A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Oslo at 20: Two Views on the Two-State Solution

The 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords (left) has of course generated a lot of commentary, including the now inevitable debate over whether the two-state solution is dead.

Two informed commentaries that reach (largely) opposite conclusions are worthy of your attention. In Sunday's New York Times Ian Lustick offered a post-mortem on the "Two-State Illusion." Sample:
Yet the fantasy that there is a two-state solution keeps everyone from taking action toward something that might work.
All sides have reasons to cling to this illusion. The Palestinian Authority needs its people to believe that progress is being made toward a two-state solution so it can continue to get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidize the lifestyles of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants, and the authority’s prominence in a Palestinian society that views it as corrupt and incompetent.
Israeli governments cling to the two-state notion because it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.
American politicians need the two-state slogan to show they are working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.
And the alternatives? Lustick continues:
In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.
It remains possible that someday two real states may arise. But the pretense that negotiations under the slogan of “two states for two peoples” could lead to such a solution must be abandoned. Time can do things that politicians cannot.
A less grim assessment from Hussein Ibish and Saliba Sarsar at The Daily Beast: "Israel and Palestine Vs. 'Blood and Magic'." They strongly disagree:
However, as the latter part of his article makes clear, his "new ideas" are mainly an incoherent jumble of imaginary scenarios, all of which require an alternative reality to emerge at some point in the future. Nothing he suggests can be built on under present circumstances. None of it holds together as a coherent or even semi-coherent counterproposal.
Worse still, most of what he envisages requires by his own admission decades, if not centuries, to become possibilities, and further Israeli-Palestinian conflict is inevitable.

So not only would we have to wait scores of decades, if not centuries, for any of these "alternatives" to begin to emerge, they could only be the product of further wide-scale bloodshed.

Despite Prof. Lustick's passionate dismissal, the two-state solution remains the only viable option for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His counterfactual musings don't provide any practicable, coherent or implementable alternatives. It's an interesting thought experiment to dismiss the global consensus, stated position of all relevant parties, logical implementation of international law, and only practicable means of achieving the minimum goals of each party in favor of flights of fancy. But it has no political value whatsoever. Indeed undermining the only plausible conflict-ending scenario, while not suggesting any serious, practicable alternatives, is actually harmful.

Although realizing a two-state solution faces serious and growing obstacles, it alone allows both Palestinians and Israelis to avoid an ongoing struggle with no end in sight. Yes, “Time can do things that politicians cannot,” as Prof. Lustick writes, but the goal must be to achieve a solution in our lifetime—not in 120 years as with Irish independence, or 132 years as with Algerian independence, two of the key examples he cites.
The occupation is an emergency, not a macro- or trans-historical problem, particularly for the millions of Palestinians living under its oppressive rule. They, especially—but we too—do not have the luxury of waiting to see what the next hundred years of history will bring us, good or bad. On the contrary, we must have the courage to act now, and with urgency, within the existing realities, however difficult, to try to create a working solution to a situation that is both intolerably unjust and regionally (and to some extent even globally) destabilizing.
The debate over the two-state solution is growing in recent years. These two articles, I think, encapsulate the opposing arguments rather well. Ibish and Sarsar seem to recognize the urgency of a solution, while Lustick feels the opportunity has already been missed. For those of us without the patience to wait for the long-term historical evolution Lustick describes, I hope the two-state solution can still be salvaged. But given the present leaderships on three sides (including Hamas in Gaza), I fear that Lustick may prove right.

In any event, both of these thoughtful analyses deserve a full and careful reading, not just my brief excerpts.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks. I've shared with numerous friends who favor the two state solution. I have huge respect for Ian Lustick. I think he shares my hope that his epitaph is premature.