The possibility that Barak Obama will be the US leader seen to have presided over the death of the two state solution appears to be the driver behind the last minute manoeuvring at the White House to orchestrate something, anything to keep the notion alive. However, the conditions required for a two state solution - a coherent land mass for a Palestinian state, the motivation of both populations and their leadership to make the compromises necessary and an honest broker to mediate - have gone for good. A more positive use of the closing phase of Obama's presidency would be to begin the dramatic recalibration that will be required to reformulate our post two state solution thinking.
The likelihood of a two state solution has declined with every year since the late 90s and became completely untenable over the past five years. The fait accompli of a permanent Jewish presence in the West Bank is now in place. One need drive through the West Bank to see the grand prize awaiting Palestinians holding out for their own state: an incoherent mosaic of settlements and Israeli only roads. Removing 8500 settlers from the middle of Gaza in 2005 does not provide any precedent for what would be required to expel the more than half a million (and rising) settlers from the West Bank. The leadership and motivation for this type of grand action is long gone.
A two state solution remains as little more than a convenient fallacy providing cover for political inaction from the USA, Israel and the Palestinian leaderships. For the aging leadership of Fatah, the Palestinian Authority continues to provide the trappings of power - albeit in a diminished form from the immediate post-Oslo glory days. Palestinians have given up on their leadership and after years of political failure have now reverted to the violent use of kitchen implements as a crude form of resistance. For the Israeli populace, the distrust of Palestinians is now at its lowest levels. Neither population are making any serious demands on their leaderships for a two state solution. Israel of course has played the most complex and dangerous game of all. Despite its bellicose actions and statements to the opposite, it continues to play along with a two state solution. While its settlement program has obliterated the prospect of any Palestinian state, the violent response by a disenfranchised Palestinian population allows it to argue that it has no partner in peace. The final negotiations for a deal are thus always just out of sight. With this cover, Israeli leaders can continue their relentless drive for the lion's share of the West Bank and Jerusalem.
For Washington, the notion that a two state solution continues somewhere on the horizon prevents an airing of any awkward questions about the Israeli occupation and the overwhelming blowback experienced by anyone in the USA foolhardy enough to speak out against the injustice inflicted on Palestinians. Much is made of Obama's growing animosity toward the current Israel leadership and the prospect that he may pursue a deal via the UN Security Council in the coming months. While a symbolic action might be a slap in the face for Netanyahu, conditions in Washington do not provide any prospect of significant follow through. The tough action required by Israel and Palestinian leaders will never be enforced by the USA hence the prospect of failure for any deal.
Ultimately this conflict will be resolved by simple demographics: a growing Arab population over time becoming the majority. If Gaza is included in the count this reality is almost with us. Even if Gaza is excluded from the equation, the Arab population within Israel, the West Bank and Jerusalem will overtake the Jewish population over the next couple of decades.
Over time a Jewish minority will be just as untenable as Apartheid South Africa. A new binary state will ultimately have to be formed between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River made up of Jews and Arabs. Until this time the crisis will grind on: we will continue to see a cruel occupation in the West Bank and a brutal blockade of Gaza, triggering further terror as a result. The unresolved conflict will remain a festering wound infecting the entire region. Watching this ongoing hopelessness will continue to be difficult and will prompt calls for a political settlement. The notion of a two state solution should however form no further part of these discussions. A more sensible course of action in the last days of Obama's presidency would be to begin nurturing the prospect of this new nation now - preparing both populations for what will come because of past inaction. A realisation by both parties that the international community is not entertaining the old notions any further will focus the attention of both the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships. The changing focus should start with a dismantling of the Palestinian Authority and calls under international law for Israel to assume fully its responsibilities to Palestinians as the occupying power. It is time for humanitarian and development agencies and key donors to accept that the more optimistic days of the Oslo Accords are behind us and the formation of a Palestinian state is now an impossibility. With this recognition should come a recasting of many policy positions and funding programs that go toward reinforcing the myth of a two state solution.
It is impossible to predict how events will unfold - perhaps a leader with the vision and bravery of Mandela will emerge to steer us through the difficulties. Regardless, the birth of a new binary nation will see upheaval, chaos and bloodshed but it is now inevitable. Obama can can either chose to continue with the illusion of two states or start the difficult journey for a lasting settlement.