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One or two states? The status quo is Israel's rational choice

The secret to understanding Israeli political behavior lies in the widespread (and fundamentally evident) notion that any change to the status quo is likely to bring more harm than good.

More than any other politician, Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu (Seen talking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer) represents the Israeli outlook that the current situation is the best (photo: IsraelinUS/flickr CC by-2.0)

Even passionate advocates of Israeli policy wonder at times – often in private, but sometimes also in public – why the Israeli government doesn’t show a bit more urgency in pursuing a way out of the West Bank.

Israel, the saying goes, is faced with two options: A two-state solution and a one-state solution. The first option involves removing most of the settlements from the West Bank (but not necessarily most of the settlers); the second one starts with annexing the West Bank and changing the demographic balance between Jews and Palestinians living under full Israeli sovereignty. Israelis – both leaders and the public – seem to be rhetorically adopting the former while in practice moving towards the latter.

Advocates for the government would explain this paradox with security concerns and “Arab rejectionism.” According to this line, Israel has made up its mind to leave the West Bank and even engaged in several attempts to do so; only to be met with violence and hostility from the Palestinian side. Critics would claim that the Israeli policy objective is not maintaining a Jewish majority but rather colonizing as much land as possible, hence the settlements and the reluctance to leave the West Bank.

The most popular rationale is a blend of the two approaches: Israel wants to leave the West Bank, but it was taken hostage by a minority of rightwing nationalists and messianic settlers, mainly due to “Arab rejectionism” and the failure of the peace process. When Israelis will be made to understand the danger of the current political trend – and when the Arab side is ready – they will come to their senses and regroup behind the demographically-secure Green Line.

This rationale, however, doesn’t bring into account a third option before Israeli policy-makers, and before Israelis themselves: that of maintaining the status-quo.

Rational choice

The status quo as a viable political option is never discussed enough. The common wisdom is that it is “unsustainable”; many (myself included) also see it as immoral. The result is a general blindness to the advantages of the status-quo from an Israeli decision-making perspective, and therefore, a failure to understand Israeli political behavior.

The Israeli decision maker – from left or right – is actually faced with three options: Annexing the West Bank; withdrawing from it, or maintaining the current situation (military occupation under which a privileged Jewish population is living alongside a Palestinian majority with no civil rights). Within this framework, and especially right now, maintaining the status quo is probably the most rational option for Israelis.

Rational choice theory claims that we all try to pay minimum costs and get maximum benefits. The definition of those costs and benefits is subjective, of course. Bearing this in mind, let’s look at the options an Israeli policy-maker has before him: a two-state solution is likely to bring a near civil-war moment within the Jewish public, as well as considerable security risks. It is worth noting that no Palestinian leadership would be able to really vouch for Israel’s security, since we never know what the next leadership will be like (I explained this point in more detail here). At the same time, annexing the West Bank will cause a severe international backlash, as well as major legal problems – and that’s only in the short run. It is even more risky, politically, than the two-state solution. The third option is maintaining the status quo, while trying to minimize its costs and maximize its benefits. From a rational-choice perspective, this is the optimal option.

The many benefits of the status quo

For some reason, people find it hard to accept that the current situation is desirable for Israelis. It certainly isn’t optimal, but considering the alternatives, it is probably the best.

It’s enough to come on a week’s visit to Israel to understand the appeal of the status quo. Despite occasional outbreaks of violence in the south and north, Israelis enjoy stability, prosperity and a general sense of security. According to the theory of “convincing Israelis to abandon the West Bank,” this was supposed to be the right moment for concessions, but the exact opposite is true: When things are going so well, it would be totally irrational to move in any other direction, either by annexing the West Bank or by leaving it.

Israelis understand that instinctively, regardless of what they say in polls on the desired solution to the conflict. Actually, even in polls, when faced with the option of maintaining the status quo, Israelis are likely to prefer it to the two-state solution. A Palestinian state becomes the preferable option only when presented on its own (“do you support/oppose…”) or when it is compared to annexing the West Bank.

See for example question 6 of the January 2012 Peace Index: A clear Jewish majority (57.3 percent) agrees with the following statement:

… even long-term continued rule in the territories will not prevent Israel from remaining a Jewish and democratic state.

