from The Water's Edge

The President's Inbox: Should the United States Pursue the Israeli-Palestinian Two-State Solution?

The Palestinian village of Shuafa is bordered by the Israeli West Bank barrier. Dan Porges/Getty Images

Each week between now and the Iowa caucuses, I’m talking with two experts with differing views on how the United States should handle a foreign policy challenge it faces. These special episodes are part of CFR’s Election 2020 activities, which are made possible in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

December 4, 2019

The Palestinian village of Shuafa is bordered by the Israeli West Bank barrier. Dan Porges/Getty Images
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

The latest episode of The President’s Inbox is live. This week, I sat down with Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, to talk about the future of the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Here are three takeaways from our conversation:   

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1. If the two-state solution isn’t dead, it’s in intensive care with a grim prognosis. Lara is a proponent of the two-state solution. Mike is a skeptic. But given current conditions, neither sees any prospect for moving the two-state solution forward anytime soon.

2. The reason for the demise of the two-state solution is disputed. Lara blames the failure of the two-state solution in good part on the lack of political will in successive U.S. administrations to stop Israel from pursuing policies in the West Bank that are effectively preventing the creation of a Palestinian state. Mike isn’t convinced that the two-state solution ever had much chance, not because of Israel’s settlement policy, but because of what he sees as the Palestinian rejection of the state of Israel.

3. It’s not clear what will come next. Both Lara and Mike are pessimistic about other proposed solutions to the conflict. Lara worries that without diplomatic progress, the current trend of creeping annexation will eventually become unsustainable, to the detriment of Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States. Mike thinks the United States has more important strategic priorities in the Middle East than tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and should look to manage those tensions rather than try to resolve them.

Lara and Mike have both written on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a recent piece, Lara argues that while she opposes proposals for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley, most criticisms of annexation miss a more important point: Israel’s policies toward the West Bank and the Palestinians who live there “already amount to annexation.” While the Oslo process that undergirded the two-state solution might be dead, Lara sees in its demise an opportunity. She favors “a new approach grounded in international law and in universal norms and mutual accountability.”

Mike develops his point that even if the two-state solution was once feasible, “the moment never got seized, and somewhere along the way the opportunity passed” in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs. That issue offers two other perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yousef Munayyer agrees with Mike that the two-state solution is dead but comes to a different policy conclusion, namely, that “the time has come for all interested parties to instead consider the only alternative with any chance of delivering lasting peace: equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians in a single shared state.” Meanwhile, my colleague Martin Indyk, a two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel, argues for stepped up U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East that looks “to preserve the hope of a two-state solution down the road.”

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My colleague Philip Gordon, who was special assistant to President Obama and White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, has written a CFR brief explaining the Trump administration’s decision that Israeli settlements do not violate international law and what it means for Palestinian statehood. Phil also participated in a CFR academic phone call that reviewed recent U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine.

My colleagues on the CFR.org news team have published two backgrounders on topics that Lara and Mike discussed on the podcast. One is President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Another is his decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Mike testified last year before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on why he thinks both moves are good ideas.

Margaret Gach helped with the preparation of this post.

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