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Can’t the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Be Resolved?


A Palestinian inspects the remains of a house after an Israeli air strike, July 2014. SHAREEF SARHAN
A Palestinian inspects the remains of a house in Gaza after Israeli airstrikes, July 2014. SHAREEF SARHAN

After the failure of United States mediated peace talks, the Gaza-Israel war and the recent tensions in Jerusalem, the prospects for a near-term settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have reached an all-time low. Given those conditions, it is useful and perhaps productive to revisit and reconsider the fundamental solutions for resolving the conflict. Numbers, too, help to understand the situations in the region.

One-state solution

Perhaps the most straightforward option is the “one-state solution.” This plan proposes a secular, democratic Israeli-Palestinian nation, encompassing all of Israel and the Palestinian territories, with equal rights and responsibilities for Christians, Jews, Muslims and other citizens.

The proposed unified nation would have a total population of nearly 13 million, or slightly less than the population of Tokyo. This figure does not include the more than several million Palestinian refugees residing in neighboring countries.

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The religious composition of the combined population would be roughly equally Jews and non-Jews; that is, Muslims, Christians and others. Demographic projections, however, suggest that without including the Palestinian refugees, less than half of the future population would be Jewish, perhaps 48 percent in 2025 and 46 percent by 2035.

Two-state solution

The prevailing proposal for a peace settlement is the “two-state solution.” This proposal centers on an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, west of the Jordan River. This solution basically calls for two states living peacefully side by side within secure and recognized borders with a just resolution of the refugee issue.

The negotiated boundaries between Israel and Palestine would begin with the 1967 borders, or the internationally recognized borders accompanied by adjustments that take into account Israeli settlements. Also, mutually agreed territorial swaps would be made for security purposes, and Jerusalem would be a negotiated shared capital of the two countries.

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Israel, with a population of more than eight million, would remain roughly its current size. Palestine, consisting primarily of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with a population approaching five million, would be considerably smaller in area, about 30 percent the size of Israel.

Three-state solution

A third option to resolve the conflict is the “three-state solution,” also called the Egyptian-Jordanian solution. In addition to the State of Israel, this proposal gives control of the Gaza Strip to Egypt and negotiated parts of the West Bank to Jordan. Except for adjustments of boundaries in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the three-state model is similar to the situation that existed between the 1949 Armistice Agreements and the 1967 Six-Day War.

The phrase “three-state solution” has also been used to describe the de facto situation of Israel, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank. Some think that Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip has rendered the two-state impossible and increased the chances for three independent states or entities west of the Jordan River — namely, Israel, Gaza and West Bank.

No Palestine-state solution

A fourth option, which has gained increased popularity among some Israelis, is the “no Palestine-state solution.” This plan foresees Israel being declared a Jewish nation with sovereignty over all of Eretz Yisrael, or biblical Israel.

Israel as a democratic nation for the Jewish people would also take steps to increase its Jewish majority, approximately 75 percent of its present population. Those measures would include population transfers for reasons of security as well as removal of individuals and groups not loyal to the Jewish state.

The Palestinians in the West Bank would be relocated with some compensation to their homeland, which would be Jordan, or to other Arab nations, such as Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Palestinian refugees in Arab countries nearby could remain there or similarly relocated to Jordan or other Arab countries.

No Israel-state solution

A fifth option, somewhat the converse of the no Palestine-state solution and popular among some Palestinians, is the “no Israel-state solution.” This proposal envisages a single Palestinian state having sovereignty across the entire territory of Mandatory Palestine.

Palestine as a democratic nation would be the homeland for Palestinians. All Palestinians would have the “right of return” to their original homes in Palestine. Refugees not choosing to return would be compensated for their homes and properties.

Jewish Israelis would relocate — many are already living abroad — and establish a new homeland outside the volatile and hostile Middle East. The new Israeli nation could be founded, for example, in one of the American states, perhaps New Jersey, which is roughly the same size as Israel. In addition, the new nation would be adjacent to the large Jewish American population, primarily in the New York metropolitan area, estimated to be nearly equivalent to the number of Jewish Israelis, and together would account for more than 82 percent of the approximately 14 million worldwide Jewish population.

UN partition plan for Palestine, 1947.
UN partition plan for Palestine, 1947.


In 1947, the United Nations adopted the Solomonic decision to divide Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. Several generations after that fateful decision, Israel exists with a predominately Jewish majority — about 75 percent  — but the other prescribed Arab state does not exist.

At this time, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Palestinians are not prepared to relocate to another country nor are the Jewish Israelis prepared to relocate and found a new Jewish nation. Consequently, the “no Palestine-state solution” and “no Israel-state solution” do not appear to be realistic. The three-state solution also appears to be a nonstarter, as it is not acceptable to the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan.

