The 2-state solution is an answer to ISRAEL’s problem
This is one of two explorations of whether a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a future.
By Yousef Muayyer, New Yorker
September 20, 2013
A National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the U.S. intelligence community said the following: “If Israel continues to occupy conquered territory for an extended period, say two to three years, it will find it increasingly difficult to relinquish control. Domestic pressures to establish paramilitary settlements in occupied areas would grow, and it would be harder to turn back to the Arabs land which contained such settlements.”
One might, as I’ve written before, think that that is a very grim prognosis and that by 2016 the two-state solution will surely be impossible. But that N.I.E. was written in 1968, only a year after Israel occupied the West Bank and when barely a couple thousand settlers lived beyond the Green Line. Now, some six hundred fifty thousand Israelis are there, with well over a hundred colonies, turning maps of the West Bank into Swiss cheese. It is farcical to talk about the impending death of the two-state solution—it’s been long dead and decomposing before our eyes, yet few have had the common decency to bury it.
Ian Lustick had no problem putting the two-state solution in its final resting place this past week, in a lengthy Op-Ed in the Times [see link at foot of posting]. If this can open the door to new thinking on a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, the timing could not be better. Identifying the flaws and faults of a two-state solution has been done many times before. What we need now is new thinking on a policy level that grapples both with the failures of the two-state approach and the realities on the ground.
What is the solution? Standing alone without context, that question is impossible to definitively answer. We must first understand the problem we are trying to solve. And when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the two-state solution, which has dominated mainstream discourse on policy toward this issue, is primarily a solution to a problem: Israel’s problem.
Israel’s problem is one of identity and territory. It claims it is both Jewish and Democratic, and yet, under the control of the Israeli state today, between the river and the sea, there are an equal number of Jews and non-Jews. Those non-Jews, the Palestinians, are either treated as second-class citizens or have no citizenship rights at all.
The reason for this problem is the implementation of Zionism. The ideology sought to establish a Jewish state, which envisioned and required a Jewish majority. It did so, problematically, in a geographic space where the majority of the native inhabitants were Palestinians Arabs. Every attempt to resolve this conflict between Zionist ideology and demographic reality for the past hundred years has included some form of gerrymandering—drawing oddly shaped, impractical, winding borders around often sparse Jewish populations to encompass them in a single geographic entity. The most recent version of the two-state solution is yet another iteration of these attempts, but with lines drawn a little differently to account for even more illegal Israeli colonists in the West Bank year after year.
While the two-state solution might provide an answer to Israel’s identity crisis, it does little in terms of solving both the humanitarian and human-rights crisis facing Palestinians. In the best-case scenario, a Palestinian state would be demilitarized and have not a semblance of the sovereignty afforded to every other state in the international system. It would, more or less, be under glorified occupation. Palestinian refugees would not be permitted to return to their homes. The status of Jerusalem, having become so marred by Israeli settlement-building, would likely be indivisible and largely off limits to the Palestinian statelet.
Endlessly pursuing a two-state solution that is condemned to failure, simply out of a reluctance to challenge the core problem Zionism has created, leaves Palestinians subjugated and waiting. They have already been waiting for far too long, and we owe them more than just robotically returning to the two-state framework every time it fails.
From 1947 to 1949, Palestine was emptied of sixty-seven per cent of its native Arab inhabitants. A conventional two-state solution would do little to address the grievances of these refugees or their descendants, many of whom were launched into a lifetime of dispossession. An individual on the other side of the world who found out yesterday that he has Jewish heritage can immigrate and live on the land of a Palestinian who was expelled from it and clutches his house keys on his deathbed just a few dozen miles away. So what is the problem here? In short, that one party, the Israelis, demands perpetual demographic dominance. That demand is simply unjustifiable. If Palestine were in fact a land without a people, as many Zionists claimed a century ago, and as some still do today, then perhaps things would have been different.
But for Palestinians, the problem is not a problem of identity. We know who we are. We are native inhabitants of Palestine. We belong to this land, whether we reside in it or live afar. Our problem is not that we are in search of a flag, or a national anthem, or a seat at the United Nations, or postage stamps, or currency. All of these things are fine. But they pale in comparison to our core desire and right: to live in freedom and dignity in the land of our forefathers.
If an independent Palestinian state, born out of a two-state solution, actually were a vehicle to the reclamation of Palestinian rights, then it would have been more welcomed and more successful. In fact, the many Palestinians who did support the two-state solution did so by taking a leap of faith, believing this disadvantageous offer would be the most the structures of power would allow. But instead, as Lustick rightly notes, the two-state solution, like the peace process that accompanies it, has been a chimera.
