When will the discourse of the ‘two state solution’ finally change?

Israel/Palestine
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Weekend with the two state solution
Weekend at The Two State Solution’s, photo collage by author

The two state solution is a corpse, it is dead. But every now and then, as in this latest news of Arab states endorsing modifications to the ’67 lines with minor landswaps, the body jerks forward a bit and threatens to zombify and walk around trying to convince others it’s actually still alive. It is like Weekend at Bernie’s, with John Kerry and Qatari Prime Minister al Thani playing the roles of Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy.

Yet in spite of everything that’s been said and done, inexplicably, there are members of the Palestine solidarity community who still believe in the “two state solution”.  The “two state solution” has become an article of faith for many; a sort of dogma which is at times more rigid than the most fundamentalist of religious believers. 

The prime manifestation of this dogma is the following: “it may not be ideal, but the two state solution is the only realistic way to end this conflict” and “The one state solution is obviously the fairest and most just outcome, but it is pie in the sky utopian thinking which won’t get the Palestinians anything but more misery”. 

According to this school of thought: the forfeiture of the Palestinian right of return (on all but a tiny symbolic basis) and the inequality for (and possible ethnic cleansing of) Palestinian citizens of Israel upon a 2 state deal, are a regrettable and unfortunate sacrifice which must be made.  As our Nobel Laureate President Obama says, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

A strong appeal is made for Palestinians to be “realistic” and accept what they can get within the current “international consensus”.

The support for a 2-state deal is obviously an effort to hold on to a Jewish state. What I seek to do in this article is to attack and undermine the underlying premises of these arguments that bolster support for the “two state solution”.  I seek to reframe the resolution of the Palestinian issue from one of ”negotiations”, “the international consensus”, “international law” and what’s “realistic”, to one of effective resistance to settler-colonialism based on historical context.

When anyone talks about “two states” and “land swaps” rather than equal rights and democracy; when someone glorifies the top-down “international consensus” rather than respect for the rights of the indigenous people, these ideas are part of the problem.

In my opinion, the international consensus (from the bottom up) at this point in time is of democracy and respect for each other’s common humanity; not the creation of racially pure spaces as the “only realistic option”.

1. Israel is a Settler Colony just like the USA, Australia, Canada & New Zealand are settler colonies. Israel is a settler colony like Southern Rhodesia and South Africa were settler colonies until they were decolonized.

Establishing Israel as a settler colony and Zionism as a colonial settler movement underpins my entire analysis.  Settler colonialism is a type of colonialism where instead of wanting to exploit the natives for labor or resources (although this can also be present), the main goal is to replace the natives:

“We must expel Arabs and take their place”

David Ben Gurion’s letter to his son, 1937

Settler-colonialism means creating a new polity on top of people who are already there.  These unfortunate parasites in the way need to be eliminated through either ethnic cleansing (chasing the natives away) or genocide (exterminating the natives) or a combination of both strategies.  The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, aka the Nakba of 1947-1949, helped Israel to accomplish their goal of founding their settler-colony.

As the editors of the excellent Jadaliyya state:

“Second, we were perplexed by the ongoing application of ever-newer theoretical approaches that seek to understand the constantly shifting situation on the ground: we feel that, taken together, these discrete approaches tend to undermine holistic, structural analysis. The framework of comparative settler colonialism offers important insights and interventions that, while not all new, provide productive scaffolding for thinking about Palestine. Comparative settler colonialism rejects the exceptionalism that is ascribed to Zionism and Israel, and to Palestine and Palestinians, and it opens the situation to comparison with other contemporary and historical settler colonial cases.”

Every Palestinian activist must internalize this crucial fact from which everything else follows. The discourse of settler-colonialism is integral to our understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

2.  If in the mid-1800’s, an American settler sought to be an advocate of Native Americans, yet refused to disassociate himself from the settler colonial ideology of Manifest Destiny, no Native American (or Mexican) in their right mind would have considered them an ally.

The “two state solution” is based on the racial-separatist logic of partition and is inextricably linked to the ideology of Zionism. I don’t think its advocates are effective allies for justice today.

