It is time to have a clear-headed, hard look at reality: the two state solution is dead.
Early in this fateful year of 2011, leading Palestinian intellectual and President of Al Quds University Sari Nousseibeh published his deeply disturbing book, "What is a Palestinian State Worth?" Nousseibeh, who has been a peace activist for decades, takes stock of the conflict. With rare empathy he says that he doesn't believe that after the holocaust Jews would be capable of relinquishing the West Bank or full military control over the whole area west of the Jordan.
Nousseibeh suggested the Palestinians relinquish their struggle for statehood. He even asked them to accept that, for a long time, they would not have full political rights, and that they should settle for civic and human rights to make life as bearable as possible. His deeply pessimistic conclusion was that, given the realities, the human cost of continuing the struggle for a Palestinian state was too high.
At the time I did not want to accept Nousseibeh’s conclusion. I hoped that the Palestinian bid for UN recognition would bear fruit and that it would stop the march toward catastrophe.
I maintained this hope not just for the Palestinians, but for Israel; because I believed that both Jews and Palestinians wanted and needed political self-determination; but primarily because I couldn’t see the one state solution working; and finally, because I shuddered at the idea that we Jews would continue to rule another people.
My hope was misguided.
From a historical perspective, the two state solution’s demise was, maybe, inevitable. Except for six years, the Likud has been in power for the last thirty-five years, and the Likud never relinquished its dream of the greater land of Israel. When Rabin won elections for Prime Minister in 1992, both he and Peres felt that this was a last chance; they believed that what they would not achieve in Rabin’s term would not be achieved at all.
Rabin had to govern, with a minority of the Knesset supporting him, and Israel’s right never felt that he had a mandate for the Oslo process. Netanyahu spoke at demonstrations where crowds held posters depicting Rabin as a Nazi. He was later recorded taking pride in having killed off the Oslo process.
Now he can take partial credit for having killed the two state solution. The other half goes to the Palestinians: As Mahmoud Abbas said more than a year ago, the Palestinian’s greatest mistake was the second Intifada. Indeed, together with Hamas’ win of the elections in 2006 and the shelling of southern Israel, the Intifada’s horrible violence has made Israelis averse to taking further risks for peace.
Those of us who have invested years of hope and energy into promoting the two state solution must now accept defeat. It’s too easy to blame this on Netanyahu exclusively: Israel’s electorate has, after all, given him the mandate; and, as some of his Likud MKs driving the recent wave of illiberal legislation keep saying, they have been called to implement the Likud’s policy: the prevention of a Palestinian state.
Where do we go from here?
To some extent, this depends on Palestinians. If they will return to the path of violence, the land west of the Jordan will soon look like Bosnia, descending into an even greater spiral of destruction.
If they will, as they say, stick to peaceful resistance, they will need a lot of stamina indeed. In the short run, I am afraid, they will, as Sari Nousseibeh predicts, live without full political rights. I say this with shame. But this is the truth.
Israel will refrain for a long time from formally annexing the West Bank to avoid the accusation that it runs an apartheid regime. But it will expand settlements in the tradition of Ariel Sharon, to drive more nails into the coffin of the two state solution.
We who have fought for the two state solution must now regroup. For the foreseeable future, we will have to work hard to prevent erosion of Israeli civil society and defend its institutions. We will have to fight to contain human rights violations as far as possible.
Our long-term task is to develop new models of dealing with the emerging reality. I wish I could say something clear and constructive, but for the time being I can’t. I have not yet seen realistic models other than the two state solution.
The one state solution, at this point, is an empty concept, so is that of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation. For neither case can I imagine how the parliament of the greater Israel-Palestine would function, or how equality of all citizens with respect to security could be achieved: I agree with Sari Nousseibeh that Jewish history from the Pogroms through the Holocaust, from the 1948 war to that of 1973, is too traumatic for Israelis to relinquish control of security for a long time to come.
Yet any solution that looks like apartheid is unacceptable.
Although the two state solution was far from perfect: at least it gave answers to these basic questions of governance and civic rights. But Israel’s citizens and its government have decided: It will not be.
For the "Free World" the end of the two state solution has a number of implications. The charade of trying to get Netanyahu to negotiate with Palestinians can be ended: there is nothing to talk about with Netanyahu, and he is likely to win Israel’s next elections as well. To some extent, this may come as a relief: after all, trying to set up negotiations was a waste of time and energy.
I am afraid that Israel will lose many friends in the gradual process of finalizing its sovereignty over the West Bank. Netanyahu and Lieberman have already aggravated many politicians and supporters of Israel, ranging from Hillary Clinton to Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. And they have deepened the alienation many Jews in the Diaspora feel towards the current government’s policies that they cannot accept.
And yet I hope that the Free World will stand by those in Israel who try to maintain its civil society, and to defend civil rights: scientists, artists, journalists and the many citizens who will continue fighting for a decent society here. We will need support and friendship to be true to our ideals.
And finally Israel, despite its shortcomings, needs the Free World’s commitment to its safety in an instable reality, with some neighbors who share radical and destructive ideologies. I want to remind the unjust critics who love to jump to the conclusion that Israel was a mistake that they wouldn’t dare saying so about Serbia, Syria or Iran; states whose past or present human rights violations belong to a different sphere than Israel’s. Israel, even in its current imperfect and disappointing state, is here to stay.
I would like to end this rather somber eulogy for the two state solution on a personal note. Looking back on the entries in ‘Strenger than Fiction’ of 2011, I see how difficult this year was politically. In many ways my motivation to analyze and reflect upon the many negative developments of this year; of trying to maintain hope, and sticking to principles of decency was fuelled by the support of many friends and readers, in Israel and abroad.
This community of like-minded people is varied. It is composed of Jews and Gentiles; of people who clearly belong to the left, and others who are more centrist in their positions; it spreads from Jerusalem through Europe to the U.S. and South America with occasional interesting comments from India and Korea.
It is held together by a set of common beliefs: that all humans are created equal; that we must strive to create societies that protect human rights, and allow individuals and cultures to flourish; and that the task of humanity is to gradually overcome our tribal past and strive towards a world order that reflects out dependence upon each other. I am grateful for this community that is keeping our hopes alive, even in difficult times.
Selected blog posts by Carlo Strenger from 2011:
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