Marc Lynch and  Shibley Telhami

Even before a lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip could be attained, the Biden administration has avowed the need to return to the eventual goal of a two-state solution as the foundation of a durable Israeli-Palestinian settlement. But a new survey of Middle East scholars who study the issue suggests that finding such a solution out of the horrific devastation of Gaza is highly unlikely.

The latest round of the Middle East Scholar Barometer that we co-direct, with over 750 mostly U.S.-based respondents, reveals that few scholars believe that advancing a two-state solution in the foreseeable future is a realistic option, and a large majority believe that war in Israel and Gaza is likely to lead to new large-scale, long-term displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and/or the West Bank. The Biden administration’s policy gets failing grades from the scholars: More than three-quarters say President Joe Biden’s policy negatively impacts the prospects of peace in Israel and Palestine, U.S. interests in the Middle East, and America’s standing in the world.

This unique survey probes opinions on timely issues of Middle East experts from the American Political Science Association, the Project on Middle East Political Science, the American Historical Association, and the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which we have been conducting on a biannual basis for more than three years. Most of our list and our respondents are political scientists, as are the two of us and the six-member advisory committee. The latest round was conducted from May 23 to June 6. Notably, we found few significant differences between MESA members and those who are not, and between political scientists and other scholars, suggesting that the scholars’ views are not on the whole dependent on their academic discipline or their organizational membership. As we have recently reportedin the Chronicle of Higher Education, over 80% of U.S. based scholars say they self-censor when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian issue professionally, mostly speech critical of Israel.

The nature of the war in Gaza and Israeli aims

Nearly three-quarters of the scholars surveyed, about 72%, expect the war to result in new mass displacements of Palestinians outside of Gaza and the West Bank. This expectation seems partly based on the scholars’ gloomy assessment of Israel’s motives: A majority, about 57%, see making Gaza uninhabitable in order to force Palestinian removal as a primary Israeli objective of the war. About 15% each see Israel’s primary objective to be keeping the current Israeli government in office or destroying Hamas. Few (about 4%) say Israel’s operation is justified by the right of self-defense.

The Brookings Institution

Their assessment of the resultant reality is equally dark: Respondents describe Israeli actions in damning terms, with 41% saying they constitute major war crimes akin to genocide, nearly 34% saying they constitute genocide, and 16% saying they are not akin to genocide, but are still major war crimes. While these views may seem surprising, they are not markedly different from the views of some segments of the American public, especially Democrats, with one recent poll showing a majority of Democrats saying Israeli actions amounted to genocide.

As was the case before the current war, few respondents (2%) describe what now exists in Israel and Palestine as a state of temporary Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, with about two-thirds seeing the reality as that of “a one-state reality akin to Apartheid.” This starting point sets the dark mood for expectations about the present and the future.

It’s therefore not surprising that the scholars are pessimistic about any prospect of a two-state solution in the foreseeable future, even as the Biden administration and much of the international community hope it could become a reality in the aftermath of the horrific war. Scholars are divided between those (about 45%) saying a two-state solution was no longer possible, and those (about 43%) saying it is possible, but improbable in the next decade, with few (about 7%) saying it’s both possible and probable in the coming decade.

An indictment of Biden’s policy

The Biden administration has strongly backed Israel since October 7, 2023, defending its military campaign against critics at home and abroad, criticizing the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice for war crimes investigations, and maintaining a steady flow of military assistance despite clear electoral political costs. Has it been worth it? Middle East scholars say Biden’s Gaza war policy has been detrimental at home and abroad. Fewer than 10% say Biden’s policy positively impacted U.S. standing in the world and American interests in the Middle East.

The Brookings Institution

These scholars’ views should not be dismissed as just another set of political opinions, even as they are not immune to professional biases. Many of them have spent years working on Israeli-Palestinian issues, have conducted research on the ground, and have large networks of contacts among Israelis and Palestinians. Their views are grounded in a far less mediated version of reality than is available to most Americans weighing in on the topic.

And it is that reality that may be leaving little room for optimism among scholars. As the two of us have noted elsewhere, their pessimism may be justified. In addition to the obvious horrors of tens of thousands of casualties, mostly women and children, according to United Nations estimates, the scale of devastation of homes and infrastructure is daunting. Regardless of who comes to govern the territory, Gaza has become uninhabitable and nearly its entire population has been displaced. By some U.N. estimates, it could take 14 years just to clear the rubble and about 80 years to rebuild Gaza to its prewar state, which was already a crowded territory often described by human rights organizations as an “open-air prison.” And, less noticed, the West Bank has witnessed escalating settler violence backed by Israel’s right-wing government which threatens what little remains of the Palestinian Authority. It is also notable that the surveyed scholars are particularly worried about an expanded conflict between Israel, on the one hand, and Iran and Lebanon, on the other, which could be an added obstacle to the pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian deal: Over three-quarters of respondents say that the Gaza war has increased the chance of both, either “somewhat” or “substantially.”

The Biden administration has responded to the extraordinary violence in Israel and Palestine and the loss of hope in a sustained peaceful outcome by invoking a familiar formula: A promise of active diplomacy after the war toward a two-state solution, a goal that’s welcomed by many around the world. However, many scholars of the conflict have come to view the invocation of a two-state future as a smokescreen, whether intended as such or not, which American officials tout whenever they want to avoid dealing with the grim reality of Israel’s ever-more entrenched, deeply unjust domination of all the territories it controls.


ML Marc LynchProfessor of Political Science and International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs – George Washington University

Shibley TelhamiNonresident Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyCenter for Middle East Policy@ShibleyTelhami