Prerequisites for a two-state solution are not present

by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD

In the spring of 2021, following 11 days of violence between Hamas in Gaza and Israel, President Joe Biden, when asked at a White House press conference if there had been a change in the Democratic Party’s position on Israel, Biden replied, “There is no shift in my commitment to the security of Israel, period. No shift, not at all…; my party still supports Israel.”

He then specified the conditions for peace. “Until the region says, unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace,” the president said, adding, “[W]e still need a two-state solution. It is the only answer.”

Once again in 2024, Biden’s “day after” Israel-Hamas war insists upon a path toward a “two-state solution.” The Biden Team affirms both Jewish and Palestinian national aspirations. Each side has a claim to land and that neither side is “going away.” An independent Jewish state and an independent Palestinian state should live side-by-side in peace and security.

Unlike 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken now has added what I might call “The Tom Friedman stipulation,” whereby Friedman cajoles Israel into accepting a concrete “pathway” to Palestinian statehood without insisting upon parallel acceptance by the PA of an independent Jewish state. Why? For Friedman, collaboration is Israel’s “price tag” for Israeli-Saudi normalization and for a United States-Sunni-Israeli defense accord against Iran. Secretary Blinken appends a warning: If Israel does not comply, the United States will forge a military/defense pact bilaterally with Saudi Arabia, omitting Israel from the equation.

While Blinken pressures Israel, the Palestinian view about two states — one Jewish, one Palestinian — will go unscrutinized. Why? The Biden team knows that the Palestinian Authority will not agree to preconditions for success: that each of the parties must publicly affirm one another’s national claims; that Palestinian refugees be resettled but only into a Palestinian Arab state and not into pre-1967 Israel; that there be an end of all future claims by either party against the other; that direct negotiations take place without preconditions.

As obstacles continue to impede this grand vision, mainstream media point to Israeli government members voicing strong opposition — like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Yet even Israeli “two-state” supporters like President Isaac Herzog object to the timing of rushing into establishment of a Palestinian state. The overwhelming majorities of Israelis do not want the Palestinians to feel “rewarded” for Hamas’s October 7 brutality.

In contrast, opinion makers focus upon PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s enthusiasm for immediately gaining an independent Palestinian state. They turn a blind eye to Abbas’s concrete objections to recognizing the existence of a Jewish state.

An assessment is needed of Palestinians’ lack of readiness for the actual prerequisites for peace.

The Palestinian masses do not support a two-state solution.

At this moment of extreme mutual mistrust and trauma, neither side is ready for compromise. The latest Pew survey indicates that only 19% of Israelis believe that an Israeli and Palestinian state can peacefully co-exist. This is the lowest number recorded in the past 11 years. Even with the prospect of a Saudi-Israeli normalization accord, 64% of Israelis oppose an independent Palestinian state.

So, too, a May 2024 Palestinian poll reveals that 75% of Palestinians oppose the two-state solution. They would regard this plan as a betrayal of their demand reflected in the proclamation that “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Arab.” A similarly large majority of Palestinians praise Hamas’s October 7 massacre of Israelis. They now regard violence as the best path to achieve their objectives. Like Hamas spokespersons, they are convinced that time is on their side. They see Israel’s wartime stalemate with Hamas as proof of the Jewish state crumbling amid mounting Palestinian and international pressure.

Hamas rejects any two-state solution.

Hamas remains unalterably opposed to a Jewish state irrespective of borders. As stated in March by Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas abroad: “We have nothing to do with the two-state solution. We reject this notion, because it means…you are required to recognize the legitimacy of the other state [Israel], which is the Zionist entity. This is unacceptable.

“The position of Hamas and the position of the vast majority of the Palestinian people, especially following October 7…the dream and the hope for Palestine from the river to the sea…has been renewed….”

Only as an initial “stage,” according to Mashal, would Hamas agree to work in common purpose with Fatah and the Arab League on behalf of “a completely independent [i.e., militarized] Palestinian state with the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, with the Right of Return [of six million diaspora Palestinian descendants] [and] without recognizing the legitimacy of the Zionist entity.”

Hamas feels encouraged that October 7 and its aftermath have brought near the re-establishment — which fell apart in 1918 — of an Islamist caliphate with control of the entire Middle East. As noted by Mashal, “[This] is not something [merely] to be expected or hoped for. It is part of the plan…and we are standing on its threshold….”

Fatah and the PA would accept two states, but only as a “stepping stone.”

Fatah accepts the Blinken approach as a temporary “fix.” As noted by prominent Egyptian researcher Khaled Hassan: “I’ve worked with, met, and personally knew many Palestinians, including the most senior diplomats and politicians. Every single one of them believes and hopes that the two-state solution is a stepping stone toward the ‘final solution,’ where Israel is eradicated and a Palestinian state, from the river to the sea, is established.”

A pragmatic short-term Palestinian approach toward peace negotiations is analogous to Yasser Arafat’s misleading views in 1993. In English he agreed to the Oslo Accords, but in Arabic he told his followers: “This has to be understood by everybody. The permanent state of Israel? No! Only the permanent state of Palestine. This [Oslo] agreement, I am not considering it more than the agreement which had been signed between the Prophet Mohammed and Quraysh” — referring to a ruse that allowed Mohammed to consolidate power and defeat that tribe at a later date.

Abbas will accept “Israel,” but not as a Jewish state.

