In an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 17, John Kerry became the first US official to put an expiration date on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kerry stated not only that the window for two states is closing, but also, notably, that the timeframe is shockingly short: "a year, year and a half to two years or it's over." Failing to mention what is expected when this two-year window lapses, Kerry's words remain cryptic. But they echo a widely shared sentiment among world leaders, diplomats, and pundits, from Ban Ki-moon to Thomas Friedman. Arguably, though, it is an attitude that plays into the hands of the adversaries of the principle of "two states for two peoples" which President Obama reaffirmed in his rousing speech in Jerusalem. It is, moreover, false.
There is great urgency in bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a close, but not because facts on the ground create an irreversible reality.
If Kerry genuinely believes in the imminent demise of the two-state option, he must envisage dramatic geopolitical changes in the near future. Otherwise, what might render a hitherto feasible arrangement defunct? While certain political, demographic, and regional developments may tip the scales against partition, most observers pin the end of the two-state solution on the ever-expanding Israeli settlements. It is becoming increasingly common to identify a looming red line beyond which the number of settlers or the extent of settlements will render an Israeli pullout obsolete.
The idea that the two-state solution is losing relevance in the face of growing settlement activity is hardly new. Its origins can be traced back to an "irreversibility thesis" that Israeli intellectual Meron Benvenisti has been propounding for 30 years. Benvenisti is quoted in a New York Times article from November 1982 claiming that Israel's "de facto annexation" of the West Bank sets the clock on five minutes to midnight as to dividing historical Palestine. The Doomsday clock has been ticking ever since, but although it is evident that the settlements are the single most crucial obstacle to peace, it is less clear why so many people consider their presence irreversible. For even the doomsayers cannot deny that the settlements are an extremely costly venture which remains completely dependent on Israeli funding. Reel in the infrastructures, rescind the lavish benefits, provide incentives and reparations for repatriated settlers, and the whole problem shrinks back to manageable proportions.
In a strange turn of events, the irreversibility thesis --for years the domain of pro-Palestinian supporters of the so-called one-state solution -- is increasingly being espoused by the Israeli right. In a July 2012 New York Times op-ed, Dani Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council (the representative body of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories), called Jewish settlements in all areas of the Occupied Territories "an irreversible fact." Affirming growing disillusionment with the two-state solution as "wonderful news," Dayan urged the international community to relinquish "its vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution." Even prominent leaders of the liberal wing of the Likud Party made similar comments; Reuven Rivlin, the former Speaker of the Knesset, has recently stated that "there can only be one-state between the Jordon and the sea" and that "it is clear that the idea of partition has failed."