Palestinian Youth and the Futility of the Two-State Solution

Following Israel’s expulsions of Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and its war on Gaza this year, pro-Palestine movements revitalized the global cry for Palestinian freedom and reminded the world of the injustices endured under Israeli occupation. Youth movements made clear their departure from blanket support for any kind of Israel-Palestine resolution that could be achieved and, instead, advocated explicitly for the struggle to recover the land of historic Palestine. Whereas previously “coexistence” and “peace” were buzzwords that reflected the goals of the time, frustrations with Palestinian Authority governmental complacency have resulted in advocacy centered on “decolonization,” “justice,” and “rights” as drivers of the liberation discussion.

The traditional American approach to the Palestinian-Israeli dilemma has been one of diplomacy and championing a two-state solution, all while staunchly backing Israel through economic and political means. But the ability of Palestinian youth networks to garner support within the United States to criticize US foreign policy has created pressure on policy-makers that can no longer be ignored. Current and future US administrations must leave the comfort of the obsolete two-state idea behind. Instead, it would behoove them to push for efforts aimed at creating a single state, one that includes genuine self-determination and equal rights for all its inhabitants—before the possibility of any solution is rendered fully untenable.

Limiting US Policy to the Two-State Solution

The United States’ continued dependency on a two-state solution comes as no surprise. Keeping Palestine and Israel as two separate entities facilitates geopolitical goals in the region and appeases Zionist lobbies in the United States. Like his predecessors, President Joe Biden’s policies appear to prioritize Israel’s political goals over Palestinian human and political rights. Notwithstanding the brutal attacks on Gaza’s civilian population in May, Biden furthered his position by pledging to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile system—a double standard in which financial support for Palestinians is being withheld or limited.

Like his predecessors, President Joe Biden’s policies appear to prioritize Israel’s political goals over Palestinian human and political rights.

What allows this one-sided political advocacy to persist, even as pro-Palestinian sentiment is beginning to permeate Washington and observable swaths of the American population? Washington likes to act as if its hands are tied when it comes to making any progress on the issue, but in reality it ties its own hands. Palestinian analyst Yousef Munayyer has coined the term “Green-Lined vision,” one that he says allows policy-makers to act displeased with human rights and international law violations while failing to fully question the very existence of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Perpetuating the idea of a two-state solution that will only come when Israelis and Palestinians are ready to negotiate allows the United States to be absolved of any responsibility in an occupation it helped fund and maintain.

There has been a perpetuation of a myth that Israel and Palestine are engaged in a conflict, rather than in a military occupation of one party over the other. This dominant narrative reflects a landscape in which Israeli intransigence and unwillingness to come to the negotiating table remain the main hindrances to peace. On the other hand, the two-state solution enables US policy-makers to express continued support for a peace process that is nonexistent and, by extension, to convince the rest of the world that it is the only way for Israel to exist at peace.

In an effort to mitigate the pro-Palestine calls to action, Rep. Andy Levin (D-Michigan) recently introduced the “Two-State Solution Act” in the US House of Representatives. The act reaffirms the United States’ stance that Israel should remain an independent state from Palestine but should halt its demolition of Palestinians’ homes and annexation and illegal settlement of the occupied West Bank. Once again, the condemnations directed at Israel’s violations of international law and human rights abuses seem more like a slap on the wrist. Considering Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s insistence that the annexation of the West Bank is “natural growth” that he cannot restrict, there is once again symbolic action being taken to ensure Palestinian survival and self-determination.

The Demands of the Palestinian Youth Movement

The Palestinian youth who have taken to the streets this year—whether in Chicago or Ramallah—chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” In their eyes, a one-state solution is the only option because it would mean the end of Israel’s hegemony and its military, political, and economic mechanisms. While previous calls for a one-state solution among academics offered roadmaps for a confederation, or federation in which Israel would still exist but share power with some conception of Palestinian authority, today’s liberation movements are demanding the end of Israel as an apartheid state, due to its inherent oppression of Palestinians.

In the eyes of young Palestinians, a one-state solution is the only option because it would mean the end of Israel’s hegemony and its military, political, and economic mechanisms.

Unity across diasporas and transnational solidarity, most notably from the Black Lives Matter movement, have resulted in a common vision rooted in decolonization. Individuals like Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd and Mariam Barghouti have been heralded as spokespeople of this generation because of their candid takes on the state of liberation struggles. In a Wall Street Journal article, Muna El-Kurd is quoted as saying: “We want all of Palestine, from the river to the sea … There is no such thing called Israel.” Insisting on Israel’s illegitimacy, she attacks what the state has been fighting to prove for 73 years: its right to exist. In this same vein, Palestinians are also fighting for their own survival by remaining steadfast and trying to undermine the occupation and suffocating policies. The Palestinian Youth Movement’s official statement on former President Donald Trump’s peace plan succinctly summarized the current pleas that drive their efforts: “We wish to make it clear that it is not a different ‘blueprint’ or the granting of partial legal rights that we seek, but rather, the fall of the wall, the full right of return, and an end to the settler-colonization of our homeland.” What this means is that the window for negotiations and traditional appeals to diplomacy are not able to achieve the full list of demands on which the Palestinians have been forced to compromise for the past seven decades.

