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Why the two-state solution needn't stay that way

The two-state solution, imperfect as a final-status agreement, could still be a crucial stepping stone toward achieving a more comprehensive formula for equality and just peace that everyone can live with.

President Barack Obama watches as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) shake hands at a trilateral meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, N.Y, Sept. 22, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama watches as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) shake hands at a trilateral meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, N.Y, Sept. 22, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

It has been a long time since I’ve heard someone make an optimistic case for the current round of peace talks. Insiders, observers and outliers on every which side of the political spectrum in both Israeli and Palestinian society have every reason to smell failure in the air. History alone makes the strongest case for why the current American-led peace process is doomed. Add the on-the-ground reality into the mix and you’ve got a dismal picture.

To quote former settler leader and two-state opponent Dany Dayan, “20 years after Oslo, the burden of proof is on [two-state] believers, not me.”

But whereas Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, the truth of the matter is that few people have accurately predicted some of the most dramatic and world-changing events in modern history.

Addressing the pessimists among us, first and foremost Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. President Obama said in an interview published Sunday: “If [Netanyahu] does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”

Read +972’s full coverage of the peace process

Of course, there are other options. The most popular alternative is one, liberal democratic state in which Israelis and Palestinians live on the same land and enjoy equal citizenship under the law. Such an outcome means the end of the exclusive ethnic nation-states of Israel and Palestine as we understand them today, but it does not preclude the resultant state from serving as a homeland for both peoples. In public opinion polling over the years, a one-state solution has consistently received the support of around one-third of both Palestinians and Israelis. This is neither side’s first choice, but it is an undeniably close second.

There are also other, less-discussed alternative frameworks beyond the two- and one-state solutions. It is true, as President Obama said, that they are not plausible, but that is only true because those ideas have not benefited from the same resources and investments necessary for developing and marketing them in the same way the two-state solution has.

For two decades, think tanks, academics, politicians, diplomats and civil society activists have all pushed for one idea, two states, while vigorously discounting all others as implausible.

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles exploring alternatives to the two-state solution as we understand it. (Read parts one, two and three.) Among them are ideas for a federation structured in any number of small administrative districts, and a rethinking of the modern concept of state sovereignty into a parallel states model, in which two states exist in a single geographic territory.

So why bring up alternatives to a peace process that I am arguing should be given one last chance?

The truly flawed aspect of the two-state paradigm is the insistence that such an agreement constitute a conclusive end to all claims and a final resolution to the conflict. If one accepts that argument, then the two-state solution is only doomed as a framework for a catch-all solution meant to herald in an era of peace and coexistence — or as liberal Zionist speakers love to metaphorize the conflict, an Israeli-Palestinian divorce.

But if the two-state solution is not the resolution to the conflict, it could still be an important stepping stone toward a final resolution. The two-state solution could still be the best solution right now, regardless of whether it leads to ever-lasting peace and harmony. Both Israeli and Palestinian societies are plagued by conflict-driven hyper-nationalism, and any resolution that does not physically separate the two sides must be preceded by an end to violence. It follows then, that after a few decades of living in two states, should such a situation emerge, Israelis and Palestinians could foreseeably decide that it is in both their interests to form a single liberal democratic state, or any other alternative arrangement that addresses the remaining issues of conflict.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a vestige of a bygone world order in which achieving national self-determination was more highly valued than individual self-determination, expressed through human and civil rights. To recognize that is to understand that ending the occupation and laying the groundwork for realizing individual rights is more important than creating or preserving the nation-state as an exclusive political home for one nation. Therefore, the number-one priority in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be ending the occupation and ensuring equality for everyone between the river and the sea, be it under one, two, three or no states.

If pushing through a two-state solution can move us toward that end goal, even as an interim measure toward a more just and lasting solution, then maybe it’s worth investing and believing in.

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    1. Richard Witty

      The logic behind partition is that the populations are in fact two peoples, with two distinct understandings of law, human relationships, sovereignty.

      The communities do NOT speak of themselves as of one people. There is some hope for that in the places where vehemence is less than one would expect.

      Most Israelis and most modern diaspora Palestinians do NOT have a history of imprinted relations to land, and more importantly to local power and honor relationships.