This result is consistent with previous polls, I was told. In a panel I attended at Tel Aviv University, Prof. Ephraim Yaar, who runs the peace index, explained that Israelis’ political choices are irrational, since they don’t elect leaders that reflect their support for the two-state solution. But his own polls prove the opposite: that Israelis actually support the status-quo, and choose their leaders accordingly. The record-breaking support for Prime Minister Netanyahu, a man whose entire political history is a tale of maintaining the diplomatic status quo, can be easily explained in this framework, and so can the collapse of the parliamentary peace camp. There is not one Knesset party that has leaving the West Bank as the single most important issue on its agenda today – mainly because everyone knows that the public prefers the current state of affairs. So maybe it’s time to stop blaming the settlers alone.

But aren’t Israelis concerned about the long run? Well, when making political choices, most people don’t pay much attention to the long run, and politicians are even more likely to be focused on the immediate impact of their decisions. Anyway, the “unsustainable” occupation is proving itself to be pretty sustainable thus far. In the last decade, and especially since the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005– a move that was initiated, as Sharon himself said, in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank– Israel has been able to resist international pressure at a relatively low cost and maintain control over the territories it captured in 1967, while suffering the lowest number of casualties than at any other time. Never in its history has the gap – military, economic and in terms of international support – between Israel and its neighbors been so wide. The status-quo might not be perfect, but from the point of view of the average Israeli – not to mention that of his elected official – it represents the best alternative.

In other words, the major problem right now is that an inherently immoral order represents the most desirable political option for Israelis. All the left’s effort to demonstrate the problems the occupation creates – like the burden on the state budget – won’t help, since political choices are made based on alternative options, and right now the alternatives are more expensive, more painful, and more dangerous.

It should be noted that the status quo will remain the best option regardless of developments on the Palestinian side. Even if the Palestinians in the occupied territories recognize Israel as a Jewish state or vote Hamas out of office – even if they all join the Likud – from an Israeli cost/benefit perspective, keeping things as they are will remain preferable to the alternatives of either pulling out of the West Bank or to annexing it.

Current demands from the Palestinians are just smoke screens intended to disguise this unpleasant fact. Not only is the approach of “accommodating Israel’s needs” not likely to get concessions out of the Israeli leadership, a truthful analysis points to the fact that the better things get in Israel, the less changes to the status quo become rational; when thinking about a political strategy that will lead to the end of the occupation, we should bear this in mind.

False questions and wasted political capital

I will address the desirable ways to change the Israeli decision-making equation in a separate post, but there is one last point I’d like to make. A lot of intellectual effort is put in the “one state vs. two states” debate, or in the attempt to analyze whether we are past the point of no return for the two-state solution. Certainly, reality on the ground might cause us to think that we did.

Yet these are for most parts false questions. The real issue is the balance between change and the status quo which has yet to be shifted. There is no way of telling whether we have passed the moment for the two-state solution because Israel has never faced the real choice between one and two states. It always faced the choice between one state, two states and the status quo. When it will be met with a real make-or-break decision, the political dynamic in Israel might fundamentally change. We are still very far from such a moment.

More diplomatic analysis:
Direct negotiations: Recipe for prolonging the occupation
Negotiations: it’s not about peace

In the next post: The game changer

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  • COMMENTS

    1. XYZ

      You omit another possibility-an evolution to a de-facto confederal system in the West Bank, either with the Palestinians themselves, or with Jordan. IF THERE IS AN ACCEPTABLE SECURITY SITUATION, Israel can draw down its military force in the West Bank, freedom of movement can be restored to the Palestinians, as existed before the Oslo “Peace Process” ruined everything, Jewish settlements will be part of Israel, the Palestinians will continue, as they are now, to be part of the Palestinian Authority, possibly associated with Jordan. As I said, this will be de-facto, because the Arabs can never agree to this formally, but it will inevitably evolve to this situation when the Arabs realize that they aren’t going to get rid of Israel, that radical political Islam is a dead-end and it is finally time for them to forget about their endless historical grievances and get on with the job of improving the lives of their people, as seems to happening everywhere else in the world except for the Arab Middle East.

      Reply to Comment
    2. directrob

      You have a funny definition of “status quo”. It is not that things in the West Bank develop so slowly that the situation can be perceived as static.

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    3. Bill Pearlman

      Just about the most logical column I’ve read here. And considering the situation in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, caution is warranted. Not to mention the fact that if your going to forcibly remove several hundred thousand people from their homes. And withdraw from a number of Jewish religious sites ( which the Arabs take great joy in destroying ) It better be for real peace. And I don’t see that being offered by anybody.

