The two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict has become a meaningless phrase. The longer illegal settlement activity in the occupied territories is allowed to proceed, the less reason there is to take seriously those – beginning with US policymakers – who continue to profess their commitment to it.

For decades, the defining conflict of the Middle East has revolved around a single piece of diplomatic jargon: the "two-state solution." Originally, this term referred to a concrete idea - the formation of a sovereign independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. But for most politicians, it has long since become an empty cliché, uttered out of habit, and without much interest in seeing it through.

Consider US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's recent call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the State Department readout, Blinken "stressed the US commitment to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian people in tangible ways and the [Biden] Administration's support for a negotiated two-state solution."

Such talk is nothing new. While the United States has formally recognized the state of Israel since 1948, it has yet to recognize the state of Palestine in accordance with the United Nations partition plan. Moreover, both territories that the original UN resolution set aside for an Arab state are now occupied by Israel. While the US and most of the rest of the world have called on Israel to end its military rule over millions of Palestinians, they have done little to change the status quo. Even though Palestine has been recognized as a non-member state by the UN and formally recognized by 139 UN member states, the US, the European Union, Japan, and Australia still have not taken this critical step.

Given this, US officials' endless repetition of the phrase "two-state solution" means nothing. But while few expect the US to sanction Israel or arm Palestinians (as it has done for the Ukrainians), there are still practical steps that both America and the international community could take to make the two-state solution more than an empty slogan.

For example, the US could remove the Palestine Liberation Organization - which signed the 1993 Oslo Accords along with Israel - from its list of designated terrorist organizations. It could block imports of products made in illegal Jewish settlements that bear the label "Made in Israel." And it could demand that Israel cease the daily violence committed against Palestinians and pursue justice for Shireen Abu Akleh, the slain Palestinian-American journalist whom US officials themselves believe was likely killed by an Israeli bullet.

America can also do more to help Palestinians build the state institutions they will need to end Israeli control of Palestinian land, water, and air. As matters stand, Israel restricts Palestinians' water usage and sets housing regulations in the occupied territories, where Palestinian homes are regularly demolished. Palestinians are not even free to upgrade their cell-phone towers, owing to the Israeli towers that have been built illegally on occupied Palestinian lands.

Under these conditions, an independent Palestinian economy is an impossibility. But a strong push to help Palestinians engage economically with neighboring Arab countries - especially Egypt and Jordan - could start the process of ending Palestinians' forced dependence on Israel. Palestinian police should be allowed a presence on the King Hussein Bridge that connects Jordan and the West Bank, and Palestinians should be granted safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel committed itself to achieving both outcomes when it signed the Oslo Accords.

Recent political developments suggest that renewed progress on these issues is possible. The centrist Israeli politician Yair Lapid has stepped in as a caretaker prime minister ahead of US President Joe Biden's visit in the region this month. Unlike the outgoing right-wing prime minister, Naftali Bennett, Lapid supports the two-state solution and advocates renewed negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.

However, Lapid's tenure will probably be short-lived, given that Israelis will go to the polls in November to elect a new government. Once again, Palestinians are left waiting and hoping for a positive outcome in an Israeli election, an exercise that most now consider a waste of time.

The land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River either must be split into two sovereign states, or it must be shared between the Palestinian and Israeli people, with all citizens having equal rights. Israeli and American leaders who profess to believe in the two-state solution must prove that they mean what they say. At a minimum, the US must demand - wielding the threat of sanctions - that Israel not pursue any further action that impedes the realization of a contiguous Palestinian state.

When Biden was vice president, the Obama administration allowed for the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared all Israeli settlements in "Palestinian territories occupied since 1967" to be illegal, and which called on Israel to block the construction of additional settlements in the occupied territories. But later this month (just after Biden leaves), Israeli officials will announce the approval of a controversial new settlement plan that will eliminate the remaining contiguity between the north and south of the West Bank.

Continued Israeli settlement activity makes a complete mockery of the two-state solution and any political leader who still claims to support it. Are world leaders - starting with Biden - serious when they talk about a democratic Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel? In the absence of meaningful policy changes, the "two-state solution" will continue to ring hollow.

From Project Syndicate

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