In 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children were forced from their homes as Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. The expelled population became stateless refugees and have not yet been allowed to return to their homes or land.
Today there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees in the world, with hundreds of thousands more who have been internally displaced (Palestinian citizens of Israel who still have not been allowed to return to homes which they were forced to leave). Many politicians and organizations have proposed solutions to the Palestinian refugee crisis, but until today the situation remains unresolved.
One solution is known as the “two-state solution” which advocates for an independent state for Palestine and an independent state for Israel. However, Israeli and Palestinian leaders continue to disagree on where to place the borders. Before considering the possibilities of a two-state solution, it is important to start by understanding the legal history of this solution.
When Was the Two-State Solution Introduced?
In 1947, the United Nations Resolution 181 passed by the U.N. General Assembly called for the partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem governed by a separate, international entity. The Jewish community approved this proposal, while the Arab community opposed it.
After the 1947‒1949 Palestine war, or what Palestinians call the ongoing Nakba (catastrophe), the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 stated that Palestinian refugees displaced due to the crisis should be permitted to return home or receive compensation for choosing not to return. The resolution also called for creating a Conciliation Commission to write proposals for permanent solutions, to maintain free and open access to Jerusalem and religious heritage sites for “all inhabitants of Palestine,” and to place the Jerusalem area under United Nations control.
Israel, not yet a member of the United Nations, objected to most of the resolution, but it passed with majority approval. Palestinian representatives initially disagreed with the resolution because they argued that accepting it meant also accepting United Nations Resolution 181. However, Palestinians began to support the resolution, because it provided a legal foundation to support their right to return.
Reaffirming a Vision of Two States
The United Nations reintroduced the “Question of Palestine” to the General Assembly with Resolution 3236 in 1974. The resolution reaffirmed “the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine, including: (a) The right to self-determination… [and] (b) The right to national independence and sovereignty.” It also reaffirmed the “inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted.”
Over the years, the United Nations Security Council has continuously reaffirmed “the vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.”
The Two-State Solution Today
Their 20-page booklet “From Conflict to Reconciliation: A new vision for Palestinian-Israeli peace” drafts a solution based on three tenets: independence, mutual respect and recognition, and partnership between the states. The group calls for equal rights and partnership among the peoples who are connected to the land, whether they call it Eretz Yisrael or Palestine:
- Open borders: to avoid continued displacement, the group proposes a return to 1967 borders due to the UN Resolutions and agreements which affirmed them, but the borders will remain open to citizens of both independent states. Citizens of Palestine and Israel would be allowed to work, live, and travel freely through the whole land.
- Palestinian refugees return to the homeland: more than 70 years after UN Resolution 194, this group argues that it is time to end the Palestinian refugee crisis and allow families to return to their homeland. They argue that “rectifying this injustice is also the key to equitable and stable neighborly relations between the two peoples.”
- Jerusalem/Al-Quds – a shared capital district: the group proposes to keep Jerusalem whole, open, and shared rather than carved along ethnic lines. It would be equally governed by both Israel and Palestine.
- Shared peripheral security and a focus on personal safety: the group disagrees with the prevailing Israeli argument that separation ensures security. Instead, the group proposes independent security forces for Israel and Palestine with close cooperation on matters of intelligence and policing.
- Shared institutions: the group proposes that shared institutions between the two equal parties will allow disagreements to be settled through mutual decision rather than violence. It cites the European Union, the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland, and the peace agreement in Bosnia as examples of such partnerships creating peace and stability.
A Land for All states that one of its goals is to “create a new language that will allow each side to maintain its identity, while at the same time, becoming familiar with the other side’s aspirations and history, and internalizing them.” The group remains open to discussion about its two-state solution proposal.
Is a Two-State Solution Possible?
Global powers like the European Union and the United States have remained committed to supporting a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. In 2012, the E.U. expressed concern about developments threatening the possibility of a two-state solution, including several factors: Israel’s increase in illegal settlement building in occupied Palestine, Israel’s ongoing evictions and house demolitions in East Jerusalem, Israel’s “prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social, or political activities,” and the worsening of living conditions for Palestinians in Area C.”
In 2021, Professors Marc Lynch and Shibley Telhami fielded a comprehensive survey through the Brookings Institute of experts and scholars of the Middle East to understand “their assessment of the region as it currently exists and might exist a decade hence [… not] about their preferences on outcomes or policies.”
Most of these scholars described the current reality for Israel and Palestinians as “a one-state reality akin to apartheid.” 52% stated that a two-state solution is no longer possible, and 42% found it unlikely to happen within the next decade. Only 6% found a two-state solution was probable in the next decade.
Renewing Hopes for Openness
A Land for All argues that a two-state solution is possible because it is not a new proposal; indeed, Jewish and non-Jewish families had lived together in Palestine for centuries. The group argues that the ongoing failures in the negotiation process has disheartened the public to the possibility of a successful two-state solution. According to A Land for All, a two-state solution is possible: we simply “must find a new concept that can renew hopes, an idea that conveys openness rather than insulation.”
To learn more about Israel-Palestine and how you can get involved in the movement for peace, visit the Promised Land Museum.