3. A settler colony has never fully abided by any treaty it has signed.

To my knowledge, there has never been a settler-colony which has fully respected a treaty it has signed with indigenous people, and probably few which have even partially respected one.  Placing Israel within the context of settler-colonialism allows us to make a useful comparison to American history.  It shows us that the “peace process” and the “two state solution” would be just a modern-day example of the treaties the American government signed with the First Nations peoples of what is now the USA.

4. An indigenous people have never been able to save themselves from near extermination by making concessions of land or rights to the settler colony.

Would advocates of the “two state solution” have advised the Five Civilized Tribes to sign the treaties with the US government or to resist?

Signing away land and rights was the only “realistic” and “responsible” thing the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole could have possibly done. In a very savvy and pragmatic fashion, these “Five Civilized Tribes” did absolutely everything which the settler colonial government asked of them.

Between 1814 and 1824, these tribes signed treaties with the US government to give up much of their land, in hopes of salvaging whatever land they had left. It was a laudable and realistic move. Predictably, it was still not enough, because the thirst of the settler-colonial genocidal ideology of Manifest Destiny was unquenchable. Instead of honoring the treaties, President Andrew Jackson started Indian Removal.

In 1838 and 1839, the Cherokee were the only tribe of the Five tribes to not sign a removal treaty. They were forced at gunpoint to embark on their Trail of Tears, and to agree to a 19th century version of the 2 state solution: The Cherokee got part of the Oklahoma Territory, and the settler colony got the rest. Pragmatic, non-cultish… sublime.

The reward for their pragmatism in finally accepting their 2 state solution was further “land runs” and the opening up of much of their precious few remaining lands for white settlement.

To my knowledge, there is no case in modern history where indigenous people signed away part of their land, and the settlers were satisfied and left the indigenous people alone after that.  Just as the logic of Manifest Destiny in America didn’t allow for halting the expansion of settlements, neither does the logic of Zionism.  Even if Palestinians renounced their right of return, allowed the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and accepted their Area A bantustans as a “state” called Palestine, would this really be the end of the Zionist land runs?

5. History tells us that without the near-extermination of the indigenous people, the settler-colony collapses. 

In the cases of the United States, Canada and Australia the indigenous population has been decimated to the point that they are below 5% of the population in all these countries.  This is what I mean by “near-extermination”.  The indigenous people aren’t entirely eliminated, but they are decimated to a manageably low level so as to not challenge the viability of the settler-colony demographically or militarily.  

In the cases where demographics were on the indigenous peoples’ side (South Africa, Algeria, Northern Rhodesia-Zimbabwe) we see an eventual collapse of the settler-colony.

6.  The 2 state solution is the only thing which will enable the continuation of the Israeli settler colony.

“If we annex the West Bank to Israel and grant citizenship to the Palestinians – Israel will become a bi-national state without a Jewish majority. If we annex the territories and not grant citizenship to Palestinians, Israel will no longer be a democracy. We only have one option to keep Israel Jewish and democratic state and to ensure a real chance for peace: We must leave the West Bank. Two states for two peoples.”
Why Israel Needs a two state solution, Peace Now, 2011

“If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished,”
Former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, Haaretz, 2007

“J Street believes that urgently reaching a sustainable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both a fundamental American interest and essential to the survival and security of Israel.”
The Urgency of a Two-State Solution, J Street

I could attach more quotes from Tzipi Livni, the Reut Institute, and Ehud Barak, but I’m sure you get the picture. The two-state solution is a refuge for supporters of maintaining a Jewish state. So… isn’t it a bit strange that some activists are advocating the only “solution” that renders Israel fundamentally secure as a settler colony for the long run?

If the rejection of a two state solution is really a rejection of a Jewish state in Palestine, then it follows that the rejection of a two state solution is really a rejection of the state of Israel.  I think it’s now time for not just pro-Palestine activists, but all peace-loving people of conscience throughout the world, to reject the two-state solution, reject the idea of a Jewish state, and continue the fight for equality and democracy from the River to the Sea.

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