The two-state solution won’t die
This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “pro” argument published in conjunction with Yishai Fleisher’s “con” argument, “Five Alternatives to Designating Separate States.”
Seldom has an idea been pronounced dead more often than that of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians through a two-state solution. Politicians, experts, pundits and columnists have lined up to deliver their eulogies, lay it to earth, fill in its grave and recite Kaddish over its remains.
Except that it still lives.
Even President Trump, who last month said he had no preference between a two-state solution and a so-called one state solution, has apparently reverted to a fairly classic two-state policy. His envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week, was discussing reining in the Israeli settlements, presumably to preserve land for a future Palestinian state.
The reason even skeptics eventually come back to the two-state solution is that it remains the only viable, equitable and reasonable way of ending the seemingly endless conflict. Two peoples, who live side by side in the same land, can either fight over control of every square inch, denying the other side any ownership or control or dignity, or they can decide to share. The two-state solution does not pretend to give either side everything that they want – but it does give them everything that they need.
True, ultra-nationalists, who base Israel’s claim to the West Bank on their interpretation of God’s will, will never accept any solution that involves Israel relinquishing control over Judea and Samaria. Among this small group, various other “solutions” are regularly floated. A good example were the five “alternatives” proposed in a New York Times article last month by Hebron settler Yishai Fleisher (with whom I will debate at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills on the evening of March 30).
The five alternatives all have one thing in common: they do not treat Palestinians as equal to Jews and do not afford them anything close to equal rights. They do nothing to acknowledge Palestinian aspirations to control their own destiny in a state of their own. Fleisher himself recognizes this, stating that all his so-called plans have “potentially repugnant elements.”
The first of these alternatives — allowing Palestinians in the West Bank to become Jordanian citizens, while continuing to live in the West Bank under Israeli rule –would probably destabilize Jordan, a key US and Israeli bulwark against ISIS and al-Qaeda. And the plan itself is preposterous. Imagine if all the African-American residents of Michigan were suddenly told they were henceforth citizens of Canada and not the United States. They could send delegates to Parliament in Ottawa and help determine policies north of the border – but not where they live.
Two of Fleisher’s other so-called alternative solutions are based on Israel’s annexing most of the West Bank, leaving the cities as small Palestinian islands in charge of sewage collection and street lamps but not much else. They would be, in effect, Bantustans – a system attempted unsuccessfully by South Africa during the apartheid era.
The fourth solution suggested by Fleisher would give Palestinians full citizenship in Israel. They would have to swear loyalty to the Jewish state to earn this privilege. While this would not violate their human rights, it would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, if the Palestinians accepted the conditions. It’s hard to imagine any of the Zionist parties in Israel even pretending to consider this or many Palestinians signing on.
The final alternative in Fleisher’s list is the “voluntary” emigration of some 800,000 Palestinians from the West bank who would be financially “incentivized” to leave for their ancestral lands and rights. Where would they go? Jordan, which is already staggering under the weight of some 1.4 million refugees? Western Europe, where anti-immigrant populist movements are vying for power? Or perhaps Israel could persuade President Trump to accept a few hundred thousand Palestinians in the United States.
All of these false formulas, based on self-deception and fundamental injustice, should persuade us once more that the two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict. The moment the two-state solution really does dies, both peoples condemn themselves to a future of conflict without end, generation after generation – and that is a future too awful to accept.
At the core of this idea are the fundamental principles of peace and justice. With beautiful simplicity and economy, Psalm 34 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” With equal terseness, Deuteronomy 16:20 commands us, “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”
Though current prospects are bleak, I believe that the moment for the two-state solution will come because eventually both sides will realize they have no other choice and that the status quo will become intolerable. The moment may come in five years, it may take longer. But ideas, unlike mortals, have the power to persist for generations, centuries and even millennia when they stand on the fundamental human principles of peace and justice. This is an idea that is too strong to die.
The author is Special Adviser to the President of J Street.