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European Council on Foreign Relations




Why a Two-State Stress Test?

The United States, the European Union, the Arab League, the United Nations, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders themselves have all endorsed the idea that the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved by way of a two-state outcome. Not only has such an outcome not been realised, but polling, reporting, and the statements of global leaders all create an impression that such a solution is becoming ever more distant, perhaps even slipping beyond the realm of the possible. American and European policymakers increasingly talk of a “closing window” and an “urgency” of achieving two states before it is “too late”. But on what basis?

To measure whether the prospects for a two-state outcome have been placed under greater strain or have been more sustained over the course of any given year, one can draw on intuition, on polling data, on the new physical facts being created on the ground such as settlements, or on the status of peace negotiations. Yet, until now, there has been no comprehensive effort to distil the core indicators of what might constitute progress or backsliding regarding two states, to assess the relevant data for such a set of indicators, and to annually chart the health of the two-state option in a compelling and coherent manner. The Two State Stress Test (TSST) cannot claim to be strictly scientific, but it can offer a more factual, data-driven, and broad angle lens on the question of how the two-state-effort is doing, where there is greatest progress or regression, and what stakeholders should focus on.  If the two state option is indeed reaching a point of no return then the Stress Test should be one of the more data driven venues for detecting that – watch this space.

[Read here the key findings of the 2013 Two-State Stress Test]

What do we mean by two states?

When Israeli and Palestinian leaders both claim their fidelity to a two-state solution, observers can be excused for asking why they don’t just get on with it. The term, two-state solution, can apparently mean very different things to different people. So, in order to conduct a test, a baseline set of assumptions must be established. International law, the statements of global leaders and institutions, and the records of previous negotiations all reflect a significant consensus from which one can draw to determine what might constitute the parameters of a two-state outcome and therefore what is a robust yardstick against which to measure progress or backsliding. Drawing on UN resolutions, quartet statements, EU decisions, US policy statements (notably the Clinton parameters), the records of previous negotiating rounds, and informal model agreements (such as the Geneva Initiative or a set of International Crisis Group proposals), quite a clear picture emerges on all of what have been called the final-status issues. These parameters form the basis of what the TSST is testing.

 This does not constitute an endorsement of this model of two states, nor is it a dismissal, of counter-proposals or the possibility that alternative solutions can be found from within a two state paradigm or based on a different paradigm. It is simply to acknowledge that the concept of two states as pursued by international policy makers and actors like the Quartet is not a blank page and that parameters exist that can be tested. It is also not to suggest that a consensus on what constitutes reasonable parameters is not immune to changing over time. This will have to be considered in future TSSTs.

[Read here the key findings of the 2013 Two-State Stress Test]

What about alternative options and approaches for Israelis and Palestinians?

The TSST tool only tests the two-state option. The emphasis on testing two states is derived from its status as an international consensus position that has also been endorsed by the UN Security Council. Developing the TSST model is an acknowledgement of that rather than a statement of ideological preference. There are, for instance, variations on a single-state model as opposed to a two-state one. The TSST is being applied to what has been called a comprehensive two- state solution – an “end of conflict” deal. Again, this is based on the stated commitments of the parties to the peace talks and the international sponsors in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. We acknowledge that other variations on an approach to achieving two states do exist. Two states could be created, for instance, in an interim agreement with preliminary borders, or, with permanent borders, but without other issues initially being addressed (sometimes called ‘borders and security first’). There are other alternatives, for instance, variations on a single-state model as opposed to a two-state one – some Israeli politicians and others favour a ‘Greater Israel’ variation on the single state, while Palestinian activists are more associated with the bi-national or single democratic state variation. That the TSST does not address the legitimacy or the efficacy of these alternatives is an acknowledgement only of the fact that the stated international consensus and policy objective of all official parties is that a comprehensive two state agreement is being pursued.

[Read here the key findings of the 2013 Two-State Stress Test]

What indicators are included in the stress test and why?

The starting point of the TSST is that the realisation of a two-state solution hinges on certain conditions whose current standing the stress test aims to assess.

The TSST has been divided into seven categories. Since the signing of the Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles in 1993, a set of core issues have been agreed as necessary to concluding an Israeli-Palestinian final-status agreement. These issues form four of the seven categories of the TSST, namely territory, Jerusalem, security, and refugees. In addition, three further categories have been tested: the state of diplomatic international activity to advance two states, and the relevant social, political, and attitudinal trends among Israelis and Palestinians respectively.

Within each category, a number of relevant indicators have been assessed for their impact on straining or sustaining a possible two-state outcome. Doing so inevitably requires judgement calls to be made – some of which will be considered more controversial than others. It is, for instance, hard to argue that settlement expansion does not place a strain on the prospects for two states. Other indicators required greater explanation. How is security and violence to be measured for instance? The case can and has been made, for example, that Palestinian pursuit of an armed struggle is more effective at delivering Israeli concessions in the directions of two states than is the non-deployment of violence and the maintenance of quiet. The judgement call for this TSST model is that less violence and a quieter security environment are more conducive for progress towards two states than the reverse.

We appreciate that on many of these value judgements alternative hypotheses can be offered, and we are encouraging dissenting opinion in commentaries that will be frequently published on the TSST website.

The rationale of relevance to the TSST and of why a particular trend is viewed as positive or negative is included in each category and for each indicator. US leadership in negotiations is, for instance, seen as a positive factor, as is the application of European disincentives in changing the cost/benefit calculations of the parties and notably of the Israeli side. We are aware of the counter arguments but stand by the robustness of the judgements made in determining the TSST performance indicators. A six-person expert advisory committee of respected Israelis, Palestinians and international analysts of the conflict was engaged in helping frame and make these determinations (details of the expert advisory committee can be found here).

