The Macomb Daily

Push Israel now for a two-state solution? You must be kidding.

- By Jason Willick Jason Willick is a Washington Post columnist focusing on law, politics and foreign policy.

In 2005, Israel, with U.S. encouragem­ent, embarked on a unilateral trial run for a Palestinia­n state. It evacuated its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, leaving the coastal enclave, then of 1.3 million people, to govern itself. Palestinia­ns held elections in 2006. Hamas, the revolution­ary party dedicated to Israel’s destructio­n, swiftly seized power.

That experiment in Palestinia­n sovereignt­y is ending in untold suffering. Hamas thoroughly militarize­d the Strip, importing arms from Iran, starting rocket wars every few years, tunneling under civilian centers, and finally invading and rampaging through Israel’s south on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and abducting 250. The humanitari­an calamity in Gaza as Israel’s military tries to extirpate Hamas and free Israeli hostages is the predictabl­e result.

You might expect the origins of the current war to inspire caution about the practicali­ty of barreling toward a Palestinia­n state alongside Israel. Instead, the concept — essentiall­y moribund before the war began — is suddenly at the center of U.S. diplomacy.

It was elevated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Davos, Switzerlan­d, on Jan. 17, pushed two days later by President Biden in a widely reported phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and this week is the subject of a Senate resolution supported by 49 Democrats.

The two-state solution has eluded a series of U.S. presidents. What is supposed to have changed now? Israelis have learned a brutal lesson in the dangers of withdrawin­g from territory.

Meanwhile, polls show Palestinia­ns in the West Bank overwhelmi­ngly support the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis, and support for Hamas generally has surged there as well. Implicit in Blinken’s twostate exhortatio­ns is that the Hamas attacks were driven by the lack of Palestinia­n statehood. But a Hamas leader last week exuberantl­y explained that he sees Palestinia­n statehood as just a way station to Israel’s destructio­n.

It has long been popular for critics to blame Israeli policy for the political weakness of Palestinia­n moderates. Since Oct. 7, that argument has taken a more pointed form: that Netanyahu empowered Hamas in a divide-and-conquer strategy against the Palestinia­ns.

But it wasn’t Israel that hurled Palestinia­ns off buildings in the 2007 battle to control Gaza. Hamas and Fatah did that to each other. Israel has certainly tried to exploit Palestinia­n divisions, but it did not create them. Hamas’s claim to popular legitimacy rooted in a commitment to destroying Israel is now the foremost obstacle to a Palestinia­n state.

Former diplomat Alon Pinkas, writing for the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, describes the current twostate discussion as “completely artificial” and “untethered from political realities.” He observes that the politicall­y embattled but conniving Netanyahu can nonetheles­s brandish the specter of a U.S.-imposed Palestinia­n state to shore up his flighty rightwing coalition.

But Netanyahu isn’t the only one for whom a phantom two-state debate is useful. Biden’s election-year advocacy of statehood might mollify some progressiv­es incensed at his backing of Israel’s war on Hamas.

The two leaders benefit with their respective political bases from two-state shadowboxi­ng.

For many journalist­s, meanwhile, the two-state posturing is a delicious opportunit­y to play up divisions between the United States and Israel — and to construct a tidy moral binary about the conflict. But look more closely at what Biden and Netanyahu are saying, and there might be more give in both leaders’ positions than is sometimes portrayed.

For example, in one statement deemed as ruling out a Palestinia­n state, Netanyahu said that “Israel must have security control of the entire area west of the Jordan,” adding: “It’s a necessary requiremen­t, and it clashes with the idea of sovereignt­y.” In other words, any Palestinia­n polity west of the Jordan River would not be fully sovereign. But when Biden leaned on Netanyahu about Palestinia­n statehood last week, in the New York Times’s account, the president also “raised options that would limit Palestinia­n sovereignt­y.”

Biden told reporters after the call that “there are a number of types of two-state solutions.”

The question of Palestinia­n statehood — yes or no — misses the point. The relevant question is how to increase the capacity of Palestinia­n governing institutio­ns, in the West Bank and Gaza, in a regime that draws its legitimacy from a source other than the sort of eliminatio­nism advocated by Hamas.

As political scientist Samuel Huntington observed in his 1968 study of political developmen­t, “The problem is not to hold elections but to create organizati­ons. In many, if not most, modernizin­g countries elections serve only to enhance the power of disruptive and often reactionar­y social forces.”

There’s every reason to fear that Hamas or similar entities would control a nascent democratic Palestinia­n state in the near-term aftermath of this brutal war.

The term “two-state solution” assumes its own conclusion. If the United States and other powers recognized the pre-1967 Palestinia­n territorie­s as a state tomorrow, the Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict would not be solved.

The solution will come only with the demonstrat­ion of effective Palestinia­n governance and engagement with Israel — and the Israeli concession­s that could come about, under pressure from Washington and Arab states, in response. The decimated landscape of Gaza shows the price of getting that sequence wrong.

The term “two-state solution” assumes its own conclusion. If the United States and other powers recognized the pre1967 Palestinia­n territorie­s as a state tomorrow, the Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict would not be solved.

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