A Two State Solution – Are There Other Alternatives?
I recognize that I hold a minority view with respect to the Two State Solution among Israeli Messianic Jews as well as the world’s Messianic Jewish community and the Evangelical Church. The current situation where Israel controls a group of people (Palestinian Arabs) with limited rights is intolerable and is not a long term solution. Then, what is?
The more common Messianic Jewish view is that God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Relinquishing even small portions of such land is an abomination towards God, resulting in His executing judgment upon His people. For example, some believe former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to abandon Gaza was an act of gross disobedience towards God, leading to his stroke and ultimate death. These views are based upon numerous Biblical texts that promise the land of Israel to the people of Israel. In fact, exile from the land is the most common judgment for disobedience to God.
However, when examining the Biblical material, it appears the boundaries of Israel change. In a few places, there is a promise of Greater Israel, whose boundaries extend to the Euphrates River in Iraq, through parts of Jordan to some place in the Sinai Peninsula. It’s unclear if Israel ever occupied the full extent of such land. It’s possible she did during the reign of Solomon – 950 BCE – and again during the late Maccabean era – 80 – 100 BCE. However, through the period of Joshua’s reign 1200 BCE through the First and Second Temple periods, Israel occupied far less. Of course, today Israel also occupies far less.
There is a huge difference between God’s promise to ancient Israel to conquer and settle the land then and now. God’s directive was to destroy the inhabitants of the land. This related to their abominable practices and seemed connected to God’s original curse against Canaan. Thus, the judgment of God was to fall upon the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, generically referred to as the Canaanites, but in reality comprised of multiple people groups. Contrast these texts to later Biblical texts where Israel is to embrace and protect the alien, “because we too were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Today’s situation is incomparable to the ancient one. The most recent prior occupants of the modern nation of Israel, then Palestine, are Arabs, sons of Ishmael. Not only is there no judgment forecast against the descendants of Ishmael, there are promises of blessing to them, aka, Isaiah 19, Psalm 87. When the Zionist movement grew in earnest in the late 19th and early 20th century, the land in Israel was occupied by hundreds of thousands of Arabs. Even following the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, there were 500,000 Arabs in the land and 100,000 Jews.
In the early stages of the Zionist movement, most of the Zionist leadership was actually in favor of a one state solution, where Jews and Arabs would live together under a joint government. Only after the Arab Revolts of the 1930’s did the Zionist leadership realize the one state solution was a pipe dream. Most, if not all, gradually acknowledged the only just and safe solution was to bifurcate the people and the land into two parts – separate nations for separate peoples. This was codified in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, where two states would be created in the land of Palestine, the homeland of the Jewish people to be known as the State of Israel and a homeland for the Arab occupants, presumably the land of Palestine.
The Zionist leadership fully supported the Two State Solution; their only complaint was the boundaries of the Jewish State, especially with respect to the city of Jerusalem. Following the War of Independence, where Israel gained about one-third more land and thousands of Arabs fled or were forcibly relocated that Israel became a nation of predominantly Jewish people with a sizable Arab minority. Early legislation granted Arab occupants Israeli citizenship and making them at least equal to Jews under the law. Most of the land designated for a separate Palestinian State was conquered by Jordan during the War of Independence. Importantly, Jordan refused to allow most of these Arab occupants to relocate farther into Jordan.
Two events arose that greatly exacerbated the situation, the 1967 War, where Israel conquered the territory originally designated as an independent Arab State and the refusal of the surrounding Arab nations to absorb the Arabs who had fled Israel during the War of Independence. Until 1967 Israel occupied land granted to it by the UN Charter and/or as a result of the territorial gains made during the War. Most, if not, all Arabs were Israeli citizens. Following the 1967 War, Israel now occupied lands comprising 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza. These individuals now had a quasi-legal status where they had certain rights under military occupation but certainly not rights of citizens or even legal residents. Their situation changed somewhat following the Oslo Accords of the 1990’s, whereby the Palestinian Authority was established, granting it significant civil and even security autonomy over the Arab population.
The refusal of the surrounding Arab nations to absorb the fleeing Arabs from Palestine continues to exacerbate the current situation. These so-called Palestinian refugees claim a right to return to their original residences. This despite the fact that most who fled are no longer alive. Thus, the claim of the right to return are for people who never lived in such residences – a dubious claim. However, such claims further complicate any decision to create two separate states.
