Is It Time for the Two (or Three) State Solution?

Last year Palestine floated the idea of just declaring independence. President Obama quickly squashed that idea by making it clear we would not recognize an independent Palestine. (“You can’t just declare independence, you have to negotiate it,” said the president of the country that recognized Palestine’s number one enemy within a quarter hour of its non-negotiated declaration of independence.) I was disappointed then, and I’m even more disappointed now.

I’m not a big fan of unilateralism in world politics, nor am I a big fan of the U.S. throwing its weight around. But we can’t deny that the U.S. has weight, and just for it to move in any way involves throwing some weight. So let’s throw some weight in the direction of a two-state solution. And let’s do it now.

All President Obama has to do is to declare that the U.S. will recognize Palestine, and the Palestinian state will be legitimated. To be sure, this would be less weight-throwing than we’re doing right now, because we are the major roadblock to Palestinian statehood. We are–so far–powerful enough to prevent it from happening, but if we stopped opposing it, other states would jump at the opportunity to extend formal diplomatic recognition to the Palestinians.

But we have to do a little more than that. Supporting Palestinian statehood is–stupidly–seen as abandoning Israel. So we have to make it clear that we support both Palestine and Israel. We need to make a firm declaration that we will help to ensure the territorial integrity of both states.

That requires determining what the territory is for both states, and here’s where the U.S. really needs to use its muscle. After announcing that we’ll ensure the territorial integrity of both states, we need to point out that to do so we have to know where the borders are, so an agreement on borders needs to be concluded tout suite, and if the two sides don’t, we’ll lead the UN Security Council in drawing up a map that will be imposed upon them.

There’s where the devils in the details appear, of course, and I won’t pretend knowledge enough to say how or where the border should be drawn. And perhaps it actually needs to be a three state solution, with Gaza as a separate state from the West Bank (geographically divided states have a poor track record). I’m not claiming that part of it will be easy. But I do think it will be easier if the U.S. makes it more necessary by proclaiming its intent to defend the territorial integrity of a Palestinian state.

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
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24 Responses to Is It Time for the Two (or Three) State Solution?

  1. Pinky says:

    I think it is time for our president to impose a solution on the parties involved. Israel ABSOLUTELY must give up its demands and the Palestinian authorities MUST accept responsibility to lead the people toward a better life in light of modernity. Netanyahoo must be put in his place. The moderates are in the majority across the board. Radicalism leads everyone down the tubes.

    Obama has to get tough with both sides.

  2. Lancifer says:

    Why is it any of or our business? Have we not learned our lesson about trying to tell other countries what to do?

  3. Murali says:

    @ Lancifer

    You know, I wouldn’t mind if the US did learn to mind its own business. But, as it stands, whether or not the US recognises a country holds enormous influence over whether other countries do so. It is not entirely false to say that the international community takes its cues from te state department. This means that the US has enormous pull. This requires that it takes additional care when it does things. It is difficult to take the US seriously if it tries to say that it is not acting within its capcity as a superpower, not the least because there is no confidence that such will be an enduring foreign policy. Your presidents change far too often for any sudden sharp turn in foreign policy posture to be taken as a long lasting sign. For the forseeable future, the US is this warmongering giant who ohe countries have to tiptoe around lest the US decide that something is wrong with us and invade.

  4. James Hanley says:

    Lance,
    In this case I think recognizing Palestine is making us less involved in the long run. It’s precisely because it’s not really our business that we ought to treat both sides as states, just as we treat just about everyone else. And just through that we can probably prevent a lot of violence. It doesn’t take actual U.S. military involvement, or that normal kind of intervention (although I am pondering a post about Syria that could go that direction).

  5. Matty says:

    @ Lance, let’s assume it is not your business to pick sides in this conflict. How does it follow that the neutral default position is to extend diplomatic recognition to one side and not the other?

    As for the UN drawing a border, I think they tried that in 1947 but not being sure what went wrong I’m hesitant to take that as evidence it wouldn’t work a second time.

  6. James Hanley says:

    Matty,

    In 1947 the Arabic states didn’t accept the concept of a border, because they didn’t accept the concept of an Israel. A couple of failed invasions with land lost to Israel later, they’re mostly reconciled to the existence of Israel. As a young Egyptian guy said to me the other day, it’s the old generation that doesn’t accept Israel’s existence, to the younger generation Israel is a fact of life. So I think there’s reason to be optimistic that it could work this time around–conditions are better.

  7. Lancifer says:

    Murali,

    For the foreseeable future, the US is this warmongering giant who other countries have to tiptoe around lest the US decide that something is wrong with us and invade.

    Your view of us (America) is just what our overly ambitious interventionist policies have wrought. Mind you I think we were 100% justified in invading Afghanistan and really didn’t have that much of an issue with kicking Sadam’s ass. We just should never have taken so long in either place or stayed as long as we did, nor should we have been obsessed about making sure either place became a democracy friendly to us.

