Two-state postmortem?

Solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflect the worldviews of the politicians, intellectuals and policy-makers who propose them

kerry, abbas face reporters 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
kerry, abbas face reporters 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Much has been written of late about the demise of the two-state solution.
In September, Ian Lustick, professor of political science at University of Pennsylvania, was given a prominent place in The New York Times for a long essay titled “Two-State Illusion.” In response, The New Yorker devoted two pieces to the subject – one by Bernard Avishai, a visiting professor of government at Dartmouth, calling for the creation of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation; and one by Yousef Munayyer, director of the Jerusalem Fund in Washington, who suggested one multi-ethnic democracy.
In the August edition of The New York Review of Books, Nathan Thrall’s “What Future for Israel?” touched on the same theme and concluded that if the current talks orchestrated by US Secretary of State John Kerry break down, “Israelis may begin asking themselves whether the time has come to abandon hopes of a full peace.”
And “The End of the Two-State Solution: Why the Window is Closing on Middle East Peace” was the name of an article Ben Birnbaum wrote for The New Republic.
Yet it seems somewhat odd to pronounce a postmortem on the two-state solution for a number of reasons. Firstly, because like any diplomatic solution to a political, national or religious conflict, implementation of the two-state solution depends on the decisions of free actors on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian political leadership could, in theory, undergo a radical transformation and decide to fully recognize Israel’s right to exist as a uniquely Jewish state. They could stop the glorification of murderous terrorists and the incitement against Israel.
As a colleague at The Jerusalem Post noted to me recently, if the Palestinians were to make a significant gesture, like the one made by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat when he came to Jerusalem in November 1977, it would be a game-changer, and we Israelis would fall into the Palestinians’ arms in a minute.
Also, different people mean different things when they talk about the two-state solution. Clearly, the two-state solution envisioned by the Geneva Initiative, which calls for the division of Jerusalem and the dismantling of Ariel, is not the same twostate solution as the one touted by, say Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, who rejects both of these concessions, or former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon, whose organization Blue White Future calls for a unilateral pullout from Judea and Samaria.
In contrast, when Palestinians refer to a two-state solution, they imagine a Palestine built along the 1949 armistice lines, with Jerusalem as its capital, containing no Jewish settlements. They also envision all Palestinian “refugees” making good on their right of return. When someone claims that “the two-state solution is dead,” it is difficult to know what precisely is being claimed.
Another reason it makes little sense to talk of the demise of the two-state solution right now is because so many important people still seem to believe in it, and are putting an awful lot of energy into trying to implement it. Kerry told reporters last week, shortly after arriving in Israel for a new round of negotiations, that despite the many difficulties, “I am very confident of our ability to work through them. That is why I am here.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has over the years come a long way toward embracing a two-state solution. There was his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech during which he stated, for the first time in his political career, his willingness to accept “a demilitarized Palestinian state side-by-side with the Jewish state.” Shortly after the January 2013 elections, Israel Harel, one of the founders of Gush Emunim, who strongly criticized Netanyahu for not going to official Likud institutions for approval of his political change of heart, called it “a revolutionary ideological turn equivalent to the shattering of the party’s Ten Commandments.”
Since then, adopting language not normally used on the Right, Netanyahu has on several occasions expressed his fears that the demographic threat represented by Palestinians and by Arabs living inside the Green Line would turn Israel into a binational state; he said as much as early as April 2012. And in June of this year, about a month before the present round of talks began, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, “If we go into direct negotiations, it is likely to be very hard, but the alternative of a binational state is one we do not want.”Although in the past Netanyahu has opposed sharing Jerusalem as a capital with the Palestinians, he has been conspicuously silent on the matter since January.
In September, MK Tzachi Hanegbi implied during the annual J Street Conference in Washington that Netanyahu would be willing to compromise on Jerusalem.
“I think we will be able to give a good answer, a winwin answer, to almost every issue, including Jerusalem,” noted Hanegbi, who is thought to be a longtime confidant of the prime minister.
The decision by Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman to form a joint list ahead of the January 2013 elections might have been motivated by ominous preelection polls, but a formal merger of the two parties, which is up for a vote soon, would help Netanyahu dilute the growing power of the far-Right, pro-annexationist members of his own party. Though Liberman recently called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “a liar, a coward and a wimp,” and has his own ideas about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – namely that some areas just inside the Green Line with large Arab populations would be ceded to a future Palestinian state, while Israel would in exchange annex parts of the West Bank with large Jewish populations – he is not fundamentally opposed to some sort of a two-state solution.
Moreover, Netanyahu’s chief negotiator to the Palestinians is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni who, in an interview with the Post in October, said she still believed in a diplomatic process leading to a two-state solution.
“If there wasn’t hope of achieving peace, I wouldn’t be doing this,” she told the Post’s Gil Hoffman.
