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There is ample evidence suggesting that that both Palestine and Israel are opposed to a two-state solution.

Despite this, the US is insisting on the need for a two-state solution to the conflict, despite it being rejected by Netanyahu.

Why does the US insist on this solution when it is clear that neither party is interested?

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    Regarding the Palestinians, I don't think it's conclusive, that's one poll, conducted before the October 7 attacks which are likely to have changed opinions (although not sure in what way); Palestinians have supported a two-state solution in recent years, although as a solution looks less likely people will be less likely to support it. There has also been in the past support for a 2-state solution in Israel. And Israeli Arabs are particularly in favour. As is the Arab League, the EU, and many others. See e.g. Wikipedia
    – Stuart F
    Jan 22 at 13:10

9 Answers 9

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The two-state solution is a compromise. Hamas opposes it because they want all of the territory to be controlled by them. Likud opposes it because they want all of the territory to be controlled by Israel. Obviously the US opposes Hamas controlling the territory, and Israel controlling all of the territory is unpalatable to the Left.

If Pakistan and India got into a war, where the goal of each side was to conquer the other (thus creating one state), and the US was pushing for some peace agreement that preserved the sovereignty of both sides (and thus is a "two state" solution), would you be confused about the US pushing a solution that neither side prefers?

All negotiations involve both sides accepting some middle ground that isn't as good as their ideal resolution. Likud's position simply isn't a practical solution, so the US is trying to get them to accept something less extreme.

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    Is Lindsay Graham the Left now? The two state solution is widely support across the political spectrum and has been for decades, if with little to show for it.
    – Jontia
    Jan 22 at 13:27
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    The question is about Palestine and Israel, but this answer does not talk about Palestinians at all and only mentioned Hamas, an organization that only exists in Gaza and is not a party to any negotiations over Palestinian statehood.
    – Kai
    Jan 22 at 14:53
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    @Kai Hamas does not only exist in Gaza. Jan 22 at 18:07
  • More claims without evidence? The 2009 was cancelled because they were in the middle of a civil war started by the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. The Hamas supporters overthrew the PNA in Gaza, Presumably, because most Hamas supporters are in Gaza, not west bank. The polls I linked reinforce that. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Palestine Hamas and PNA have been negotiating the next election for years, because Gaza is voting too, not just West Bank. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Next_Palestinian_presidential_election Jan 23 at 18:03
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    "Likud opposes it because they want all of the territory to be controlled by Israel."---Israel does not want to control Gaza. They'd give it to Egypt or anyone...except for a murderous terrorist group hellbent on Israel's destruction. Jan 23 at 22:50
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It's an unsurprising inertia given the lack of any politically viable alternative position.

While the Israelis and Palestinians didn't exactly agree to a two-state solution under the Oslo Accords, that's clearly where the US was trying to bring them. From at least that time up to Trump, a vague vision of a two state solution was a fairly steady bipartisan consensus in the US.

I don't think Trump ever explicitly denounced Palestinian statehood, but the extent to which he was willing to agree with Netanyahu's perspective was unprecedented and not something Biden wants to align with.

Netanyahu doesn't have the power to force Biden to do that, and the Palestinians certainly don't have the power to move Biden the other way, whatever that would mean.

While Palestinians in general would prefer not to recognize Israel, a two state solution would be vastly more attractive to many of them than the status quo. That may not be true for Hamas specifically, but the US wouldn't accept a Palestinian state under their control anyway.

So Biden's commitment to a two state solution is effectively not a commitment, but a non-action intended to avoid making things even more complicated.

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    The Trump peace plan was also a two-state solution, even if it provided notably less land and sovereignty to Palestine than other plans. And as for Trump accepting Netanyahu’s perspectives, Trump forced Netanyahu to backflip on his plan to annex the Jordan Valley and has gone on the record as saying Netanyahu “never wanted peace” with the Palestianians. Jan 22 at 14:06
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Because it seems to be the only solution to end the conflict. In fact the two state solution could have been implemented since 1947 when the UN adopted the resolution 181.

