What I mean when I say the two-state solution is dead.

The other day I dropped what amounted (for me) to a bombshell, and I feel duty-bound to explain myself.

When Gilad Shalit returned to Israel, I wrote

I believe that October 18, 2011 is the day on which Gilad Shalit — a pawn in the hands of more people than I can rightly count at this point — came home, and the day on which the possibility of a two-state solution finally died.

I could be wrong, and lord knows I hope so. It might bear noting that the only times that I’ve been really wrong about this conflict have been those times that I’ve been optimistic, but then again, who knows.

But here’s why I think pessimism is in order: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been a proponent of the two-state solution since the 1980s. It was his movement (Fatah) within the PLO which, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, entered peace negotiations with Israel in the early 1990s, and he’s long been known to be more moderate (which is to say: more willing to renounce violence and/or to acquiesce Israeli demands) than Arafat ever was, even in his most Nobel-peace-prize winning days. If Israel was ever going to achieve a negotiated two-state peace, Abbas was the guy. And he and his government have consistently been available for talks and compromise — witness the revelations of the Palestine Papers.

But Israel has never given Fatah anything to show for their efforts. Life has gotten demonstrably worse in the territories since the 1993 Oslo Accords, and every time Arafat and then Abbas tried to do something about it, they got shut out.

Furthermore,  since the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, during which Israel steadfastly refused to negotiate anything, Abbas’s credibility has been in steep decline, in favor of Hamas. The Shalit deal is one more striking example of this: The prisoner exchange comes against the backdrop of Abbas’s UN statehood bid and a growing hunger strike on the part of Palestinian prisoners in or close to Fatah — or, in other words, just when it looked like Abu Mazen (as Abbas is known among Palestinians) was about to achieve something, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gift wrapped 1,000 prisoners, and gave them to Hamas.

You simply cannot humiliate your negotiating partner again and again and expect that he will forever retain the political capital he needs to make the hard compromises that peace agreements always demand. This is perhaps the most egregious Israeli blind spot: No Israeli government has ever seemed to genuinely grasp that Palestinians will also be giving something up in any real negotiation process, and just like in Israel, that’s a hard sell. Political capital is crucial.

Now, Hamas has said time and again that it’s willing to enter some form of negotiations, or accept the results of a public referendum ratifying a peace deal, and don’t forget that back when Israel first started talking to the PLO, they were the terrorists we hated.

But to negotiate with Hamas, Israel would have to be even more willing to bend than it’s been with Abbas/Fatah. If Israel has been unwilling to discuss the eminently reasonable Fatah positions — all of which are based on every single peace proposal put forward to date — there’s no real reason to believe that Israel, particularly under the current leadership, will feel comfortable working with Hamas.

Which is not to say that the negotiation theater will end any time soon. Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the US will continue to talk about it ad naseum — I just believe that is will continue to be an expensive, deadly exercise in wheel-spinning. Israel has no intention of actually making peace (witness the new settlement in Jerusalem) and Abbas probably couldn’t right now, even if Israel were to give it a go.

Having said that, I still believe that the two-state idea is the only possible resolution of the conflict. The vaunted “one-state solution” about which so many people like to talk is not what the vast majority of the people on the ground actually want (most particularly Israelis, but Palestinians, too), and if the sides haven’t been able to reasonably discuss a good way to share the land in two pieces, I cannot imagine what makes people think they’ll be able to reasonably discuss how to share it in one.

No, the “one-state solution” which I now believe is the inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come about as a result of ongoing, escalating bloodshed and destruction, and it will not be negotiated. It will be imposed, whether by fiat or by circumstances.

I imagine it won’t happen soon — death throes tend to take a very long time in global politics — and I will continue to advocate against it, but I am now genuinely convinced that the dream we’ve had for 25 years of two states and two peoples, living side by side and in peace, has become an impossibility.