Why would the Israelis ever accept a single state—one in which they’d be equal to Palestinians before the law? No party in power wilfully cedes it unless the costs of monopolizing become overbearing. Israelis face a choice today between affording equal rights to the Palestinians in one geographic space or managing conflict through an apartheid system. Neither alternative may be particularly attractive to Israelis, but continuing the apartheid route will only get uglier and costlier over time, as well as being constantly at odds with the state’s claim of democracy. All the while, as Israel’s colonies metastasize in the West Bank, the price of disentanglement will become even steeper. Neither of these paths are ideal, to be sure, not for Israelis or Palestinians, but that Israel arrives at this juncture is largely a matter of its own doing.
How do Israelis want to live? Many decades ago, before Israel was created, Hannah Arendt wrote that the Zionist demands of Jewish majoritarian nationalism imposed by force would lead to perpetual conflict. In these circumstances, Arendt wrote, “a Jewish state can only be erected at the price of a Jewish homeland.” The Jews in Palestine would be condemned to live as “one of those small warrior tribes about whose possibilities and importance history has taught us since the days of Sparta,” always fighting with their neighbours. One thinks of those lines today while walking down a street in Israel, or onto a train or bus when countless fatigue-clad conscripts pile on with their M-16 rifles in hand. The conflict between the aims of the Zionist project and democracy were evident to a few thinkers like Arendt in 1948. For many others, it crystalized after 1967. For most, it should be undeniable today.
The reality now is that there is a single state. The problem is that it takes an apartheid form. Billions upon billions of dollars continue to be poured into the Israeli settlement enterprise. Natural resources are being exploited illegally. More and more land is being taken from Palestinians. Israeli infrastructure plans are growing. Everything about the Israeli state’s actual behavior suggests it has no intention of ever leaving the West Bank.
Recognizing that we have a “one-state problem” is the key to peace. The first step is ending discrimination in the law based on ethnicity or religion throughout the entirety of the territory. Palestinians must be part of shaping any future state they will live in, and they can do so only on equal footing with their Jewish counterparts before the law, not under military occupation. For the next steps, numerous historic examples of multi-ethnic democracies exist, including those that made transitions from parallel situations. South Africa is one. It is important to note that while each case is different, and no analogy is perfect, lessons learned from those experiences and examples can inform the path forward for Israelis and Palestinians, even as they simultaneously take into consideration the uniqueness of this case.
Settlers and settlements not only pose a geographic obstacle to the advent of a contiguous Palestinian second state; they pose a political and economic obstacle as well. Israeli settlers now exercise outsized influence on Israeli policymaking, and they continue to vote in growing and impressive numbers. Further, even the relocation and resettlement of a conservative estimate of a hundred thousand Israeli settlers, based on the compensation and resettlement of settlers from Gaza, would cost about ten per cent of Israel’s G.D.P. In short, the math is simple: the political interests geared toward Israel retaining control of the West Bank are far, far more influential in this calculus than any countervailing pressure that the United States has ever been willing to bring to bear.
One could fill a library with all the books, research documents, and policy papers that have been written on the different elements that make up the two-state framework, such as borders, settlements, water, refugees, and Jerusalem. To move a policy-level discussion on alternative solutions forward, we need similar work dedicated to studying and crafting policies on constitutionalism, institution formation and transition, power- and resource-sharing, and security.
Standing in the way of any progress will be two-state absolutists, who refuse to rethink and reëvaluate failed policy and strategy because of an irrational or ideological commitment to it. This is dangerous stuff. Absolutism is innovation’s mortal enemy. It’s time to start thinking outside the Zionist box and look for solutions that secure the human rights and equality of all involved, and not simply the political demands of the stronger party.
Yousef Munayyer directs the Jerusalem Fund in Washington, D.C., and its educational program, the Palestine Center.
By Bernard Avishai, New Yorker
September 20, 2013
This is one of two explorations of whether a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a future. The other is by Yousef Munayyer.
During much of 1837, the French Catholic population of Lower Canada—still thickly settled in seignorial landholdings along the St. Lawrence River—was roiled by rebellion. The underlying conflict with British imperial rule had no obvious end. Ever since the conquest of 1759, when Quebec was bombarded with forty thousand cannonballs, the defeat had been remembered reverentially. Almost twelve thousand members of the French population of Acadia—renamed, as if to rub it in, Nova Scotia—had been exiled to Louisiana, where Acadians became “Cajuns.” To this day, Je me souviens (I remember) appears on Quebec license plates.