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    4. XYZ

      I do not agree with the view that Israel’s current level of control of the West Bank is “immoral”. Jews (i.e. Israel) have no less right to live in the West Bank than do Arabs, probably more so. The Palestinians have their own autonomous government. While it is true that don’t have a fully sovereign independent state, neither do many similar groups around the world, such as the Puerto Ricans, Tibetans, Chechens, Basques, Iraqi Kurds, Turkish Kurds, Algerian Berbers, Sri Lankan Tamils, etc, etc, etc. As I pointed out above, the restrictions on their movements are temporary, pending an improvement in the security situation. Thus, I don’t see an “immorality”.
      The problem for the Left-peace camp-Progressives comes when many Israeli and exilic Jews come to be advocates for the Palestinians, coming to identify with all their demands. Some of these post here at 972. These people manifest their views by “understanding” if not outright supporting Arab terror, supporting their demands for “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees, either. Recently a group of Israeli “peace” women attended a joing meeting with Palestinian women activists and stood in a moment of silence in memory of the Palestinian suicide bombers. It was people like this who went ballistic when the Wikileaks released the transcripts of the negotations between Abbas and Olmert saying that Abbas was a “traitor” for supposedly making concessions to Olmert. It is this level of complete emotional and intellectual identity of Jews with the “Palestinian Revolution” I am talking about. They would consider ANY Palestinian concessions involved in a compromise peace as “immoral” including any restrictions on the “right of return” of the refugees. This definition of “immoral” IS ITSELF immoral and these people are immoral and I don’t give a hoot for what these people think. This is a battle the Left is going to have to fight among its own people.

      Reply to Comment
    5. YOSFA

      excellent read, but remains an analysis on the long term consequences of maintaining status quo,

      Reply to Comment
    6. Richard Witty

      If the status quo is really a status quo and not an incremental change, then all of the statements by the left that Israel is annexing (a present-tense verb) are false.

      Things that are changing include population patterns, and the additional annexations by the hilltop youth.

      The cosmopolitan oriented Israelis and Palestinians are both having less babies. The religious and poor in both communities are still having more.

      There have been very little additional authorizations of settlement land since the mid-eighties, except for the hilltop youth and East Jerusalem.

      The status quo is still disenfranchisement of Palestinians, roadblocks, statelessness, absence of freedom of movement.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Witty makes a good point: while the “status quo” is, broadly, a non-democratic apartheid (or apartheid-like) property-confiscating arrangement 1SS; it is also changing (and in recent years we’ve seen a great deal of land confiscation, including from private owners, and a great deal of pogrom-like violence (and police and amry indifference thereto).
      .
      The 1SS is unpleasant for non-racists to contemplate — but the changes are worse, looking to be a slow (frog boiling technique for) making non-Israelis (meaning, here, non-Jewish) residents of the occupied territories (including Jerusalem) leave — slow ethnic cleansing.
      .
      And, as Witty notes, the new babies in the OPTs seem to be being born to the poor and the ultra religious (zealots, I’d say). A recipe for more trouble, if that were possible. (Slow boiling of the frog indicates that “more trouble” is always possible).

      Reply to Comment
    8. Shlomo Krol

      I can’t see how can the status quo be sustainable. Everybody: Israelis, Palestinians, the West – know, that this situation is not normal. Everybody sees that continued colonization of the occupied territories has aim to perpetualize the deep inequality between two populations. Such policy clearly conforms the Rome statute definition of the crime of apartheid as it is “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. The crime of apartheid is considered a crime against humanity by international law, no less. We cannot commit crime against humanity forever, even under the security pretext. Even if we enjoy stability right now, it doesn’t mean that this situation would not change in a moment, even if we don’t know what would trigger it. For example, massive civil movement of the Palestinians and inadequate Israeli reaction which would result in scores of killed protestors, God forbid. When we know that the situation is abnormal but there is a relative stability right now, we simply cannot count on it, we know for sure that this stability is very volatile, illusionary in fact. The status quo is not an option at all. And the security considerations cannot possibly justify it. Even if Israel is right in regard of security threat from the Palestinian side, how can the Israeli colonization of the occupied territories help? And if Israel is reluctant to withdraw its troops from the occupied territories because it needs guarantees of its security, why does Israel deepens the colonization and apartheid so that it would be impossible to end the occupation in the future once such guarantees are receieved? The Israeli politics are not only immoral and criminal, they are obviously irrational, too. I think, that it’s very correct to say that the radical minority, which skillfully plays on fears of the public, keeps Israel hostage and leads it to self destruction.

