For decades, the two-state solution has been the consensus advocated by liberal and left-Zionist groups, political parties; and foreign states (including the US and EU) seeking to mediate the Israel-Palestine conflict. US administrations (with the glaring exception of one) have routinely criticized Israeli settlement policy as endangering the chance for such a two-state agreement. Based on such a consensus one might think that the world could then proceed to implementing such a proposal. But the opposite has been the case.
The two-state solution has proven to be a chimera: an object that appears to exist, but never has and never will. One might argue that two-states is a viable plan if agreed to by the parties. But one party in particular has defied this consensus for a generation, while falsely maintaining (for a considerable portion of that time) that it agrees with it. That party, Israel, no longer even maintains such fig-leaf position. For the past decade or more, Israeli governments have at first implicitly, then explicitly rejected it. Leaving the rest of the world which endorses it looking like utter fools. But governments like the US and European Union have been only too happy to continue the charade, because without two states their approach would appear even more bankrupt, and make them look even more ridiculous.
So two-states has been a useful tool to pretend the world has a plan, when it doesn’t. To admit the truth, would force anyone serious about peace and justice issues to either throw up their hands in futility; or admit failure and devise a different approach.
That approach, a single state comprising both Israel and Palestine, is derided as unachievable because the Israeli side “would never accept it.” But this is a fallacy based on a hypothetical future result which no one has even bothered to attempt. The same argument was offered during the South African apartheid era. Advocating for majority Black rule seemed impossible given the intractable opposition of the ruling white majority.
But with enough political, moral and economic pressure, that same apartheid regime recognized the handwriting on the wall and conceded that its continuance was doomed. During an extended process of negotiation between the parties, a transition to majority rule was successfully implemented.
Now, South Africa is by no means a shining example of state-transformation. It is a state facing the same problems as many other African states (crime, corruption, entrenched power elites). But at least it is a democracy in which the people have an equal say in the political life of the nation.
One state is a similarly achievable outcome. But given Israeli opposition, it cannot happen until the very world political elites which have decided two-states is the only viable option, give up this illusion. In addition to embracing one state, they must do something they have hitherto refused: to put political, moral and economic muscle behind their position. Israeli refusal must be met with isolation in all the areas mentioned above: the Israeli economy must be boycotted; it must be denied financial opportunities and access to capital offered to other states; state sponsored institutions in such fields as the arts and academia must be isolated; and Israel must be ostracized from international bodies and denied access to opportunities to normalize itself before the world.
Obviously, this will take a force of will so far not in evidence. It will take resolve the world has lacked. It will take a global movement exerting incessant moral pressure for action. It will take continuing change in the foreign policy consensus among academic elites such as that seen here and here. Books such as Ian Lustick’s recently published, Paradigm Lost along with his NY Times op-ed, Two-State Illusion, also chip away at this poisonous consensus. But despite the slow transformation of opinion, the resistance has so far been unable to make radical change due in part to the powerful counter-force of the Israel Lobby throughout the west (especially in the UK and U.S.).
That being said, students of history must remember the powerful states which appeared impregnable, only to fall due to their inherent instability and internal contradictions (USSR and its East European client states, Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, Rhodesia, apartheid South Africa, Argentina’s military junta, Somoza’s Nicaragua, Battista’s Cuba, etc.). We should remember as well the collapse of the post-WWII colonial era with Britain and France’s loss of colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Despite Israel’s apparent stability and economic vitality, it too could, and likely will suffer a similar fate.
Merkel’s Two-State Mirage
פתרון מדיני הוא אינטרס ישראלי. פתרון שתי המדינות הוא הדרך היחידה לקיומה של מדינת ישראל דמוקרטית. אין פתרון אחר https://t.co/SfrxHDkrWF
— שלום עכשיו (@PeaceNowIL) October 10, 2021
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel chose as her last foreign trip a visit to Israel-Palestine. Germany has maintained a strong interest in serving a role in mediating the conflict. Perhaps this is a lingering result of German guilt at its role in extermination European Jewry. Perhaps Merkel wanted to cement her legacy of German political leadership in the world.
But Germany under her leadership has also served a damaging role as a major exporter of advanced weaponry to Israel, most notably six nuclear-armed Dolphin submarines capable to igniting a regional Holocaust. Not to mention the millions in bribes related to this transaction allegedly siphoned off by Bibi Netanyahu and his cronies. These vessels are now patrolling waters off Iran, a country which Israeli leaders have already threatened with nuclear annihilation.
In her meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, she stressed her support for two-states. A position summarily rejected by Bennett who labeled any potential Palestinian state a “terror state.” The irony was apparently lost on the Israeli leader that Israel is far more powerful terror state which routinely violates the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors to pursue its own regional interests including assassinations, invasions, drone killings, and even incineration of entire cities.
The tweet by Peace Now above offers this lie:
The two-state solution is the only path to a democratic State of Israel. There is no other solution.
Actually, two-states is a path to continue the current situation in which Israel is an apartheid state. Because Israeli Palestinian citizens would continue to suffer as second class citizens as they do now. It would perpetuate Israel as an ethnocracy, rather than democracy. Two states constitutes nibbling around the edges of a systemic problem and offering a fix, rather than a comprehensive solution. On the other hand, a single state with equal rights for all would guarantee both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, and Palestinians in the Territories, would exercise full equality and rights.
