Can Israel Survive Without a Palestinian State?

Experts and outsiders may agree or disagree on the viability of Israel without a Palestinian state, but in the end, Israelis will always think they alone know what’s good for them. How do Israelis feel about this issue? Although they vary in their support for a two-state solution, most are pessimistic about its likelihood. And yet, a majority of Israelis believe that without a Palestinian state, there will either be intense conflict for years to come or the status quo will continue, with only a few believing that the Palestinians would eventually give up their aspirations.

Interestingly, Arab public opinion in the six Arab countries in which I conduct polls (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates) showed even more pessimism about the alternative to the two-state solution in 2010, with only 10 percent expressing the view that it would lead to a one-state solution.

In fact, this uncertainty is what’s still keeping the two-state solution alive in Arab (and Israeli) minds: On the one hand, majorities express support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 boundaries; on the other hand most believe it will never happen. But since majorities also think that the alternative will not be one state but protracted conflict, they are reluctant to give up the two-state solution.

Would Palestine be a stable state? The first measure is if it would be more stable than the alternatives. Instincts of both the Arab and Jewish publics are about right: The alternative would probably be more unstable and, importantly, more destabilizing, particularly for neighboring states. The stability of a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would depend less on Palestinian internal divisions and economic viability than on the stability of the political and security arrangements with Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

Sure, the economy of such a state will face challenges and may in the end have to be interconnected to the economies of Israel and Arab neighbors, but that is not a bigger challenge than the current situation or than the one many states face. Palestinians are divided politically, but so too are most governing bodies, including Israel’s.

Demographically, the Palestinians are far more homogeneous than are the populaces of many states in the region. In the end, the measure of stability should be relative, as the two-state project is merely a pragmatic solution intended to address an intolerable reality and the absence of viable alternatives.

The measure of instability should not be limited to the Palestinian state and its neighbors. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been destabilizing for the entire region and the world. Even a moderately successful accommodation that’s acceptable to both sides will enhance global stability.