Proponents of the two-state solution have for years faced a grim outlook. Every new Jewish settlement that pops up on the lands slated for a Palestinian state has added to the despair and disillusionment with any peace process.
After 46 years of military occupation and colonial policies highlighted by an aggressive attempt to build exclusive Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, it is no surprise that many are losing faith in a peace based on the two-state solution. The latest intellectual to join the ranks of the disenchanted is American political scientist Ian Steven Lustick.
In a powerful essay in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania professor, lays out the problems that the continuation of defending and promoting the two-state solution has created. Using examples from Ireland, the Soviet Union and other places, Lustick simply argues that the two-state solution currently makes no sense and that clinging to it is an illusion. He criticizes the US diplomatic machinery, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel — as well as pundits, journalists and nongovernmental organizations — all of which have built careers on defending the indefensible.
Lustick asserts that the quicker all these parties stop talking about the two-state solution, the faster other options can develop. He gives Israeli Zionists a special warning, presenting examples of great empires and countries that have collapsed with little warning, citing the French in Algeria, the Soviet Union and Spain. Perhaps the most powerful and difficult possibility to fathom is the unexpected alliances that could come about if the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River were to become one democratic state:
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.
Palestinian nationalists calling for a “democratic secular state” would love to embrace Lustick’s utopian idea. It is true that the PLO's concept fails to identify which Jewish emigrants would be allowed to stay in a secular Palestine, thus leading Israeli Zionists to claim that the goal is to create an Arab state rather than a truly binational one.
The idea of a single state has been gaining support in Palestinian circles, but mostly among intellectuals and those in the diaspora. Palestinian American journalist and activist Ali Abunimah best captures this in One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Few inside Palestine, however, have supported the concept. When professor Sari Nusseibeh suggested in 1987 that Israel either annex the territories or give Palestinians equal rights, he was beaten by his students at Birzeit University. Many have since come around to his idea, including one of his students, Radi Jarai, who last year announced the launch of a one-state movement.
For many Palestinians, however, the one-state solution, while desirable, is not a practical remedy to ending the occupation. Many, including those who support the concept of a one-state solution, believe that this can only happen in a gradual manner, beginning with a two-state solution, which could then morph — with the free will of both peoples — into a single state.
Lustick admits the difficulties with his idea, noting that change doesn't take place easily: “Peacemaking and democratic state building require blood and magic.”
Whatever the future holds for Israelis and Palestinians, the leading and progressive voices are saying that the key is not the type of state or states that should govern the peoples of historic Palestine, but the need to first and foremost end the 46-year-old Israeli military occupation and colonization. After a formula for ending the occupation is found, the people should have the power and the right to choose what kind of government they want.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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