      They are in that regard commonly “homeless”, (in contrast to “homefullness”) even as they both reside in the same land as they assert is their ancestral home.

      Neither now have a continuity with their indigenous social history. They each desire a diversion from their conservative past, into the future.

      Those people that are homeless in that sense, can form a single state.

      Those that are connected to their past, likely cannot, and then will fight on the basis of the too common archaic definitions of what it means to be Jewish, or Palestinian, or Arab, or Muslim.

      The path to a federation is quicker than a couple generations, IF the democratic in each state’s self-definition of national #and# democratic is emphasized.

      And, that takes work, demeaning humiliating determined work.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ginger Eis

      This article/analysis lacks the required intellectual honesty, is shallow and based on false reading of data. I will give you at least 4-reasons why, Mr. Michael Omer-Man: (1) While the article purports to explore other possibilities to the 2-State-solution, it, by design or omission, left out the first/second on the list: a unitary- or confederate State between WB-Palestinians and Jordan. After all, WB Palestinians all have/had Jordanian citizenship, while Palestinians form the (absolute) majority in Jordan and are being ruled by a nepotistic regime, etc. An honest writer/journalist knows no taboos and leaves no stones unturned when it comes to research and analysis; (2) one of the most egregious failures of your article is that it fails to articulate the practicability of a 1-state-solution and its consequences for the core reasons why Israel was created in the first place, i.e. (a) changing the death-equation in which Jews lived, died and survived before 1948, (b) guaranteeing a refuge for any Jew anywhere in the world and (c) guaranteeing Jewish Self-determination in a Jewish State and how the Jewry worldwide will fare IF Israel disappears. Indeed, it is not difficult to scream: “1-state”! (see 2nd post).

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        (3) Your claim, Mr. Michael Omer-Man, that one-third of both Palestinians and Israelis consistently supports a 1-state-solution is rather dangerously misleading. That percentage of Israelis that supports the 1-state-solution is overwhelmingly from the Far Right that (a) does not want to give up an inch of the land of Israel, (b) does not want Gaza included in that 1-state and (c) does not want the return of a single Arab refugee (estimated at 5-7million) to that 1-state. The percentage of Arabs that wants said 1-state-solution aspire the direct opposite and the use of demography to achieve the failed objectives of the 1948/1967 wars. Essentially, you have two enemies that want the same weapon (1-State) for mutually exclusive objectives. (4) Lastly the most important goal of the 2-state-solution: i.e. “end of conflict and all claims” is what you refer to as its “truly flawed aspect”! That’s an astonishing statement (your are entitled) to make, BUT, without argument/evidence to support your claim, it remains a major flaw of the article.

        Reply to Comment
      • Eric

        Nobody is actively advocating a Federation or whatnot with Jordan. And i think that Jordanians already declared that that would never be an Option, at least in the short term.

        On the other hand, why should Israel be disposed of any responsibility or Cost to it’s occupation ? The cost should be on the Israelis, not on Jordanians or any other nation you want to put this on. The Israelis have to make concessions. Palestinians have compromised enough, demonstrated again by Abbas when he declared that he would have no Problem with an International force all over Palestine. I mean, where is the Israeli concession ? No settlements uprooting, more settlements even, no Maps, no Borders, No Jerusalem, No Refugees. That’s not the way to negotiate over anything.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          Eric, the argument centers on alternatives (remember?) to the 2-state-solution. Here are my arguments for a Unitary/Confederate State b/w WB-Palestinians and Jordan: (1)(a) WB-Palestinians and Jordanians belong to the same ethnic group, (b) have the same religion and language, (c) shear the same culture and tradition, while (d) WB-Palestinians have/had Jordanian citizenships and (e) Palestinians already form the majority in Jordan (2) these natural, fundamental and decisive characteristics WB-Palestinians shear with Jordan, they do not shear with Jews. As such a Unitary/confederate State b/w Jews and WB-Palestinians is not pragmatic, and will be a catastrophe for both sides. Now Eric, make counter-arguments. The fact that Jordan ruled-out Unitary/Confederate State b/w it and WB-Palestinians is neither reason nor argument not to explore it (after all Israel has said that such is not an option b/w her and WB-Palestinians but we still discuss it as an option). Intellectual inquiries know no taboos.

