By Caleb Regen
On September 16, 2020, American University’s chapters of JStreet U, AmeriPAC, and OneVoice co-sponsored an event with the Israel Policy Forum called “Outcomes to the Conflict.” The main speaker of the event was Associate Director of Policy and Communications Evan Gottesman who co-authored a report detailing possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
The premise of the report is to detail various current solutions and frameworks floating around about the Conflict and then score them according to a series of criteria to see how they stack in comparison to one another. These criteria include three main aspects for Israel: a Jewish state, a democratic state, and security. In other words, the ideal proposal would rank high among all three of these categories when presented from the Israeli point of view. The report looked at seven different proposals and scored them on a rubric mostly using input from people on the ground in Israel, the West Bank, and the United States.
One of the main arguments that Gottesman proposed is to not consider the international-standard two-state solution as the only possible solution. This solution is one that is most often talked about in the discourse within the international community as the solution. The problem, Gottesman noted, is that this is not a practical approach as it assumes that a two-state solution is the only viable option. By talking about the two-state solution as the one solution, it ropes off any other possible ideas that have a chance of working. Therefore, it is close-minded to present this as the only viable option.
The rest of the event was focused on evaluating other proposals that have been submitted by both the left and the right as solutions to the Conflict. The first alternative solution proposed is maintaining the status quo. The status-quo is the easiest to implement as it requires doing nothing. This solution ranked very low in terms of security as Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on security has been breaking down over the last few years. The other problem with this solution is that it ignores any long-term reality as it does not account for future developments in the Conflict. The state of the West Bank hangs in limbo and it will continue to be in limbo under this plan.
Another option presented is a “confederacy.” In this approach, Israel and the Palestinians come into an agreement similar to the European Union/Schengen Area; with open borders and the right to move freely between the two states. However, this would likely be the product of another agreement and it is doubtful that this can become reality, given the existing disagreement about issues of security. Moving in that same direction is a democratic state. This would see Israel and the Palestinian Territories merge under one united state with “one person, one vote.” This scored well on issues of democracy, but scored relatively low on security and very low on being Jewish. The reason respondents feared creating a single state is because they believe it will diminish the very uniqueness of the Jewish state of Israel; there would be a balanced demographic of Jews and Palestinians.
Then, Gottesman highlighted two proposals from the right — neither of which seem feasible. The “Jordanian Plan” would see Jordan annex the West Bank and incorporate it into their state. Besides not giving the Palestinians a state, another problem is that Jordan does not support it. The other option is favored by much of the Likud and further right-wing parties: annexation of the West Bank. This is not democratic because West Bank Palestinians would not receive the right to vote and it will likely inflame tensions. It also did not score well on the security front.
Ultimately, the report and Gottesman came to the conclusion that, “among all these flawed options, the two-state solution emerges as far from ideal, yet still preferable to the others.” Gottesman concludes that the two-state solution is the best of the bad options. The two-state solution can potentially address all three criteria in a positive way. It can be democratic, two states, two functioning democracies, and Israel would remain a Jewish state. If both parties are satisfied, then there is a higher likelihood of cooperation in security issues as well. This state would be based on the original UN borders from 1947. The main limitation to this plan is political feasibility. It would require Israel to cede territory and for the Likud Party to support it, which does not seem likely.
From my optimistic perspective, I believe a two-state solution that evolves into some form of a confederacy would be an innovative option. Here, the two states will be able to retain their national identity; but the confederacy recognizes that the land of Israel and Palestine is inherently multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. The implementation of a confederacy will allow free travel between the states and can be achieved if there is adequate security. In my view, having open borders may re-escalate the tension that is already present. This would also assume some kind of trans-national council between Israel and Palestine on some key issues: security, travel, and accessibility to religious sites. Ultimately, any form of cooperation between the two states on these issues is normatively positive. However, I realize that this best-case scenario is unlikely and would only happen if a two state solution is achieved— which, currently, seems to be diminishing in likelihood.