Then there is the question of what has not been included. A case can be made, for instance, that the TSST should have included material on Palestinian acceptance of Jewish-Israeli narratives regarding the Jerusalem’s Old City holy sites or Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, or that attention be paid to the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. On the flip side, the TSST has not focused on applying international law-based criteria to Israeli policies, on compensation for occupation or on the impact of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, or non-violent protest movement. The list of omitted possible matrices is no doubt a long one, but each one was considered and deemed either not core to the health of achieving two states, unclear on its positive or negative impact, or too difficult to measure as a data metric at this stage. Again, we encourage suggestions in web commentary, and the TSST indices will no doubt be tweaked in future iterations. One question which will be addressed in future commentary on the TSST but which has not been included as an indicator and, on which we would particularly encourage feedback and debate, is the connection between Palestinian state and institution-building efforts and the eventual attainment of a two-state outcome.

One issue that is clearly playing out in profound ways, but which is only tangentially considered in the first TSST, is the impact of the Arab uprisings and regional tumult since 2011. Developments in the Iran nuclear negotiations, in Egypt, and in Syria clearly impact various issues considered in the different categories – from the well-being of Palestinian refugees, to the status of Palestinian national reconciliation talks, to Israeli security considerations and diplomatic interventions. Where possible these have been factored in to the relevant indicators across different categories and consideration will continue to be given in future TSST’s to whether regional developments merit a separate category.  

[Read here the key findings of the 2013 Two-State Stress Test]

How has the data for the TSST been sourced?

All data in the TSST is openly acknowledged and sourced through a combination of online links and footnotes that can be accessed by any reader. Where possible, the data has been drawn from official institutional sources such as the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, UN agencies, the World Bank, and others. Some of the findings are based on open source information (for instance, the number of visits by the US secretary of state, official statements, etc.), and where claims have not been officially confirmed they are noted as such, for instance on an issue such as Palestinian reconciliation talks there is more speculation than hard news.

In a number of instances, we have drawn on data provided by specialist NGOs monitoring the conflict. Some of this data was made available at ECFR’s request and has not yet been made available online. Where relevant, we have noted that. These NGOs, while generally associated with the human rights and peace community, are considered reliable sources by governments and the mainstream media, and we too see no reason not to draw on their well-researched data. Unless otherwise specified or not relevant, Gaza is always included in Palestinian data sets.

ECFR has scrutinised all the available public polling data for the past year and, in one instance, commissioned survey questions where none existed. It should also be noted that not all data for 2013 is available in a timely fashion and that the data time lag dictates that where unavoidable the most recent data is used, even if several months out of date. All data sources in the TSST are made fully transparent.

[Read here the key findings of the 2013 Two-State Stress Test]

How are scores attributed in the TSST?

Each of the seven categories is assigned a score between zero and five whereby zero indicates a maximally sustaining impact for a two-state outcome of developments in this category and five indicates developments that pose maximum strain. Each score is based on the indicators assessed within that category. A scoring guide is provided for each indicator within each category, reflecting a spread of what is realistically conceivable within the very helpful to very damaging spectrum (lions lying down with lambs has, for instance, been excluded). Each indicator is scored on clearly defined criteria without reference to its relative importance. The overall score for each category is not an average of the various indicators within that category but rather a score that also takes into account a judgment regarding the relative impact of each indicator – in other words, how much it matters in the overall scheme of things.

 The committee of expert advisers was consulted in determining the relative weights attributed to the indicators and the final scores reached for each category (details of the expert advisory committee and its members can be viewed here). The TSST does not offer one final composite number as an annual health check for the two-state model. We do not think that this would add much to the debate and it could prove too reductionist or simplistic; there is a fluidity to the relative importance of the different categories that one number could not capture, and we would not want to detract from the broader conversation that the TSST seeks to generate. The relative scores of the categories will though be comparable from one year to the next. Overall the scores across seven categories offer a new, accessible, and multi-pronged tool for policymakers, analysts, and media regarding progress towards/regression away from the consensus Quartet goal of a two-state solution, helping to better assess what the negative trends are that need to be reversed or decelerated and the positives ones that need to be built upon.

[Read here the key findings of the 2013 Two-State Stress Test]

What are the main findings of the 2013 TSST?

The main findings of the 2013 TSST confirm that at the moment the largest strain on prospects for the two-state outcome are presented by two categories in our analysis: (i) the territorial issue and particularly the continued expansion of Israeli settlements both in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem –at a conspicuously faster pace since peace talks resumed; and (ii) the dynamics of the Israeli political and public debate which notably combine little public confidence in the talks with a cabinet and ruling coalition a number of whose influential members openly oppose two states and advocate variations on an annexation of the West Bank. This is only partially mitigated by the public still broadly being supportive of a two-state outcome.

The factor that comes out as most sustaining the two-state solution at the moment is the renewed US-led diplomatic efforts. The Two State Stress Test indicates that a lessening of this intensity would leave the prospects for the two-state solution even more fragile.

This annual two state prospects health-check shows a gradually worsening situation from more obvious factors such as East Jerusalem and security, while also shining a spotlight on factors too infrequently taken into consideration: the Palestinian political and public debate and the refugee issue. While there is still a slim majority of Palestinians supporting in principle the two-state solution, there is very little faith in the chances of it being achieved through a negotiated settlement. The refugee issue, though often neglected both by negotiators and media, is potentially a source of crisis both because of the worsening conditions of refugees (also as part of the fallout of the war in Syria) and because Israeli and Palestinian public opinions seem to be very far apart on ideas for a solution of this issue.

[Read here the key findings of the 2013 Two-State Stress Test]


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