Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Why the Two-State Solution Solves Nothing"

My favorite pair of analysts, Hussein Agha and Rob Malley, have published an important Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled, "The Two-State Solution Doesn't Solve Anything." I will print it in full below. But before I do, here are some comments:

Agha and Malley point to an Oscar Wildean irony in the Israel-Palestine mess. Since there is an international consensus for a two-state solution, and that includes the parties to the Israel-Palestine dispute, the likelihood that there will be an agreement on two states is close to zero. You know this must be the case when both Israel's Bibi and Hamas' Khaled Mashal agree.

This has nothing to do with the question whether three hundred thousand settlers can be moved back to the State of Israel (or whether 80% of them remain in settlement blocs). Let's assume that there is absolute agreement on the issue. (There, you see, I said that the settlers are not the major obstacle to peace. Please make a note of that.)

The real problem is that the core problems remain, not only from 1948, but from before.

In diplomatic language, and without using the "Z-word", the last paragraph of the article says it all:

For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees' rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel.

This does not seem a promising opening for the policy-driven, 'where-do-we-go-from-here' folks. Like the New Englander who said, "You can't get theyah from heyah" I read Malley and Husseini as saying that we may have to go way back in order to get to where we want to go. And that is not going to make supporters of the 1948 state happy.

Malley and Agha see that the conflict is now, as it always was, about one thing – how to define a Jewish state in Palestine. They are not raising the question how an outmoded ethnic-nationalist state can liberalize into a state of all its citizens. I think they are raising the core question of what it means to have a Jewish state in Palestine. Heck, they are not going back to 1948, they are going back to the 1930's and 40's. This is a breath of fresh air for the liberal Zionist New York Times, both its editors and its readers. Times readers take the State of Israel as a given and then ask, "What sort of Palestinian state can accommodate that given"? And that is the wrong approach.

I have some caveats about the article I would have, indeed, liked less "balance" between two totally imbalanced sides, and more focus on the problems of compromise when one side has all the power. But this is, after all, the New York Times, where dogma dictates that there are two sides to every question. Henry Siegman would have done it differently, and I would have liked him better. But I think the duo's approach is not bad, given the venue and its readership.

August 11, 2009

The Two-State Solution Doesn't Solve Anything


THE two-state solution has welcomed two converts. In recent weeks, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas's political bureau, have indicated they now accept what they had long rejected. This nearly unanimous consensus is the surest sign to date that the two-state solution has become void of meaning, a catchphrase divorced from the contentious issues it is supposed to resolve. Everyone can say yes because saying yes no longer says much, and saying no has become too costly. Acceptance of the two-state solution signals continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle by other means.

Bowing to American pressure, Mr. Netanyahu conceded the principle of a Palestinian state, but then described it in a way that stripped it of meaningful sovereignty. In essence, and with minor modifications, his position recalled that of Israeli leaders who preceded him. A state, he pronounced, would have to be demilitarized, without control over borders or airspace. Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and no Palestinian refugees would be allowed back to Israel. His emphasis was on the caveats rather than the concession.

As Mr. Netanyahu was fond of saying, you can call that a state if you wish, but whom are you kidding?

As for Hamas, recognition of the state of Israel has always been and remains taboo. Until recently, the movement had hinted it might acquiesce to Israel's de facto existence and resign itself to establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This sentiment has now grown from hint to certitude.

President Obama's June address in Cairo provoked among Hamas leaders a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. The American president criticized the movement but did not couple his mention of Hamas with the term terrorism, his recitation of the prerequisites for engagement bore the sound of a door cracked open rather than one slammed shut, and his acknowledgment that the Islamists enjoyed the support of some Palestinians was grudging but charitable by American standards. All of which was promising but also foreboding, prompting reflection within the Hamas movement over how to escape international confinement without betraying core beliefs.

The result of this deliberation was Hamas's message that it would adhere to the internationally accepted wisdom — a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967, the year Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas also coupled its concession with caveats aplenty, demanding full Israeli withdrawal, full Palestinian sovereignty and respect for the refugees' rights. In this, there was little to distinguish its position from conventional Palestinian attitudes.