United Nations Resolution 181, resolution passed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1947 that called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with the city of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum (Latin: “separate entity”) to be governed by a special international regime.

enter image description here

UN partition plan of 1947 with the Jewish state in blue, Arab state in orange and Jerusalem as Corpus Separatum in white

But at the time Arab countries opposed this solution and invaded Israel to eliminate the Jewish state in vain. There were many attempts to restore the two-state solution till 1995 and the Oslo accords where both sides(Rabin and Arafat) reached an agreement but the accords failed because of extremists of both sides opposed to it.

The Oslo Accords are a pair of interim agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO): the Oslo I Accord, signed in Washington, D.C., in 1993; and the Oslo II Accord, signed in Taba, Egypt, in 1995. They marked the start of the Oslo process, a peace process aimed at achieving a peace treaty based on Resolution 242 and Resolution 338 of the United Nations Security Council. The Oslo process began after secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway, resulting in both the recognition of Israel by the PLO and the recognition by Israel of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and as a partner in bilateral negotiations.

As a consequence Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister was assassinated by Israeli extremists and since then negotiations have been stopped. Anyway, the two-state solution seems to be the only way to put an end to the conflict and the US tries to revive negotiations.

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    This is a mere opinion. How do we know that two-state solution is the only way? Maybe ceding Texas to be occupied by Israeli's and Australia by Palestinians is also a viable solution?
    – dEmigOd
    Jan 21 at 10:30
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    @dEmigOd "This is a mere opinion." Which would be fine as long as it's the US opinion and not only TMFG's opinion. What I would expect from this answer is adding quotes where US politicians say exactly this. Jan 21 at 14:24
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    Please note that Politics Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. Answers need to answer the question being asked, nothing more.
    – Philipp
    Jan 22 at 12:19
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"Israelis want the two-state solution but they don't trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than the Palestinians." - Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in 2010.

Are both parties really uninterested?

There is ample evidence suggesting that that both Palestine and Israel are opposed to a two-state solution.

One shouldn't really generalize about "Palestine" and "Israel", as neither of these are homogeneous. Just to give a few examples:

  • Hamas indeed insist on a one-state solution (i.e., a single state from the river to the sea), and a specific form of of it - an Islamic state. Their softer 2017 charter allows for Jews living in this Islamic state, as second-class citizens - in accordance with the literal interpretation of Islamic writings.
  • Palestinian Authority - internationally recognized official representative of the Palestinian people - technically subscribes to the two-state solution, as outlined in the Oslo accords. In the decades since the accords, there have been multiple statements by the PA officials and their Israeli counterparts that the two-state solution is dead... but technically it is still committed to the two-state solution.
  • Likewise, Israel is technically bound by Oslo accords - even Netanyahu, who rose to power on his opposition to the two-state solution, felt sufficiently bound by them to implement them and even expand them - see, e.g., Hebron accords. I will return below to his recent statements, but it still would take some legal steps to undo Oslo.
  • Support for a one-state solution (aka Greater Israel) among the Israeli right is largely non-existent in its pure form - for the simple reason that it would mean Israel having a significant Palestinian minority and becoming an Apartheid state, which would likely provoke international backlash. Netanyahu's pre-October 7 formula of "maintaining status quo" is sometimes interpreted as a de facto one-state solution, although it allows broader interpretation.
  • A three-state solution is another idea typical of the Israeli right, where the West Bank is annexed by Jordan, while Gaza is taken by Egypt. Neither of the two are interested in controlling Palestinians for their own domestic reasons (e.g., in Jordan this could result in a Palestinian majority ruled by a non-Palestinian King).

