The United States seems to have now abandoned the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with President Donald Trump saying on Wednesday: “I’m looking at two states and one state…and I like the one that both parties like.”
While a one-state solution has often been seen as desirable by the Israeli right, which wants to keep the West Bank, the ultimatel beneficiaries of a one-state solution would be the Arabs of Israel and Palestine. Regardless of whether a one-state solution is the best thing for the region’s Jews and Arabs, Trump’s statement reflects a fundamental and obvious truth that few people have wanted to acknowledge: the two-state solution is completely unviable at this point. Consider the following realities.
The region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, which encompasses Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, is too integrated and small to function normally as two separate states. Roads, electrical grids, and waterways are already shared by Israel and the Palestinian territories.
A Palestinian state with two wings, connected only through Israel, is unviable, and would quickly cease to function normally, essentially becoming a client state of Israel with limited sovereignty. It could break up into two de facto states, or its two wings would become de facto extensions of neighboring Egypt and Jordan respectively. Furthermore, if Israel annexes parts of the West Bank, the Palestinian state would become so moth-eaten as to be nonsensical.
The region is too demographically mixed, with Arabs living in Israel and Jews living in the West Bank, for any divorce to be acceptable to all parties involved. It is unlikely that Jews in the West Bank and Arabs in Israel could carry on normally after a two-state solution, as there would be enormous pressure in both areas for population exchanges. A two-state solution would probably precipitate a refugee crisis and armed conflict.
These facts make a two-state solution highly unlikely, if not impossible. Some sort of one-state solution is the most likely scenario.
A one-state solution is not only not a bad deal for a Palestinians, but the best-case scenario for the Arabs of the region, since a one-state solution would essentially lead to the creation of a new state in which Arabs are the largest group, or a greater Palestine. Thus, from the Palestinian point of view, there is no reason to hurry toward a final deal. Arab birth rates and Israeli settlement policies have essentially created a one-state situation on the ground, which would fit in with the original Arab goal of creating a single Arab state in the former British mandate of Palestine, despite statements to the contrary by leading Palestinian figures. This is probably why Yasser Arafat stalled in 2000. So a one-state solution is not particularly “unfortunate.”
It is highly unlikely that Israel would simply accede to the creation of a purely majoritarian Arab state, however. There has been concern that a one-state solution would lead to the creation of something like a South African-style apartheid state, perhaps complete with Bantustans. This is highly unlikely, however, for both moral reasons and the fact that Jews are still about half the region’s population and control the current state’s institutions and military. What is likely to emerge, then is a bi-national state similar to neighboring Lebanon, in which the institutions of the state are divided up among and controlled by different sects. The military (remember in Syria, the minority Alawites controlled the military for decades) and courts would probably remain under Jewish control while Arabs would have more of a say in legislation in the Knesset and an increasing role in cultural matters. The Arabic language would probably become more prominent overall relative to Hebrew, with English still playing a major role.
Over time, this binational state would become a part of the Arab world, but with some highly distinct quirks, such as having a huge Jewish and Hebrew speaking minority with reserved powers. Israel is, after all, surrounded by Arab states with a total combined population of over 300 million people. It is not surprising that eventually it would simply meld into this giant demographic sea.
Akhilesh Pillalamarri is an editorial assistant at The American Conservative. He also writes for The National Interest and The Diplomat.