Following Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on Israel-Palestine, Professor Corey Robin pointed out the following on Facebook:
“There’s something so surreal about the state of the Israel/Palestine debate in this country. John Kerry makes a speech today, warning that if we don’t act soon, the two-state solution may be in jeopardy. Liberals swoon: Unprecedented! Conservatives seethe: Unprecedented! Meanwhile, on April 18, 2013, John Kerry said: ‘I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time – a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.’ In other words, as of April 18, 2015—more than a year and a half ago—the two-state solution was finished. We live in a kabuki republic, where everyone makes these stylized gestures, entirely rhetorical, that mean nothing. And everyone knows they mean nothing. Yet everyone acts as if they mean something.”
I would say that we we live in a “Groundhog’s Day” republic, except that things have gotten worse since 2015. So I plan to repost things that I wrote in the past if I feel they are still timely. And they probably will always be “timely”.
The following post was written in May 2012. The one-state/two-state debate was “weary, stale, and unprofitable” then, and it is even more so now, with the incoming Republican administration. We are, and have been, for some time in a one-state reality. Israel has ruled for three generations over people without their consent and against their will, with a different system of law. Israel today is a democracy in the sense that America was a democracy before African Americans and Native Americans were made citizens and given the vote — in short, it is at best a nineteenth-century democracy. The question then is: How do we focus our energies under the current situation, which shows no signs of changing within my lifetime? This is what I wrote in 2012:
Is the two-state solution for Israel-Palestine still viable? Perhaps it is time to admit, in the spirit of Voltaire, that the two-state solution was never about two states, nor was it a solution, nor could it ever be viable.
It was not about a Palestinian state, because a state’s fundamental purpose is to provide security and a sense of security to its citizens. But even the most far-reaching of the two-state proposals did not allow the Palestinians to have a strong army. After a century of Zionism, security and the sense of security are what the Palestinians crave most. That is why in poll after poll, what Palestinians on the West Bank oppose most is “an independent Palestinian state that would have no army, but would have a strong security force and would have a multinational force deployed in it to ensure its security and safety.”
That there are Palestinian leaders who were compelled, out of weakness and fatigue, to agree to a non-militarized Palestine is irrelevant, as is the very sensible belief that developing countries should not invest heavily in a military. A people that has always relied on the “kindness of strangers” must be able to defend itself. That is valid for the State of Israel, and it is equally valid for the State of Palestine.
It was not a real solution, because it did not meet the minimum set of reasonable conditions for statehood. For example, the proposed borders of the state, even after land swaps, would finalize the Judaization of the greater Jerusalem metropolitan area, providing Palestinians with a hole in a Jewish bagel. The settlement blocs would divide the Palestinian state from North to South and the Negev would divide the Palestinian state from East to West. The other elements of the Clinton proposals or the Geneva Initiative, i.e. security arrangements, refugees, etc., all favor the Israelis at the expense of the Palestinians.
Advocates of the two-state solution will respond, “Yes, but at least the Palestinians will have a state. Had they accepted the partition plan in 1947, they would have had a larger state without refugees.” Really? Had the Palestinians joined the Zionists in accepting the partition plan in 1947, it is more likely that neither side would have honored it. Even the Zionists, who accepted it, discarded it at the earliest opportunity. Both sides years later failed to honor the Oslo Accords they signed, and Israel was quick to appeal to security concerns in order to justify territorial gain in 1956 and 1967.
What really determines the security of the Israelis and the Palestinians is, not surprisingly, the balance of power between the peoples. And, under any of the proposed two-state solutions, the Palestinians would be dependent to a large extent on Israel’s largesse.
For the two-state solution to be a viable option, there must be a fair and equitable division of the land and resources of Israel/Palestine, a division that provides for a symmetry of power and resources between the two peoples, including room for immigrants from their respective diaspora communities. The current two-state proposals, justified entirely by facts on the ground, and by a desire to solve the Jewish “demographic problem,” distribute land and resources in a grossly inequitable manner. This is a sure recipe for breeding terrorism, vigilantism, and irredentism. Even the accepted US formula for two states: “a secure Israel alongside a viable, contiguous Palestine” is humiliating. If you don’t understand why, just switch the two names.
How about a one-state solution? Or, to be more precise, how about a different “one state” from the current one state ruled by Israel, in which the Palestinians of Israel are excluded from the nation-state, rendering them politically impotent, and in which Palestinian subjects of the West Bank and Gaza, are under Israel’s control? A more equitable bi-nationalist state may be the solution for the future, but it is presently thwarted by opposing nationalist narratives, hardened by the occupation and by the Israeli policy of “hafrada” (segregation), which fosters mutual ignorance and distrust.
Instead of focusing on impractical political solutions, friends of Israel and Palestine should adopt more fundamental principles. Here are two:
Joint Struggle for Civil Rights and Self-Determination. Recently, several prominent Israelis have called on Israel to withdraw unilaterally from parts of the West Bank in a move they termed, “Peace Without Partners.” Yet this return to Zionist unilateralism will achieve neither peace nor the minimum of justice required by both peoples for coexistence. Rather, people of good will from around the globe should become “Partners Without Peace” in a struggle for the civil rights and self-determination of Palestinians (and Israelis, who already have them.)
Re-education and Fostering Understanding of the Other. Both sides, as unequal in power as they currently are, have to be re-educated to understand that at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict are conflicting foundational claims that can no longer be adjudicated. Their goal should be to work gradually towards a reasonably fair compromise between the parties that will allow both peoples security and flourishing. The ultimate goal should not a sanctification of the status quo, including the Israeli regime established in 1948, but rather a willingness to re-think how both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples can have equal opportunities to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This is a herculean task for more than one generation. But there are no short-cuts. During the very long night ahead of us, the joint struggle of people from Israel/Palestine and from around the globe should continue to focus on civil and political equality, until more come to realize that the problems between the two sides are foundational. Non-violent tactics that exert pressure on both sides, including boycotts and sanctions, should be considered and adopted if they will further the aforementioned goals.
The “We-all-know-what-the-solution-will-look-like–we-just-don’t-know-how-to-get-there” attitude may be comforting to liberal Zionists—but it is just another messianic illusion that allows them to sleep soundly while the oppression and injustice continues. Indeed, the messiah will come before an equitable two-state solution is implemented. And Zionism is not about waiting for the messiah.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on December 29, 2016, on The Magnes Zionist, a website featuring commentary by Jewish studies and philosophy professor, Jerry Haber (a nom de plume). It was reproduced here with the consent of Professor Haber.