The two state solution is the idea of territory shared between a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state. The solution was based on the idea that the two groups of people lived in the same territory, but separated, with both of them entertaining sovereignty. It was first discussed internationally in 1937 when the UK sent the Peel Commission to investigate Arab unrest in the British Mandate for Palestine following a six-month general strike. Lord Peel came back with the idea of partition.
At that time much more of the land was assigned to the Arabs and less to the Jews. This was because of the comparatively tiny Jewish population; it was the start of the Zionist movement in its modern sense. And the local indigenous Arab population was much larger.
The official partition plan was approved on 29 November 1947 in the form of UN Resolution 181. The United Nations allocated 55 percent of the land to the Jews and 45 percent to the Arabs. Although there were more Arabs at the time, the land allocated according to the projected number of Jewish immigrants following the Second World War and the Holocaust.
This was accepted by the Zionist movement but it was rejected by the Palestinians. The Zionist movement, known as the Yishuv, declared independence on 14 May 1948. There then followed what Israel calls the War of Independence and what the Palestinians call the Nakba or “the catastrophe”. By the end of the war the borders of the partition plan were redrawn according to the ceasefire lines of 1949. They changed because Israel gained more land in the war.
There are deeply opposing attitudes towards the partition plan. The fundamental issue is that there are two peoples who claim ‘it’s all mine, it belongs to me’. The Jews lay claim by divine order and they also believe that the land belongs to every Jew who would like to move there. The other groups, Arabs have lived there for generations.
So the two sides have two options. They can either fight for it, in the hope that whichever side wins, settles it once and for all. Or they can look for a peaceful solution that involves sharing the land. But perhaps sharing more than just a border; share it in a more constructive, more flexible way in which there are two sovereign bodies that enjoy political, civil and human rights equally.
"Today, the question is, how do you do it in a different way from 23 years ago?"
Could the two state solution work? In 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed in the White House I would have said yes, because it’s the most logical solution. Both groups would have their national aspirations fulfilled with their own territory, governments, parliaments and flags.
But 23 years later I think that while the chance is still there, it’s very difficult. Half a million Jews now live in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank and there are scattered settlements all over. Some are big some are tiny, and there are even some that the Israelis admit are illegal. So it means it’s very difficult to have a viable Palestinian state.
So, today, the question is; how do you do it in a different way from 23 years ago? Perhaps you still have two states but accept that conditions on the ground change? Could you swap lands, have a confederation? Could people stay in the same place but be citizens of another country? We need to be more creative than just having Palestinians on one side and Israelis on the other.
And if there is a window. It’s fast closing. So we need to think a bit differently.