    The message that should have been sent in both cases was “You attack and kill Americans we come destroy you and your ability to attack us again and we won’t be sticking around to clean up the mess”. If that doesn’t earn us the “hearts and minds” of the rest of the world, too bad.

    If you don’t think the US was justified in going after Osama Bin Laden, and the Taliban government that harbored him, after the Al Q’aida attack on New York city then there is no point in discussing this further and if that means you fear us, cool.

    The Iraqi situation is more nuanced and there should have been a way to neuter Sadam without spending nearly as much US lives and treasure and earning so much ill will.

    As far as recognizing “Palestine” is concerned, when there is a Palestine maybe that would be an option. Now there is only a weak pseudo-government with no real power or authority that is rife with internal conflict.

  8. Lancifer says:

    James Hanley,

    In this case I think recognizing Palestine is making us less involved in the long run.

    Following up on my comments to Murali, I’m not sure there is enough of a “Palestine” to recognize.

    It’s precisely because it’s not really our business that we ought to treat both sides as states, just as we treat just about everyone else.

    I’m all for treating both sides equally but granting the current collection of feuding Palestinians living in an amorphous and disparate region of which the other party still lays partial claim “state hood” is granting that particular side a huge concession over the current status quo.

    Matty,

    I think my comments above address your point.

    Please, don’t misunderstand me. I think the US has been overly supportive of Isreal and should reassess the cost of that support, both in dollars and in world-wide political capital.

    I just don’t see how putting our (big fat) thumb on the other side of the scale is any better.

  9. Lancifer says:

    And, although it is beyond the current topic, I’d let Iran and Israel duke it out, while we sit ringside eating popcorn. (I’d say Israel by a knock out in the first round or at the least a TKO [UN security council intervention to stop Tehran from being obliterated] in the second.)

    If Iran gets the “atom bomb”, which I think is actually inevitable due to technological advancement, then I would remind them that atom bombs are what we use as a fuse to light the many thousands of multi-megaton thermonuclear weapons we have on hand. (Not to mention potent and redundant delivery systems and countermeasures.)

    Welcome to the frat Skippy, now fetch me a beer.

  10. Lancifer says:

    James,

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, Johanna and your lovely daughters. Kidist is busily preparing her first Thanksgiving feast for me and my parents.

    Luckily for me she has recently gotten into cooking. In Ethiopia she lived with her sister Nigist who was the cook in the family. The first six years of our marriage had to endure my “cooking” which mostly consisted of frozen dinners and various “helpers” (hamburger, tuna, chicken etc.)

    I don’t believe in a supreme being, but I am very much aware of my good fortune in life, of which Kidist is the most fortunate item. You are no doubt equally aware of your reasons to be thankful to the fates.

  11. Lancifer says:

    Although, I do make a mean Eel Helper.

  12. Murali says:

    The Iraqi situation is more nuanced and there should have been a way to neuter Sadam without spending nearly as much US lives and treasure and earning so much ill will.

    If the US should stop interfering, then there need not have been any reason to get rid of Saddam. Saddam had nothing to do with 11/9. Afganistan, I can understand, but US should have demanded that Osama be arrested and extradited before going in with guns blazing.

    I certainly agree that America should change its foreign policy to one that is less interventionist. I’m just worried that other countries will not view such a change as credible unless it is followed through by multiple successive administrations.

  13. James Hanley says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and Kidist as well, Lance. Don’t feed Philo too many turkey scraps.

  14. Lancifer says:

    Murali,

    Afganistan, I can understand, but US should have demanded that Osama be arrested and extradited before going in with guns blazing.

    Really, like the 16 UN resolutions demanding that Sadam allow weapons inspections? “Look Sadam, we mean it. Not like the other 15 times.”

    And then, maybe two years later, if there had been a UN mandate to turn Bin Laden over, who would be the armed force going to get Sadam when the Taliban told us to fuck off again?

    The US.

    Check the UN charter on self defense Murali. We don’t need the UN’s, or your, approval to respond to a direct attack on the largest city in the USA.

    We were damn nice even giving the fucking Taliban a polite invitation to turn Osama over to us. It’s just too bad that Donald Rumsfeld decided to use the Northern Alliance and the CIA to try to get Bin Laden for us.

    I would have sent in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and several divisions of the US Army, preceded by a month long rain of blazing steel from every B-52, B-1 and B-2 in the US Air Force to make it clear what was coming back to you when you kill three thousand Americans and burn three square blocks of Manhattan to the ground.

    I don’t know where you live, but when you set our biggest city ablaze we don’t ask permission to strike back.