Until recently there still had been non-negligible public support for the two-state solution in Israel and among the Palestinians:

In December 2022, support for a two-state solution was 33% among Palestinians, 34% among Israeli Jews, and 60% among Israeli Arabs. 82% of Israeli Jews and 75% of Palestinians believed that the other side would never accept the existence of their independent state. At the end of October 2023, the two-state solution had the support of 71.9% of Israeli Arabs and 28.6% of Israeli Jews.

Netanyahu's recent declarations

Despite this, the US is insisting on the need for a two-state solution to the conflict, despite it being rejected by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is known as a long-term opponent of the two-state solution. His declarations should not however be taken as representative of the long-term policy, for at least two reasons:

  • It is not obvious that he will remain prime minister for long. Israeli opinion is known to be harsh towards those that it considers responsible for national calamities or significant terrorist attacks. It is widely expected that the Netanyahu government will fall after the end of the war in Gaza... unless he has some astonishing achievements to show - like succeeding in eradicating Hamas or normalizing relations with the major Arab states.
  • Netanyahu's statement should be likely viewed in the context of the recent Saudi suggestion that it could normalize ties with Israel in exchange for the establishment of the Palestinian state. There is also a non-negligible tendency in the US to treat every crisis as an opportunity, which in this case means pushing for a two-state solution immediately after the bloody war. Given the current state of affairs, it is likely that any other Israeli government would equally push back against rushing things, although perhaps in a less blatant way than Netanyahu did. This is just not how things are done in the Middle East.

It is worth noting that Netanyahu's exact statement was to the extent Israel cannot relinquish the security control over Gaza and West Bank, which is contrary to the notion of sovereignty, and Biden was largely in agreement with this, suggesting a demilitarized Palestinian state.

“There’s a number of countries that are members of the UN that are still – don’t have their own military; a number of states that have limitations, and so I think there’s ways in which this can work,” Biden added.

But the day after Biden spoke, the Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement: “In his conversation with President Biden, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his policy that after Hamas is destroyed Israel must retain security control over Gaza to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel, a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty.”

What is the US interest in the two-state solution?

Why does the US insist on this solution when it is clear that neither party is interested?

  • Short-term political benefits As pointed out above, for Biden making a big deal just before the presidential elections is of big interest... regardless of whether it would actually bring peace in the long term or not.
  • Good publicity As the western public is mostly ignorant about the Middle East, a two-state solution appears as a simple and just option. So supporting the two-state solution (TSS) is a no-brainer, like supporting democracy, human rights, etc.
  • Peace process vs. the final objective. Supporting TSS in many cases is just a left-wing parlance for Netanyahu's "maintaining status quo" - the three decades since the Oslo accords were nothing but maintaining status quo. Unlike their western counterparts, the Israeli and Palestinian Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to associate TSS with the failed process rather than with the final goal, and oppose it as such.
  • Is there a solution? As a final outcome TSS is certainly preferable to a one-state solution or three-state solution:
    • One-state solution would likely result in the domination of one group (Jews or Palestinians) and likely a civil war - only worsening the current situation.
    • Three-state solution does not resolve the national aspirations of the Palestinians, and is likely to destabilize Jordan and Egypt.
    • Two-state solution is likely impossible - due to the Palestinian state's inability to rein in the armed militant groups like Hamas, and to a lesser but not negligible extent due to Israel's settlements in the West Bank.

Related: How high is the support for non-two-state-solution outcomes in the Arab-Israeli conflict?

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    I want to note, that everyone here ignore, that Netanyahu actually supported a two-state solution at the beginning of his lengthy second term in the office. ecf.org.il/issues/issue/70. Though, palestinian attacks, mainly from Gaza, pretty shifted the public support in the political center and as you have mentioned in the population to abandon this idea
    – dEmigOd
    Jan 22 at 20:31
  • @dEmigOd that's correct. I mentioned that he felt bound by the accords. And in the period that you refer to there was even a short-term settlement freeze. Jan 22 at 20:40
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Both one state and two state mean many very different things to many very different people.