The dueling discourses speak to something far deeper than and separate from Palestinian statehood. Mr. Netanyahu underscores that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state — and recalls that the conflict began before the West Bank or Gaza were occupied. Palestinians, in turn, reject recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, uphold the refugees' rights and maintain that if Israel wants real closure, it will need to pay with more than mere statehood.

The exchange, for the first time in a long while, brings the conflict back to its historical roots, distills its political essence and touches its raw emotional core. It can be settled, both sides implicitly concur, only by looking past the occupation to questions born in 1948 — Arab rejection of the newborn Jewish state and the dispossession and dislocation of Palestinian refugees.

Both positions enjoy broad support within their respective communities. Few Israelis quarrel with the insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. It encapsulates their profound aspiration, rooted in the history of the Jewish people, for a fully accepted presence in the land of their forebears — for an end to Arab questioning of Israel's legitimacy, the specter of the Palestinian refugees' return and any irredentist sentiment among Israel's Arab citizens.

Even fewer Palestinians take issue with the categorical rebuff of that demand, as the recent Fatah congress in Bethlehem confirmed. In their eyes, to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal. Their firmness on the principle of their right of return flows from the belief that the 1948 war led to unjust displacement and that, whether or not refugees choose or are allowed to return to their homes, they can never be deprived of that natural right. The modern Palestinian national movement, embodied in the Palestine Liberation Organization, has been, above all, a refugee movement — led by refugees and focused on their plight.

It's easy to wince at these stands. They run against the grain of a peace process whose central premise is that ending the occupation and establishing a viable Palestinian state will bring this matter to a close. But to recall the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian clash is not to invent a new battle line. It is to resurrect an old one that did not disappear simply because powerful parties acted for some time as if it had ceased to exist.

Over the past two decades, the origins of the conflict were swept under the carpet, gradually repressed as the struggle assumed the narrower shape of the post-1967 territorial tug-of-war over the West Bank and Gaza. The two protagonists, each for its own reason, along with the international community, implicitly agreed to deal with the battle's latest, most palpable expression. Palestinians saw an opportunity to finally exercise authority over a part of their patrimony; Israelis wanted to free themselves from the burdens of occupation; and foreign parties found that it was the easier, tidier thing to do. The hope was that, somehow, addressing the status of the West Bank and Gaza would dispense with the need to address the issues that predated the occupation and could outlast it.

That so many attempts to resolve the conflict have failed is reason to be wary. It is almost as if the parties, whenever they inch toward an artful compromise over the realities of the present, are inexorably drawn back to the ghosts of the past. It is hard today to imagine a resolution that does not entail two states. But two states may not be a true resolution if the roots of this clash are ignored. The ultimate territorial outcome almost certainly will be found within the borders of 1967. To be sustainable, it will need to grapple with matters left over since 1948. The first step will be to recognize that in the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians, the fundamental question is not about the details of an apparently practical solution. It is an existential struggle between two worldviews.

For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees' rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel.

Hussein Agha is a co-author, with Ahmed S. Khalidi, of "A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine." Robert Malley, the director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, was a special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001.





Y. Ben-David said...

It is encouraging to see how "mainstream" writers and media are beginning to come to openly state what those of us on the 'extreme Right' have been saying for a long time: that the "territories for peace" formula that the Israel Left has been pushing since 1967 is a bluff and can't work.
So Agha and Malley are part of the way there. However, they leave everyone dangling at the end with the point that the question is not what the Palestinian state will be like, but what will the world do with Israel?

Here, no doubt we will fall out with each other. Maybe you will start dredging up ideas like those of Brit Shalom and your hero Magnes with some sort of federated state with two autonomous bodies, or we will hear about "one state for two people" (look how well that is working out in Belgium, which is falling apart!), or a reversion to foreign control, something like the British Mandate with foreign forces watching the two groups here like a parent controlling unruly children.