      Reply to Comment
    9. directrob

      Richard, Palestinian area C land is considerably cheaper than Area B land because of the risk of loosing it to the IDF, nature reserves or Settlers.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      This is a remarkable column. Remarkable not for what it says – a large majority of Israelis have understood this for the last twelve years – but remarkable for its honesty and good faith, in a discourse where those things are pretty rare.
      *
      For what it’s worth, I think the “status quo” is the best alternative politically AND MORALLY. In fact, I think that some variation of the status quo is the ONLY prudent and moral path to pursue, at this time. Apparently, that puts me in with the vast majority of Israeli Jews, since 2000. I won’t offer a defense of this position right now because you’ve all heard the arguments before, unless you’ve been making an effort not to hear.
      *
      The other half of the “status quo” position is that Israel should always be doing what it can to create a better alternative to the status quo. It’s not a matter of sitting around passively waiting for something to come along.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Steve

      Israel is not going to commit suicide, give up its own existence and be swallowed up into yet another Arab/Muslim-majority state. That’s what the “one-state solution” is. Only crackpots, neo-nazis and islamic jihad supporters support it.

      Reply to Comment
    12. aristeides

      Noam – the rational choice theory has been shown not to accurately describe economic decision-making. There is, as you point out, little concern in actual decision making for the longterm consequences, which any truly rational decision would consider.

      .
      But people also consistently fail to give proper weight to the two primary drivers: fear and greed. That is, when things seem to be going well, the advantages of greed are over-weighted beyond what reason would indicate. When things seem to be going badly, fear becomes over-weighted and leads invariably to irrational panic.

      .
      The application of this observation to the Israeli situation is pretty obvious. Greed drives not only the settlement project but much of the exploitation of Palestinian territory. There are simply too many individuals with too great a financial interest in the perpetuation of the status quo. This, despite the fact that Israeli society as a whole is paying is much greater financial price for the “security” establishment that enables it. The cost/beneift analysis is clearly irrational.

      .
      To perpetuate it, the Israeli government engages in constant, hysterial fearmongering that obviously surpasses the limit of what a rational mind would allow. In the name of “security,” the current regime is planning to place the Israeli public in the greatest peril it will have known since 1973. This is rational decision-making only for some definitions of “rational” based on wholesale denial of reality.

      .
      Israel is a bubble, its existence perpetuated by massive US support that both the recipients and the supporters believe can be sustained forever. Just like the stock market in 1929 and the housing market in 2008. A truly rational agent knows that nothing lasts forever, and all bubbles will eventually pop.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Piotr Berman

      Preservation of status quo in history:

      “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.”

      Reply to Comment
    14. Interesting post; I’m sure you have a source for: “the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005– a move that was initiated, as Sharon himself said, in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank”
      — could you please provide it?
      Thank you

      Reply to Comment
    15. AIG

      Noam,
      .
      Great analysis. At least one person on the left sees things clearly.
      .
      I have one small quibble and one observation. The quibble is that I think that would the Palestinians do matters. I think most Israelis would prefer not to occupy the Palestinians all other things being equal and if somehow trust is rebuilt between the two societies (a 10 year process) there will be pressure from inside Israel to find a solution. The Palestinians can help create the environment in which the Left’s ideas have a fighting chance.
      .
      The observation I would like to make is that at least to me, the Gaza pull out initiative came as a surprise. It was also rather popular in Israel. The lesson I take from it is that the Israeli public can be sold on moving from the status quo if there is enough political will. I would not be surprised therefore to see some more unilateral Israeli moves such as annexing area C or something of this nature accompanied by the realization that some settlements have to be abandoned.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Kubrikon

      Noam,

      You have a new fan. Your analysis of the present political situation is lucid, objective and extremely valuable.

      The real argument the left has to make in Israel is not that two states is preferable to one state, but that two states is preferable to the status quo. This is especially the case since the current situation (overall Israeli control over the West Bank) seems to be an extremely cheap option.

      Also, you are right in looking at many historical actions by the Israeli government as being guided by a desire to maintain a status quo or to make the underlying situation more sustainable. I would actually throw both Oslo and the Gaza withdrawal squarely into that category.

      The only minor issue I have with your argument is that your position suggests that the status quo remains the only rational option regardless of what the Palestinians or Arabs do. I do not agree. If the Palestinians demonstrated a viable alternative arrangement which allows Israel to retain most of the security interests it has, then it is possible that over time the Israeli establishment would be willing to confront the settlers while working with the Palestinians towards a vastly different situation. I would suggest that the proposals by Barak and Olmert should be seen as supporting such a position.