So New France felt not so much like a bygone place as an occupied territory, wedged uneasily within British Upper Canada. Quebec’s Citadel housed the 22nd Regiment. What was left of French peasant life was aided, and tightly controlled, by ultramontane priests. Educated French élites felt the ambient pressure of British culture, now spreading across the American continent. A succession of English governors gave preference to English settlers, including loyalists after the American Revolution. French hopelessness was mitigated somewhat by a British-mandated, elected legislative assembly. But especially in Montreal, British colonists grew into a plutocracy, the Château Clique. English and Scottish entrepreneurs ran the banks, timber harvesting, and the rest. In the eighteen-twenties, James McGill, the fur trader and land baron, endowed an English-language university.
By 1837, then, even moderate French leaders, feeling the spirit of the age, had had enough. The demand was independence; some took to the streets. Groups of French patriots rose in a pathetically spontaneous insurgency, inspired by the self-rule appeals of Louis-Joseph Papineau, a cultured politician who had earlier engineered full civil rights for Quebec’s Jews. The British governor, ending the sedition, crushed the revolt and began hanging its leaders. Papineau fled for his life to the United States.
All of which brought Lord Durham, John George Lambton, to Canada, in 1838. The Crown appointed him to investigate the violence and propose a solution. The Durham Report, tabled before the end of the year, aimed at confronting the disturbances without illusions.
“I expected to find a conflict between the government and the people,” Lord Durham famously wrote. “Instead, I found two warring nations within a single State; I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races. And I realized that it would be pointless to try to improve the laws or institutions without succeeding in extinguishing the mortal hatred which now divides the inhabitants of Lower Canada into two hostile groups: French and English.”
What could be done about this mortal hatred? Durham’s solution was radical. The nations should be united: Upper and Lower Canada should be forced to share a single area, with a single legislature. Because they could not stop hurling extreme nationalist claims at one another, granting each nation (read, the French Canadian nation) genuine autonomy would be unrealistic. One state, Durham implied, would end the illusion of two nations. It would mean that French Canada, a people “without a history and without a literature,” would gradually assimilate into the larger, English-speaking continent.
It is hard for an old Montrealer to read Ian Lustick’s lavishly promoted Op-Ed in the Times this past Sunday, “Two-State Illusion,” without thinking about the Durham Report’s odd legacy.
Lustick gives us a hard-edged analysis about how the two-state solution is finished. Why? Because Islamist trends make Palestinians more likely to choose a jihadist struggle against Israel than a small, secular state. Besides, even moderate Palestinians imagine the return of refugees, the evacuation of almost all settlements, and East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, which Israelis are unwilling to deliver. Israelis, for their part, have been in the grip of a destructive, madly captivating settlement movement for forty-five years, which America might have stopped, but never mind. It is a movement that has sprung, tragically, from Zionist forces.
What does this leave us with? In Lustick’s view, “one mixed state emerging from prolonged and violent struggles over democratic rights”:
Secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.
I’ll come back to that word “confederation,” which Lustick yanks in without saying much about its implications. But, first, notice what this logic boils down to: the fight has been going on so long, the nations hate each other so much, and past mistakes have piled so high that civilized compromise has become impossible. So, hey, let’s go straight to making one state out of them. Once “the two-state-fantasy blindfolds are off,” politics “could make strange bedfellows.” Secular Tel Aviv residents will connect with Ramallah types, Israeli Sephardim will remember that they are Arabs, and yeshiva bochers will share wisdom at madrassas. Presumably, all will speak a nicely accented English, like Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque, debating each other in the Toronto studios of the CBC.
This is hardly the first article of this kind. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Durhamism has become positively hip. Nathan Thrall, writing in The New York Review of Books; Ben Birnbaum, in The New Republic; Gideon Levy, in Haaretz—I could add others—have made essentially the same point Lustick did. Given Likud’s annexationist momentum, together with the Palestinian Authority’s feebleness and lingering commitment to the “right of return,” prospects for a negotiated settlement have become pitiable, so let’s imagine one state instead.
The trouble is, Durham’s plan was less a plan than an expression of exasperation. It proved utterly unworkable, and was quickly forgotten. The “warring nations,” which continued to be at odds, and might always be, did not forge modern Canada that way. Instead, by 1867, a new generation of leaders, John A. Macdonald in English-speaking Canada and George-Étienne Cartier representing the French population, found the formula for the only possible civilized solution: a Canadian confederation, which was careful to leave to the provinces all the powers that Quebec, in particular, needed to preserve French-language education, religious liberty, and civil law. In effect, Canada, at its inception, was two states for two nations, with French Quebec flanked by a combination of English-speaking Ontario and Maritime provinces, sharing what might be shared and exercising sovereignty where necessary. If it looks like one peaceful country now, it got there because of leaders negotiating as if there were two.
