National Security & Defense

The Disappearance of the Two-State Solution

Palestinian protesters wave flags over Israeli border police near Ramallah, 2015. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
It’s long past time that Americans acknowledge the facts on the ground.

In the first draft of the 2016 Republican-party platform, references to the two-state solution do not appear. CNN reports the “delegates drafting the Republican National Convention platform approved removing language encouraging a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”

An earlier draft had included support for “two democratic states” — the policy of recent Republican and Democratic administrations — but had removed a reference to Palestine included in the GOP platform four years ago. On Monday, the national security subcommittee of the Platform Committee approved an amendment dropping support of a two-state solution, according to four people who were in the room for the discussion. . . . “The U.S. seeks to assist in the establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be negotiated among those living in the region,” the approved amendment said. “We oppose any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or other terms, and call for the immediate termination of all U.S. funding of any entity that attempts to do so.”

The Democratic party platform supports a two-state solution, as it has previously.

What are we to make of this?

Support for a two-state solution has not always been American policy since Israel won the West Bank and Gaza in 1967’s Six-Day War. The initial assumption was that the West Bank would go back to Jordan, and Gaza to Egypt, as part of a “land for peace” deal that would be negotiated between Israel and each of those countries. When I worked in the Reagan administration, Secretary of State George Shultz was explicit in saying we did not favor the creation of a Palestinian state.

And after all, why would we? The Palestine Liberation Organization was led by Yasser Arafat, a terrorist and a thief. Who would want to give him a state? Well, Bill Clinton did. At Camp David in 2000, Clinton tried to broker an agreement between Israel and the PLO chief that would have handed him the West Bank and Gaza. But Arafat said no to Clinton and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.

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The George W. Bush administration tried to square the circle. Under Saudi pressure the administration made the two-state solution official American policy. But after 9/11, the notion of giving the terrorist Arafat a state was unacceptable, so Bush found a fix in 2002: He announced that the United States would support Palestinian statehood only after Arafat had been removed from power. And, in fact, serious negotiations commenced only after his death in 2004.

But they too went nowhere, even after the international conference at Annapolis in 2007. Like Arafat, his successor Mahmoud Abbas said no to the Israeli offer, made in that case by Prime Minister Olmert.

#share#Does this new language — or the absence of the old “two-state solution” language — mean the GOP is no longer for “peace”? That the party is for a permanent “occupation”? No, it means that the party’s platform is realistic about where we all stand in 2016 writing a platform for 2017–20. The goal we all share is clear: As the draft platform puts it, “The U.S. seeks to assist in the establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be negotiated among those living in the region.” How exactly can that goal be reached?

Does this new language — or the absence of the old ‘two-state solution’ language — mean the GOP is no longer for ‘peace’?

Here the platform draft is silent, except to oppose imposition of any foreign (including American) plan. The fact is that no peace agreement is in sight, and that fact is acknowledged even by the Israeli Left. In January, Labor-party leader Isaac Herzog candidly told Israeli Army Radio, “I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution. I want to yearn for it, I want to move toward it, I want negotiations, I sign on to it and I am obligated to it, but I don’t see the possibility of doing it right now.”

“Right now” can turn out to be a long time. It’s popular on the left and in the Obama administration (perhaps a distinction without a difference) to say that the current situation in the West Bank is “unsustainable.” John Kerry says it all the time; in October 2014, for example, he said, “The current situation, the status quo, is unsustainable.” That “unsustainable” situation has lasted since 1967 — which is to say, for 49 years. Pretty good for something that’s “unsustainable.”

#related#Israelis want to separate from Palestinians but cannot do so as long as their security is at risk. The best path forward is quite unclear. To a two-state solution at some near point, even if not “right now”? To greater Palestinian autonomy but also greater separation, in the near future? Toward more and more Palestinian reliance on Jordan, eventually? Those who are sure they know the answer, and that that answer is absolutely, definitely, unarguably, inevitably, the old “two-state solution,” are less persuasive as time goes by and as the Palestinian leaders appear to value their grievances against Israel more than they do achieving statehood.

So a cautious U.S. position might well be to state our clear goal, a “comprehensive and lasting peace,” without dictating one sole path to getting there. The new GOP platform language expresses not only strong support for Israel and for peace, but a bit of humility about our ability to see the future. Given events in the Middle East, that’s progress.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national-security adviser.


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