      We probably also disagree on the question of the morality of the Israeli control over the West Bank. However, this is probably more a question of definition. I too think that the situation for the Palestinians in the West Bank is terrible, though without seeing a viable alternative I refuse to pass judgement on its morality.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Kolumn9

      Shlomo, this is a 40 year old status quo. It has survived two intifadas and more than a few instances where scores of protesters have been killed. Arguing that it is not sustainable brings up questions of defining what the word sustainable means.

      Additionally, the argument that the status quo is not an option because it is unstable or potentially fragile is not a valid one. Were the same yardstick to be applied to any other proposed option it too would likely fail.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Joel

      Interesting analysis, Noam. Thank you. Also, really looking foreword to your next part, the game changer. And I hope involves an equal emphasis on making the status quo worse (in a moral way) as it does on creating hope and belief in an alternative future.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Y.

      I have some disagreements, but this analysis does raise an interesting question:
      .
      Let us assume the status quo _is_ unsustainable (whatever that means). Are Israeli options when that unsustainability shows itself worse than the options now? One can argue that Israel is no worse off, and may well be better off.
      .
      For example, let us assume Israel would opt for an annexation when the chips come down. Would it be easier or harder than doing it now? Well, Israel could easily coopt all the arguments (which will assuredly exist then) that the ‘two states solution’ is no longer possibly etc. Ergo, it is possible Israel would have a slightly _easier_ time implementing an annexation when the status quo breaks down compared to now.
      .
      Now, let us assume instead that Israel would opt for a division of sorts when the chips come down. Note that Noam’s argument doesn’t really give Israel much of anything from an agreement compared even to a withdrawal scenario – per Noam, the Palestinians can’t even be expected to stop terrorist attacks. If so, Israel doesn’t really gain much of anything from an agreement. It may well lose – an agreement would limit Israel’s freedom of security action in the WB. Israel would thus be better off choosing the border itself while keeping freedom of action. Some of the likely things to happen when this breaking down occurs (PA disbandment, violence) make Israel’s argument easier to make (e.g. if the PA disbands itself, who would Israel be expected to negotiate with?). This is in part the ironic result of giving the Palestinians this much leeway – Israel has simply not much to gain from an agreement anymore even if it chooses division, so no impetus to move on that front.

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    20. Y.

      PeterAmb, Weisglass said different things to different people. You can find both this statement, and a statement (in an interview Sharon made a few days before he collapsed) that he does intend to withdraw from most of the WB…

      Reply to Comment
    21. Y – I’ve never seen a source for Sharon’s statement of intent to withdraw from most of the West Bank and couldn’t find anything via search. Do you have a link?

      Reply to Comment
    22. YARB

      @DirectorB and related comments: you read the term status quo too literally in my mind. The status quo can be a trend and does not necessarily describe a static point in time, and the current trend is viewed favorably by most Israelis as compared to the alternatives.This is at least how I read the article.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Y.

      Lisa, it was on an interview I heard.. I’ll get back to you on that, but one thing first – Sharon handpicked his subordinates in Kadima and I doubt he magically ended up with all of them supporting a position supposedly to his Left [the 'hitkansot'] without intending it.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Kubrikon

      Y, Lisa, even if Sharon did say that he would have likely meant 51% of the WB. Even the Alon plan gives up 60% of the WB.

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    25. Lisa

      The status quo IS a one-state solution: one apartheid state. This is the best articulation of the need for BDS: the status quo needs to become uncomfortable for Jewish Israeli voters or nothing will change.

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    26. Kubrikon

      Lisa, the status quo IS NOT a one-state solution, neither formally, legally nor practically. The status quo is one where you have two clearly defined national leaderships in which both have effective control over parts of the territory and neither recognizes the situation as a single state while seeing the current situation as temporary.

      BDS isn’t going to become uncomfortable to Jewish Israeli voters if the overarching goal of the movement is to destroy Israel. What exactly are they being punished for when the ‘solution’ proposed by BDS activists is the worst possible case scenario and no real other viable solutions present themselves at the moment?

