Jeremy Hammond, editor of this journal recently argued that the two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is dead.  I contend that it was never alive. No Israeli government –regardless of the party or Prime Minister in power — has ever made a serious commitment to the essential reality of a Palestinian state.  At best Israel’s idea of a two state solution would lead to one and a half state outcome.

The conventional understanding of statehood involves four components.  A state is an entity consisting of a recognized population and territory with a government exercising sovereignty over those people and that territory.  In a variety of ways Israeli policy has always contradicted the substance of all four attributes of statehood.

Palestinian FlagA recognized Palestinian population exists in Gaza and the West Bank and there is little question that these people would be the core citizenry of a Palestinian state.  The larger issue is the fate of the millions of Palestinians exiled from their homeland and residing in other states.  Many of these people have been refugees since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.  It is not at all clear that this group would be allowed to return to either Gaza or the West Bank should a state be declared.

Israel’s view of the territorial aspect of a Palestinian state involves at least two major problems. The new state would be bifurcated consisting of two disconnected parts, Gaza and the West Bank.  Other states, including the United States and Russia, have parts of their territory which are disconnected from the core of the country but in neither case is there a major and potentially hostile power controlling access to those areas.  In the case of Palestine, Israel would control a corridor between its two main areas much as East Germany controlled the route from West Germany into West Berlin.  At any time and with great ease Israel could deny movement from one area of the country to the other.

The second territorial issue is the probable nature of the West Bank; it would be totally fragmented consisting of a large number of non-contiguous Palestinian areas surrounded by Israeli enclaves.  Any map of the West Bank reveals a hopeless mixture of Palestinian areas and Israeli settlements established illegally since 1967.  Even if Israel were to dismantle some of the settlements and if the Palestinians were to agree to a smaller part of the West Bank, this area of Palestine would be impossible to govern effectively.  Israel would control access to every Palestinian part of the West Bank.

The most serious Israeli qualifications of the reality of statehood involve the dual issues of a government and sovereignty.  The term government is used in a variety of ways which are usually clear given the context. I can accurately discus the activities of my parish (county) or state government but everyone understands how those two entities differ from the national government of a state.  A national government exercises exclusive and ultimate jurisdiction over its population and territory and recognizes no higher legal authority.  A national government binds the people, territory, and subnational governments into one nation.  It may share authority with or delegate power to other levels of government but it and it alone determines how that will be done.  Neither the people of a state nor their government recognizes any other authority over them or their territory.  Other states and international organizations acknowledge, at least in principle, this arrangement. When this situation exists a government is said to exercise sovereignty.

A Palestinian state as envisioned by Israel would have a government of sorts but it would not exercise sovereignty because the territorial nature of that state would prevent a Palestinian government from effectively governing the Palestinian people, most of whom would still reside outside the Palestinian state.

In our flawed contemporary world another component of sovereignty comes into play.  A sovereign entity must have the right to a military capability without which it is less than a state.  A small number of countries have decided to forego this dimension of statehood but that was a decision they made, not one imposed on them by another power.  Israel will not allow the existence of a Palestinian state with the ability to defend itself, even if that military were more symbolic than real.

Israel’s frequent commitment to a two state solution is always qualified by the statements that any agreement would have to take into account Israel’s “legitimate security concerns” and would involve “border adjustments.”  Those security concerns mean that Palestine would not be able to defend itself and at the mercy of Israel. The border adjustments would result in the bifurcated, fragmented territory described above.  Under these circumstances the Palestinian government would not exercise sovereignty over its people and territory. This is not a state.