Ian Lustick’s bombshell piece in the New York Times last Sunday describing the two-state negotiations as a charade with tremendous human cost has catalyzed the American discussion of the death of the two-state solution as no writer before Lustick was able to do. I can only imagine what J Street’s conference is going to be like next week– a lot of rouge and embalming fluid.
Here are three responses to Lustick. To his great credit, David Remnick at the New Yorker has seized the Lustick moment and published a very sharp and calm piece by Yousef Munayyer explaining why partition failed– because of the ideology of Zionism, and its need for a Jewish majority in Palestinian lands. Munayyer thanks Lustick:
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. 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.
…[T]e 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.
At last the American public is being brought to understand that the problem did not begin in 1967, and that Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state, surely one of the strongest forces shaping the political geography of Israel/Palestine, has a legitimate basis in their own experience.
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.
Munayyer explains that it is one state right now in Israel and Palestine. His grim description of the reality is unvarnished. Remarkable that Remnick, so long a believer in the Jewish state, is offering a Palestinian’s political commentary without Zionist lipgloss:
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 willfully 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.
What I most savored about Munayyer’s piece is that he mentions Zionism seven times. That is essential intellectual/political business–especially when addressing a largely-Jewish audience. No ideology can be taken on until it is correctly defined and labeled. And when the belief in the need for a Jewish state–Zionism–is separated from the Jewish historical experience, in Europe and the U.S., then American Jews and American friends of Jews can say, Why do you folks need such an exclusionary politics? Munayyer’s conclusion:
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.
At Open Zion, Jerry Haber is also advancing and amplifying Lustick’s argument. The best thing about this piece is Haber’s complete impatience with the Israel lobby’s bogus claim to have supported a two-state solution. I have to believe this is the new consensus.
From my reading of Lustick I infer that he would not be adverse to a two-state solution if it addressed satisfactorily the core issues, provided peace and security to both sides, and achieved the overwhelming support of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples (including, of course, the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas). That sort of two-state solution has never been anywhere near the negotiating table, as I explained here, primarily because of the power disparities between the two sides to the negotiation.
I am not interested in Lustick’s pro-Israel critics, who continue to delude themselves into thinking that they support a two-state solution, when what they really support is a strong state of Israel controlling a collection of emasculated Palestinian bantustans that they wish to call a state. Their clinging to the two-state illusion is the chief impediment to a viable two-state solution, even more than those who, like cabinet minister Naftali Bennett, have declared the Palestinian state dead.
Haber devotes a lot of energy to the view expressed by Hussein Ibish and Saliba Sarsar at Open Zion that the two-state solution is essential for Palestinian self-determination.
Ibish and Sarsar claim that the Israel-Palestinian negotiations represent “the only practical of means achieving the minimum goals of each party” without giving a single argument and without countering the historical record and the current circumstances, where one party—Israel—is simply not interested. Nor can the hardening of positions in Israel can be attributed to Israeli insecurity. On the contrary, history indicates that when Israelis feel most secure, their negotiating positions harden (cf. post 48 and post 67), and that is perfectly understandable. Until Ibish and Sarsar articulate how Israel can be effectively weakened so that the prospects of successful negotiations are enhanced, they are not serving their cause well.
What Ibish, Sarsar and Lustick share is a genuine desire to end the daily horrors of occupation and exile that have been the fate of the Palestinians since 1948. On the historical level Prof. Lustick is correct; there is no reason to believe that this round of negotiations will do anything besides hurting the Palestinians—unless the Palestinians can parlay them into advancing the idea of a genuine Palestinian state, and not the desert mirage offered them by the Israelis. It is not the fact that there is an international consensus for a two-state solution that should be emphasized, but rather that there is an international consensus for a Palestinian state. According to a recent poll, most Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank would prefer living in an independent state than in one state in which Jews and Arabs are considered equal. Can you blame them? After all, how many Zionist displaced persons would have preferred living in post-war Germany with guaranteed equality for Jews and Germans to living in their own state as a free people? That number appears to be dropping, though, as Palestinians realize what they are likely to get at the end of a negotiated process.