Israel's government declared Israel as both an explicitly Jewish and as a Democratic state. If there's just one Israel, then there's really big a problem with all the non Jewish people that are currently in that territory and have lived there for generations, and cannot be allowed to vote if Israel must be Jewish controlled.

On the other hand, if there are 2 states, then Israel loses many powers over Palestine - notably it would have a harder time unilaterally annexing Palestinian land and driving Palestinians off of it, Palestinians would have an easier time defending their land, and Palestinian factions that ask for restitution by force might over time present a more serious threat to Israel than they currently do.

Schrödinger's Palestine

Right now that problem is solved with Schrödinger's Palestine that both is and isn't a state depending on the required narrative. The promise of an eventual 2 state solution, without actual implementation, plays into that Schrödinger's Palestine.

Netanyahu seems to believe he has no more need for Schrödinger's Palestine in Gaza, so he objects to Gaza being part of a 2 state solution. This may or may not be related to comments and actions by Israel's government, summarized in the case currently under review by the ICJ.

After the USA's actions both under Trump, and in the current military conflict and propaganda war under Biden, Hamas and Palestinians have absolutely no reason to trust Biden's words to be in good faith. Whether Biden's commitment to a 2 state solution is about a real solution, or about maintaining Schrödinger's Palestine is unknown, but with Biden's poor polling partially attributed to Democrat opposition to his strong support of Israel's war, he is certainly incentivized to at least appear to be somewhat neutral to his voters.

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If the US does not support the extermination or complete external redistribution of the Palestinians - which it doesn't - and if the US isn't willing to challenge Zionist sectarianism which makes Israel incapable of absorbing and pacifying the Palestinians into one neutral state covering the entire region - which it isn't - then it's difficult to see what else remains on the table other than an airy commitment to some kind of two-state solution.

The only other position the US could explicitly take would be to resign to endless unresolved conflict, which would give the US no leverage in calling for calm or restraint on either side.

Netanyahu's model meanwhile is basically a one-state apartheid solution, in which Israel militarily controls the entire territory as if it were its own (including areas that are in fact annexed), but political control and citizenship is predominantly exercised by the minority of Jewish heritage (including by immigrants who continue to "return" to Israel).

The US does not specifically want an apartheid model, but it does want a model based on settler colonists who are Western loyalists and who are willing to annex and defend a territorial plantation with their own lives. The US also wants a degree of political autonomy from this loyalist colony, so that it does not have to take direct responsibility.

The web of contradictions that ensue from the US position basically means that there is no position it can take that is both coherent and politically acceptable in the wider world.

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Question:

Why does the US insist on a two-state solution despite both parties being uninterested?

Because that is the only solution where Israel continues to exist as a Jewish state. Also given that prerequisite the best chance for a peaceful future. It's why former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and likely soon new Israeli Prime Ministers Yair Lapid support a two state solution.

The argument against a two state solution is an argument for either genocide or the status quo. Neither is a long term solution which ensures Israel's future. The status quo and continued half century+ of Israel occupying and subjugating the Palestinians. Continued terrorist attack upon Israel. Continue to wait for the time either international boycott, demographic bomb, military defeat, or changing political interests force a one state solution. A one state solution would create a near 50-50 population and if it's forced would likely not be a solution which leads to peace anytime soon.

  1. International Boycott

The international BDS movement has long been recognized as Israel’s greatest existential threat. It’s alive and well and only a matter of time until it catches on with the many critics of Israel’s controversial policies. Policies like collective punishment by the IDF (like Gaza) generally cause renewed interest in the BDS movement. Genocide, or such as forced deportation, or killings of Palestinians in order to maintain a Jewish majority also spike interest in this movement. Such a grass roots movement is what brought down South Africa's apartheid a frankly larger and more stable country with superior natural advantages.