The PA’s Abbas, meanwhile, told left-leaning MKs during a meeting in Ramallah that “the period of nine months [set aside for the current talks] is enough to reach an agreement. All the issues were discussed in the past, whether at Camp David, Taba, or with [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert.”
THAT, OF COURSE, is not to say the implementation of a two-state solution is easy. Even in 2008, when the thenprime minister made the most far-reaching territorial compromises ever made by an Israeli premier and agreed to split Jerusalem, the sides remained split on numerous issues. Based on Olmert’s own statements, which were essentially verified by people like Elliott Abrams, who supervised US policy in the Middle East at the time, the former premier offered to annex just 6.3 percent of Judea and Samaria, and compensate the Palestinians with 5.8% inside the Green Line and another 0.5% for a strip of land that would connect Gaza to the West Bank.
But the Palestinians were ready for Israeli annexation of no more than 1.9% of the West Bank. They demanded the evacuation not just of Ariel – with a population of about 20,000, including a university with 13,000 students – but also of Ma’aleh Adumim, with a population of about 40,000; Givat Ze’ev, with a population of around 10,000; and additional settlements and neighborhoods, which a majority of Israelis considered consensus. The number of Jews that would be uprooted according to the Palestinian position would be about 170,000 – compared to 70,000 according to that of Olmert.
Olmert also offered to split Jerusalem so that Arab neighborhoods would belong to the Palestinians, Jewish neighborhoods would be part of Israel and the Old City would be administered by a consortium of five nations: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestinians, the US and Israel.
The former prime minister even offered to allow a symbolic number of “refugees” – 5,000 over the course of five years – to return to their homes inside the Green Line. Abbas demanded 150,000.
And though no serious discussions took place on security arrangements, Palestinians refused to accept an Israeli military presence in a future Palestinian state, not in the Jordan Valley, not in the hills overlooking Greater Tel Aviv, not anywhere.
N o t surprisingly, at the end of his recently published book, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams rejects claims made by proponents of a diplomatically negotiated two-state solution that “everyone understands what the final deal will look like.”
As Abrams notes, “Abbas’s reaction to Olmert’s offer suggested that even an offer that seemed most generous in Israeli terms might be completely insufficient for the Palestinian leadership. Similarly, could an Israeli prime minister agree to some of the obvious final-status conditions the Palestinians wanted, such as the movement of many thousands of Palestinian ‘refugees’ to Israel and the division of the Old City in Jerusalem?” Abrams’s conclusion is that a negotiated final-status agreement is highly unlikely at present, and more effort should instead be invested in “changing the conditions under which the Palestinians live today.”
Indeed, the 30-year history of negotiated peace talks is a story of unbridgeable gaps and abject failures that have often led to murderous violence. And some seem to think that a similar fate awaits the latest attempt at a diplomatic solution. Last week, Kerry warned of a third intifada, in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to keep the failing negotiations rolling. In a joint interview with Channel 2’s Udi Segal and Maher Shalabi of Palestine TV, Kerry predicted that if the present round of talks failed, “there will be an increasing campaign of the delegitimization of Israel that has been taking place on an international basis.”
Kerry, seemingly taking the Palestinian position, went on to say that “if we do not resolve the question of settlements, and who lives where and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually in the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if you cannot get peace with a [Palestinian] leadership that is committed to non-violence, we may wind up with a leadership that is committed to violence.”
In his attack on Israel, however, Kerry probably did more harm than good to the future of the talks – at least from Israel’s perspective. By revealing his morally problematic position, he undermined Israel’s trust in America, trust that Israel needs to feel in order to be ready to take the necessary risks for peace. Essentially, he was saying that Israel’s insistence on the right to defend itself and the right to build houses for its citizens – even in consensus east Jerusalem and in settlement blocs – justifies Palestinian violence.
Kerry might have been trying to use the threat of a third intifada to coerce Israel to make concessions.
But he probably achieved the opposite. Past US presidents have understood that “no daylight” between Israel and the US enables Washington to maximize leverage with Israel. In contrast, any suggestion that the US is distancing itself and is less inclined to defend Israel invites more expressions of anti-Jewish sentiments and hostility to Israel. This makes the Jewish state feel less secure, and less willing to risk its security on potentially dangerous concessions. In short, Kerry’s comments probably made an already bad situation even worse.
And while Abbas might be considered a “moderate” in Palestinian terms, he has many weaknesses.
He has done little to prepare his people for the concessions necessary to end the conflict. Instead, such concessions are understood as unjust and evil steps that are acceptable only in the context of ending the occupation, and if the establishment of an independent state is seen as only one stage in the elimination of Israel and recovery of all “Palestinian lands.” Palestinian statehood is a guarantee of more conflict – not less.
