Up until 1988 Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization loyalists believed in the one-state solution. The end-goal of Palestinian nationalism was to be a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. But, once the back-door negotiations between Israel and the PLO began, the idea that there could be two states living side by side in peace emerged. Hence, the two-state solution. It depended on compromise - a state for Israelis and a state for Palestinians as the ultimate means to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The simplicity of the idea was also its biggest flaw.
The concept of a two-state solution had its roots in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, where Arab states launched a surprise attack in yet another attempt to eliminate Israel. They were motivated in part by their desire to redeem their honor after the historic defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War. The fact that they could not defeat Israel during the war convinced many Arabs that they would not be able to destroy Israel militarily within its post-1967 boundaries. Thus, they embarked upon a new three-stage strategy for Israel's destruction, embodied in the PLO's 1974 decision commonly known as the Phased Plan:
- Through the "armed struggle" (i.e., terrorism), to establish an "independent combatant national authority" over any territory that is "liberated" from Israeli rule. (Article 2)
- To continue the struggle against Israel, using the territory of the national authority as a base of operations. (Article 4)
- To provoke an all-out war in which Israel's Arab neighbors destroy it entirely ("liberate all Palestinian territory"). (Article 8)
The phased plan sounds "ideal" for everyone involved. Superficially, it is a two-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians. On the one hand it allowed Israelis to be convinced that peace was at hand. On the other hand it allowed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to sell the Oslo process to the Palestinian people knowing that they believed the end-result would be one-state. Self-delusion and deception go, as always, hand in hand.
The very concept sounds idyllic: two states living side-by-side in peace and harmony with free trade and a free market of ideas. And had we been talking about anywhere else in the world other than the Middle East this equation may have had a chance of working. However, in the real world we are talking about an environment where on the part of one side there is no recognition of the other's right to exist in the region, period. The majority of Palestinian society remains unwilling to accept Israel's right to exist in part because of the psychology laid out in the Phased Plan.
Palestinian nationalism never saw the conflict as one between two national groups with legitimate claims and aspirations. The two-state solution was a means of appeasing the West and its stated desire for all parties to live in peace according to the democratic, national ideal. But certainly for Arafat in his day and now it seems for Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, the two-state solution was mechanism to buy time until the Palestinians would be able to finally overcome and defeat Israel.
Fast forward to 2006. Hamas wins the elections and takes control of the Palestinian Authority which demonstrates how anti-Israeli terrorism is the preferred ideology used to "govern" Palestinian society. This also explains Gaza's transformation into a united terrorist front that has brought many of the terrorist groups otherwise at odds with one another, including al-Qaida, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Brigades, a pseudo Iranian embassy, and many more.
Terror aside, the direct implication of 2006 was that Hamas was able to establish a mini-state in Gaza. Therefore in practical terms we may see not two but three states: Gaza, West Bank and Israel. Something Middle East analyst Jonathan Schanzer illustrates in his newest book, "Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine," as he writes: "The influence that Jordan and Egypt had on the two Palestinian territories during the early years of the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be stressed enough … thus, over time, the West Bank emerged as a more developed mini-state, with a modicum of upside economic potential, while the Gaza Strip wallowed in neglect."
The upside of this map is that Americans and Israelis, who claim not to negotiate with terrorists, are now able to only deal with Abbas and the West Bank. Gaza is therefore abandoned to Hamas and its fate. We witness this formal splitting off of Gaza in diplomatic terms every time U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or any other official delegation has met with the Palestinians over the past four years; they have dealt solely with Abbas and the West Bank.
If Gaza is its own mini-state, Islamist, rejectionist and only incidentally Palestinian, that changes the rules of the game for Israel. It enables Israel to crack down on Hamas in a far more effective way since, if Gaza is its own state, it may be treated as such when it attacks its neighbor. Treating Hamas simply as a terror state and not as a variable of the on-going Palestinian dispute with Israel gives the latter more freedom to fight terrorism in the manner it should be fought.
Finally, for pragmatic reasons Palestinians may not trumpet a return to the one-state policy, particularly American aid and support that flows from a peace process based on a two-state solution, but the signs are everywhere. We need to face the fact that peace and security are not going come from the traditional "two-state solution" model; without that understanding in mind there cannot be a real discussion about the secure boundaries Israel needs to maintain in order to achieve peace and security.
Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.