  1. Demographic Bomb

Israel: a demographic ticking bomb in today’s one-state reality, Israel population is roughly split 50, 50 with the Palestinians (including both citizens and refugee's in the occupied areas, or greater Israel). Seven million each as of 2023, roughly. In the last decade, Jewish population has increased by 18% and Palestinians by 25%. Israel has achieved parity only through, aliyah (the waves of Jews emigrating into Israel from the rest of the world). This solution is not sustainable. While Israel has also increased it's birth rate most of the increase is due to the haredim, or the ultra-Orthodox, which is also problematic. The overall risk is if Jews become a minority in Israel and Palestinians seek a 1 state solution then Jewish Israeli's cease to be in control. Also it opens Israel up to the apartheid argument used to take down South Africa if a minority governs by excluding the majority from representation. It's a big problem for Israel long term which their is no good answer which doesn't fundamentally change Israel. This issue feeds and encourages existential threat #1.

  1. Military defeat

Israel lost their first war in 2006 to Hezbollah. It’s the first time Israel mobilized ( although a fraction of their full strength ) and left their enemy in tact in control of the field. It’s a testament to the growing sophistication of Israel’s enemies. Simple put if Israel’s foes ever learn to put a guidance system on their rockets Israel is done. Israel's enemies have over 100,000 missiles and rockets which can target every in of the small country, the only thing saving Israel currently is the rockets have no accuracy. Iron dome is capable but it’s not practical and can be overwhelmed. Not practical to send three 3 million dollar missiles to shoot down a rocket costing $20k. This is Israel’s second greatest existential threat improved tech like lasers could help but we’re a long way off from getting that working. The U.S. which spent a lot of money on Lasers retired their laser program like a decade ago as impractical against missiles. They're bringing it back now to be used against smaller drones.

  1. Changing political interests

Israel enjoys terrific support from many countries most importantly though from the US and EU. That political support is not reflected in public opinion polls especially when Israel is punishing the Palestinians collectively as is currently occurring in Gaza and is Israel’s long standing policy. This gap casts doubt on the viability of their political support long term. Losing its political support from Israel’s allies is their 3rd greatest existential threat.

It has long been agreed by all sides the formula for peace. Land for peace. It’s been the basis of every significant Israeli peace agreement. The two state solution continues along this formula.

From Comments:

@Roger V.

Israel lost their first war in 2006 to Hezbolah. It’s the first time Israel mobilized ( although a fraction of their full strength ) and left their enemy in tact in control of the field. - conquering Lebanese territory wasn't an objective of this war (Israel voluntarily withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000, and Syria was forced out of the North a few years later.)

"voluntarily" withdrew because after 15 years they were still taking casualties and thought withdrawing might get Hezbollah to stop attacking them. Did not work.

Israel invaded Southern Lebanon in 1982, By 1985, Israel had withdrawn to a front designated as a "Security Zone" in Southern Lebanon, where it retained its forces to fight alongside the SLA against Hezbollah and other Muslim militant groups, which marked the beginning of the 1985–2000 South Lebanon conflict. Which ended with Israel withdrawing from the security zone unilaterally hoping ending their occupation would get Hezbollah to stop their attacks. They didn't. In 2006 in response to Hezbollah rocket and ground attacks the IDF mobilized to try to back them off. The IDF got it's ass kicked. Israel lost more tanks in 2006 than the United States lost in both gulf wars. They found an enemy with modern anti personnel and anti tank rockets, which had prepared the ground and Israel had no solution for it. So after a few weeks Israel just decided to ignore them rather than continue to take the casualties. Hezbollah with their dug in defenses had no ability to go on the offensive. As I said that was a first for the IDF, to go after a target like that, and withdraw leaving their enemy in control of the field.

Don't get me wrong it was a smart move and the right thing to do. But it is also a demonstration of new limitations of the IDF tactics by what amounts to a stateless militia.

