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Facing Reality: moving on from the two-state solution in Ian Lustick’s ‘Paradigm Lost’

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From Two-State Solution To One-State Reality
by Ian S. Lustick
232 pp. University of Pennsylvania Press $27.50

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” – Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

On December 6th the House of Representatives passed a resolution that endorsed a “two-state solution” as the only outcome capable of ensuring Israel’s “survival as a Jewish and democratic state,” and “discouraged” the unilateral Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory. Liberal Zionists applauded the measure as a powerful rebuke to Netanyahu, Trump, and their allies. Dubbing it a “landmark resolution,” J Street declared that, “Coming at the end of a week in which President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly discussed potential Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, this vote sends a clear message that Congress strongly opposes such efforts to undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.”

Cover of Paradigm Lost

Bucking the tide of liberal Zionist euphoria, the “Squad,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley, broke with the Democratic mainstream and voted against the measure, emphasizing that the resolution had been denuded of references to Israel’s illegal occupation and that it gratuitously proclaimed  an “iron clad commitment” by the U.S. to provide massive and unconditional military aid to Israel.

Yet only Rep.Tlaib had the temerity to call out (and then only in passing) the simple and glaring reality: that the two-state formula has long since become “an unrealistic, unattainable solution … that Israel has already made impossible … ”

For most liberal-Zionists the “two-state solution” remains the one-and-only righteous and realistic way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet this discourse has long ignored the awkward fact that, far from representing a “realistic” alternative, the two-state solution is nothing more than a zombie that continues to roil the present from beyond the grave.

Reports of the two-state solution’s demise, imminent or actual, have been arriving with increasing frequency for the past 35 years. In 1983 Israeli journalist Amos Elon wrote that, “for all practical purposes [the West Bank and Gaza] have already been annexed to the State of Israel, perhaps irrevocably;” and Meron Benvenisti, then deputy mayor of Jerusalem and director of the West Bank Data Base Project, asserted that Zionist colonization had become so widespread that the occupation was “irreversible.” Around the same time, Peace Now soberly warned that the settlement of 100,000 Jews on the West Bank would soon result in de facto, if not de jure, annexation. (By 2018 the number of West Bank settlers far exceeded 400,000; currently, one out of every eleven Israeli Jews lives in territory occupied in 1967.)

In 2016, Padraig O’Malley, a peace activist with long experience promoting dialogue and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and South Africa, published a magisterial (and despairing) analysis, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine, arguing that the facts on the ground, the political realities, and the psychology of the interested parties had long-since made the two-state solution “not just delusional but simply irrelevant.”

And now comes a slimmer and more focused volume, Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian S. Lustick, which says Kaddish for the two-state solution and calls for a new paradigm and a new politics based on a One-State Reality.

A long-time advocate of the two-state solution, who considers the failure to realize it “a great historical and political tragedy,” Lustick doesn’t reject the solution in principle. Rather, and like Jeff Halper, he has simply come to realize that the two-state solution is no longer “in the cards.” Why?  Because Israel’s policy has been “to systematically, belittle, discredit, or ignore Arab peace initiatives;” to produce irrevocable facts on the ground; and to foster an Israeli-Jewish mental template; which make territorial compromise impossible.

“For better or worse,” asserts Lustick, there currently exists a “One-State Reality” in Palestine, extending from the river to the sea. In this “apparatus of power,” Israel

collects taxes from West Bank and Gaza  Palestinians and determines who enters and leaves those areas, who enjoys rights to property, and who can live, build, or even visit where. … [M]ost Israeli maps feature no divisions between the sea and the river other than administrative boundaries of districts and regions … [and] all mail that enters or leaves the West Bank and Gaza does so via Israel.

The dangerous refusal “to acknowledge that the warning of a one state reality has already come true” has multiple explanations, which Lustick discusses only briefly. Defenders of the two-state solution who realize the untenability of the status quo, fear the “demographic threat” of Palestinian population growth and/or have resigned themselves to some species of Palestinian self-determination, cling to the mantra of “preserving” a “Jewish and democratic” state inside the Green Line-  a refrain, Lustick observes, that has “always meant a polity controlled by Jews and for Jews … ”

Members of the Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, possess a powerful vested interest in paying lip-service to the two-state solution in order to perpetuate what remains of their aura of progressive nationalism, maintain the fig-leaf of their legitimacy and, incidentally, permit them to preserve jobs and material wealth.

For others, fealty to the two-state solution, simply amounts to a rejection of, or an inability to imagine, a one-state alternative. Yet as Lustick points out,

neither God nor history guarantees that the Israeli-Palestinian problem has a ‘solution.’ It is illogical to argue, as two-state advocates now commonly do, that since there is no one-state solution, there must be a two-state solution.

