This post is part of “What Comes Next?: A forum on the end of the two-state paradigm.” This series was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace as an investigation into the current state of thinking about one state and two state solutions, and the collection has been further expanded by Mondoweiss to mark 20 years since the Oslo process. The entire series can be found here.
The debate about one state or two states masks something basic: the diplomatic dance around the two-state solution has been one long performance, a means to manage the zero-sum conflict between Israeli settler-capitalism and the Palestinian right to self-determination.
Settler states are based on land. Their signal trait is to expand until such expansion is no longer politically possible. Such expansion is not generally ideologically driven. Land is a resource, and taking more of it is the easiest way to resolve internal social conflicts over distribution. The entire history of European settler colonialism has been linked to postponing and deflecting social conflict within European states.
Israel is no exception to this general rule. The country was founded on a series of thefts assisted by British colonial violence, until such time as the Zionist institutions were strong enough to expand without the direct stewardship of a metropolitan sponsor. Those thefts expanded rapidly through the Nakba, then more gradually after the 1967 war.
In its wake, settlement expansion slowly inched up, then exploded during the Oslo period, as the internal-to-the-Green-Line welfare components of the Israeli state withered under Labor and Likud governments alike – of course, outside of the Green Line, the welfare state for Jews is alive and well.
Indeed, it is through the welfare of settlements and subsidized housing on stolen Palestinian land that the Israeli elite postpones demands for intra-Jewish redistribution.
Through this process, colonialism, social welfare, and militarism have melded into an overwhelming expansionist drive.
But also one which has encountered two remarkably resilient obstacles: Palestinian nationalism and broader Arab anti-colonialism.
When settler-colonialism must advance against and through such obstacles, the result is political friction – leading to a heat buildup which threatens the smooth functioning of the entire regional system if temperatures rise too high.
The so-called peace process has been about managing that friction, preventing it from damaging the larger machine of American power in the Middle East. Part of this has involved cutting off its fuel supply: Arab anti-Zionist sentiment. One mode of restricting the fuel supply has been demonizing the Palestinians, thereby reducing sympathy for them in such quarters. Another means to control the heat level has been to channel it into parts of the machine designed to absorb it.
The Muslim Brotherhood is one such component. The PA is another, and one with a strong interest in sustaining the peace process in perpetuity, an interest with roots in the Gulf money which turned the PLO into a rigid bureaucracy. The upshot of this process was that even anti-colonial nationalism became a commodity, on the market for the right price – in this case, monopolies on service provision in the West Bank and posts at the helm of Ramallah NGOs, turning resistance into quiescence and the cant of co-existence.
In describing such modes of gutting the resistance, collaboration is a misnomer, for it rests on the presumption that the interests of the Palestinian elite follow the flag and not the dollar.
The basic role of the United States has been to fuel the peace process, making sure that it can continue to cover up Israeli rejectionism, year-in and year-out.
From this perspective, the problem with the so-called international consensus two-state solution has not been that it accepts colonial facts on the ground. The problem is that it is a lie.
Thus the debate around it in Western circles is irrelevant, if not actively damaging. For it presumes, and thereby reinforces, the myth that either it or a one-state resolution are on the table.
They are not. What is on the table for the foreseeable future, especially in the absence of massive revolt in the region and especially amongst Palestinians, is sustained occupation, settlement expansion, and further Bantustanization – the grammar of brutality in which settler-colonialism expresses itself in historic Palestine.
The only thing that will put justice on the table is sustained action, above all in Palestine and the surrounding Arab world, secondarily against Israel’s main patrons: the US and European governments. As Bashir Abu Manneh writes, the key is “actively threatening U.S.-Israel domination” of the area.
A corollary is that points of reference need not be discussion about states or solutions, as any such solution or state will be the outcome of political processes internal to the Palestinian national body, regional mobilization, and our grassroots movements in the global North.
In other words, the reference should be the struggle itself, not solutionism. And that struggle will be regional.
One crucial locus of that struggle is the BDS campaign, with its baseline demands of equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, the end of the occupation, and the Right of Return.
Additionally, there are constant and ongoing efforts by Palestinians in exile to strengthen their community formations. Insofar as it is appropriate and it is requested, those efforts deserve our support. And if those formations put forth an anti-colonial or anti-capitalist politics going beyond rights to a wider vision of social justice, activists should support them.
Supporting such work also means defending the exiled from the repression the US government doles out so generously to Palestinians who remain active in the struggle, like Rasmea Odeh and Hatem Abudayyeh.
At home, our task is simple and Olympian. We have to break the Special Relationship – the keystone of imperial strategy in the region. Along the way, to build up the strength to win that victory, we must amass smaller ones: university divestments, removal of cooperation between American and Israeli institutions, and especially cutting though the sub-links which bind the US and Israel as partners in repression – Urban Shield, for example, or US co-production of drone technology.
These are also opportunities for joint work between solidarity campaigners and other resistance to the policies of the US state. In fact, they are more than opportunities. They are responsibilities. The temptation to shear Palestine work from other anti-racist struggles must be resisted at all costs. All contributions are important, but when campaigners weave together struggles at the grassroots, all of our struggles become stronger. The alliance between Students for Justice in Palestine and Movímíento Estudíantíl Chicano de Aztlán, built from the ground up by organizers in New Mexico, is one such example among many.
Work at home must join in active support and solidarity with grassroots initiatives within Palestine-Israel. That may include supporting, in partial ways, economic struggles within Israel. If so, movements involved in such work ought to be held accountable on the colonial question. The way to do so is engagement, not to demand that imperfect struggles simply go home.
In turn, by building unity through the process of struggle itself, we will be ready to provide the necessary support when, or if, the next intifada occurs. For if that happens, it is likely to be in the context of a broader regional challenge to American-Israeli power, the response to which will be incredible violence – an attempt to turn resistance into rubble.
If we want to prevent that from happening, our main tasks are at home.
In this tableau a discussion of one or two states matters not at all.