Bennett’s slap in the face should have been received by Germany and the world as an unpardonable violation of bilateral relations. It should have reacted with anger to Israel’s rejectionism. It should have threatened to reconsider future diplomatic relations. Of course, Merkel did nothing of the sort. Both sides carried on business as usual, as if the two-state matter was some arcane dispute both sides had to mention in order not to lose face, but which neither intended to pursue in any real way.
US: Mouthing Two-States
The US is an equal offender in this regard. Excepting Donald Trump, every president going back to George HW Bush has lip-synced the words of the two-state song, while refusing to actually sing them for a world audience.
Even progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders and his putative leftist foreign policy advisor, Matt Duss, insist two-states is the only way forward. As a result, time and energy is lost on a hopeless pursuit of the impossible, when the left should be presenting a united, coherent vision of the future for Israel-Palestine.
In effect, this liberal Zionist fixation advances the interests of the Israeli apartheid state. As long as the global left is divided on its approach, the status quo remains the only game in town.
Another characteristic of the liberal Zionist approach is the focus on symptoms of the apartheid disease, rather than root causes. So when Israel attacks Gaza as it did in May, killing 250 Palestinians, the US response was initially total silence. After the killing continued and entire residential towers were destroyed by a ruthless aerial attack, Biden demanded a ceasefire. That soothed the world conscience somewhat. But feeling remained raw over the damage inflicted on Gaza, so the US president proposed offering Gaza humanitarian aid. Of course, it did not specify how much, to whom, or how it would be distributed–all contentious issues in the fragmented reality facing both Israel and Palestine, and a Palestine riven by internal dissension. Though the US has budgeted $150-million and pledged a return to UNWRA (which Trump had abandoned), this is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions humanitarian aid organizations project are needed. As but one of many examples, only a few thousand of the 18,000 homes Israel destroyed in its 2014 war there have been rebuilt. Imagine how long it will take to repair what has been destroyed last May.
Humanitarian aid does not address the root causes of the conflict. It puts a band aid on a cancer tumor. It does not lead toward a long-term resolution. It only allows the status quo to continue limping along.
A similar example is the recent US Congressional vote on Iron Dome funding. As a gift to Israel, pro-Israel Congressional forces proposed replacing the Iron Dome weaponry which had been exhausted in defending against the rockets fired into Israel during hostilities last May. Progressive Democrats scored an unprecedented victory by defeating the proposal in committee. But the Democratic leadership, with decades-long financial support from the Israel Lobby, forced an immediate vote to repair the damage caused by the defeat. The Israel Lobby put a full-court press on members whom it had supported financially in past election cycles. They responded like Pavlov’s dogs on hearing the bell. Four hundred dutifully lined up to vote Yes. Nine intrepid members defied the Lobby.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez caused a storm of protest when she switched her No vote, after arm-twisting by Nancy Pelosi captured on video. AOC apologized for her change of heart, but her explanation lacked conviction or coherence. She implicitly acknowledged she had been threatened in some unspecified way, but continued to defend her retreat by saying a No vote would somehow have damaged intersectional solidarity between Palestine and her Bronx constituency.
Bernie Sanders approached matters differently when Iron Dome proceeded to the Senate. He held out his own Yes vote on the appropriation in return for a vague agreement from the Biden administration that it would dedicate $1-billion in humanitarian aid to Gaza:
“President Biden is attempting to restore America’s position in the world as a supporter of human rights and dignity for all people. For us to provide an additional billion dollars in aid to Israel while ignoring the suffering of the people in Gaza would be wrong and unconscionable,” Sanders told Americans for Peace Now’s 40th anniversary gala on Thursday.
“That is why I asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for his commitment to work with me to ensure that we significantly increase U.S. assistance for Palestinian people in Gaza in the very near future. And Sen. Schumer agreed to work with me on this.”
…If the goal of this supplemental [$1-billion] funding is to help Israel replenish Iron Dome after the war that took place in May, in my view it would be irresponsible if we do not at the same time address the enormous destruction and suffering that caused the Palestinians in Gaza.”
Notice that nowhere in his statement does Sanders say that he’s agreed to fund a massive Israeli-US weapons system, one which will do nothing to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, he directly contradicts himself when he follows with this statement:
Sanders said the U.S. must actively work to oppose and end the occupation, including being “willing to bring real pressure to bear, including restricting U.S. military aid in response to moves by either side that undermine the chances for peace.
…“I believe that we must adopt an evenhanded approach, one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians as well as existing U.S. law, holding that the provision of U.S. military aid must not enable human rights abuses,” he continued.
You can’t have it both ways. Iron Dome directly enables such abuses. Israel can unleash full firepower on Gaza at will with no concern for any response by Palestinian miltants. It has done precisely this since 2014, killing nearly 3,000 Gazans during that period. Iron Dome is precisely the sort of military aid he should be strenuously opposing.
Again, this is the same piecemeal approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict which has delayed fundamental change for decades. If Israel can confine its critics to focusing on the symptoms of conflict like repairing damage inflicted by Israel, it prevents them from uniting around an approach that will end the conflict once and for all. Such a comprehensive approach would, of course, end the need for such stopgap measures entirely. A result those who refuse a one-state solution seem to ignore.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.