The Buzz

A Two State Solution Is the Worst Solution—Except for All the Others

Given the “facts on the ground,” Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that Washington should recognize the two-state solution is dead and get on with burying it.  There are two problems with this. A one-state solution would be a calamity for both sides. Furthermore, the so-called “facts on the ground” as interpreted by the Leveretts hardly make it inevitable.  


While the Kerry Framework collapsed, this does not make a one-state solution the next logical step.  The historian Benny Morris points out that just as two-state solutions have failed, so have one-state solutions to the Arab-Israeli dispute.  Rather than leading to a lasting peace, a one-state solution would transform the former British mandate into another Yugoslavia. 


The international system has been repeatedly characterized as anarchic, where the life of states can be “nasty, brutish and short.”  However, warring groups have greater protection under anarchy than if they were forced to live under the same roof. 


Neither side can credibly commit to the safety and security of the other.  If a single, binational state were created, the Palestinians would form the majority.  However, it is unlikely that the Jewish minority would be able to trust such a government.  A unitary state would demand the Jewish minority disarm its military forces in exchange for a binational one, leaving them vulnerable to future attacks.  (Similarly, the Palestinian side would have no recourse other than violence if the Jewish minority decided to renege on its end of the bargain.) 


Under a two-state solution, both sides can mitigate the consequences of receiving the sucker’s payoff should one of them decide to cheat on an agreement.  They can bolster their defenses, formcounter-balancing alliances, and raise (or hold onto) their national defense forces.  They can raise the costs of aggression by bringing in third-party monitors.   These are just a handful of the strategies states use to ensure that their rivals comply with their agreements.  While none is foolproof, they afford greater protection for both sides than unilateral disarmament and a one-state solution.


On the fourth day of Operation Protective Edge, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated several of his longstanding positions in a press conference, including his support for a two-state solution.  The facts on the ground give credence to several options that would ultimately separate the two sides. 


Albert B. Wolf is a Fellow with the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.