None of these things will work, though. No foreign power, or multi-national group like NATO is going to take control, nor will the Jews here allow such a thing.
Benny Morris, in his book "One State, Two States" points out a single state can't work, a federated state also would also have endless friction between the two groups. So there is no solution, except the status quo. There are many unsolved problems around the world, like Cyprus, the demand of the Basques for a state, the troubles in the Caucasus, Tibet, Kashmir. This is another one.
Get used to it.

Devir said...

Excellent (Hussein Agha and Ahmed S. Khalidi)article and excellent foreword post ( yours )!
I feel the same but it is not easy to defend the one-state solution even among portuguese Palestine supporters...

Rodman said...

When Ben-David tried to show the impossibility of the formula of a 'one state for two people' with a reference to the recent political turmoil in Belgium, he forgot that the two different linguistic groups in Belgium have managed to exist together for 179 years (with to date no victims of terror attacks) and will probably continue to do so for a long time into the future. It has to be said that the moment one analyzes conflicts in ethnic terms instead of social/economic ones, they do appear to become unsolvable!

Peter H said...


I don't think Agha & Malley were arguing against a 2-state solution, just that the issues of 1948 have to be at the core of the peace process. Their thinking is elaborated more thoroughly in this NYRB article.


Actually, you also favor a unitary state in Israel/Palestine, just one that involves the continuing subjugation of 3 million or so Palestinians living in Gaza & the West Bank. Call it a "One State for One People" solution.

Anonymous said...

"So there is no solution, except the status quo. "

Oh rubbish. Here I thought you were bravely facing up to the tragic dilemma of the situation (well, no, I didn't really think that) and then you go all sentimental about the status quo. Which conveniently enough is much nicer for the Israelis.


Anonymous said...

The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything.
Palestinians became refugees, in large measure, because of “bad choices” they made, especially “rejecting the 1947 United Nations partition plan” according to the Executive Director, American Jewish Committee. A lot of rubbish from this Committee considering that the Jews rejected the plan even more and murdered the UN Representative Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem to stop him from submitting the plan to UN in Lake Success N.Y. if and when the two sides to the conflict learn to accept each other’s legitimate claims. Rachel Kapen insists that “if and when the two sides to the conflict learn to accept each other’s legitimate claims the Palestinians should once and for all acknowledge the fact..”- This is a typical Jewish rhetoric, first of all to pompously state that both sides have to accept each others legitimate and than go on to list all Jewish claims and what the Jews reject and than graciously allow the Palestinians a second rate state subservient to Israel. Rachel than goes on and tell us that the Palestinians should acknowledge that the Jews did not just pop up to disinherit them. But in fact this is just what have happened and Rachel do know that so like Nixon and Busch she tries to lie us direct into our face

Noa Rodman said...

When Y. Ben-David tried to show the ineptness of the formula 'one state for two people' by a reference to the recent political turmoil in Belgium, it's important to recall as well that the two linguistic groups managed, for better or for worse, to live there together for the last 179 years (with no victims of terrorattacks to date on either side), and that this will continue to be the case for a long time in to the future.
If one analyzes conflicts in ethnic terms, instead of social/economic one's, things do appear to become unsolvable.

Jerry Haber said...

First of all, Malley and Agha did not choose the headline. That was the Times.

Secondly, neither the pair nor I said that the two-state solution was dead. Only that it is not around the corner in any meaningful sense because the parties are worlds apart in how they look at the themselves and each other. And that core issues must be put on the table -- I don't mean solving core issues by a formula, I mean dealing with the fundamental differences between the sides.

a little bit of everything said...

"It is encouraging to see how "mainstream" writers and media are beginning to come to openly state what those of us on the 'extreme Right' have been saying for a long time: that the "territories for peace" formula that the Israel Left has been pushing since 1967 is a bluff and can't work."

That is not what the article says at all. It says that we need to go beyond the peace for territory formula and address the problematic way in which israel defines itself. Going beyond is examining further, deeper, it doesn't mean throwing something away. You completely misunderstood the basic premise of the article.

With regards to belgium, i am belgian and I lived most of my life there, and i can tell you that despite the problems with the regions, it is a lot more pleasant living in belgium than Gaza. Maybe you should visit belgium and tell me then again that gaza is preferable over belgium. A shouting match in congress is a lot more benign that what you have going on in your backyard.

