living within the same state impossible. I do not see how this divide will not cause conflict between two states attempting to exist side by side, particularly when the proposal of the two-state solution is based on the pre-1967 boundaries. This would mean that the two regions that would make up the Palestinian state would be divided by Israeli land, impeding the ability for the country to internally trade and communicate without traversing through or over Israel.
The religious and cultural divides that originated the conflict and are making peace so difficult now, will not suddenly disperse upon the implementation of the two-state solution. In addition, the desire for this resolution by the Israelis and Palestinians is largely a result of rising opposition to conflict simply because of how long it has lasted. Even then, the population still supports leadership who refuse to find peace with one another through the two-state solution. It is apparent that those negotiating peace between Israel and the Arab world are content to wait for acceptance of the two-state solution. It’s been 40 years now and thousands of people have died, waiting. It’s time to move on and focus efforts on finding a solution that can bring peace now.