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Israel-Palestine: Peter Beinart essays spark debate over one-state solution

Prominent Jewish-American political commentator Peter Beinart says he no longer believes in two-state solution
Palestinian protesters in the northern Gaza Strip wave national flags
Some analysts say two-state solution is losing favour among Palestinians (AFP)

The United States has for decades favoured a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

But with the further expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, many rights advocates have been arguing that the two-state solution is no longer viable, and that a single state with equal rights for all inhabitants is the only way to ensure justice and freedom.

The late Palestinian-American author and academic Edward Said was a particular champion of the case for one state with equal rights, and this week, a prominent Jewish-American analyst has joined the calls for one binational state, fuelling the debate, particularly among American supporters of Israel.

Ahead of the implementation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, Peter Beinart this week wrote opinion pieces in The New York Times and Jewish Currents, making the case for a single state with equality among its residents.

"It's time to abandon the traditional two-state solution and embrace the goal of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. It's time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state," Beinart wrote in the Times.

"Israel-Palestine can be a Jewish home that is also, equally, a Palestinian home. And building that home can bring liberation not just for Palestinians but for us, too."

The op-eds immeditely sparked a conversation about the merits of one state versus two states, with Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, calling the one-state solution a "disaster in the making".

On Tuesday, Shapiro, who was a part of former President Barack Obama's National Security Council, said Beinart's stance defeated one of the main objectives of Zionism - that Jewish sovereignty was an inherent right, and that stressing one state for both Palestinians and Israelis would lead to violence and the undermining of US interests.

Palestinian-American author and activist Yousef Munayyer hit back at Shapiro on Thursday, stressing that equality did not have to mean chaos.

Beinart himself also weighed in on Shapiro's remarks, saying the former envoy should call for conditions on US aid to Israel if he wants to advance his favoured two-state solution, which would require an end to Israel's occupation.

"We disagree on whether 2 States is dead," Beinart wrote, addressing Shapiro. "But if you support 2 states then fight for it. Condition military aid. Show Israel there's a price for settlement growth. Asking nicely hasn't worked. Don't just watch the body die + then castigate us for saying kaddish."

The administration of US President Donald Trump is pushing its "deal of the century" plan for the Middle East - which offers the Palestinians only a disjointed state with little control over borders or airspace.

Meanwhile, analysts say Israel's looming annexation plans all but kill the viability of a two-state framework.

Many observers say that a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is already a reality. 

"We live in a one-state reality. And in this one-state reality, there's one power - the government of the State of Israel that controls everyone and everything between the River and the Sea," Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, told MEE last month.

"This reality is inherently undemocratic because in it, it has millions of people who have no political rights - all of them Palestinians."

The peace process

The two-state solution has for decades dominated the narrative in Washington foreign policy circles as the only seemingly plausible end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict: two countries existing side by side.

The Palestinian approach to the many US-sponsored peace talks over the years has relied on the notion Israel and a Palestinian state would be divided along the 1967 armistice line, also known as the "green line", and Jerusalem would be a shared capital.

Still, past negotiations have all failed and Israel has been building settlements - deemed illegal by international law - in parts of the occupied West Bank. 

"The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies," states Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Between 1967 and 2020, Israel moved about 600,000 of its citizens into the occupied territories, bluring the line between its internationally recognised borders and the West Bank.

In 1980, Israel claimed sovereignty over East Jerusalem, followed by Syria's Golan Heights a year later.

In 2018, Israel passed its nation-state law declaring itself a Jewish state. All of these moves remain the status quo.

In his series of tweets on Wednesday, Shapiro accused Palestinian leaders of undermining the cause of an independent Palestinian state "by rejecting negotiations and supporting terror".

Ben White, a writer and analyst of Israel-Palestine issues, said Shapiro had "unintentionally" revealed longstanding biases in US policy.

White wrote on Twitter that US policy towards Israel and Palestine has held that the sovereignty of Israel, based on a Jewish identity, was an intrinsic right, whereas the right for Palestinian self-determination was not, and was often "undermined by their own actions".