Also, you have to be cynical to the core to believe that people should simply 'get used' to a situation of oppression, violation of human rights and statelesnes of an entire people. I guess you are one of those that couldn't care less in what circumstances others are living as long as you are doing fine.

Michael W. said...

Doesn't that also begs the question, how did the Palestinians, or rather the Arabs in power, want to identify their state in the 20's-40's and now?

I have yet to be shown evidence of an Arab led democratic movement in the Middle East or the capability to do so, either from pre-Israel Palestinians or popular Arab figures today.

The inability of the Arabs to overthrow the dictators of the region shows to me how desperate the Zionists were to fight for their own state.

The un-democratic state of the ME is not the Arab's fault. It is not entirely the West's fault either. The ME is a diverse region. I believe that the pan-Arab nationalism and the Islamist movements, which try to encompass the entire ME and denies its diversity has pushed the region into an un-democratic state. Denying Zionism is to deny the diverse community of the region. There is no such thing as asking the dictatorial countries for freedoms, since the dictators don't even give political freedoms to their brothers.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

the "territories for peace" formula that the Israel Left has been pushing since 1967 is a bluff and can't work

The "territories for peace" formula can't work because Israel wants all the peace but doesn't want to give back all the territories.

You believe the solution is, then, the status quo, but there's actually no such thing, because far from keeping the situation as it is, Israel is encouraging its settlers to grab ever more land and create an increasingly evident apartheid situation in the West Bank. It is a matter of time before the country is shunned from the international community, just like South Africa was. Chips can be developed in Bangalore, diamonds can be cut in Antwerp and guidance systems can be manufactured in Germany: Israel is not so important that the world can't do without it.

That leaves us with the binational state solution, the only one that can and will work. A single state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, where everyone can live wherever they choose, will ensure that nobody is uprooted from where they were born. It is purely delusional to think that this outcome can be avoided.

Your Correspondent said...

"They are not raising the question how an outmoded ethnic-nationalist state can liberalize into a state of all its citizens."

Under the current conflict, a true multi-culti state isn't practical; It would only result in civil war. The civilized solution might be partition, but it's been hard to get an agreement on that.

Humans aren't a different species than they were 50 or 1000 years ago, the same tribal loyalties rule. Any society that gives that up will be eaten up by one that keeps it's cohesiveness.

There's nothing "Outmoded" by an ethnic-nationalist state, it's as fresh as the morning dew, and popular around the world.

goyisherebbe said...

The problem of the Jews and "Palestinians" is not going to be solved by economic and political means because it is a spiritual conflict. The Land of Israel was given to the Jewish people by G-d, but that does not necessarily exclude the "Palestinians". Ethnically and historically, many or most of the "Palestinians" are of Jewish descent. The reason for this is the basic distinction, which was explained to me by Prof. Moshe Sharon, between Judaism and Christianity on one hand and Islam on the other. Christianity believes in the salvation of the world through the agency of one man, in their theology the son of G-d. Judaism believes in the redemption of humanity through the agency of one chosen nation. Islam believes in the DOMINATION of the other religions by Islam. Jews wish to preserve the Jewish tradition by raising families in which a Jewish man and a Jewish womnan raise Jewish children and educate them to Torah and mitzvot. A Christian family is similarly based on both members of a couple raising children according to Christian faith. An Islamic family can include a Jewish or Christian wife who is DOMINATED by the Muslim husband as Muhammad took his Jewish wife in war and dominated her. The Jews who converted to Islam, some only a couple of hundred years ago, together with Arabs, many of whom were of Jewish descent and therefore were unconsciously spiritually attracted to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael after the beginning of the return of the Jews, can eventually reconstitute one people. There are many other people in the world who have Jewish forebears who are slowly becoming aware of their roots. Secular Zionism does not wish to meet these Palestinians and have a relationship with them, but only to put a fence in the middle. Both the Palestinians and secular Zionism are engaged in a futile process. So is every US president who came into office and promptly proceeded to work on a solution to the conflict. It won't happen this way! The only solution is deep in our hearts, living together, recognizing a spiritual truth.