Turning to the two-state solution, achieving a peace agreement that would yield a viable Palestinian state has proven to be extremely difficult as demonstrated by the numerous failed attempts. In addition, there is strong opposition to the two-state option, especially among far-right parties, who think that establishing a Palestinian state would be suicide for Israel.

Israel’s position on peace talks, endorsed officially by the US, contends that a settlement cannot be imposed from the outside but can be achieved through direct negotiations only. While this approach may have some merits in principle, it turns out to be problematic in practice largely because of the enormous asymmetry between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel has vastly superior technology, military forces and armaments, including nuclear weapons. Israel also receives enormous aid, resources and unwavering support from the US government.

Moreover, Israeli interests are advanced and protected from international actions by American support, including a guaranteed veto in the UN Security Council. For example, when the Security Council considered a resolution condemning all Israeli settlements established in occupied Palestinian territory since 1967 as illegal, the US vetoed it, with the other 14 members of the Council voting for the resolution. The US representative explained that while it agreed that the settlements are illegitimate, the resolution hurt chances for peace talks.

Additionally, the US, which invariably has been the chief convener of the peace talks, has not been a genuine broker on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is widely recognized that American officials act as Israel’s attorney, catering and cooperating with Israel at the expense of a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a result of the extensive network of Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank — now numbering more than a hundred containing more than a half million Israelis — and the lack of progress in peace talks, many have concluded that it is probably already too late to establish a viable independent Palestinian state. Some Israelis and Palestinians and outside observers see the conditions on the ground in the West Bank as having produced an apartheid-like situation that may lead to a binational state.

If the two-state solution is no longer considered a workable option, then what remains is essentially the one-state solution. However, that is not acceptable to Israel, mostly because Jewish Israelis would be or soon become a minority in the new state because of demographics.

So having found none of the basic solutions to be feasible, what remains is the status quo. Some, especially among the Israeli far right, say that continuing along the current path of no peace accord is a de facto solution that will provide Israel with more favorable options in the future.

Similarly, there are others who see the status quo with settlement expansion in the West Bank transforming Israel into an apartheid state. And that state, they contend, will lead to the one-state solution.

Most politicians, policymakers and diplomats have concluded that the status quo is not an acceptable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status quo is dangerous not only for the Israelis, Palestinians and other partisans in the region, but a continuation of the conflict also expands hatred, violence and destruction to countries well outside the region.

The time for the international community to find a just and lasting peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long overdue.






This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Joseph Chamie recently retired as research director of the Center for Migration Studies in New York and as editor of the International Migration Review. He was formerly the director of the United Nations Population Division, having worked at the UN on population and development for more than a quarter century.

Chamie has written numerous population studies for the UN and, under his own name, written studies about population growth, fertility, estimates and projections, international migration and population and development policy. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a trustee of the Migration Policy Institute. He lives in the New York metro area.

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Max Kummerow
Max Kummerow
8 years ago

I’m surprised that Dr. Chamie, a demographer did not propose a demographic solution. I presented a paper at a PJSA conference showing a correspondence between fertility rates and violence. A fundamental problem in the Middle East is too many people, with growing numbers on both sides, claiming the same scarce land and water. Peace could be achieved if populations of both groups fell, rather than growing rapidly as at present. So, why not (outside the box) a demographic treaty where both sides agree to spend much more promoting lower fertilty rates, mutually agreed upon and simultaneous, to maintain the current ratio of populations. Instead of “the Palestinian womb is our best weapon” (Arafat’s quote, echoed by the Ultra-Orthodox Jews), why not “family planning is a path to peace, prosperity and justice for all parties.” The U.S. could play a big role by redirecting aid from military to family planning assistance. 100 countries have gotten to replacement fertility or below. Why not Gaza, the West Bank and Israel? A stronger treaty might impose on all parties a “two child policy” enforced by economic sanctions and incentives (maybe free education for the first child, and a penalty tax for the third). Some study of goals and details needed, but the demography now heads both sides towards mutual shoah/nakba, so a demographic treaty should be explored.

David Kwak
David Kwak
8 years ago

I’m using this as a source for my research on a school project 😀

Wallace Edward Brand
Wallace Edward Brand
8 years ago

A predecessor of the Council on Foreign Relations called “The Inquiry” advised Woodrow Wilson and his plenipotentiaries at Paris on January 21, 1919 “1) That there be established a separate state of Palestine.
2) That this state be placed under Great Britain as a mandatory of the
League of Nations.
3) That the Jews be invited to return to Palestine and settle there
being assured by the Conference of all proper assistance in so doing
that may be consistent with the protection of the personal (especially
the religious) and the property rights of the non-Jewish population,
and being further assured that it will be the policy of the League of
Nations to recognise [sic] Palestine as a Jewish state as soon as it is
a Jewish state in fact.”
This solution was adopted at San Remo and incorporated in the Palestine Mandate. See:–_The_Jewish_People_s_State_under_International_Law and

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