This spirit of resistance was prevalent through a sudden shift in mainstream language on the situation. In April, Human Rights Watch published its report titled “A Threshold Crossed” about “crimes of apartheid” by Israel and its discrimination against Palestinians based on ethnicity, terms that became prevalent in describing what has been called the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” For Palestinian youth, a redrawing of Palestine will be viewed as legitimate only if it eradicates the Israeli occupation and Israel’s philosophy of settler colonialism. The grassroots nature of Palestinian liberation movements is supported by global campaigns like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, demonstrating that appealing to the Palestinian Authority, as it is constituted today, or to conventional methods of political representation are futile. In relinquishing the traditional, diplomatic forms of conflict resolution that have historically proven to do more harm than good, Palestinian youth are encouraged to demand more than has previously been allotted to them, now that the future of their state lies solely in their hands.

As Munayyer contends, previous attempts at mobilizing came “at a moment in which Palestinian political energy and focus was framed within the effort of statehood, the two-state framework … That consensus has now disappeared. People have woken up to the reality that we’re living in a one-state apartheid system.” This shift in perception by youth challenges the American foreign policy status quo and forces policy-makers to be alert and respond. While it may seem unwilling or oblivious to disrupting such a deeply entrenched US-Israeli alliance (that has persisted despite overt human rights violations by Israel), the United States is feeling the pressure from global campaigns. To be sure, Israel and Palestine will remain a thorn in the United States’ side until Palestinian human and national rights are properly addressed.

Non-Violence May Be a Victim of the Status Quo

The question remains: what do heightened calls for a one-state solution mean for future US foreign policy? Faced with an ineffective government and no recourse to international legal systems, Palestinians continue to insist on their own agency and responsibility to determine their own fate. A survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, released on June 15, hinted at a heightened frustration among Palestinians. When asked, “What is the most effective means of ending the Israeli occupation,” 49 percent responded by pointing to armed struggle, a 12-percent rise when compared to three months prior. The analysis of survey results states that, “In light of the recent confrontations with Israel, a majority of 53% think Hamas is most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people while 14% think Fatah under president Abbas.” Furthermore, 54 percent reported opposition to a return to dialogue with the United States under President Biden. What these figures tell us is that the United States’ unequivocal support of the occupation disqualifies it from being an honest broker. An increase in support for armed struggle is worrisome and, coupled with a preference for Hamas as a governing body, is unsurprising, given the lack of other options.

Faced with an ineffective government and no recourse to international legal systems, Palestinians continue to insist on their own agency and responsibility to determine their own fate.

Naturally, people who have been refused basic dignities and whose ability to pursue nonviolent forms of resistance is criminalized will desire to respond with less peaceful means. Indeed, nonviolent resistance has been widespread throughout Palestine and the diaspora for decades. Take Bil’in as an example, a town that captured international attention for its weekly nonviolent protests that started in 2005. In spite of its pleas for peace, Bil’in residents saw the death of their neighbor Islam Burnat, a 16-year-old who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier in May 2021. When not even communal nonviolence can protect a Palestinian child from the Israelis’ indiscriminate shooting of civilians, desperation can easily turn into a perceived need for violence. The United States becomes relevant because it is responsible for continuing this cycle of two-state rhetoric, victimizing Palestinians, and questioning why the occupied do not just let themselves remain under occupation. This results in even more bloodshed.

President Biden is ignoring a nascent cry for a single state for Palestinians and Israelis. Clearly, it will not likely get traction as long as Israel continues to receive unconditional support from the United States and its western allies. The first step that should be taken by current or future US administrations is the recognition that a prolongation of violence will take place as long as complacency is a staple of US policy making. Second, it is important for American leaders to denounce Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinians and to stop insisting that Jewish survival depends on a two-state solution. This would then open many more avenues for dialogue and meaningful conceptions of future solutions, and would lead ultimately to a reduction of violence.

Palestinian youth movements this year have shown that a single state is their desired objective, despite disagreement on what the specifics are, as long as a colonialist Israel is not part of it. This is not to say Jews are not included in the conversation; groups like J Street and T’ruah showed support for Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill on conditional aid to Israel, and Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the biggest advocates for BDS and the right of return. Such advocacy of these movements inspires hope for a future in which coexistence is not dictated by ideations of peace and fraternity but, rather, shared understandings of injustice and discrimination. Frustrations and obstacles arise because the United States, Israel’s biggest supporter, refuses to relinquish the already dead two-state solution. Without the ability for legitimate sovereignty, Palestinians are forced to turn away disingenuous peace proposals created by the United States and the occupation, then are rebuked for not obliging. In this sense, radicalization and fervent nationalism fueled by continuous injustices may reach a point at which diplomatic means for resolution become inherently impossible.

The views expressed in this paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC or its Board of Directors.