For nearly three decades, governments around the world have insisted that the best way to end the most intractable conflict in the Middle East is to trade land for peace, creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But these days, as Palestinians see prospects for the so-called two-state solution disintegrating, a growing number are mulling over a provocative alternative: a single binational state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.
The notion is the equivalent of a demographic Trojan horse, forcing Israel either to give Arab residents full voting rights — and jeopardize the Jewish identity upon which Israel was created in 1948 — or risk becoming an apartheid state under permanent sanction by the rest of the world.
U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerrywarned of the risk Wednesday in what he described as a “fundamental reality” for the two sides to consider: “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic — it cannot be both — and it won’t ever really be at peace.”
For Palestinians, the renewed calls to consider a one-state solution come as the peace process is at one of its lowest ebbs. Negotiations have been mothballed for three years, Israeli settlements in the West Bank are under steady expansion, and there are continuing calls by Israeli politicians to annex part of the West Bank.
President-elect Donald Trump’s victory and the prominence of patrons of the Israeli settlements in his close circle of advisors have only compounded the skepticism. A December public opinion poll found that two-thirds of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer feasible.
The alternative, many argue, is an invitation to Israel to swallow Palestine.
“Many people support the idea,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian legislator and a former candidate for president. “If the two-state solution is physically unattainable, we have only one option: A struggle to gain full and equal democratic rights in one state, in the land of historic Palestine.”
Once limited to small groups of politically independent weekly protesters against Israel’s military occupation, the idea is now being widely discussed. Palestinian intellectuals, businessmen and political officials who long championed the two-state solution are starting to strategize about what some argue is an already existing one-state reality.
“Because of the lack of a political horizon, the inability of the sides to sit down together, because of the reality on the ground of expanding settlements and road checkpoints, people started to believe that the two-state solution is dead,’’ said Bashar Azzeh, a youth activist and marketing director at the Wassel Group, a Palestinian logistics company.
“Some people are saying: Let’s demand full human and civil rights rather than national rights; then maybe the international community will listen to us.’’
In Al Birah, Ramallah’s twin city, the municipal soccer stadium sits on a ridge just a few hundred yards from the red-roofed homes of the Israeli settlement of Psagot on the opposite hilltop. Wasfi Nawajah, a coach in a warm-up suit, complained that his southern West Bank village had no permits to build a gym, while the neighboring Israeli settlement was free to build sports facilities and expand.
“The Palestinians are only suffering from the peace process. The situation is tough. Many people are losing hope,’’ Nawajah said.
A poll this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found a nearly 10-percentage-point jump over the last three months of Palestinians who say the two-state solution is no longer viable. Support for a one-state solution has advanced in the same period to 36% from 32%.
“This is a major change, a significant erosion in the viability of the two-state solution,’’ Khalil Shikaki, the director of the polling center, said in a lecture at the Jerusalem Press Club. “Today, we don’t have majority support for the two-state solution. What has gone up is support for the one-state solution.’’
Slackening support can be found in Israel as well as in the incoming U.S. administration. Donald Trump’s nomination of David Friedman, a longtime patron of the Israeli settlement of Beit El, suggests the new administration might no longer champion negotiations toward a Palestinian state as did previous U.S. presidents.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who advocates annexation of 60% of the West Bank and “autonomy on steroids” for Palestinians in the remaining areas, in November declared the end of “the era” of the Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he remains committed to “two states for two peoples,’’ but when he was asked by an Israeli journalist on the eve of the 2015 election whether he expected the creation of a Palestinian state on his watch, he said no. The prime minister and his aides say Israel needs to reach security agreements with surrounding Arab governments before a peace deal with the Palestinians.