Israelis and Palestinians enter uncharted territory
It is time to hold a funeral for the two-state solution. Actually, the two-state solution has been a fantasy for some time, a virtually meaningless trope that means whatever one wants it to mean.
The following people and organisations have expressed public support for the two-state solution: Binyamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, the Arab League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), J Street (the more liberal US Jewish lobbying group), the Arab American Institute and Noam Chomsky.
Clearly, if such a diverse group profess to agree on the same thing, they cannot possibly share an understanding of what that thing is. In this sense, the two-state solution isn’t dead, it never was, because there never was any consensus on what the term meant.
So cancel that funeral — we don’t hold funerals for fantasies.
If you disavow the two-state solution, most people assume you support a one-state solution. But that term is equally vague. For extremists on both sides, the one-state solution means the physical removal of either Jews or Palestinians and the establishment of an ethnically “pure” theocratic Muslim or Jewish state. For well-meaning idealists, it means creating a secular, multi-ethnic liberal democracy, as exists in the United States.
If you hope to see this kind of one-state solution come to fruition, then you should exercise and eat well because you will need to live for a very long time.
In between these extremes are various technocratic definitions of one state, most resembling a Swiss model, with semi-sovereign cantons and a shared federal government. This definition is only slightly less likely to see the light of day as is the idealists’ vision.
There is another one-state model: In this, Jewish Israelis have almost complete monopoly over all aspects of political and economic power in the area west of the Jordan river, including Gaza, and coercive power as well as control over land, resources and freedom of movement. This one-state model is not a mere proposal or fantasy. It is the reality — and one that is becoming more entrenched every day.
Of the roughly 12.5 million people who live west of the Jordan river, just more than 6 million are Israeli Jews. You need only a cursory knowledge of history to know that, in the long run, the current one-state structure is unsustainable. The recent unrest in Jerusalem and Hebron was a reminder of this and more reminders will be coming. You can bet on it — if you enjoy betting on human tragedy.
These reminders most likely will take the form of the recent unrest: not an organised intifada (the Palestinian political leadership is too divided and weak to orchestrate that) but rather sporadic, insensate violence committed by “lone wolves”. Israel’s retaliation will follow its usual policy of disproportion. The “lone wolf” phenomenon will be adopted by Israeli settlers and vigilantes and the Israeli state will do little to rein them in.
Leftist and secular Israelis will continue to emigrate — to Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin. They may retain dual citizenship and vote in Israeli elections but otherwise they will turn their backs on the disaster that will come. Israel will become increasingly dominated by ultra- Orthodox Jews (who have a very high birth rate) and ethno-nationalists. The 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel will become more and more alienated from the state that regards them as second-class citizens at best and as an ethnic group to be “cleansed” at worst.
At some point, an Israeli leader will use the state’s overwhelming coercive power to remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem, using security as a justification and possibly from other parts of Israel, such as the Galilee. Israel will expand its barrier wall project, initiated by Ariel Sharon, and annex large parts of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians to stew in rage on the other side of the wall. Israel will become a modern-day, high-tech, heavily armed Jewish ghetto. Extremist groups throughout the region will have a recruiting bonanza.
If this scenario comes to pass, how will Palestinians and other Arabs respond — if a viable response is even possible, given the lack of strong leadership among Palestinians and in the broader Arab world? Will the United States continue to support Israel and accept its justifications? Will Europe do more than express outrage? Can the United Nations do anything given the US veto on the UN Security Council?
But more urgently, is it too late to prevent this scenario?