Even on the occasions when he has made moderate statements, Abbas has tended to backtrack shortly thereafter under pressure. For instance, in November 2012, just a few months before elections here, Abbas seemed to repudiate the Palestinian right of return.
“Palestine for me is [pre-]1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Abbas, born in Safed, told Channel 2’s Segal. Asked if he would like to return to his hometown, which his family fled during the 1948 War of Independence, Abbas replied, “I want to see Safed.
It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”
That was on a Friday. By the following Sunday, facing attacks from within his own Fatah party and the burning of photos of the president by Hamas supporters in Gaza, Abbas had walked back the refugee comment, saying he was only speaking for himself.
Besides Abbas, few, if any, Palestinian political leaders are as willing to support entering negotiations with Israel.
Back in July, when Israel and the PA agreed to renew talks, Khaled Abu Toameh, the Post’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent, wrote, “Among Palestinians, it was impossible to find one individual or faction or movement that welcomed [US Secretary of State John] Kerry’s announcement about the resumption of the peace talks.”
Meanwhile, Abbas, 78, a heavy smoker who is in poor health, has not groomed a replacement. Moreover, his own political legitimacy is suspect since his term as president, which began after the January 2005 election, ran out in January 2009. The split between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-ruled West Bank has prevented new elections. Under the circumstances, it is unclear who precisely Abbas represents. Nor is it clear who would be obligated on the Palestinian side, even if the PA president were to sign a peace deal with Israel.
Further complicating chances for a negotiated twostate solution is the increasing awareness that solving the problems created in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War will not close the door on those created in the 1948 War of Independence.
This point has been illustrated time and again by the Palestinians’ insistence on the “right of return” for 1948 refugees. It has also been illustrated by the fact that increasingly, Israelis on the Right but also on the Left, particularly the more radical Left, recognize that morally speaking the existence of Jewish towns, neighborhoods and kibbutzim built on the ruins of Palestinian villages – such as Ramat Aviv, formerly Sheikh Muwannis – is no more or less justified than the building of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Indeed, more often than not, the creation of these towns, neighborhoods and kibbutzim inside the Green Line caused more suffering to the Palestinians who once lived there than the creation of settlements on land that for the most part was uninhabited.
As a result, figures on the Left and on the Right have increasingly been calling for a one-state solution to the conflict. Their motivations might be very different and they might have radically different views on how this single state will look, but there seems to be a consensus that there is a conflict between two peoples living in a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And there is no easy way to separate these two peoples.
WHILE IT might be not only premature but also nonsensical to talk about the demise of the two-state solution, it is equally true that increasingly Israelis have been searching for alternatives to the classic two-state model, according to which Palestinians and Israelis attempt to hammer out a final-status agreement based on the 1949 armistice lines. Prominent members of the Likud such as former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, former defense minister Moshe Arens and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely have advocated a one-state solution. Others in the Likud such as Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and coalition chairman Yariv Levin, along with Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, have called to annex Area C, which makes up approximately 60% of the West Bank.
Proponents of a two-state solution have tended to be dismissive of these alternatives. For instance, Dr. Toby Greene, research director at British think tank BICOM, referred to Bennett’s proposal as “incoherent” because “the Palestinians are not going to accept living as second- class citizens in someone else’s country, without the right to elect the government that runs their lives, any more than Jews would be.”
However, when arguing in favor of a unilateral pullout from the West Bank, Greene claims such a move “could create the conditions for a comprehensive peace in the future,” despite the hardly propitious precedent set in Gaza.
NOT UNLIKE the Jews’ reactions to anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries, an abundance of “solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been articulated, primarily by Jews both in Israel and abroad. In the decades before the Holocaust, Jews posited many different solutions to rabid anti-Semitism. There were socialists and communists, Reform Jews and Bundists; there were Jews who emigrated to America and embraced the melting pot and there were Yiddishists who strove to develop a uniquely secular Jewish culture; and there were Zionists of different stripes and ideological leanings.
Similarly, today, surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the most burning issue for Israeli society – a plethora of solutions has been put forward. There are two-staters and one-staters; annexionists and proponents of a “state of all its citizens”; there are unilateralists and supporters of direct talks; those who are in favor of a complete separation of the populations and those who advocate the gradual integration of Palestinians into a state with a Jewish majority and Jewish national symbols. These various proposals are not just attempts to offer pragmatic solutions to the conflict – though all undoubtedly attempt to do precisely that – they also reflect the worldviews of the politicians, intellectuals and policy-makers doing the proposing.
How much weight should be given to the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and how much to the property rights of Jews living in Judea and Samaria? Is Israel’s democracy more important than historical ties to the Land of Israel? The answer to these questions and many others can often be extrapolated out of the type of solution offered for resolving the conflict.
In coming weeks I will be exploring many of these proposals in depth, at a time when the two-state solution is increasingly coming under attack.