          Reply to Comment
          • Joel Gordon

            Ginger, it’s ‘share’ not ‘shear’. I notice you get this wrong a lot. Shear means either to cut, to sever, or it describes a sideways pressure, as in ‘shear-force’, not to be confused with ‘sheer-force’. Sorry to be a pedant here. Happy days!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Thanks Joel. I appreciate it.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Tom P.

      the flaw in this argument is conflating the current “peace process” with the idea of an interim two-state solution.In theory it could be a good idea, but that’s not what’s being discussed. (not to mention the actual content of those two states – the Palestinians are likely to be pressured to accept somewhere other than Jerusalem as their capital, a continuous Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, etc.) This is the real peace process that you can be optimistic or pessimistic about, but at least address what’s actually being proposed.

      Reply to Comment
    4. shachalnur

      I agree with Hyman Rosen,facebook comments,about the unfortunate choice of words(“bygone” world order”)

      RT today; “Russia is outraged”by remarks at the UN by Ukrainian representative Yuri Sergeev’s “blasphemous statements”. Sergeev said”indictments, brought by the USSR against Ukrainian nationals during the Nuremberg trails, were fabricated”.
      “With these words ,Ukrainian representative at te UN offended the memory of fallen Ukrainians,Jews,Poles and citzens of other nationalities,who fell victim to the atrocities,commited by Ukrainian Nazi supporters”.

      The Nazi’s are back and have been put in power in the Ukraine by the US/Europe and those who control the White House/EU.

      Does Israel want these people as friends,supporters and the ones “that have your back”,with a knife in their hands?

      “bygone” World Order?

      No,the World Order is alive and well,and trying to implement the New one over Ukraine and Israel’s back..

      Reply to Comment
    5. Kolumn9

      “The truly flawed aspect of the two-state paradigm is the insistence that such an agreement constitute a conclusive end to all claims and a final resolution to the conflict.”

      Yes, the flawed aspect of the prevalent two-state paradigm is to expect that the Arabs would be willing to accept the two-state paradigm as anything more than a stepping stone to the eventual destruction of Israel (known in pro-Palestinian circles under the euphemism of ‘Justice for Palestinians”). Recognizing this flaw is the reason why sane people insist that the final outcome of negotiations must be a solution in which the Palestinian State will arise next to a regionally recognized and secure Jewish State and the Palestinians end all future claims on that Jewish State. Lacking that, an agreement with the Palestinians has zero value for Israel. In fact, it would probably be a net negative since it would simply strengthen the Palestinians for the next time they chose to challenge Israel on the basis of whatever issues are left outstanding.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Since, as Tom P. notes above,Israeli sovereignty of the Jordan Valley as applied is all but forgone, and, I would add, the IDF will insist on an incursion option into a Palestinian State to remove terror suspects, any Two State agreement is something of a confederation. Since a stable Palestinian government will need economic development, this confederation cannot plausibly be a severance. Israel will need to foster a slowly growing linked economy.

      So I would say that our host’s thesis is correct, and that the only viable Two State solution will eventually have to become something more. Consider the EU, which has over 40 years evolved a kind of split sovereignty in technical areas.

      It is obviously not true that the world is moving past nationalism en mass (indeed, Putin is using nationalism to force an agenda of economic union–as with Israel, the State may reach beyond its border to aid its kind). But as the US was forced to deal with ethnicity in a new way, finally yielding a biracial President crossing the strongest color bar the US has ever known, Israel may too come to alter the application of ethnicity though this conflict. As I have tried to argue other times, I do not see this compromising the Law of Return and Ingathering of the Exiles.

      It should be pretty clear by now that no final solution is possible; indeed, life rather avoids such things. So “Two States” offers both promise and absurdity. The promise need have nothing to do with the eradication of the ingathering, nor even of the Knesset as predominately Jewish body. But I think that the rule of law must indeed take on new force if any promise under de facto confederation is to bear fruit.

      So I think this a very good piece.

      Reply to Comment