Talking About the Zombie Two-state Solution: It's Something to Do

Few still believe in independent Israel and Palestine. But a whole industry is invested in it, and the alternative is so very difficult.

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Tel Aviv's annual zombie walk February 23, 2013
It seems dead yet refuses to stay buried. The two-state solution's constant resurrection isn't about hope, it's about inertia. (Illustration from the 2013 Tel Aviv Zombie Purim Parade)Credit: Daniel Bar-On

They said it was over. They said it was dead, a reminder of simpler times.

But as with '80s music, apparently some people are still trying to bring back the two-state solution - yes, the one Thomas Friedman eulogized just last week. This week, France officially proposed an international summit in Paris, bringing together Israeli and Palestinians, with European, American and Arab mediators, in order to end that pesky conflict thing once and for all. The aim, said the outgoing French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, is to “preserve and make happen the two-state solution.” And if the initiative fails, France warned, it would recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel, predictably, responded to the French initiative with perplexity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the French initiative “puzzling,” explaining that the “threat” to recognize a Palestinian state ensures the talks will fail. (The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, welcomed the initiative).

To be fair to Netanyahu, if taken at face value, the French proposal is puzzling. Israel is dealing with an unorganized wave of horizontal terrorism that seems more and more like an intifada, while Palestinians are reckoning with the realization that Israel will not grant them statehood, simply because it doesn't want to.

At this time (proposing an old-fashioned peace summit sounds hopelessly out-of-touch. Neither side is in any mood to compromise, or has the political ability to push for radical solutions, and even the would-be mediators seem to have lost interest. Europe is preoccupied with the constantly-escalating refugee crisis, the Arab states are dealing with ISIS and each other, and the U.S. is in an election year and has essentially relinquished the Israeli-Palestinian issue since its last effort to broker peace talks in 2014 collapsed.

The only one really interested in this summit seems to be Fabius, who during his almost four years as foreign affairs minister, has been very active on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Last year, he tried and failed to promote a resolution at the UN Security Council outlining terms for ending the conflict.

None of his efforts to move the Israel-Palestinian needle in a more positive direction bore fruit. His latest initiative is probably more of a last-ditch effort  before he leaves the ministry.

But he isn't alone:  The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, visited Israel-Palestine this week, ostensibly to promote a two-state solution that the Obama administration itself seems to have given up on.

The thing is, neither the French nor Power's initiative mean that anyone believes the two-state solution is still viable. Haaretz’s Barak Ravid suggested the conference is an idea that was designed to fail, a way for Fabius to leave behind a legacy by opening the door to alternatives on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, like recognizing a Palestinian state.

If that is true, then the proposed peace conference isn’t meant to be a revival of the peace process, but its funeral, and Netanyahu’s government (once again falling victim to its own myopia) has played into the hands of its ideological rivals by automatically rejecting it.

French FM Laurent Fabius gestures as he speaks to journalists during a press conference following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (unseen) at the Mukataa, June 21, 2015.Credit: AFP

The insistent way in which the two-state concept refuses to die  and stay buried is rooted not in belief, but in the simple fact that the system is highly vested in it. There are dozens of think tanks, organizations and lobby groups dedicated to promoting a two-state solution. The American left supports a two-state solution, the European left supports a two-state solution, and the majority of the Israeli left, despite Labor leader Isaac Herzog’s strange plan to unilaterally disengage with the Palestinians, still believes there is no other way.

Yet with the PA on the verge of collapse and with recent Israeli policies skirting the thin line between South African apartheid (tossing Arab MKs out of the Knesset) and Loony Tunes cartoons  (like “We will surround all of the State of Israel with fences and barriers to defend ourselves against the wild beasts”), it’s difficult to imagine that many people honestly believe there’s hope for peace accord anytime soon.

The allure of the two-state solution is that it’s familiar, it’s relatively simple to understand, and there’s already an infrastructure supporting it. But the Jews and the Palestinians are already in an undeclared de-facto binational state, with one side living under military occupation (or, in the case of Gaza, the world’s largest prison), and the other free to enjoy (some of) the benefits of democracy.

The only way forward is equality, but achieving equality will require uneasy compromises by both parties, responsible leadership able to contain what is sure to be a tumultuous process, committed foreign allies with will and resources, and most importantly: a willingness to recognize that the current situation is simply untenable.

However, in lieu of all that, I guess talking about a two-state solution is also something to do.

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