Can a Two-State Solution Survive the Israel-Hamas Conflict?

    16 November 2023

    For 30 years, many nations around the world considered two states — one Israeli, one Palestinian — as the way to reach peace in the Middle East.

    VOA recently spoke to several experts about ideas for peace.

    Many people believe two states remain the only path forward even after Hamas' October 7 deadly attack and Israel's strong counter-offensive.

    Smoke billows following an Israeli strike on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip on Nov. 16, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
    Smoke billows following an Israeli strike on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip on Nov. 16, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

    Israel says Gaza's Hamas rulers killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped more than 240 in their attack. Gaza's Health Ministry, which is led by Hamas, says more than 10,000 people have died in Israel's counter-offensive.

    However, political expert Uriel Abulof of Tel Aviv University believes the loss of life on both sides has not made peace impossible.

    Abulof said the war has created a chance for people to "understand that this is not a conflict between the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, [both of whom] want to live in coexistence, without radical leaders," he said.

    "On one side you have Hamas, which you have to deal with militarily, and on the other side are (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition, which need to be dealt with politically," he told VOA.

    Hussein Ibish is with the Arab Gulf States Institute that is based in Washington, D.C. He also believes that a permanent solution to the long conflict is possible only with a two-state model. He said it could be done in steps.

    "Israel must finally and formally accept the Palestinian right to a state and the need for it. The construction and establishment of settlements must stop completely," he said.

    Ibish believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank, one of the two Palestinian territories, should be halted. Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

    Ibish also said Palestinians must condemn the Hamas attacks of October 7 and promise to end the violence. He said the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, must be strengthened.

    Actionable plan or unrealistic?

    Other experts are doubtful. Omer Bartov is a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University in the American state of Rhode Island.

    Bartov believes the two-state plan is unrealistic. He said it would create an economically weak Palestine that is dependent on Israel. He added that "because there are between half-a-million and 750,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank...their removal from the territory would mean civil war."

    He also notes there are 2 million Palestinians who live in Israel.

    Israel captured the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem, from Jordan in the Six-Day War of 1967. It took Gaza from Egypt in the same war but withdrew from the territory.

    Bartov said another possibility is a confederation of Palestinian-Israeli states within the 1967 borders.

    A confederated state, he said, would permit Palestinian refugees to return to territories their ancestors left when Israel was created. "Jerusalem could be the common capital," he said.

    "There would be a difference between citizenship and residence," said Bartov. "Jewish settlers could continue to live in the Palestinian state but behave according to its regulations. And the Palestinians could return from exile..."

    However, he said the single-state solution seems impossible because of the current war.

    A part for the U.S.

    Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Institute said U.S. involvement would be important to any permanent solution.

    He said the U.S. is the only country with the influence to guarantee a two-state peace agreement. However, he said, there is a large political cost in the U.S. to put too much pressure on Israel.

    Bartov of Brown University agreed that no plan is possible without the U.S. support on which Israel depends politically and militarily.

    Without it, he suggested, the endless warfare would only continue.

    Israelis and Palestinians "really don't feel there is hope. That's why the perspective must be changed — how to make these two groups of people live side by side, not apart."

    I'm Gena Bennett.

    Marko Protic reported this story for Voice of America. Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    coexistence — v. to live together in peace

    construction –n. the act of building structures with workers and heavy equipment

    confederation — n. a group of people, countries, territories or organizations that are connected by rules or laws but that govern themselves

    residence — n. to live in a place and legally have it as your home

    regulation — n. rules and laws

    perspective n. the way a person understands or thinks about something