The two-state solution, in which both sides would achieve both national dignity and genuine security, allowing each to heal and grow over time into real neighbors, is still the only resolution available. I will still fight for it. But I am now convinced that I fight a losing battle.

Sometimes, that’s all we can do.

Update: Click here for more on why I support a two-state solution, if you’re interested.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.


  1. Susan

     /  October 21, 2011

    We should always try to not lose hope.

    Remember the Cold War? I was convinced, as were many people, that nuclear violence, sooner or later, was the inevitable result: but somehow or other we pulled it out, and we’re all still here. Remember Apartheid? Again, most observers were convinced that the only possible end was racial violence, but it turned out not to be so.

    Things remain imperfect both in international relations and in South Africa, but the worst fears of the best informed observers were not realized. Let us continue to hope for a peaceful and just solution here too.

  2. I am trying to put my head in the place where two people who can’t live together can simply disassociate and move apart tor their own safety and sanity, and yet though this is the most reasonable and economical move, craziness ensues.

  3. Tord Steiro

     /  October 21, 2011

    With all due respect, I think the two-state solution has been dead for quite some time.

    For the Israeli side, removing the Ariel settlement block has never been an option, and recognizing East Jerusalem as part for Palestine has never been an option.

    For the Palestinian side, agreeing on land swaps have perhaps been an option, but compromise on East Jerusalem has never been an option. Neither have the idea of swapping away the entire Ariel settlement block.

    And then, there are all the other issues – but I believe these two issues are at the root of the practical issues, and in themselves sufficient to kill the two-state idea.

    Another issue at hand here, on a more abstract level, is the whole idea of Nations – self determination for one people within one ethnically defined state. It worked somewhat for the Northern parts of Europe in the de-globalized world after the first world war. Until it didn’t.

    Of course, the Jews, who lived all over Europe, didn’t fit into the picture of ethnically defined national states, so they had to be ‘removed’ from Europe. The same could be said about the Roma people. And then there were the states were ethnic groups lived side-by-side. Ethnic tensions have flared up time and again in countries such as Spain, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland – to mention a few. Turkey and Greece swapped millions of their populations, even those who had lived for generations in ‘the other country’. Causing great suffering, of course, and one can wonder to what end. Talking about Turkey, they still struggle with the issue, like that of Kurds and Armenians.

    Furthermore, in the globalized world, most European countries struggle with the idea of a ‘national home’ too. In my country, Norway, almost 80 people got killed this summer in one man’s effort to preserve what he thought was the proper ‘national home’ for Norwegians. He would perhaps accept that Swedes could reside in Norway, Muslims, however, should reside somewhere in ‘Islamistan’ – wherever that might be – and not in Norway. To him it was evident that Muslims had no place in Norway – defined as the National Home of Norwegians, who are tall, blond, Lutheran Christians.

    80 Years ago, Norway’s first outspoken Zionist made the same claim about Jews: They had no place in Norway, hence, they should move to the Jewish Homeland – wherever that might be. That was Vidkun Quisling writing in 1931 – before Israel existed – and we all know what kind of solution he and his kind come up with in the end.

    Zionism, of course, is just another product of European nationalism and the idea of the ethnically defined national state. The fact that the concept can boast a few successes, like Norway, is an accident of history, and this summer proved that this accident is about to pass. At present, the idea of a National State is as defunct in Norway as it ever was in Yugoslavia – from the Ustaša to Ratko Mladić.

    In my opinion, and I hope I am not being too blunt as I have no intention to cause offence, the main threat to the idea of two states for to peoples isn’t the facts on the ground – even if they have probably been sufficient for a while. It’s the fact that the whole idea of ethnically defined national states is bankrupt. Nothing less.

    While you have to be Jewish to be Israeli, a tall, blonde, Christian to be Norwegian, anyone can claim to be American, as long as you hold a US passport and hold certain truths to be self-evident. That’s an inclusive and progressive model, and it’s a multi-cultural model. It’s a successful model, too – as long as the US leadership practice the mentioned self-evident truths.

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