  15. Murali says:

    Really, like the 16 UN resolutions demanding that Sadam allow weapons inspections? “Look Sadam, we mean it. Not like the other 15 times.”

    Only it seems as if US and British accusations to the effect that Saddam did not comply seem completely unhinged from whatever everyone else was saying or for that matter, reality.

    Oh, and somehow the US acts against every violation of UN sanctions? I’m sure lots of countries violate sanctions and the US does nothing about it. I know that a number of people in Singapore have busines interests in countries that US has sanctions against. The US doesn’t invade Singapore. It at most makes it illegal to trade directly with those people* (as though that is an effective measure at all)

    I’m too lazy now, but I bet that there are plenty of other countries tht have violated Nuclear non-proliferation treaties and gotten away with it. North Korea springs to mind. In fact, NK blatantly violated it. (I believe it was supposed to not develop nuclear power in exchange for free food or something) Saddam didn’t. Yet Saddam was the danger to be removed? and North Korea is the one being treated oh so nicely with 6 way talks and all?

    And then, maybe two years later, if there had been a UN mandate to turn Bin Laden over, who would be the armed force going to get Sadam when the Taliban told us to fuck off again?

    1. Why should there be an armed force to get Saddam?
    2. If the Taliban had told you to fish off, then you would have been within your rights to attack them (my memory of this is rather vague so that might just have been what happenned. Although it seemed to me that on Sep 13th the newspapers were already talking about the War on Terror. That seems like an awfully quick set of negotiations)
    3. What the hell does what the Taliban tell you to do have to do with what to do with Saddam? Have you so completely bought into Neocon bullshit that you think the 2 are related?

    Check the UN charter on self defense Murali. We don’t need the UN’s, or your, approval to respond to a direct attack on the largest city in the USA.

    Errm, well, the charter is vague. It talks about response to armed attack. Does flying an airplane into a building count as armed attack? Mybe, but ony by said person. Do criminal conspiracies by private citizens of other countries count as an armed attack by that country? You’d have to establish rather clearly that the country was actively sheltering them rather than merely horribly ineffective and incompetent at apprehending them. As above, I can’t remember clearly that the US took the due care.

    Also, I remember that when North Korean military attacked a south Korean ship, there was no unilateral South Korean response. AFAIK SK has not invaded NK even in retaliation in recent history if ever.

    *AFAIK only trade with former Junta members and some Myanmarese businessmen is illegal. Singapore has long had economic relations with Syria, Myanmar, Iran and whole bunch of other countries with trade Sanctions against them and the US still loves Singapore to pieces. We’re one of its best if not its best friend in the region. (Mostly because we have a naval resupply post for US nuclear subs and aircraft carriers)

  16. Matty says:

    really didn’t have that much of an issue with kicking Sadam’s ass

    If that was all that was involved I wouldn’t have much of an issue either. I do have an issue with.
    -Extensive misinformation about the quality and content of intelligence reports in order to build support for the war.
    -The precedent that it is OK to attack a country to prevent future problems

    I also love the irony of calling for less US involvement with the rest of the world while defending the most blatant case in the last decade of the American government involving itself in a place where it had no direct interest.

  17. Lancifer says:

    Murali and Matty,

    I am not defending the long term actions or goals of the Neocons. But the fact is that Sadam had agreed to very specific terms, designed to limit his ability to interfere with his neighbors and the rest of the region.

    You may recall that he, and his military, had been soundly defeated with the near unanimous support of the UN by a large coalition of international forces. He fled back to Baghdad reportedly with a plane fueled and ready to whisk him to Tunisia. He begged for mercy and agreed to unconditional surrender. He was given the opportunity to stay in power only under a host of very strict conditions. He eagerly agreed to those conditions to save his own skin.

    He egregiously violated those conditions for years in defiance of 15 UN resolutions demanding that he comply or face dire consequences. The 16th and final resolution made it clear that he must comply or face “serious consequences”.

    He didn’t comply. End of story. The business about WMD’s is so much political theater.

    Once he was dead, and the Ba’ath party’s ability to interfere with its neighbors and the rest of the region was ended I would have declared victory…

    and left.

    I have no doubt that a viscous battle for control of the political space now vacated would have been brutal and protracted, but there would have been no further loss of US lives or billions of dollars. And whomever came out on top would have the very clear and recent memory of what happens if you fuck with the US.

  18. Lancifer says:

    Oops, although the battle for control of Iraq after the fall of Sadam might have become “viscous” I meant to type “vicious”.

  19. Lancifer says:

    Murali,

    Also your special pleading on the behalf of the Taliban is ludicrous. There was clear evidence of the Taliban not only harboring Osama but acting in close cooperation with Al Qaeda.

    You act as if Osama was just vacationing in Afghanistan.

