As the Israel-Hamas war rages, the “two state solution” has been making headlines across the world.

US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abas have all expressed support for the idea, which would see Palestinians and Israelis each have a sovereign state of their own.

So, what is the two state solution and how many Israelis and Palestinians actually want one?

What is the Israeli-Palestinian two state solution?

The majority of Palestinians live in two territories: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian National Authority, which is controlled by the Fatah party. The Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas, which many Western nations including the US and the UK designate as a terrorist organisation.

The Palestinians do not currently have their own sovereign state. Proponents of the two state solution argue that this should change and that the West Bank and Gaza Strip should form a single Palestinian sovereign state that exists alongside the sovereign state of Israel. That would leave two states: Israel and Palestine.

The idea has been around for decades and steps were made towards it in the early 1990s, with the signing of the Oslo Accord. As part of that agreement, Israel recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organsiation (PLO), led by Mahmoud Abbas, as representing the Palestinian people – with the PLO agreeing in return to end violence and recognise Israel as a legitimate state.

But by the end of the decade, violence had once again broken out and by the early 2000s, Palestinian groups began the “Second Intifada”.

Since then, attempts to broker a two state deal have failed. Commentators cite a number of reasons that it remains difficult to achieve, including Israeli settlements in the West Bank, uncertainty about where the borders between a newly-created Palestine and Israel would be drawn, and the question of what would happen to Palestinian refugees and their descendants who fled or were pushed out of the area when the modern state of Israel was created in 1948.

Does the Israeli government or public want a two state solution?

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has previously expressed doubts about the possibility of a sovereign Palestinian state.

In February this year, he told CNN that a future Palestinian state would be allowed to run its own economy and politics, but would have to cede control of security to Israel. Mr Netanyahu admitted that this was “not perfect sovereignty”.

And his government’s position seems to have hardened since Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attack on Israel, in which fighters killed an estimated 1,200 people and took over 200 hostages.

Mr Netanyahu said on 13 December that, “Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan” – seeming to suggest that neither of the main Palestinian parties will be allowed to rule Gaza after the war ends.

Meanwhile, Israel’s communication minister Shlomo Kahri said on Wednesday: “There will be no Palestinian state here. We will never allow another state to be established between Jordan and the [Mediterranean] sea”.

Asked by Sky News’ Mark Austin whether there was “still a chance for a two state solution”, Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, said in December that a “new paradigm” should be built. Pushed on whether that would involve Palestinians having a sovereign state, Ms Hotovely replied: “The answer is absolutely no”.

And it seems the possibility of a two state solution isn’t especially popular with the Israeli public.

Asked whether Israel should back a two state solution in order to secure American support, just 38.8 per cent agreed, according to polling conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in November this year. Around 47 per cent said Israel should not pursue a two state solution, while 14 per cent said they didn’t know.

The results are similar to those of a separate poll carried out in July by the Israeli Foreign Policy Index, which put support for a two state solution at just 36 per cent.

Do Palestinians want a two state solution?

Israeli airstrikes and ground forces have killed more than 18,500 Gazans in the current conflict, according to figures from the Hamas-run health authority. This widespread death and destruction, as well as limited internet and electricity supplies, make it difficult to measure public opinion in Gaza.

Gallup polling conducted between July and September this year (before the latest war began) found just 24 per cent of Palestinians would support a two state solution. That’s a massive collapse in support since 2012, when the figure was around 60 per cent.

Another pollster, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, did manage to carry out a survey in November and December this year as the war unfolded. Those results found that 35 per cent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip support a two state solution.

Despite the apparent lack of popular support for a two state solution, the leader of the Palestinian Authority – which controls the West Bank but not Gaza – Mahmoud Abbas, has recently repeated his desire for one. The UK and the US also say that this is their preferred outcome.

Does Hamas want a two state solution?

In 2017, Hamas, the UK-designated terror group that controls Gaza, proposed what some observers saw as a move towards the two state solution.

A spokesman at the time said: “Hamas advocates the liberation of all of Palestine but is ready to support the state on 1967 borders without recognising Israel or ceding any rights.”

That suggested Hamas would accept a state of Palestine that covers the West Bank and Gaza Strip (territories seized by Israel in the six-day war of 1967) without also covering the current state of Israel, which Hamas sees as part of Palestine. This seemed to open the door to a two state solution with Israel and a newly-created Palestine existing side by side. Though the Israeli prime minister dismissed this at the time as an attempt by Hamas to “fool the world”.

Since the latest conflict began, Hamas leaders have taken a harder line in public, now explicitly calling for the destruction of Israel (and therefore openly rejecting a two state solution).

Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told Lebanese TV on 24 October that “we will repeat the October 7 attack time and again until Israel is annihilated.”

“Israel is a country that has no place on our land,” he said. “That nation must go because it poses a military and political threat to the security of the Arab and Islamic countries and must be destroyed.”

(Image Credit: Hannibal Hanschke/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)