Why two states.

A little while ago, I was asked in the comments why I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, I in my role as an American citizen am asked to support the maintenance and creation of two single-identity states. I’m a both pluralist in my bones, and, despite my preference for the highly unlikely solution a federated state, quite practical.

So, my question to you: Why should a pluralist support a two-state solution, particularly when that solution explicitly rejects pluralism?

And, if the answer is about practicalities, then I also have to ask how practical is a two-state solution?

I think that this is a very legitimate, and important question, both in its specifics (why should a pluralist support an anti-pluralist political solution? is this solution even practical?), and in general: Why the hell two states?

What with the near parity in current Israeli and Palestinian population figures, and Israel’s endless building in the territories (making a contiguous Palestine a near-impossibility), doesn’t it make more sense to leapfrog over an idea whose time has past and just go straight to something else?

A fair number of people have in fact begun to openly advocate a one-state solution, and I can see why. A single state — often referred to as “a state of all its citizens,” in reference to the fact that a Jewish State cannot, by definition, genuinely be the state of its non-Jewish citizens — is far more in keeping with the values on which I was raised and am raising my children. One person-one vote, for instance, and multiculturalism. Mutual respect, liberty and justice for all. As I have said in the past, these ideas move me deeply and inform both my daily life and my political actions.

And yet for Israel/Palestine, I still passionately support a two-state solution, nationalism at its purest. WTF?

Simply put, at this point in blood-drenched history, the idea that Israelis and Palestinians would readily agree, en masse, to give up on their dreams of national statehood is utopian. At best.

First of all, and aside from anything else, a majority of Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike favor a two-state solution — 64% and 55%, respectively.

The search for a two-state agreement has become such boring conventional wisdom — and so frustratingly unachieveable — that people forget how revolutionary the idea really is. The real achievement of the Oslo Process was that it made a once crazy notion commonplace. Until the early 1990s, both sides roundly rejected the idea of sharing the land: in 1987, only 21% of Israeli Jews were willing to consider it, and Palestinians could be arrested for flying their flag, just as Israelis could be arrested for meeting with members of the very organization with which we now negotiate as a matter of course, the PLO.

Furthermore, there is vanishingly little support for any other resolution of the conflict. Only 11% of Palestinians support “either of the other alternatives under discussion, a bi-national state of Palestinians and Israelis or a confederation with neighboring Jordan and Egypt,” and while I can’t find poll numbers regarding Israeli support for a one-state solution, I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of those 36% who oppose two-states aren’t looking to live in multicultural harmony with their Palestinian neighbors. Some surely are, but the majority (like, for instance, the 25% who oppose dismantling even the “outpost” settlements, recognized as illegal even by the Israeli government) are far more likely interested in continuing to hold the Palestinians down — or just plain kicking them out.

Moreover, an enormous amount of work has already gone into laying the ground-work for the establishment of a two-state resolution. From the 2000 Clinton Parameters, to the non-official Geneva Accord (2003), to the Arab Peace Initiative (2002 and 2007) the basic framework has never been more clear. Today, quite honestly, the only thing that stands between us and lasting peace is a lack of courage and goodwill (well, and a seemingly endless Israeli building program on the West Bank — but that which is built by human hands can also be pulled down by human hands).

But beyond all of that, I believe that for the peace to be lasting, both peoples will need some time to get used to being neighbors without being at each other’s throats. I can’t provide links for this — as it is my gut sense, based in years of exposure to the story — but I just cannot believe that Israel’s Jews and the Palestinians are ready to pay taxes together, develop an educational system, and choose a new anthem. They hate and fear each other too thoroughly, and for too many good reasons. They both need time to lick their wounds, get to know each other as something other than Evil, and build (yes) confidence. It would be a waste of our little remaining energy and too-few resources to try to organize people where we want them to be — like all people, Israelis and Palestinians can only be organized where they actually are. No matter how we feel about where they are.

Ultimately, I believe that humanity will move beyond nationalism. I believe that nationalism will prove itself an important stepping stone to something better, and that, if we are very lucky (very very lucky), the people known today as “Israelis” and “Palestinians” will live in some sort of federation, which will in turn prove itself to be a stepping stone to – what? I don’t know. I can hardly imagine actually. My mind (quite literally) goes to Star Trek, and John Lennon.

But that isn’t now. And we can’t yet get there from here.

If we don’t create the context in which people can begin to heal and realize their self-expressed dreams, I fear the sheer, unmitigated pain and misery we will wind up inflicting on each other — beyond anything we have seen to date. Indeed, I fear flat-out catastrophe, yet another great disaster for both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples. And so, I’m sticking with (am stuck with) the imperfect idea of building two separate states. To my mind, it’s the only choice that has any chance of both being realized, and doing actual good.



Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

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  1. Thanks for the post, Emily.

    All that you say makes sense—especially the notion that these two peoples need ‘time to themselves,'(for lack of a better term). And even my vague conception of a (con)federated state allowed for just this necessity.

    Oh, and that majorities on both sides want separate states is also not to be underestimated.

    Still, as much as the practicalities stand in the way of a one-state solution, I wonder how the two-state solution can be achieved. There are the big issues—Jerusalem, the right of return, whether Palestine would be allowed an army—which everyone talks about, but what of those on all sides who don’t want to leave their ancestral lands? If there’s a Palestine, would Israel require all Palestinians and Arabs to join that state? Would Palestine expel Jews? How would the states deal with their respective minorities? Would they allow them full citizenship, or would the right to residency be contingent upon the acceptance of second-class status?

    And who will control the water?

    As unenthusiastic as I am about a two-state solution, I am not, ultimately, opposed to it. If this is what Israelis and Palestinians want, well, they’re the ones who will have to live and work out this solution.

    I’m just not sure that the two-state solution is more workable than a single-state.

  2. Ed. note:

    A comment was left on this post today reading: “Which Israeli’s and Arabs are you speaking to? I have seen no evidence to suggest your assumption correct. Tel Aviv is not the majority opinion of Israel and both Fatah and Hamas officially call for a Palestinian State in place of Israel.”

    All first comments require my approval to appear on the site, and I didn’t approve this one — but I’ll use it as an example, and explain why it wasn’t approved.

    In my commenting rules, you’ll see I place a very high premium on good manners. Speaking to each other as we would like to be spoken to, bottom line. This comment wasn’t terrifically rude (the commenter didn’t call me names, for instance, was only somewhat snide, etc), and as someone who’s been threatened with physical harm for her opinions, honestly, I’ve seen and weathered worse.

    But the greatest rudeness here lies in either not bothering to read the post, or simply ignoring it. The commenter says “I have seen no evidence…” — well, lift your eyes to the post. There’s your evidence. In percentage form.

    (I would also argue that if you think that Fatah is still calling for a Palestinian state to replace Israel, you have read little or no history since about 1977. Click here for just one example of the party’s acceptance of a two-state solution).

    I’ll be honest: I don’t like being told I’m wrong. I don’t know many who do.

    But if you come here to tell me I’m wrong and are polite about it, if you come here to tell me I’m wrong and don’t just wish away my research with a wave of your hand, countering (perhaps) with your own research — well then, have at it. The conversation can continue. One look at my Israel/Palestine posts will show that I certainly have approved comments from people who disagree with me. Some repeatedly.

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in no small part the story of millions of people failing to listen to each other or treat each other with basic human decency. I am not willing to add to the destructive grind of noise on my own blog.

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