      Reply to Comment
    27. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      If “the status quo IS a one-state solution,” then could you guys please stop talking about “the occupation” and “colonialism”? Because those words don’t apply within a single state. Thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    28. AIG

      Lisa,

      BDS is never going to make Israelis uncomfortable for several reasons. Here are three:
      .
      1) Israel is completely economically independent of the Palestinians. The whites in South Africa were 12% of the population. The blacks were the backbone of South Africa’s industry. Israel does not need the Palestinians at all and therefore they cannot support an external BDS like the blacks in South Africa. In the end, one of the main reasons the whites agreed to give up power is because they did not want to lose their standard of living. This is not the case in Israel. Elvis Costello not playing in Israel is not going to make Israelis change their minds.
      .
      2) The US is never going to put sanctions on Israel that will make Israelis uncomfortable. And the EU needs a unanimous agreement to do so, and that is very, very unlikely. Germany just sold us a sixth submarine so how likely are they to support BDS because of the current situation?
      .
      3) Israelis have the “all the world is against us” mentality anyway.
      http://www.hebrewsongs.com/?song=haolam-kulo-negdeinu

      Reply to Comment
    29. Aaron, sure, we’ll just use ‘apartheid’ then. Ok by you?

      Reply to Comment
    30. Bill Pearlman

      What the BDS people don’t understand is that it allows the most right wing settler in Hebron to say to the most left wing guy on Sheinken street, guess what, they hate you too, not just me. And he would be right.

      Reply to Comment
    31. delia

      The status quo is a policy with a distinct tradition, and no prime minister wants to be the one who betrayed it.

      Henry Siegman’s article “The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam” provides an overview of the history of that policy. Everyone with skin in this game should read it.

      http://conflictsforum.org/2007/the-great-middle-east-peace-process-scam/

      Reply to Comment
    32. directrob

      The sickening thing about this article is that it discusses solutions as were this conflict a game of solitaire. There is no status quo. What is going on is just the silent annexation of all resources and of more than half of the West Bank. At the same time in Area C just about any method is used to get rid of most of the remaining Palestinians. It is a variation of the Bantu state solution. The shock will come when the Palestinians get their act together.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Bill Pearlman

      Henry Siegman has become a hamas mouthpiece. They love him at mondoweiss which means he fits right in with people who who count Jews and think Israel is satanic. and must be exterminated.

      Reply to Comment
    34. Ran Ever-Hadani

      Noam,

      It is not true that Israelis were never faced with the choice between the status quo and two states. Oslo was supported by ~70% of Jewish Israelis, and unless you believe the supporters considered Oslo a trick to prolong the status quo, then the choice they made is loud and clear. In fact, in the elections after Rabin’s assassination, the anti-Oslo Likud was plunging in the poles, and it was forced to rescind its opposition to Oslo in order to avoid electoral defeat.

      Interestingly, the support for the agreements on the Palestinian side was also close to 70%. This appears to be a magic figure – the Good Friday agreements in Northern Ireland were also supported at the same rate.

      The lesson here is that when a trusted leadership tells the people that the conflict can be ended, the people will follow. This was true in Oslo, and will be true again if the political will is found. I am not optimistic of such an opportunity coming up any time soon, but this was the key then, and it remains the key now.

      Reply to Comment
    35. I think the post likely right, which is why I have held the view that progress may be limited to two areas:
      .
      1) A defense of human particularism in the West Bank–that is, opposition to State policy based not on “solutions” but refusal to continue seen harm in particular instances, which may generalize over time. The State could, of course, alter policy on its own to such end.
      .
      2) Fight for a rights jurisprudence among Israeli citizens, including call for a constitution. I continue to believe, hope, that enabling Arab Israeli citizens could spill over into State policy on the West Bank. I am well aware that this is a very long term, uphill battle as of now–and I think there is significant political linkage, within Israel, regarding policy towards its minority citizens and treatment of the West Bank. The Israeli Declaration of Independence is soiled; yet it is still your best constitutional hope.
      .
      I do not mention Gaza for, frankly, I think implicit State policy is to seige Gaza until somehow absorbed into Egypt.
      .
      I have given up on a Palestinian/Israeli “solution.” The suicide bombers of 2000-4 have been most effective. I say this without absolving Israel as righteous. What distresses me most is the difficulty in linking the plights of Isaelis and Palestinians in a single discourse. Instead we have true believers in their military camps, awaiting the next foray, poking with their words over the walls until then.
      .
      But there remain those who continue to work in the small (some are among your commentors on this site) who prepare the social ground for the possiblity of change. They are your heroes, regardless of nationality. They are world heroes.
      .
      For what it’s worth, Noam, I see you as one of those who has striven towards an articulation of human particularism as a way of not giving up while pointing to possible, present, aid to the distressed.

      Reply to Comment
    36. AAron TFT:
      “If “the status quo IS a one-state solution,” then could you guys please stop talking about “the occupation” and “colonialism”? Because those words don’t apply within a single state. Thank you.”
      Well, the staus-quo is a slow crawl towards a one-state. Without a solution. It’s still part of an ongoing colonial project. And the land is being occupied. Not annexed.
      The status quo basically means an ongoing conquering and removal of native Palestinians from the land.
      I hope you understand how both “occupation” and “colonialism” still apply.

