Two-state Salvation

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The worm may be turning.

Not, yet, among the right in Israel. But among Israel's friends, Jewish and Gentile, left and right, abroad. The looming prospect of the slide toward a one-state solution and what that means for the Zionist dream is finally getting through to them.

The fact that it isn't getting through, yet, to the hardliners at home may actually be catalyzing the turning of the worm abroad. More and more people who care about Israel are realizing that, left to its own elected (and likely to be reelected) leaders, the democratic Jewish state is headed for extinction.

For the politicians who run Western governments and parliaments, their concern for Israel's survival dovetails with their own national interests – for Israel's sovereign survival. And they have begun to speak out with a bluntness and urgency that are unprecedented.

That was the significance of the UN General Assembly vote last month on Palestinian nonmember statehood when almost all of Israel's friends refused to oppose a resolution that effectively embraced the two-state solution and America refused to pressure them.

That is the significance, too, of the reported resolve of leading EU governments to push for tangible progress toward Palestinian statehood during 2013.

Something seems to have snapped in the bonds of inhibition that previously tied Western statesmen to the Netanyahu government's prevarications. Perhaps it is Obama's election to a second term. Perhaps it is Sheldon Adelson's $100+ million failure to thwart his reelection. Or perhaps, plain and simple, it is the fact that time truly is running out on the two-state solution.

The new tone goes much wider and deeper than government declarations. The British elder statesman Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a proud Jew, pointedly told delegates at a conference in London last week that he has never been able to get Benjamin Netanyahu to answer one straightforward question: "What is your strategy? I understand your short-term tactics, but what is your long-term strategy?"

That meant, said Sir Malcolm, that Netanyahu doesn't have one or, worse, that he doesn't want to share it because it does not provide for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.

This inference, stated with pained candor by a foreign friend, is confirmed, indeed, by top Likud (Gideon Sa'ar) and allied (Naftali Bennett) politicians in the current election campaign. Their outright rejection of the two-state solution resonates around the world, cutting through the curtains of obfuscation that Netanyahu wove with his Bar-Ilan speech.

When leaders like Sarkozy and Merkel are heard or thought to be fed up with Netanyahu's lying, that is the Big Lie which has exhausted their patience. Now, perhaps by fortunate coincidence, events may be conspiring to turn that impatience into persuasive pushing back.

Their message, moreover – and this is the turning point and the seed of hope – is meeting among Israel's friends not with defiance and dismissal, but with a new, honest attentiveness. Suddenly, a whole decade after Tony Judt first advanced the single-state scenario, it is seriously frightening people who care deeply about Israel.

The South African analogy is finally striking home. Not to racist apartheid; that was never a valid comparison. But to the danger of the sudden and speedy implosion, under the weight of a global boycott, of a powerful and prosperous regime that tried to consign the other nation on the land to Bantustans.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu seen through the glass of a television booth as he addresses the 67th UN General Assembly in New York, Sept. 27, 2012. Credit: Reuters

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