The two-state solution is a victim of political murder. We may not all agree on who the perpetrator is. But the fact that the peace process is now a relic of history is increasingly impossible to deny.
The thought has obviously occurred to Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua, a prominent figure in both Israeli literature and liberal Zionist punditry. In an op-ed in Ha’aretz last week, Yehoshua said that Israelis would have to prepare for the possibility that the two-state solution is dead, and that they must consider how to deal with the possibility of a bi-national state shared with the Palestinians.
Yehoshua’s piece was laden with elitist and colonialist overtones. The Alternative Information Center’s Michael Warschawski exquisitely demystifies them, for all their symptomatic hubris. We now need to consider the same reality that Yehoshua so reluctantly confronted.
Many Jewish progressives, myself included, have long contended that two states was the best way to resolve the open conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Fewer among us agreed that in order to do that, we needed to confront the settlement issue in its entirety, including its entrenchment in Israeli politics and its economy. We similarly failed to grasp that a viable two-state solution required both the full integration of Israel into the community of Middle Eastern countries, as well as a solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis that paid respect to the importance of that issue to the Palestinian people.
Two-staters who understood these issues as base-level requirements were always in the minority. But we’re beyond such questions now, as the Netanyahu government has finally made it clear that the two-state solution is not a vision Israel has any interest in making a reality. So, what does a viable alternative look like?
The simplest way to achieve a one-state solution is to leave everything as it is on the ground and grant citizenship to the Palestinians currently under occupation. Doing so raises some very serious questions, however. One can start with Gaza, and whether or not it would be included in such an arrangement.
However, a bigger issue is whether granting citizenship to the Palestinians will accomplish anything except magnify existing tensions. Current citizens, overwhelmingly Jewish, will control almost all of the economy and most of the political system as well. The religious settlers will also want to redouble their efforts to expand the Jewish presence on the West Bank.
These issues stand in stark contrast to Yehoshua’s contention that “… a binational state, even one that is half-democratic, could promise Palestinians a better and safer life, and (most importantly) a larger territorial area, than what might be wrought by dozens of years of a campaign conducted with the declared goal of obtaining all of Palestine.”
More likely, the Palestinians would continue to face many of the same problems today, in different forms. Racial profiling would replace the checkpoints, Jewish settlement would continue in the West Bank with zoning laws little different from what is in place in Jerusalem and around Arab towns within Israel. The Knesset would have more Arab members, to be sure, but that is no guarantee of political equality, either.
On a human level, the years of conflict would not disappear. Israeli Jews would continue to fear Arabs. Added to that would be the resentment that comes from the perception of having lost the “Jewish state.” Palestinians would also continue to harbor resentments from years of occupation and disenfranchisement, in addition to ongoing discrimination and the continued presence of radicals determined to further transform Israel according to their own vision. Such groups are a small minority among Palestinians, but they would feature prominently in Jewish perception, and quite likely the global view of the new country as well, especially if they engaged in violence, as some likely would.
But, if a single state remains a poor option, and the two-state solution is dead, what are the alternatives?
At the moment, options are few. If disappointed two-staters like myself want to find alternatives to either supporting a plan that is no longer possible, or a vision that we believe will lead to an even worse reality than what we have now, we have to start creating the conditions for something new to emerge.
The greatest mistake mainstream two-staters made was buying into the formulation, popularized by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, of “us here and them there.” That framework made separation the very definition of the two state solution, and thoroughly marginalized two-staters who believed that the two states must be independent, but also interdependent (including an open border) in order for it to lead to a real and sustainable solution. There’s no more room for separation.
The death of the two-state solution doesn’t convince me that binationalism, or the “single, secular state” ideas are any more viable than they were before. Indeed, the collapse of the two-state framework only seems to throw the problems with those alternatives into sharper relief. The animosity, increasing harshness of both the occupation and the siege on Gaza, the rightward shift in Israel, the increasing hopelessness in Palestine, the quisling behavior of the PA and the pointless confrontationalism of Hamas… All of these conditions make the old ideas moot, however many states they might incorporate.
However, by reversing the separation trend, by bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, new options can open up; options that we cannot necessarily visualize today.
It starts with the Separation Barrier. That wall — which has done far less than enhanced PA security and an increased belief among Palestinians that violence will never secure their freedom to end attacks on Israeli civilians from the West Bank — is the symbol of the old failures. Bringing it down and restoring, even enhancing, contact between regular Israelis and Palestinians would create a new atmosphere.
That atmosphere not only humanizes Israelis and Palestinians to each other. Of far greater importance, the intimacy it confers opens up opportunities for collaboration in the political, economic and cultural realms. If these are encouraged not only by Israeli and Palestinian civil society but also by external actors at the UN, in the US, in the Arab world and Europe, the basis for a new political vision would be created.
The legendary Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, once popularized an image of the Israeli and Palestinian flags, crossed, with the phrase “Two peoples, one future” underneath. That is the vision that has to replace “Us here and them there.”
If we can start to do that, we might be able to find a better solution than the failed idea of two states, and the dubious current crop of one-state options. And we’d better do it soon.
The right wing is already producing its post-two-state vision, coming up with new distortion points to entrench an apartheid system, while making sure no one can get away with calling it that. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum echoed that vision when he said, ” All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. There are no Palestinians. This is Israeli land.”
Predictably, progressives are much slower and more timid than their opponents. That’s how we lost the two-state solution. Let’s not make the same mistake again.