You’ve almost certainly heard the phrase ‘Two State Solution’. It refers to a proposal to divide the small parcel of land making up modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories into two separate entities – a Jewish state (Israel) and an Arab state (Palestine). It is a proposal that would require painful compromises on both sides.
The ‘two state’ solution was first recommended by the 1937 Peel Commission, when the British held trusteeship over then Palestine, following World War One. The next major proposal was the 1947 UN Partition Plan. It designated Jerusalem as an international city and the ancient Jewish homelands of Judea and Samaria as part of the proposed new Arab state. This was not what the Jewish leaders wanted – but they accepted the compromise so that they could get on with building a state of their own.
In contrast, the surrounding Arab nations rejected Jewish autonomy outright. The new State of Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948 and the next day Arab countries launched a war. Thankfully the Arab armies did not prevail, but Egypt did gain control of the small southern pocket of Gaza, and Jordan, declared control over Judea and Samaria, renaming the region the West Bank. It’s worth noting that Egypt and Jordan controlled those lands for several decades, but made absolutely no attempt to establish a Palestinian State.
Instead, the Arab world continued to focus on the rejection of any form of Jewish self-determination. Egypt, under president Gamal Abdul Nasser, blocked Israel from shipping in the strategic Straits of Tiran, which ultimately led to the third Arab-Israeli war in 1967. This was yet another attempt to annihilate Israel. The surprise Arab attack on Yom Kippur in 1973 was also an attempt to wipe out Israel.
The 1967 Six Day War was particularly significant because it resulted in Israel taking control of the Sinai peninsula and Gaza from Egypt; Judea and Samaria from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria – more than quadrupling the size of the small nation. However, in an attempt to secure lasting peace, Israel offered “to give up the captured Sinai and the Golan in exchange for peace”. Sadly, that offer was rejected by the Khartoum Resolution, issued by 8 Arab League nations, which became infamous for the “Three No’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel…”. So yet again, a chance for peace and a resolution of the conflict was rejected by the Arabs.
In fact it was to be another 12 years before Egypt, in 1979, became the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel and make peace. In return, Israel evacuated its military forces and civilians settlements from the Sinai Peninsula and handed sovereignty to Egypt. That peace treaty, signed by Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, endures to this day.
In 1994 a similar comprehensive agreement formed the basis of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
Sadly, this “land for peace” formula has not proven to be successful with the Palestinian leadership – despite three attempts at peace by Israel:
The first was in 2001, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, supported by the Clinton administration, offered a groundbreaking arrangement to then Palestinian leader, Yassar Arafat. The offer included a bold compromise on Jerusalem and much of the West Bank. Not only did Arafat reject the offer, but he told Clinton that Jews had never had any historical connection to Jerusalem. He gave no counter-offer, and triggered a new wave of Palestinian terror that led to more than 1,000 Israeli fatalities.
The second attempt at peace was in 2005, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, unilaterally withdrew all Israeli soldiers and civilians from Gaza, only to see Hamas seize control and establish a terrorist enclave.
And the third time Israel showed a willingness to compromise for peace was in 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went further than Barak and offered an even more generous two-state proposal that included resettlement of some refugees in Israel. This offer received no formal response from Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, even though the Palestinians understood – and acknowledged through the media – that the Israeli plan would have given their side the equivalent of 100 percent of the disputed lands under discussion.
Israel has repeatedly proven that it is prepared to hand over land for a lasting peace – but the lesson of the Egyptian and Jordanian settlements, followed by the disastrous withdrawal from Gaza, has proven that lasting peace can only be achieved when Israel is negotiating with a real peace partner. Thus far, Palestinian leaders have refused offers of land for peace, made no counter-offers and continue to incite and reward terror. If they truly want a state for their people then they must accept Israel’s right to exist and negotiate a final settlement in good faith.