    The Taliban was given an opportunity to distance themselves from Al Qaeda and if they couldn’t directly give the US Osama they were offered the assistance of US forces to get him.

    They declined.

    Also you forget that Al Qeada was actively planning further attacks on the US, and other western countries, that they were coordinating through their base in Afghanistan. Was the US supposed to appeal to the World Court while allowing Osama Bin Laden to continue his openly stated war on the US?

    Your examples about South Korea etc. are hardly analogous to the US and its response to 9/11. You seem intent on framing the US as a reckless bully even when it takes justified action against a coordinated and brutal attack on New York City.

  20. AMW says:

    “You can’t just declare independence, you have to negotiate it,” said the president of the country that recognized Palestine’s number one enemy within a quarter hour of its non-negotiated declaration of independence.

    Am I the only one who expected that sentence should end “said the president of the country whose founding document is the Declaration of Independence”?

    As for Israel/Palestine/Gaza, I say the following as someone who lived there for a couple of years in the ’90’s. The best solution would be a single-state solution in which Palestinians enjoyed equal protection under Israeli law, and equal representation in the Knesset. Israel has its problems, but as governments go it is top-notch in its neighborhood. The problem is, no one seems to like that solution. Israelis don’t want to become a minority in their own country, and the Zionist dream was to have a Jewish state. Palestinians are so fed up with how they’ve been treated by the Israeli government that they want nothing to do with it. So in the end, a multi-state solution seems to be the only workable course of action. That’s a shame, because I have serious doubts that Palestinian leadership will be very good at competently governing its people.

    As for whether Gaza should be included in a Palestinian state, I think there’s a non-negligible chance that the West Bank will – eventually – make a separate peace with Israel and get sovereignty. There will be resistance in the West Bank to “leaving behind” the Palestinians of Gaza. But who knows? Maybe in the end it would be best for them as well. An independent West Bank living in peace and (relative) prosperity next to Israel might weaken Hamas’ hold on the popular imagination, and drive them to the bargaining table for a separate state of their own.

  21. Lancifer says:

    AMW,

    Am I the only one who expected that sentence should end “said the president of the country whose founding document is the Declaration of Independence”?

    That is amusing. But of course the colonies were in effect a separate state already, where as “Palestine” is largely on the same land as Israel.

    Also, the US was already engaged in a do or die, full scale war with Britain when it made that little proclamation.

    I have often wondered if, instead of resorting to terrorist attacks on civilians, the Palestinians had engaged in an insurgency against Israeli military targets if the US could have so easily dismissed the Palestinian cause. The element of moral outrage would certainly be gone.

    Current US public sentiment is squarely against Hamas and for Israel, even if some people don’t like the hard-line approach taken by Netanyahu.

    While the Palestinians could never hope to defeat Israel in a head to head conflict they certainly could, with the help of their Arab and Iranian supporters, mount a credible “hit and run” insurgency. If consistently applied it could be a drain on Israeli resources and moral without having the hugely negative effect on, at least western, public opinion of attacks on Israeli civilians.

    The US fought for its independence. Palestinians seem to either want others to fight for it (Egypt, Syria, Jordan) or to have it given to them by the UN. Of course to be fair, the UN did grant statehood to Israel so maybe they’re not so wrong in expecting that it do the same for them.

  22. Matty says:

    The best solution would be a single-state solution… a multi-state solution seems to be the only workable course of action.

    Forgive the drift but this got me thinking about another issue. What is so special about the nation state as a level of governance?

    To expand, we have multiple levels of group decision making from neighbourhood groups up to the UN but nations are treated differently, they typically do not answer to any ‘higher’ authority and the rules they impose on those they rule are much harder to challenge from outside. OK this is fuzzy and there are plenty of cases when it doesn’t quite work but still the United States of America has a type of authority over New York State that is less limited that either the authority of New York State over New York City or the authority of the UN over the US.

    The reason for this is no doubt the accident of history but the more I think about it the less obvious it is that this is an optimal arrangement. Maybe international bodies should have more power to over rule national decisions and nations less to over rule local ones. At the very least we need better criteria for when it is OK to intervene than are provided by the current framework.

  23. Matty says:

    Of course a smart Palestinian leadership would have taken the opportunity of Gaza (contiguous territory with no permanent Israeli presence) to build a model state that prevented attacks. Then they could have turned to the Israeli government and said “See what we are capable of, now can we recognise each other and try to get something similar on the West Bank?”

  24. Lancifer says:

    Matty,

    Yeah, it is a shame that the Palestinians have not been able to build a prosperous and democratic state in Gaza. Of course they haven’t had the resources necessary to do so. Not to mention the internal struggles between Fatah and Hamas.

    And Israel hasn’t been willing to do anything but put restrictions and limitations in place in the name of security. So perhaps the poor condition of Gaza is to be expected.

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