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The idea of a two-state solution is almost as old as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In light of the current hostilities, it also seems increasingly unrealistic.
The so-called two-state solution was first articulated by the Royal Commission of Inquiry to Palestine, which was created in 1936 to investigate the root of unrest in Mandatory Palestine. The territory was established in 1920, placed under British control in 1923 and dissolved with the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948. Also known as the Peel Commission, the body was the first to suggest partitioning Palestine into ethnic states.
After speaking with more than 100 Jews and Arabs, commission members declared that "irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country." Finding "no common ground between them, their national aspirations are incompatible," according to the commission, which suggested partitioning the mandate into two states.
Though the plan was initially shelved, it has served as a template for subsequent attempts to defuse the conflict. The two-state solution was debated at the UN General Assembly in 1947, but ultimately blocked by Arab governments that opposed the establishment of the nation of Israel.
Both sides attempted to secure as much territory as possible in the 1947-49 Palestine war, which ultimately laid the cornerstone for the expulsion of Palestinians. When Israel took control of the West Bank and Jerusalem during the Six-Day War of 1967, the idea of a two-state solution no longer seemed realistic.
The plan wouldn't come up again until 1980 when the European Community recognized Palestinian self-determination and advocated for a two-state solution. Still, it would take over two decades before the UN Security Council accepted the term in 2002.
In 2003, George W. Bush became the first US president to adopt the idea, and Israelis and Palestinians picked up on it in that year's Geneva Accord.
Rapprochement was made possible by the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized Israel's existence, albeit implicitly and not expressly. In 1988, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat said the organization was dropping its previous plan to establish a Palestinian state across the entire territory, but rather "on our Palestinian territory with its capital, Jerusalem." Thus, the PLO limited its future state to the 1967 boundaries of the occupied territories.
Hamas had said in a 2017 paper that it could foresee a national discussion about a Palestinian state based on the borders that were in place before the Six-Day War in 1967. But the very same paper also said there was no alternative to a fully sovereign state spanning the entirety of Palestinian territory, with Jerusalem as the capital. The latter would practically rule out coexistence with Israel.
In recent years, support for the two-state solution appears to be decreasing.
As Israel has expanded settlement building, support has dwindled among Palestinians. By 2020, majorities of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were expressing opposition to the idea. That trend has continued, with many people saying that the sprawl of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law, has made the idea impossible to implement.
Attacks by Hamas and allied groups have eroded support for a two-state solution among Israelis. Fewer than half of Israelis favor it. And most also reject a idea of a one-state solution, which, from their point of view, would undermine the country's identity.
This article was changed on May 28, 2021, to include mention of a 2017 paper in which Hamas took a position on creation of a Palestinian state. It has been translated from German by Jon Shelton.