The current One-State Reality, writes Lustick, is obviously not a “solution.” It is an “outcome.” For good or ill it is a starting point, the only realistic starting-point for a consideration of the only relevant question, “What Is To Be Done?” Clinging to “the mirage of the two-state solution,” he writes, “prevents those who favor a democratic future from working effectively to bring [it] about, while abetting those who favor nondemocratic outcomes…. ” Viewing the situation through the lens of a one-state paradigm, however, promotes

analysis and action on specific opportunities to advance equality and lessen or end discrimination, which means not opposing annexation per se but rather shaping it. It means treating Arabs and  Jews as having equal political rights regardless of where, in relation to the Green Line, they live.

In important ways, Lustick’s perspective corresponds with that of the BDS movement which, as Leila Farsakh pointed out years ago, calls for

a paradigm shift in thinking about the conflict from being composed of two national groups seeking territorial separation to being a single colonial structure that can best be dismantled by creating a democratic state for all of its citizens. In other words, it is a struggle for equal rights for all, Israelis and Palestinians, not statehood per se.

But Lustick is explicitly gradualist (“The pace of change,” he writes, “is likely to be slow [and] will [only] accelerate as both Arabs and Jews realize that neither will be able to ignore the other”); he challenges- rightly in my view- BDS’ opposition to “normalization” (he calls for “Palestinian-Jewish alliances”); and he encourages Palestinians of East Jerusalem to end their boycott and actively participate in the political life of the metropolis.

Above all, Lustick’s willingness to regard Israeli annexations with equanimity remains a controversial posture. As “events march undeniably toward substantive annexation,” he argues, the new politics “will make strange bedfellows” as “Jewish progressives who accept the One-State Reality will find allies among settlers and Jewish maximalists.”

Whether the transformed power dynamics created by an acceptance of the One-State Reality will ultimately produce a “solution” that promotes peace, justice and reconciliation, remains an open question. The great value of Lustick’s Paradigm Lost, however, is its insistence that we jettison the illusions and cant surrounding the ritual invocations of the two-state solution and honestly acknowledge and accept where we are now.

It’s an admirable injunction. One can only hope that, in Gramsci’s language, the “interregnum” will not be prolonged and the “morbid symptoms” accompanying it will not prove deadly.

Joel Doerfler

Joel Doerfler is a long-time independent school teacher of history. He lives in New York.

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15 Responses

  1. bcg on December 19, 2019, 2:09 pm

    And one of the weirdest things about the two state solution is that Israeli politicians have been saying for at least 20 years: no way we’re going to allow a Palestinian state. Here’s the latest:

    “Gideon Sa’ar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sole challenger in the upcoming Likud party leadership race, said Sunday that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is an “illusion,” and attacked the premier for giving the notion credibility over the last decade. ”

    How about an interview with Lustick? Here’s his web page – lots of interesting resources there:

    • Mooser on December 20, 2019, 1:14 pm

      The present situation in Israel shows pretty plainly that Israelis would prefer not to have a government, if having a government means some small inclusion of Palestinians.

  2. brent on December 19, 2019, 3:15 pm

    Doerfler has brilliantly focused us upon Lustick’s “handwriting on the wall” and emphasized the need for those interested in the peace of Jerusalem to figure out how to bring us closer to it.

    Is it not a realistic path forward for Palestinian citizens of Israel to consider the contribution they could make by engaging a campaign for civil rights and equality under the law. That would inform how to make a secular state work.

  3. HarryLaw on December 19, 2019, 4:33 pm

    When Professor N Finkelstein spoke in Dublin not long ago he said this..”If you can’t get half a loaf, why not ask for the whole loaf, if it seems as if the two states is not within reach, well why not ask for one state? I can understand that reasoning , the logic of it, but you would have to convince me of two things, number one, that two states is not within reach, and you would have to convince me that one state is more within reach than two states. I think neither propositions is true, I think the second proposition is positively insane. If Israel will not abandon/give up the West Bank, if that’s true do you think it would be easier for Israel to give up a Jewish State? Does that make any sense? If two states is remote, one state is another time warp”.
    It appears the Israelis have opted for another time warp position with the logic that they have decided on forced Bantustans and an Apartheid state, with Palestinians having no sovereignty or equality in their place of residence and certainly no votes in the Knesset.

    • Talkback on December 19, 2019, 5:51 pm

      What Finkelstein doesn’t understand (yet), is that going for the one state solution could possibly the only way to force Israel into accepting a real two state solution.