Abbas and Fatah’s Central Committee have explicitly stated that “the Palestinians do not accept…that the State of Israel is a Jewish state.” Abbas and his followers affirm that an entity called “Israel” exists. To Abbas, however, any acceptable “Israel” must be a binational state, like Lebanon, of “Jews and…those who are not Jews.” It can only exist temporarily until “returning” Palestinian Arabs from abroad become a majority inside both Palestine and pre-1967 Israel. He insists upon a two-Arab-state solution. Abbas’s denial of independent Jewish statehood is buttressed by his parallel denial of the Jews as a “people.” To Abbas, Jews are simply “members of the Jewish religion.” In contrast to Arabs, Jews can have no national rights or claims.

Abbas denies any Jewish historical connection to Palestine.

For Abbas and Fatah — and of course for Hamas — Palestine is a “waqf,” an eternally sacred Muslim trust. Palestinians dismiss any evidence of Jewish sovereignty in biblical times or thereafter. To them, “the members of the Jewish religion” have never been indigenous to the Land of Israel. They are, he claims, descendants of the medieval Turkish Khazar tribe. Abbas says that while “the Jews claim that 2,000 years ago they had a temple [in Jerusalem], I challenge the claim that this is so.” For Mahmoud Abbas, there were no Jewish settlements in the Land until the “recent [mid-20th century] Zionist incursion,” and Israel “is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism.” The strategy of Abbas and Fatah with its historical denial is to sever Judaism’s links to Zion and to Jewish holy places. All Muslim, Christian, and Jewish shrines must be placed under Islamic sovereignty with access limited to non-Muslim groups at the discretion of Islamic authorities.

For Abbas and the PA, there cannot be an end to all claims against Israel.

Abbas and Fatah cannot envision an endpoint to the conflict: In 2017, at an event marking the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, Prime Minister Netanyahu lamented that he had never met “a Palestinian Sadat.” What he meant was that Abbas — who has been in power since 2005 — has refused to define an endpoint of the conflict, an end of all claims against Israel. Abbas demands that any of the estimated 5.9 million descendants of the Palestinian refugees be permitted to decide to “return” to pre-1967 Israel either now or at any point in the future. Abbas requires that their “right” to choose whether or not to exercise their “return” must continue indefinitely into the future. There must not be a time limit nor numerical quota. According to this view, Palestinian claims against Israelis would never cease.

Abbas refuses to engage in bilateral negotiations directly with Israel.

Abbas refuses to engage in bilateral negotiations with what he regards as an illegitimate State of Israel. Abbas demands that negotiations be indirect, conducted through some combination of the United States, Russia, the European Union, the Arab League, and/or the United Nations. He is unwilling to compromise with Israel either on the aforementioned “right of return,” on borders, or on any other issue. For example, Abbas has insisted, “I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine — the June 4, 1967, borders — without detracting a single inch.” Without land swaps and some flexibility, Abbas’s territorial stance is a deal-breaker. It is impossible that 250,000 Jews in the Jewish neighborhoods of formerly Jordanian-occupied Jerusalem will be expelled. It is not conceivable that the Jewish Quarter and the Kotel in the Old City will be surrendered. No Israeli government can turn the strategic Golan Heights over to Iran-dominated Syria. It is unimaginable that 500,000 residents in West Bank’s major Jewish settlement blocs will be uprooted.

The proposed PA “revitalization” process means a return to power for Hamas.

Polls affirm that virtually no Israeli would accept Hamas retaining power of governance in Gaza and or, certainly, their gaining governance in the West Bank. Yet the United States’ demand for the PA to “reform” itself has yielded a plan favorable to a gradual Hamas revival. It would commence with an initial “technocratic government” as a pathway toward Hamas control.

What is intended by an initial “technocratic government”? The Palestinian Authority’s goal for this stage is to gain the confidence of the international community by offering “a face” that is “non-political” in structure. It would be a neutral arrangement led by engineers who would guide the receipt of billions of aide dollars to reconstruct Gaza — as well as the West Bank.

PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki explained that “the time now is not for a government where Hamas will be part of it because in this case, then it will be boycotted by a number of countries, as happened before. We don’t want to be in a situation like that. We want to be accepted and engaging fully with the international community.”

Is this a feasible solution?

Astute observers like Daniel Greenfield of the Gatestone Institute warn that such a “technocrat state” actually is “a front” for Fatah and Hamas. On the surface, it would be directed by Qatar and composed of “nonprofit executives, academics, economists and others [in order to be] extracting foreign aid through them.”

But in truth, Greenfield notes, “Hamas will be the behind-the-scenes” source of authority. February’s “Unity” summit of Fatah and Hamas in Moscow made clear that the ultimate objective is welcoming Hamas back into full participation.

A “technocratic” initial process “will provide the Biden administration and other Western governments with the plausible deniability,” to the re-empowering of Hamas.

As al-Maliki explained, “Later, when the situation is right, then we could contemplate that option [of the PA and Hamas working together].”

Al-Maliki noted that after the technocratic state it would be feasible “to move the whole country [Gaza and West Bank and Jerusalem] into a period of transition, into a stable kind of situation where, at the end, we might be able to think about elections…that will determine the type of government that will govern the state of Palestine later.”

Importantly, the Fatah-Hamas summit concurred that when Palestinian elections will be held, all parties will be eligible. Credited with Palestinian statehood and the release of thousands of prisoners in Israel, Hamas’s popularity would guarantee a majority of votes.

The prospect of Hamas governance in both Gaza and the West Bank and Jerusalem is an outcome to which Israeli negotiators cannot accede.

In sum, while the Biden administration joins with Tom Friedman in speaking confidently about transforming the “day after” into a long-term peace, the prerequisites for a viable peace are not yet present.


Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”