      Reply to Comment
    37. XYZ

      Sharon and Weisglas’ claim that the “hitnatkut” was “meant to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state” was a blatant lie that worked in order to get the settlement supporters to agree to peacefully evacuate Gush Katif, which they did. He told them “we are giving up Gush Katif in order to save the Judea/Samaria settlements”. As I said, this was a big lie, because right after it was completed, he then started telling everyone that he was going to unilaterally withdraw from almost all the rest of Judea/Samaria. Just two days before Sharon collapsed, he was interviewed by writer/journalist Matt Beynon Rees who reported it on his web site. In fact, as soon as Olmert took over the leadership, he announced another big withdrawal and unilateral creation of a Palestinian state was his policy and he ran the 2006 election campaign on that platform.
      Weisglas has more or less confirmed this. He has said Israel must withdraw from the rest of Judea/Samaria as well.
      The destruction of Gush Katif was meant to ENABLE the creation of a Palestinian state but to PREVENT the “Right of Return” of the Palestinian Refugees.
      Sharon in his career made all sorts of contradictory statements in order to get people to do what he wanted. Cherry-picking a comment made fore he destroyed Gush Katif doesn’t prove anything. It is his actions that tell the true story. Look at the policies that his KADIMAH party advocates today…withdrawal to the pre-67 lines, handing over the Western Wall and the other Jewish sites to Palestinian (via “international”) control and partial recognition of the ROR. This was Sharon’s true legacy.

      Reply to Comment
    38. Steve

      Israel is not going to suicide itself and end its own existence, despite the wishes of islamic terrorists, neo-nazis, fringe extreme-left hatemongers, and other such crackpots.

      Reply to Comment
    39. Steve

      LISA wrote: “The status quo IS a one-state solution: one apartheid state. This is the best articulation of the need for BDS”
      .
      Reality Check: No, the status quo is Israel running its own country, the West bank mostly being ruled by Fatah, and Gaza being isolated because it’s run by insane Hamas. Basically like three separate states.

      Reply to Comment
    40. David

      Surely, Gaza will eventually merge back into Egypt. The West Bank will return to Jordan: a state with a Palestinian majority.
      .
      Remember, the original PLO Covenant expressly disavowed sovereignty over these two areas.

      Reply to Comment
    41. sh

      Thanks for this, Noam and for introducing me to rational choice theory. I can reiterate what Aaron said, i.e. that many of us had already noted that third choice – albeit this reader by less intellectual paths.
      .
      Status quo is perhaps not the correct terminology. It’s more like stringing things along. If you don’t do repairs at home, sure you’ve got built-in changes like cracked, peeling walls and leaky faucets that cause slow further damage. But it takes a hell of a long time before the house actually falls down if you can postpone it using palliative remedies of a chewing-gum-’n-glue nature that will convince those who don’t look too closely that the roof isn’t going to fall in on them.
      .
      It’s the story of Israel’s life. Bus routes, municipal building plans, green issue decisions are conceived to meet short-term needs (containing a large component of façade-maintenance) which means that by the time they are realized, the conditions they operate in are no longer those they were planned for.
      .
      Going down into the nitty gritty involves analyzing structural errors the country is so far unable to face. We’re living on overdraft. Things like the Carmel fire bring that briefly into focus every once in a while, but the façade-maintenance strategies into which we put perhaps our greatest efforts have so far sufficed to push it quickly back into the background.
      .
      Stringing along’s greatest advantage is that the nature of its end-goal changes according to who’s running the show when it comes under scrutiny.

      Look forward to Noam’s next instalment.

      Reply to Comment
    42. Joel

      @Ran Ever-Hadani: I think your point about the support for Oslo is excellent. That is the only time in the history of this conflict when there has been significant popular support for change and a leadership to act upon it. And I think that kind of atmosphere is crucial for any change to be possible in the future.
      .
      However, I also believe one of the reasons for the popularity of Oslo was the rather poor conditions both Israelis and Palestinians lived in before Oslo (and the fact that in the end of the cold war, the Soviet backed Arab countries posed the lesser threat to Israel compared with the Palestinians).
      .
      So, I think both of these components; a rather bleak present and an optimistic view of an alternative future are necessary requirements for change.
      .
      The difference between now and Oslo is also that I can not see the benefit for neighter Israelis or Palestinians to go back to the pre-Oslo violence. Hence, justified non-violent means to make the status quo unsustainable. But also, very crucially, I think the alternative future needs to be something more promising than the pure Two State or One State models that are floating around now. Both of them offer too much compromise and uncertainty compared with the status quo (for Isralies or Palestinians). So, to create an atmosphere favorable towards change the we also need a third option for the future, or a total of four options to choose from: Status Quo (which really is bad is significant ways), 1SS, 2SS and a real positive vision for the future, which could include elements from both the 1SS and the 2SS.