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    "Because that is the only solution where Israel continues to exist as a Jewish state." - There's also the "voluntary" resettlement at gunpoint, which several people in Israel's government are openly in favor of. In a non-Israeli context that's called either genocide or ethnic cleansing, depending on how much the guns are being fired.
    – Peter
    Jan 22 at 8:51
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    @Peter, To deport a minority or in this case slight majority of people against their will is considered Genocide by international law. And while genocide would certainly help the Israeli's with one existential threat the refugee's, it contributes significantly to others. Not to mention internal Israeli public opinion wouldn't support it. That is not a path to the continued existence of Israel.
    – JMS
    Jan 22 at 14:38
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Suppose that Israel will never accept a two-state solution and that the US acknowledges that. That fundamentally changes the nature of conflict as the Israeli policies vis-a-vis the occupied Palestinian territories can no longer be justified as "interim measures". The international community would have to admit that Israel practices apartheid, as alleged by human rights organizations such as Amnesty, B'TSelem, Human Rights Watch, and Yesh Din.

This is a problem for centre and left-leaning parties concerned with humanitarian issues. In the American Democratic party the aversion to apartheid is strong and it can't accept that "America's closest ally" practices apartheid. In 1986, current president Joe Biden made an impassionate speech about South African apartheid. That what he said in 1986 equally applies to Israel in 2024 is, of course, unacceptable to most Democrats. The EU has free trade agreements with Israel which would be politically untenable if Israel were to be branded an apartheid state. It is also a problem for the Palestinian Authority who without a two-state solution would be reduced to administrators of the Israeli occupation.

Right-leaning parties around the world are, generally speaking, not as disgusted by (you can read that as "infatuated with" depending on your perspective) human rights violations, so for them, the apartheid reality may be easier to handle. For example, in 2020 the American Republican administration gave the Israeli government a go-ahead to annex parts of the West Bank and Republican politicians have referred to the West Bank as "Judea and Samaria", giving credence to the Israeli claim of having the right to sovereignty there. And last year former national security advisor to Donald Trump John Bolton argued that

the two-state solution is definitively dead: Israel will never recognize a “Palestine” that could become another Hamas-stan. Besides, Gaza is not a viable economic entity, and neither would a “state” consisting of Gaza and an archipelago of Palestinian dots on the West Bank be viable. Israel has made clear it rejects any “right of return” for Palestinians, and has announced it will no longer even grant work visas to Gazans seeking employment.

He instead proposed that Gazans should be resettled around the world, including in the US, provided that they had "a track record of opposing Hamas". Currently, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, both vying to become the US Republican party's presidential candidate, expressed their support for resettling Gazans. However, they have locked horns over whether Gazan refugees should be allowed to go to the US; DeSantis has accused Haley of allowing that, which she called pure slander. To people on the opposite side of the political spectrum, "resettlement" is merely an euphemism for ethnic cleansing.

Thus, imagining the Israeli occupation as ephemeral and hoping for a two-state solution - that Israel shows no willingness to accept - is the politically expedient option in most political circles.

Why is the US clinging on to this solution when it is clear that neither party is interested?

As shown, this is mostly true for Democratics. Republicans have shown a willingness to move away from the two-state paradigm.

For details see the op-ed Two-State Illusion by Ian S. Lustick from 2013 and the book The Two-State Delusion by Padraig O'Malley from 2015. They painstakingly argue why the two-state solution is dead and why there is zero Israeli political will (other than paying lip-service) to resurrect it.

The Palestinian opposition to a two-state solution (acceptable to Israel) could be mentioned, but is irrelevant because it doesn't drive American politics.

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Simply put: Nobody has a better idea

The extremes in this conflict both require an entire population to disappear and give up the land they currently live on.

Any solution that allows both sides to continue existing must answer the question "how?". With decades of hate, war, terrorism and massacres, a solution where both Israelis and Palestinians share a country is a ridiculous proposition.

So you can't have one state of only one people, and you can't have one state with both of them, that leaves only the two-state solution.

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