Traveling to Oxford to Debate the Two-state Solution

Why is the rest of the world more interested in discussing solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than Israelis are?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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The Oxford Union, Oxford, during a May 2016 visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Oxford Union, Oxford, during a May 2016 visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.Credit: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The debate over Israel’s future is not taking place in Israel. It is taking place everywhere but Israel. Israel is not dealing with its future – it is dealing with its present and, mainly, its past. People don’t talk about the future here. Nobody knows where we are going and, even more amazingly, where we want to go. What will we be in another 10 or 20 years? What about after that? And what do want there to be here besides “peace and security,” blah, blah, blah? The world is more preoccupied with this than we are.

Last week – just an ordinary week – there were more discussions taking place in Britain over potential solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than in an entire year in Israel. In London and Oxford, in universities and in Parliament, various forums debated the one-state solution versus the two-state one, a discussion the likes of which is hardly ever held here. We live in denial and repression, our heads in the sand, distracted, evading the question, engaging in nonsense and hoping for the best. No good can come of this.

The Oxford Union’s Thursday Debate discusses the Middle East a great deal, certainly more than any Israeli student union does. Just over a week ago, a proposal was raised at this venerable and prestigious student organization that the two-state solution is no longer viable. It wasn’t only the strict dress code (black tie), ceremonial trappings and traditional photograph that were foreign to Israelis – so too was the very fact of debating such a fateful question about Israel’s future.

The question before this closed debating club, founded in 1823 – and where four U.S. presidents and 12 British prime ministers have appeared, including Winston Churchill – was: “This House Believes A Two-State Solution in the Middle East is Unattainable.”

Unfortunately, a majority of “this House” rejected the proposition, perhaps because most of the members of the union are wealthy, white conservatives and its president is Jewish. The vote is taken at the doors: Those leaving by the right-hand door are for the proposal, those leaving by the left-hand one are against it. (The Ayes were 37 percent, the Nos 63 percent.)

I spoke for the proposition and exited using the right-hand door. Unusually for me, I was in favor of something. But it did not help.

In this weighty session, there was some comic relief. Yiftah Curiel, head spokesman of the Israeli Embassy in London, said the two-state solution was still attainable and that Israel supported it. Do you get it? Israel claims it supports two states – perhaps because it has realized that a two-state solution is no longer viable. What has prevented Israel from implementing this solution over the past 50 or so years of occupation? And how does the official representative of the state – which has never ceased building more and more settlements, the entire purpose of which is to thwart the two-state solution – dare say that Israel is in favor of dividing the land?

But Israeli chutzpah knows no bounds, and neither does the temerity of its propagandists. The fact is, they won once again at the Oxford debate. The fact is, they continue to spread fear about anti-Semitism within the British Labour Party, even though it does not really exist - certainly not as it is portrayed here in Israel. But propaganda is propaganda.

Almost all Israelis are against the one-state solution, which the Zionist movement fears above all, and that is their right. Many of them continue to mumble “two states,” as if talking in their sleep, and that, too, is their right. Only a few ask themselves if this solution is still attainable; whether Israel ever intended to implement it and what prevented its implementation. And they never discuss the alternatives. Such is inconceivable Israeli escapism.

This Thursday evening, members of the Oxford Union will once again don their bow ties and meet to debate the proposal, “This House Believes Technology Companies Should Prevent Government Access to Consumers’ Data.” Once again they will debate here, and once again they will go out via the door they have selected. The fate of the Israeli occupation touches their lives far less than the debate on privacy. And yet they dealt with it seriously and passionately. Only in Israel is it treated otherwise.

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