When I was in high school, I did a bit of community organizing – mostly around issues of labor rights, prison policy, and education reform – with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in New York. The group works primarily on issues that affect the New York community and doesn’t dabble much in international affairs. Nonetheless, at some point an increasing number of the coalitions we wanted to work with adopted platforms that included commentaries on Palestine-Israel, Afghanistan, and later Iraq.
So JFREJ held a large meeting to discuss how it would relate to these emerging challenges. The meeting started off with everybody going around the room and stating their own personal preference for how best to solve the conflict. At the time – shortly after the collapse of the Oslo process – I still identified as a Liberal Zionist and when it came my time to speak, I voiced my support for two states for two peoples.
Then, an activist who I very much admired stood up: “Well, I favor a no-state solution, but barring that, I guess one state will do.”
I’m guessing that the comment reflected his own commitment to political anarchism more than anything else. But looking back on the incident, I’m inclined to take it as a subtle critique of just how absurd the exercise we were engaging in was.
No, I’m not referring to the fact that a group of New York Jews were supposedly trying to solve the conflict, alone, in a downtown Manhattan office building. Something needed to be done to ensure that a meeting on organizational strategy didn’t devolve into a debate about the peace process and this did the job.
Rather, I’m referring to just how fantastically absurd it is these days to simply say “I support a two-state solution.”
Back when I was in New York, the details of a political solution to the conflict seemed less pressing. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, many people started talking about how “we all know what the solution is going to be.” So much so that Jed Bartlett even solved the conflict in one of the most agonizingly awful story lines of the West Wing, circa 2005. When they (OK, we, as at the time i was one of these people) said that the solution was obvious, it meant that the Green Line would be the new borders with minor adjustments to minimize difficult population transfers.
In reality, the details were far less clear than we arrogant New Yorkers thought at the time. The issue of whether or how to divide Jerusalem, where to draw the borders, or how to get between Gaza and the West Bank were never really thought through to the extent that the common wisdom claimed. But these were relatively minor issues that we thought could be worked out in negotiations.
This solution may not have been a particularly good solution; in all likelihood it would have been a travesty of justice, but that’s a topic for another post. Non-Jewish minorities within Israel would still have been second-class citizens, families would remain separated, and refugees’s rights would certainly have been derailed. But even if it was not a particularly good solution it was one that could have been implemented. That is to say, if you wanted, you could take a map and, roughly, draw out a future border and begin to plan around these lines in the sand. You could have even begun a discussion on the challenging work of institution-building, infrastructure investment, and cross-border relations that any agreement – regardless of the number of states involved – will have to undertake. And, presumably they could come up with viable plans to transfer the Jewish settler-colonial population out of the West Bank or alternatively have them submit to Palestinian sovereignty. Those of us who follow other post-conflict countries know that, for better or worse, bad but feasible plans often win out over better alternatives and in the 1990s, the plans being discussed were at least possible to imagine.
Over the next month or two, we’re going to be exploring the two-state solution in greater detail. The next substantive posts will focus on the criteria that a two-state solution would have to meet these days to be taken seriously. As we shall see, this is a very high bar which almost (but not all) current versions of the two-state solution fail to meet. After that, we’ll see the ways elite political talk about the two-state solution is changing in ways that should give us quite a bit of hope. Later on, we’ll also explore what all this talk about Israel’s “right to exist” or about the “importance of maintaining a Jewish demographic majority” actually mean. There will also be a post on how to teach kids about the benefits and drawbacks of a two-state solution. (And if there are any special requests on the topic in the meantime, leave a comment or get in touch!) Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a Torah Thursday in there as well.
In this series of posts, there will be many smaller points made. But the big takeaway: Nowadays, saying “I support a two-state solution” without any elaboration is just as meaningless or absurdist as saying “I support a no-state solution.”
If you need any proof of this, you have to look no further than Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who in an interview with the Washington Post this week declared his support for the two-state solution, even saying that he was constantly urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to do more to achieve peace. These statements are somewhat suspicious, given that in the past he has refused a settlement-colony freeze, refused to even consider a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, gives major policy addresses from settlement-colonies, and has called for Israeli sovereignty over large swaths of the West Bank that would make a Palestinian state unviable. Despite holding policy positions that would make a two-state solution all but impossible, Lapid gets to go around saying that he supports a two-state solution only because that phrase has become completely devoid of content.
As we’ll see in this series of posts, there are certainly some version of the two-state ideology that meet such criteria for viability (whether or not they are desirable is, again, another question). But not too many.
Finally, it is important to note that this exercise is not just about beating up on two-staters. As we shall see, going through this discussion on exactly what is wrong with the two-state vision will also force those of us who support a one-state solution to come to grips with new sorts of questions (many of which are already being productively discussed in certain circles). Otherwise, we may be as irrelevant in 10 years time as the two-staters are today. So we’ll close out this series with a post on the implications of these discussions for one-staters.