      Reply to Comment
    43. Jack

      Besides looking what Israel doing in the occupied territory one just have to read the Likud Charter which clearly stipulate that they are against any palestinian state.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Likud#Charter

      Interestingly though is that the only charter that is brought up for scrutiny in the mainstream media is the one from Hamas.

      However Hamas have given support for a two state settlement, which is also never mentioned in the mainstream media discourse nor by Israel-Palestine so called “experts” from Brookings etc.

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/05/24/136403918/hamas-foreign-minister-we-accept-two-state-solution-with-67-borders

      Reply to Comment
    44. XYZ

      Ran Ever-Hadani:
      Polls showing majority Palestinian or Israeli support for Oslo are essentially meaningless. The Steinmetz Center peace polls (Tel Aviv U) which make a much more comprehensive poll with numerous questions, not just “Are you for a peace agreements-yes or no?”. When actual compromises are asked about, e.g. Palestinians giving up the Right of Return of refugees, or Israelis asked to knock down most settlements or divide Jerusalem, both sides then give less than 50% support for an agreement.
      The polls Rabin and Peres waved in front of everyone to get support saying a “majority” supported Oslo had as implicit assumptions on the Palestinian side that it included RoR and the Israelis were led to assume that it didn’t.
      Arafat was greeted as a great hero when he returned from Camp David in 2000 without compromising. No one on the Palestinian was angry at him for “missing a chance for peace”.
      There never was significant support on the Palestinian side for a compromise agreement with Israel in which the Palestinians give up the Ror. Peres and Rabin and the “peace mafia” also were hinting that Arafat would give up the RoR in return for some big Israeli concession, but of course, he always promised his people he would never give it up and he didn’t. His successors can not give it up either. That is why there never can be a compromise peace agreement between the two sides.
      This is why the Oslo Agreements collapsed…because there were too many deceitful assumptions sold to the Israeli public and too many real differences existed to be papered over.

      Reply to Comment
    45. Hard questions

      Can u explain why do you discount the possibility of further cleansing? Isn’t israel interested in the entire territory without the palestinians on it? Don’t u think that a nice big war wih iran can assist israel to arrive at this end? If we don’t talk about this because we r prisoners of our wishful thinking then how r we going to prevent this cleansing? Do u think that your fellow israelis have any problem o depen the nakba?

      Reply to Comment
    46. Jack

      Another point, the only solution is a one state solution. It may doesnt seems to be realistic today but in the long run is the only viable solution or rather the result of this conflict.

      If Israel want to keep calling itself a democratic state it must end calling itself jewish state. They cant have both.

      Arabs in Israel doesnt want to move out and since the annexation of palestinian land keep advancing the end result would be that the whole area from the dead sea to Jordan will be Israel. Now thats a problem because if Israel doesnt grant democratic rights to palestinians living in this area there will be an apartheid state.

      Reply to Comment
    47. Richard Witty

      “Maybe the most radical and important piece about Israel written in the last decade.”

      Bradley Burston

      Reply to Comment
    48. Andrew

      Excellent article. Very lucid and thoughtful.

      The only possible flaw is what seems to be an implication that the status quo is static. As Noam well knows, it is not. Rather, the status quo involves the continual expansion of more settlements and outposts, the progressive Bantustanization of more Palestinian territory.

      It may be true that Israelis have never really had to choose between a 2-state and a 1-state solution. The longer the status quo continues, though, the harder a two-state solution will be to implement.

      Reply to Comment
    49. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Hey, Arnon, sorry but I’m right and you’re wrong. Lisa said that the status quo IS a one-state solution (her emphasis), not that it’s leading to one. If the territories are occupied colonies, then they’re not part of a de facto single state. Of course in real life things can have aspects of all these things, but clearly not what she said.
      *
      Calling Israel an “apartheid” state would have some truth to it IF all the land west of the Jordan were effectively a single state. The reasoning is basically valid, but the premise is completely false.

      Reply to Comment
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