It’s time for truth about the two-state solution

As long as our leaders uphold the lie that a deal is doable, other issues will keep being neglected.

Naftali Bennett 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
If it weren’t for one flaw, I’d agree completely with Daniel Gordis' column in this paper last Friday. He’s right that the endless debate over the peace process has sucked all the air out of the international Jewish conversation “for far too long,” leaving no room for crucial topics like “why the Jews need a state and the values on which it ought to be based.” He’s right that we can’t afford to keep ignoring these issues. And he’s right that the impossibility of an Israeli-Palestinian deal in the foreseeable future creates space to finally start addressing them. Indeed, that’s precisely what happened in the last Israeli election, which, for the first time in decades, revolved around domestic issues – i.e., what kind of state Israel should be – rather than the peace process.
Yet these important arguments are undercut by the flaw hidden in one seemingly innocuous statement: “Reasonable minds can differ as to whether saying publicly that the two-state solution is dead is healthy for Israel’s standing in the international community.”
Actually, where Gordis stands on that question seems pretty clear: Just last July, he signed an open letter urging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to adopt the Levy Report, lest it “place the two-state solution and the prestige of Israel as a democratic member of the international community, in peril”; he then wrote an op-ed in Haaretz explaining his objections in more detail. Yet all the Levy Report said is what every Israeli government has said for decades: that the West Bank isn’t “occupied Palestinian territory,” but disputed territory to which Israel has a valid claim – which in no way negates Israel’s ability or willingness to cede part or all of it for peace. If Gordis views even that as too dangerous to say publicly lest it paint Israel as a peace rejectionist, I can’t imagine him not objecting to a blunt public statement that “the two-state solution is dead."
And therein lies the flaw. For if prominent Israelis, and especially Israeli leaders, aren’t willing to say this publicly and repeatedly, the “peace process” will keep right on monopolizing the conversation, and we’ll never have time and space for those other topics that Gordis rightly considers vital.
First, this is because nobody can be more Catholic than the pope: Neither American Jews nor world leaders can declare the two-state solution dead as long as Israeli leaders insist ad nauseam that it’s achievable.
Moreover, the benefits of peace as envisioned by the optimists are enormous: no more terror, an economic boom, reduced defense spending that frees up funds for other purposes, unassailable international legitimacy instead of creeping delegitimization. Most Israelis by now consider this “peace dividend” a mirage: 83% think even withdrawing to the 1967 lines and dividing Jerusalem wouldn’t end the conflict, meaning that terror, high defense spending, the economic hindrance of being in a “war zone” and delegitimization of Israel’s efforts to defend itself would all continue. But people who still believe a deal is possible generally also believe it really would produce those benefits.
Thus as long as Israeli leaders encourage the fallacy that an agreement is possible, overseas Jews will naturally think this should take precedence over the issues Gordis rightly wants to discuss. For unless you think Israel would forfeit its heart by ceding its historic heartland – which two-state enthusiasts don’t – then whatever kind of state you want Israel to be, the above-mentioned benefits would make it easier to achieve.
The biggest problem, however, is that Israeli leaders don’t just say peace is possible; whether out of genuine belief or merely to prove their peacemaking bona fides, they also repeatedly declare it essential for Israel’s very survival: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished” (former prime minister Ehud Olmert); “it's impossible to survive in the long run without a political settlement” (Netanyahu); without a Palestinian state, “Israel will not be the Jewish nation-state” (Justice Minister Tzipi Livni).
When Israel’s own leaders – to whom Israelis routinely demand that Diaspora Jews defer on vital security issues – deem a two-state solution the most vital security issue of all, necessary for Israel’s very survival, how can overseas Jews be expected to care about anything else? If Israel truly will expire without a two-state solution, then there’s no point in discussing either why we need it or what kind of state it should be; all such questions are irrelevant until we first ensure its survival by implementing such a solution.
Thus if the conversation is ever to change, Israelis must first explain to the world why the two-state solution is indeed dead, and why Israel can nevertheless survive and even thrive without it, just as it has for the past 65 years.
In fact, explaining this is absolutely vital – because Israel can’t survive and thrive without peace unless we invest in building a state capable of doing so, and that entails a lot of very hard work. We have to reform our economy and education system, promote our case overseas, foster social solidarity, better integrate our minorities, and much, much more. Yet none of this can happen if Israel continues wasting vast amounts of political time and energy on the peace process – which it must keep doing as long as world leaders and overseas Jewry keep insisting on it. And they will keep insisting until Israeli leaders persuade them of what most Israelis already know: that it’s a lost cause.
It may be the world isn’t yet ready to hear this from the very top (even assuming Netanyahu were capable of saying it, which I doubt). But it never will be ready unless other Israelis start laying the groundwork. Thus even if more diplomatic phrasing might be preferable, second-tier politicians like Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon are performing an essential service by stating this truth.
The more Israelis are willing to join them in saying this publicly, the more likely overseas Jews are to finally start believing it. And only then will we be able to have the conversation Gordis (and I) so badly want to have.
The writer is a journalist and commentator.