Much like Durham, Lustick confuses exasperation with remedy. He is so impatient with the “peace process industry”—“legions of consultants, pundits, academics and journalists”—that he seems oblivious to how the very reasons he advances for the end of a two-state solution make one state not just unlikely but absurd. Imagine a single legislature trying to come up with funding for the Hebrew University, or for resettling Palestinian refugees before compensating Jews expelled from Baghdad.
What’s unspoken, I suspect, is what Durham at least had the courage to say. For post-two-staters, it would be no tragedy if one of these nations essentially disappeared. Jews aren’t really a nation, are they? Just listen to the national-religious settlers, who see themselves as messianic messengers. Jews may be driven to solidarity by the pathos of historical persecution, but this doesn’t mean they need to remain separate—not when Jon Stewart enjoys America the way he does and Benjamin Netanyahu steals West Bank land the way he does. Maybe Israelis, once they realize that their “Zionist project” is producing “isolation, emigration and hopelessness,” will go down the same path in the Middle East that Durham imagined for the French in North America.
Lustick does not actually say this. But more and more of the “secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank”—whom he obviously admires—do. They speak, often sincerely, about Judaism as a religion that could continue to be practiced in a secular state that looks like some idealized Palestine before Zionism spoiled things, with no Hebrew, no history, no literature, no Yehuda Amichai poetry, no Yehudit Ravitz songs—none of that national culture that Quebecers learned long ago requires a state apparatus to protect, and which the provinces shrewdly kept within their jurisdictions. As Peter Beinart says eloquently in the current New York Review of Books, one can also find any number of Jews who deny that Palestinians constitute a nation, and who expect them graciously to disappear from the Land of Israel and assimilate into Jordan, Syria, and the Arab world in general.
In fact, advocates of a two-state solution are not a bunch of naïfs unwilling to see how badly the peace process is doing. They are terrified citizens, trying, against hope, to avoid Bosnia—that is, a terrible, engulfing violence in which memories of the fighting of 1948 will be eclipsed by much greater atrocities, which will leave us with exactly the same problem we had at the start: namely, Canada’s problem. How do you reconcile the fierce desire for national distinction—and the fear of national extinction—with civil rights for all?
Lustick is surely right that many supporters of the two-state solution ignore what seems too painful to acknowledge: that the Palestinian desire to return cannot simply be finessed; that hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers, many of them armed, could make the O.A.S. of Algeria’s pieds noirs look tame. I have argued myself (in The New Yorker, back in 1995) that two states cannot be separated the way those who call for a “divorce” suppose. The two states would need to be developed, almost from the start, along confederal lines. Together, these projected states are about the size of greater Los Angeles, and share a single urban infrastructure and business ecosystem, with a need to coöperate to a very high degree on security—in the face of terror undergrounds armed with sophisticated weapons—on roads and bridges, water and sewage systems, telecommunications, public health and epidemiology, banking and currency policy, tourism, and so on.
None of this means, however, that the step of negotiating two states can be skipped, or that negotiators can sidestep confederal principles if and when serious talks progress. We’ve already seen this in practice: when Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas negotiated over Jerusalem, they quickly realized that their respective desires to have a capital in the city, with access to the Old City, required confederal solutions—two sovereignties, but a single municipal government for the greater city, with an international committee of states to act as custodian for the Holy Basin.
Lustick might have advanced the idea of a confederation, not as an afterthought but as the culmination of the two-state approach. Confederal ideas have emerged, as in Canada, as the product of—not as a substitute for—prolonged, serious negotiations over preserving two distinct cultures, two sovereign peoples. Sadly, arguments for a two-state solution bore most of us to death. And they may be losing as badly as arguments for gun control in America, although advocates for what I and others have called “global Israel” are at least as numerous as advocates for greater Israel—each can claim about forty per cent of Israeli voters—and the more that Israel finds itself diplomatically isolated, the more trenchant globalist voices sound.
But one argues for a two-state solution even if success seems unlikely at the moment, even if it seems unlikely within our lifetimes. One argues for it not because such arguments pay but because they are just. A just cause can lose. But, eventually, as in Canada, it can also win.
Bernard Avishai is the author of “The Tragedy of Zionism” and “The Hebrew Republic.” He is a visiting professor of government at Dartmouth College and an adjunct professor of business at the Hebrew University. His most recent book, “Promiscuous: Portnoy’s Complaint and Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness,” is newly out in paperback.