Separation or Confederation: Is the Two-State Solution Over?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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Isaac Herzog, the leader of Zionist Union (Israel’s largest opposition bloc), recently put forward a plan that would see the Arab neighborhoods in Israel, along with areas of the West Bank which are not currently occupied by Jewish settlers, completely physically separated from Israel proper and the settlements. Mr. Herzog’s plan has yet to garner a serious response from the relevant parties and actors in the region, although there is evidence that patience is running short with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s intransigence, which why the French government is now threatening that it will recognize the state of Palestine should the peace process not restart soon. For some, however, it remains dubious whether the peace process as envisioned by the Oslo Accords is even possible any longer, and, more importantly, whether a two-state solution is attainable at all. This has led some Israeli and Palestinian activists to propose a confederation solution.

In what can only be described as a complete lack of confidence in the possibility of a sustainable and self-enforcing peace deal between the Israelis and the Arabs, the leader of the opposition bloc expressed concern this week, according to a report by Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, that “the two-state solution was impossible to realize under current conditions on Tuesday, and presented a new diplomatic plan in which several Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will be severed from the rest of the city and the separation barrier in the West Bank completed in a manner that includes all the settlement blocs….The plan Herzog proposed includes the following principles: Completion of the security barrier around settlement blocs in the West Bank….Separation of Palestinian villages from Jerusalem….Confidence building measures vis-a-vis the Palestinians. ‘Palestinians will have total freedom in civil but not military matters. They’ll be able to build new cities and expand existing ones, to develop agriculture, industry, employment.’ Herzog said that the IDF will continue to control the entire West Bank in order to prevent terror. …After a few years, if things are quiet, we can discuss what’s next,’ he said.”

In an article for the Jerusalem Post, Arik Bender notes that during a conversation between Mr. Herzog and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the former insisted the fact that the need for such measures is a matter of life and death for the Israelis: “Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday that the current security situation between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot continue. During a meeting in Rome, Herzog pointed toward a two-state solution, telling the top US diplomat that ‘a separation policy is the only way to move things in the region.’…’Stop with the big words,’ he told Kerry in the pair’s fourth meeting in six months. ‘Our citizens are being murdered and we must engage in the separation process that will serve as the basis for the reality of the two-state solution vision, which I firmly believe is the only solution to the conflict.’”

But whether Israel’s political class wants to acknowledge it or not, for many Israelis, including Yedioth Ahronoth’s Tami Arad, Israel has already become a state of walls and towers, echoing a darker period for the Jews during the interregnum between the two world wars: “A lot has changed since the bloody attacks of the 1930s, which led to the establishment of the wall and tower settlements, but it appears the conspiracy is making a comeback. We barricade ourselves in and accept these defense measures meant to protect our lives with understanding. And as part of this entrenchment, which is turning from a tactic to second nature, the majority develops apathy and indifference towards the human rights of anyone who is not part of our milieu….Netanyahu is a sober leader. He believes there is no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unless an app is found that could make the Palestinians disappear without it hurting them or the defenders of human rights. Until that happens, he says no to a diplomatic process, no to separation, no to annexation – and yes to entrenchment. Welcome to the wall and tower state.”

The call from Mr. Herzog comes as the United States and other international leaders have questioned Israel’s commitment to the peace process, particularly Benyamin Netanyahu’s ability to take difficult decisions: “The United States came down Friday on a decision by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to incorporate a southern West Bank church compound into the illegal Gush Etzion settlement bloc. Spokesman for the US State Department John Kirby said during a press briefing that the US was ‘deeply concerned’ about Yaalon’s move….’Along with the regular retroactive legalization of unauthorized outposts and construction of infrastructure in remote settlements, actions such as this decision clearly undermine the possibility of a two-state solution,’ Kirby said. Kirby reiterated that the US views settlement activity as ‘illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace.’”

But Mr. Herzog’s plan is not the only proposal being considered, with the Saudi Gazette given consideration to yet another plan proposed by a group of Palestinian and Israeli activists: “Making the rounds these days among some Palestinians and Israelis is a solution to the conflict different from two states. Called ‘Two States – One Homeland,’ a group led by Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport and Palestinian politician Awni Al-Mashni is advocating the creation of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation. These two states, however, would not be entirely separate. They would deal jointly with security, the economy and infrastructure. Jerusalem would serve as a shared capital….Proponents of one state claim that since the two-state solution is no longer practically possible (the 11-million strong Palestinian and Jewish populations in Israel and the occupied territories is a demographic reality that can’t be undone), there is no way out of the conflict except a bi-national state: a home to Jews and Palestinians.”

Regardless of the proposed plans, it appears that many around the world are losing patience with the intransigence of both parties, which is perhaps why the Khaleej Times editorial staff has applauded France’s decision to recognize the state of Palestine, should Israel not move quickly enough: “There are positive signals as far as efforts to realise a two-state solution is concerned in the Middle East. France took a leap step as it announced that it will recognise a Palestinian state, if a final push to broker peace talks failed….The French move came just days after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon castigated Israel for adopting delaying tactics, and sabotaging the United States-sponsored peace talks….Many other European countries and Latin American states have already recognised the State of Palestine, and believe that such an acknowledgment is the way to go for building pressure on Israel to follow suit. But the point is that all such diplomatic initiatives will remain half-hearted until and unless Washington prevails over Tel Aviv to trade land for peace. The status quo in the Occupied Territories is detrimental to not only regional but also global peace and security.”

Palestinian officials have welcomed the French position, as well as a French proposal to convene an international peace conference to deal with the challenge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday welcomed the latest French initiative to convene an international peace summit to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians….Abbas said that the Palestinians were working to fulfill their vision of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel so that they could live in peace and security. He also renewed his demand for providing international protection for the Palestinians. Abbas accused Israel of seeking to change the status quo at the Temple Mount and warned that this could turn the political conflict into a religious one. He also accused Israel of working towards changing the character and identity of east Jerusalem.”

The Jordan Times editorial is more measured in its reaction to France’s newly stated policy on Palestine, reminding it that “France would be only the 137th country, of the 193 UN member states and two non-member states, to recognise the state of Palestine, a step it could have taken long ago. Be it as may, if this could be a bargaining card, a reason that would prod Israel into action, it is welcome any time….Israel can be made to act responsibly only when the international community overcomes its “shyness” and calls Israel by its name: a colonising country that has been oppressing the people under its cruel occupation for well over half a century, an apartheid, unjust regime that needs to acknowledge the humanity and rights of the Palestinians.”

But the current predicament of the Palestinian people serve also as a reminder that the Palestinian leadership has also failed its people, which is why Gulf News’s Diana Buttu calls for a ‘new leadership’ that can deliver real results for its people: “Last month marked 10 years since the last Palestinian parliamentary elections, in which Hamas overwhelmingly secured the majority of seats….And 10 years later, here is where we stand: Palestinians have one president, whose term expired seven years ago, two prime ministers, who have never been confirmed by parliament, and a parliament that has not convened since 2007, whose term expired six years ago and many members of which have been and remain imprisoned by Israel….The irony of this state of affairs is not lost on Palestinians who remember their history: The Palestinian struggle is, at its core, a struggle for democracy and self-determination….This is why it is imperative that Palestinians reform the institutions that represent them without further delay….Obviously, the ruling parties of Hamas and Fatah will remain opposed to elections, as they have continued to blame one another for the lack of national unity, preferring instead to feed into Israel’s designs of large Palestinian ghettos instead of executing a sound strategy to attain Palestinian freedom.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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