Prior to the 1967 War, there was no settler movement. The transplantation of Jews from around the world to the nation of Israel was the epitome of Zionism. The goal was to transform the land – swamps of the Galilee into highly productive and fertile land, the Negev into blooming fields and the building of major cities and industry. The 1967 War changed the equation. Now, the ideal of a Greater Israel came to the forefront. Ancient Israelite towns, such as Hebron or Nablus – site of Jacob’s well – became centers of Jewish/Israel migration and interest. In 1972 there were 1000 settlers in the West Bank. Today, there are 300,000. This group tremendously complicates plans for two states and rubs salt into the wounds of Palestinian Arabs.
So, what are the alternatives to a Two State Solution?
1) Forcibly remove or create significant monetary incentives for Arab migration from the West Bank to elsewhere, thus creating the possibility of a Greater Israel, inhabited by a significant majority of Jews. It’s hard to believe in this day and age anyone would seriously consider this option. However, Israel’s former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, actually proposed something similar to this several months ago. If Israel thinks the movements like BDS are threats, such a move to forcibly relocate Palestinian Arabs out of their lands would likely end up something comparable to the pressure applied to South Africa at the height of the Apartheid movement. Israel, more than many, is dependent upon trade and tourism. Israel’s economy would collapse, and in the end they would reverse course.
2) The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three areas, known as Areas A, B and C. Area A is where the Palestinian authority has full civil and security control. It is limited to the major cities of the West Bank and comprises about 3% of the land area. Area B grants the Palestinian Authority full civil control and joint Palestinian/Israeli security. About 25% of the West Bank is under Area B. Area C is where Israel has full civil and security control. It comprises 72% of the West Bank. This is where the vast majority of settlers live. It includes the rich Jordan Valley. Palestinians have been frozen out of building in Area C.
One proposal is for Israel to assert permanent authority over Area C and allow resident Arabs to pledge allegiance to Israel, becoming first permanent residents and later citizens. Areas A and B would be returned to Jordanian authority, and the Arabs there would become Jordanian citizens. There are numerous problems with such a proposal. One, few, if any Arabs, including Jordan, are in favor of it. Two, it once again undermines Palestinian national identity, and the Palestinian Authority will never agree to such a proposal.
3) Establish a true One State Solution where Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank, and presumably, in the future, Gaza, would be given the option to pledge allegiance to Israel, becoming first permanent residents and later citizens. This is the most radical and dangerous proposal of all. It is essentially national suicide. Assuming there are 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, this number would be added to the 1.5 million Israeli Arabs, making the Arab population of Israel 4 million. The Jewish population is currently 6 million. The Jewish majority in the State of Israel ranges from between 75-80%, guaranteeing a true Jewish State. If suddenly millions of more Arabs were added to the population, the Jewish majority would shrink immediately to 60%. After one generation of the higher than normal Arab birth rate, Arabs would comprise 50% or more of the population. Because by then, they would have equal status under the law and otherwise, there would be tremendous pressure to change the nature and character of the nation of Israel. Israel, as we know it, would cease to exist.
The original Zionist leaders correctly understood that a One State Solution, while idealistically pleasant, is completely unworkable. Arab culture, language and history are totally different than Jewish. They cannot co-exist amicably within one state.
4) Gradually establish a Two State Solution. Because of the present turmoil in the Arab world, it is nonsense to think Israel will suddenly sign off on a Two State Solution, whereby a radical terrorist organization could co-opt the West Bank, and then terrorist organizations surround Israel on multiple sides. However, a multi-year plan, whereby Israel begins investing heavily into West Bank infrastructure and industry, raising the standards of living for all, and building a responsible Arab leadership to gradually assume more and more authority over the population is certainly a possibility. The current Palestinian Authority would balk at such an approach, but the population would immediately benefit, pressuring the Authority to concede. Sadly, the BDS movement pressure to move Soda Stream out of the West Bank was incredibly short-sighted. These types of ventures provide good jobs to Palestinians and raise the standard of living for the population. The goal should be to establish these companies as Israeli companies with know-how and experience but gradually turn over ownership to responsible Arab business owners. It’s a win-win for all sides.
It’s fun and nice to view the world through a purely Biblical lens, to try and mold Scripture written thousands of years ago into present day geo-politics. But the world is completely different. The issues faced by the different generations are completely different. It’s wrong headed to assume we know exactly what the Biblical authors meant during their age and then wildly presumptuous to assume we know how it applies in a completely different age. Rather, we should take Biblical principles of justice, mercy and fairness and attempt to apply them in a righteous and humble way, acknowledging changes will likely need to be made because of our own short-sightedness. This, I believe, is the Biblical way.