Thursday, January 18, 2024

Isn't there already a two-state solution in Palestine/Israel?

You have probably heard many times that the only way that peace is going to come to Israel and Palestine is through a "two-state solution", i.e. the creation of an independent state of Israel and a separate independent state of Palestine. This is the solution favoured by most of the world. 

But you have probably also heard Israel's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu state categorically that Israel will never accept such an outcome. As for why Netanyahu is rejecting a two-state solution so vehemently, many observers suggest that the main reason is his desire to retain power by appeasimg the far-right members of his coalition government.

The main alternative to the two-state solution is the "one-state solution", whereby Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are merged into one big country. What happens then, though, depends on who you ask. Either the merged country is run as a single democratic state, in which case the Palestinian Arabs, who would outnumber Israeli Jews, would have.effective control over the whole area. Or, in the version favoured by the Israeli right, Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza by force and either forces the Palestinians out or merely denies them the right to vote.

So, you can see why the two-state solution is widely preferred, even if such a solution is not popular in Israel and, recently, not even in Palestine. But, hold on, isn't there already a two-state solution? Isn't that the status quo? There is Israel, and then there is Palestine, which consists of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (a much smaller land than that granted to Palestine in 1948 to be sure, and even some of that has been illegally settled by the ever-greedy Israelis, but there is still a Palestinian state, of sorts).

It has its own government (sort of) in the Palestinian Authority, although that government is ruled by the Fatah party in the West Bank and by Hamas in Gaza (which broke away after the elections of 2006). It has a civil police force and a judicial system and many of the other trappings of statehood. But is it actually a state?

Well, that kind of depends on your definition of s state. Deutsche Welle does a good job of breaking down the considerations. There are two theories of statehood. 

First is the declarative theory, which says that any territory with a permanent population, defined boundaries, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states, can declare themselves a state whether or not recognized as such by other countries (this is based on the 1933 Montevideo Convention). 

And secondly there is the constitutive theory, which says that a territory can only be considered a state if the rest of the world recognize it as such. It considers modern statehood to be a matter of both international law and diplomacy.

As to whether Palestine is a state by either of these measures, there are differing opinions. Some say that it is a declared state, although some maintain that it still does not fulfill all the requirements of the Montevideo Convention. Many others maintain that international recognition is more important, and that recognition is far from unanimous.

Palestine's history, even just its modern history, is complicated. (The UN has produced quite a good potted history, complete with a cool animated video) Palestine officially declared itself a state in 1988, despite having existed unofficially for millennia, but not everyone accepts that. Of the 193 UN member states, 139 recognize the Palestinian territories as a state. It is not a full member of the United Nations, but it has "observer status", meaning it can attend and participate in UN meetings but not vote, and it also a member of the International Criminal Court.since 2012. 

To become a full member of the UN, it would need the approval of at least 9 of the 15 UN Security Council members, and currently three of the permanent members of the Security Council (USA, UK and France) do not recognize Palestine as a state, and will not do so until its conflict with Israel is peacefully resolved. 

So, like so much else in the Middle East, it's complicated.

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