Nadia Hijab | Board president of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network
The only option for Palestinians to create a sovereign state—or to secure equal rights and justice in a single state of Palestine-Israel—is to build up their sources of power. The two-state solution has so far failed not just because Israel is so powerful, but also because its unlawful settlement project was not effectively challenged by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which have focused on state-building before achieving liberation.
The PLO-PA has secured important legal and diplomatic wins. These include the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s separation wall, the non-member state status of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, which enabled the PLO to join international organizations such as the International Criminal Court, and passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in 2016, which described Israeli settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law. But it has never devised an integrated, consistent, and effective political and diplomatic strategy binding the international community. The PLO-PA also tended to ignore national and international civil society engaged on the issue.
There is another opportunity to act now. A European Court of Justice ruling has just made it law for products from Israeli settlements to be labeled as such in European Union member states. The PLO-PA must get behind a clear plan to ensure that this is carried through, as a first step to saving Palestine.
Khaled Elgindy | Nonresident senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, author of Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, From Balfour to Trump (Brookings Institution Press, April 2019)
In addition to the death of the peace process (which, frankly, was already dead before President Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House), regional and internal Palestinian dynamics are also working against the prospect of statehood. With the region in a state of near-constant turmoil, Arab states are no longer inclined to prioritize the Palestinian issue. Moreover, apart from Israel’s occupation itself, the most serious obstacles to Palestinian statehood are self-inflicted.
In particular, the debilitating division between the West Bank and Gaza has paralyzed Palestinian politics, fueled authoritarian governance in both areas, and undercut the legitimacy of both leaderships. Moreover, the schism between the Palestinian Authority, dominated by the Fatah movement, and Hamas has underscored the absence of a coherent national strategy for liberation. For one Palestinian leadership to pursue a strategy of negotiations and diplomacy while another simultaneously pursues a strategy of armed resistance has served only to ensure the failure of both.
Despite their weakness vis-à-vis Israel, the Palestinians still have options, both in terms of domestic resistance and international diplomacy. But none of these are likely to succeed in the absence of a coherent Palestinian polity and a minimal consensus over a national strategy. Palestinian reconciliation and the revival of institutional politics will not in and of themselves lead to independence. But without them statehood is virtually impossible.
Lorenzo Kamel | Associate professor of history at the University of Turin, director of Istituto Affari Internazionali’s research studies, author of The Middle East From Empire to Sealed Identities (Edinburgh University Press, 2019) and Imperial Perceptions of Palestine: British Influence and Power in Late Ottoman Times (IB Tauris, 2015)
The claim that a binational state and a two-state solution were the only, or even the main, alternatives on the table for Palestinians and Israelis has been a useful illusion for years. A third scenario was and is far more realistic: In the absence of a clear internal Palestinian strategy and multilateral forms of outside pressure, the Israeli authorities will continue to annex what they deem to be useful (including Area C of the West Bank, which 25 years after the Oslo Accords is still under Israeli security and civil control), while offering the Palestinians “autonomy on steroids.”
Unsurprisingly, it is today common to hear scholars, particularly in Europe, debating the “one-state reality.” These approaches could be translated as follows: We Europeans are unwilling and/or unable to exert economic or diplomatic pressure on those profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territory, which is why we have decided to give up on the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
What options do the Palestinians have to counter this? First, they should distrust those deciding for them. That includes experts living outside of the Middle East who often know little about Israel’s internal policies and are detached from local dynamics. It also includes those in the Middle East who support “solutions” such as the so-called “Deal of the Century,” which has had little to do with Israel-Palestine and much more with the easing of political and economic relations between the Gulf states and Israel.
Second, they should upgrade to a national strategy the peaceful, yet relatively invisible, protests that have taken place for years in dozens of tiny villages in Palestine. I stress the word peaceful, because, in Simone Weil’s words, “Revolutionary war is the grave of revolution.”
Third, they might consider dismantling Fatah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, giving space to the many new youth-led grassroots political movements, while at the same fully rethinking and restructuring the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Last but not least, they should not give up hope. A large part of the world, including many Israelis, is aware of the price Palestinians have paid and are paying, and is willing to support their pursuit of a modicum of justice.
Jake Walles | Nonresident senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, former U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, former U.S. consul general and chief of mission in Jerusalem (2005–2009)
Israelis and Palestinians are now on a downward trajectory toward a binational state. Some Palestinians embrace this “one-state” option, but it will not satisfy Palestinian national aspirations. Israelis will not abandon their own national project or compromise on the Jewish character of their state. Palestinians would end up in such an arrangement without full rights. The evolution of the status quo into a binational state is a recipe for perpetual conflict.
A two-state solution, while impossible to implement under current conditions, remains the only option for the future that would give the Palestinians a state of their own alongside Israel and end the conflict. Palestinians should work as best they can to keep this option open by strengthening their existing governmental institutions and repairing their internal divisions, in particular by ending the split between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Palestinians also need to maintain contacts with a broad range of Americans for the day when a new U.S. administration comes to power that can again engage in a constructive way.