    • bcg on December 19, 2019, 8:58 pm

      Well, here’s Lustick on that point: “From the one-state reality perspective, democratization of Israel will likely take decades and even generations—comparable to the century it took for the United States, after the Civil War, to evolve into a multiracial democracy, to the seventy-five years it took for Britain to be transformed by the extension of citizenship to the masses of Irish Catholics, and to the generations it took for South African apartheid to be transformed from democracy for a minority to democracy for all. In that context it is the growth in the Arab dominated Joint List that points most potently toward both the challenges and the opportunities that lay in Israel’s future. ”

      But that project will be stillborn if we think two states are still possible.

      • annie on December 19, 2019, 10:21 pm

        democratization of Israel will likely take decades and even generations—comparable to the century it took for the United States, after the Civil War…

        couple things, firstly, it’s already been decades and generations. 2nd, “after the civil war” the war had already been fought and won (or lost depending on ones perspective). 3rd, time moves faster now. everything moves faster now than it did pre internet. the mask of israel as a democracy has been ripped off and it already stands exposed, naked, as an apartheid state (and all that that entails, zionism, zionist regime exposed).


        It is now becoming apparent that Israeli Jews wanting to live under a moderate, non-orthodox, liberal government cannot do so without partnering, one way or another, with Arab voters.

        Israeli Jews wanting to live under a moderate, non-orthodox, liberal government are in the minority. israeli extremism, and terrorism (fully supported empowered and led by gantz, the butcher of gaza) is at its zenith (hopefully).

        we’re so accustomed to the paradigm of israel doing it’s thing and the world standing by and issuing either massive support or worthless condemnations(carrots never sticks) nobody even considers how fast things would likely change if bds took hold. we have presidential candidates discussing withholding aid (the “D” in divestment), imagine the impact of sanctions?

        tipping points matter and they happen very fast. it may take generations to heal, but given the era we are in, assuming we’re looking at another 100 years, no. i think we’re looking at 20 years or less. when the american (not israeli) generation that is the backbone of US support for israel (65-85) is dead, things will flip fast.

      • Talkback on December 20, 2019, 5:19 am

        Reading tip reminder: Steven Salait – Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America And Palestine

    • echinococcus on December 19, 2019, 11:15 pm


      Both proposals are the same castle in the air.

      If we are talking about any proposal that becomes a solution by Zionist acquiescence without major violence, none of the two are een remotely possible. There is enough Zionist conquest and deception history, not to mention Zionist ideologic programs and writings to document that.

      Now, in the off chance of a relatively peaceful Zionist acceptance of any temporary compromise (won’t happen as long as Uncle Shemuel is still kicking, but one can always dream) either a Bantustan-like puppet Palestinian “state” or a make-believe easing of the Apartheid conditions might be proclaimed, respectively, “two state” or “one state”… “solution” — which it ain’t. Of course such a situation might represent progress and allow the resistance to rebound. What is slightly ridiculous is the fact that we are seriously discussing the merits of two or more fairy tales as it they were a thing.

  4. Misterioso on December 20, 2019, 10:37 am

    In the long run, one state is inevitable!

  5. CHUCKMAN on December 20, 2019, 11:21 am

    I believe the late (wonderful) Edward Said had supported the single-state solution.

    No reasonable person, I think, can oppose it, however the region has a good many unreasonable residents, both Israeli and Palestinian.

    And the absolute key to either solution, two-state or one-state, is American support and authority, but that in itself represents a huge problem.

    America has not acted as an honest broker in Middle East affairs, and I think it fair to say that that statement is even more true today than previously.

    A few years ago, I wrote a clear and concise article on some of the problems involved.

    Readers may find it here:

  6. pabelmont on December 20, 2019, 1:55 pm

    The current One-State Reality, writes Lustick, is obviously not a “solution.” It is an “outcome.” For good or ill it is a starting point, * * *”

    Well, of course, Israel is always at work, and nothing is perfectly static, not in Israel or anywhere else. But assuming static-ness for a moment, we must ask if the present 1SS is a “starting point” or an “ending point”.

    Sadly. Very sadly. With the whole world losing its (moral) mind and rushing into right-wing nationalism and fascism, with the climate crisis steadily becoming the climate cataclysm and already producing climate refugees — who are not being welcomed in most places — why should anyone expect (moral) attention to Israel? Or to the (comparatively [Syria] small number of) Palestinian refugees.

  7. HarryLaw on December 24, 2019, 8:18 am

    In the video link [Professor Finkelstein’s talk in Dublin] in my comment above he said this [at 8.36] in the context of regional states supporting Vietnam and the whole continent of Africa supporting the fight against Apartheid in South Africa….. “Can anyone name a single country in the world, one! one country that supports one state, none, there is no support for it, so you are going to win a cause against the whole world, ‘Palestine’ GNP minus 20 is going to win a cause against the whole world. These are flights of fancy, fantasy as well, they have nothing to do with the real world, so why would I want to do that?

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