Everyone is talking about the piece by Ian Lustick titled, “Two State Illusion,” that appeared on the front of the Times’s Week in Review section yesterday. An urgent appeal to leaders to stop the charade of a peace process that has failed to produce partition and to start to imagine other ways that the conflict can be ended, the piece is historic for its appearance in such a prominent place. It recalls Tony Judt’s one-state piece, Israel: The Alternative, of ten years ago in the New York Review of Books, though Lustick is less idealistic. He states that for the conflict to end, there will be more violence, that violence is even necessary to its resolution– but that the two-state paradigm will produce a catastrophe.
The piece is most remarkable for doing what the Times has failed to do in its (liberal Zionist) news coverage, inform readers that the two-state model is finished. He begins emphatically:
True believers in the two-state solution see absolutely no hope elsewhere. With no alternative in mind, and unwilling or unable to rethink their basic assumptions, they are forced to defend a notion whose success they can no longer sincerely portray as plausible or even possible.
It’s like 1975 all over again, when the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco fell into a coma. The news media began a long death watch, announcing each night that Generalissimo Franco was still not dead. This desperate allegiance to the departed echoes in every speech, policy brief and op-ed about the two-state solution today..
Lustick’s message is that one-state ideas need to be considered openly in order to help leaders and societies to imagine the future– “less familiar but more plausible outcomes that demand high-level attention but aren’t receiving it.”
He says that many interests corruptly share the need for a claim that the two-state solution is still the reality, including politicians pressured by the lobby to assert that the Jewish state is forever:
American politicians need the two-state slogan to show they are working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.
Is the Jewish state here forever? Or even another generation? Lustick appears to doubt that. And he’s not mourning its relegation to the junkheap of history. This was bracing and necessary, for American Jews to hear:
But many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of “If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!” Those who assume that Israel will always exist as a Zionist project should consider how quickly the Soviet, Pahlavi Iranian, apartheid South African, Baathist Iraqi and Yugoslavian states unraveled, and how little warning even sharp-eyed observers had that such transformations were imminent.
How helpful that Lustick invokes my favorite historical analogy, Algeria, and what right wing colonialism spawned there:
France ruled Algeria for 130 years and never questioned the future of Algeria as an integral part of France. But enormous pressures accumulated, exploding into a revolution that left hundreds of thousands dead. Despite France’s military victory over the rebels in 1959, Algeria soon became independent, and Europeans were evacuated from the country.
Lustick is a realist, and this bit is a very realistic summary of the reality of negotiations. Notice that he acknowledges the importance of the right of return, that it’s not some crazy idea:
The current Israeli version of two states envisions Palestinian refugees abandoning their sacred “right of return,” an Israeli-controlled Jerusalem and an archipelago of huge Jewish settlements, crisscrossed by Jewish-only access roads. The Palestinian version imagines the return of refugees, evacuation of almost all settlements and East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
DIPLOMACY under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere. And this isn’t the first time that American diplomats have obstructed political progress in the name of hopeless talks.
Lustick says the negotiations are “phony” and that the only question is how to give Palestinians their rights in the current one-state reality. So he is reflecting the ideas of the left:
Had America blown the whistle on destructive Israeli policies [in 1980] it might have greatly enhanced prospects for peace under a different leader. It could have prevented Mr. Begin’s narrow electoral victory in 1981 and … We could have had an Oslo process a crucial decade earlier. Now, as then, negotiations are phony; they suppress information that Israelis, Palestinians and Americans need to find noncatastrophic paths into the future. The issue is no longer where to draw political boundaries between Jews and Arabs on a map but how equality of political rights is to be achieved.
Lustick has a bleak view of the one-state reality under Israel. Again, he reflects the wisdom of the left:
The stage will be set for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.
He says the two-state negotiations are keeping people from being imaginative about the political future of the state, and the region. He says what I have often said, that one state could produce remarkable political combination:
once the two-state-fantasy blindfolds are off, politics could make strange bedfellows… 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…. 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.
A great ending. Lustick offers no hosanna to the Jewish state and knows that political violence is in Israel/Palestine’s future, and he prepares the reader for the inevitability.
The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot. But avoiding truly catastrophic change means ending the stifling reign of an outdated idea and allowing both sides to see and then adapt to the world as it is.