Oldie-but-goodie: Why two states.

UPDATE: To see me speaking on Russia Today about the Obama speech and Netanyahu reaction to same, please click here:
Israel, Palestine, Obama, Netanyahu & me – on Russian TV


A 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.

Related: In the meantime, I also wrote Why I still call myself a Zionist.



  1. From an Arab’s perspective, the clear and obvious choice (just like it is for pluralists) is a clear undivided bi-nation, pure in its concept of multiculturalism and democracy.
    It is probably the simplest choice to make for an Arab when considering that Arabs in the region outnumber the Jews, so there are no real conflcting thoughts or confusion about this concept.
    However this still remains the Arab utopia.

    The main reason why it is a dream rather than a reality is because the Arabs are in no position to “demand”, but rather to “plead”, for any kind of recognition.

    While people cry out for democracy in its purest form, the reality is that human history has shown the strongest survives. Some may argue that even from an evolutionary perspective.
    The sooner the Arabs submit to that and realise the 2-state solution is realistically the only solution they can beg for (until they really are in a position to demand) that could prevent leaders making ill desicions that result in their own people’s loss of lives. They simply need to come to terms with this reality.

  2. It is easy discuss the question 1-state or 2-states or 1001-states from many angles. But I think the right answer depends on the way we address a more urgent question: what would a JUST solution look like. History has shown that the strong party might impose a solution on the weaker party, but to be *sustainable*, this arrangement must be viewed as just and fair.

    America has learned the hard way that slavery is wrong, replacing slavery with segregation. But this was not a viable solution because segregation always implies inequality, an arrangement that is unjust and unfair. By the same token, the 2-state solution, where Palestinians get 22% of historical Palestine is simply not just. Palestinians are bound to fight against it, and they would claim the moral high ground when they do so.