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One State. Two State.


In the introductory post to this series, I argued that most current versions of the two-state solution are not viable and thus do not deserve to be taken seriously.

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.”

In this post, I begin laying out precisely the sorts of elaborations that any solution – two-state or one-state – must address in order to become a meaningful statement. This is not a high bar to clear: many bad proposals should be capable of not being non-sense. But unfortunately, most versions of the two-state solution will not be able to answer these very basic questions.

This list of questions is by no means comprehensive; there are any number of smaller questions that must be figured out in the course of negotiations. But anyone who cannot answer these ten basic questions simply cannot be taken seriously. In other words, in the absence of clear, realistic answers to these questions a declaration of support for a two-state solution is essentially the same thing as a declaration of support for the apartheid status quo.

Once again, I want to urge those of us who support one-state solutions to likewise consider our answers to these questions, as well (especially when we move away from issues of drawing borders next post). As we shall see at the end of this exercise, we who support a single-state likewise have to elaborate our positions in more detail.

In the meantime, let us begin our Ten Questions for Supporters of a Two-State Solution:

1) Where are the borders?

The following image showing current Jewish settlement-colonies in the Occupied West Bank is taken from two-state proponents Americans for Peace Now’s very useful “Facts on the Ground” Interactive Map. Blue dots are settlement-colonies ilegal under international law while red dots are settlement-colonies illegal under both international and Israeli law.   

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 12.39.01 PM 

Quick! Draw a border.

That’s what I thought.

As the editor-in-chief of Ma’an News Agency recently told Mondoweiss’s Max Blumenthal:

Let them [Israel] call it what they like. But there will be no Palestinian state — I can’t see on a map where is Palestine and where is Israel.” Laham said he liked to challenge Israeli journalists to draw their country on a map, only because none of them are able to do it.

Back in the late-1990s, when “everybody knew” the solution, the borders were fairly obvious. Roughly, they would parallel the 1967 Green Line, with minor land swaps. Israel would keep Modi’in just on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, for example, while giving up some territory beyond the Green Line in the north or south to compensate for the loss of land.

Today, Israel refuses to use the Green Line as the basis for negotiations towards a two-state solutions. It is rather difficult to find any talk of future borders whatsoever amongst Israeli politicians of any variety. But when they do speak of borders, they now almost always talk about how “everybody knows” that they will keep all of the major settlement blocs, where around 75% of the settler-colonist population of the West Bank resides. Defining a settlement-bloc is rather difficult – some might say intentionally so – but the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem came up with the following educated guess:

In addition, Israel insists on keeping the “strategically important” Jordan Valley under its control. Once again, the exact boundaries of such an area are unclear, but ARIJ once again takes an educated, if on the expansionist side, guess.

Even the most conservative estimates put the Israeli “plan” as annexing 20% of the West Bank while isolating major Palestinian cities from each other. Just try and chart a path from Qalqilya to Hebron on the map above. No wonder Israel is refusing to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders!

We should stress once again, that the plan outlined above is the “consensus” mainstream Israeli plans. When talking with those who support the two-state solution in Israel and in their “liberal”-Zionist supporters, this is the plan they are most likely talking about. And it is completely unworkable, even if Israel could somehow convince the Palestinian leadership to accept such a raw deal.

So the first challenge to those who still support a two-state solution is to find the territory upon which  to establish a viable Palestinian state. Unless they can do this is a way that creates a viable Palestinian state, they are not serious. 

2) Do you divide Jerusalem?

This is more of a subset of the borders question than anything else, but it is always spun off as a separate issue for reasons that escape me.

For some bizarre reason, mainstream Israel has decided that the issue of Jerusalem is settled and they are keeping all of it. The issue is obviously far from settled, though. And the more construction of Jewish-only neighborhoods that happens around Jerusalem and the more Israel entrenches in this view, the less any possibility of any viable two-state solution becoming reality.

I won’t say that there is no possibility of a two-state solution without a divided or shared Jerusalem – because the awful PA leadership has given indications it is willing to compromise on the matter – but it does make things a hell of a lot more difficult, especially given the next question…

3) Where is Jerusalem?

I recently went on a tour of the Mt. of Olives with some family that was visiting from abroad. Unfortunately, the tour guide we got was not up to scratch. As we crossed into East Jerusalem, a woman on the tour asked him if we were going to be in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or not. Standing in illegally annexed land, he answered no. As we approached an eastern-facing lookout on top of the Mount of Olives, the same woman asked if we could see the West Bank at all. Staring directly into it, he once again answered no, stating that everything she was seeing was Israel, except for the tiny little bit of Palestine we could see.

I do not think our guide was being intentionally deceptive. Rather, it did not ever occur to this tour guide, who identified himself as left-of-center, that he was not only standing in Occupied East Jerusalem, but that he was staring out onto the West Bank, dotted as the landscape may have been by illegal Jewish-only settlement-colonies.

This is not a unique experience. “Peace activists” regularly object when I point out that Gilo is just as illegal under international law as is Gush Etzion. Likewise, I have been on tours with Jewish Israeli “peace groups” that tell me how “everybody knows” Israel will keep Ma’ale Adumim, increasingly referred to by Israel as part of the “indivisible Jerusalem.”

This ever-expanding idea of Jerusalem is also starting to filter outside of Israel as well. Recently, the New York Times ran a story referring to the settlement-colony of Har Homa as “a neighborhood on Jerusalem’s southern edge” despite the fact that it is closer to Bethlehem than to Jerusalem. These expansions – increasingly naturalized for even so-called leftist Israelis – are a huge impediment to any two-state vision.

As even the Europe Union now recognizes, current construction activity around the E-1 expansion of Ma’ale Adumim would make the creation of any Palestinian state – even one without Jerusalem – an impossibility, by cutting off the northern from the southern parts of the West Bank. Less well-covered, though perhaps even more problematic, are the Jewish-only neighborhoods being constructed throughout East Jerusalem.

The emerging policy consensus internationally – and certainly within Israel – is that Jerusalem will remain under sole Israeli control as part of any two-state solution. As I stated above in #2, this “consensus” alone is probably enough to scuttle any realistic possibility of achieving a two-state solution. But even if this understanding can somehow be forced upon Palestinian negotiators, the ever-expanding borders of Jerusalem make any establishment of a Palestinian state available. If these settlement-colonies are part of the “eternal Jewish capital of Jerusalem,” then we are no longer seriously talking about a two-state solution.

On the other hand, you also have several neighborhoods which – unlike Har Homa or Ma’ale Adumim – are within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but are completely cut off from the rest of the city by a 30-foot tall steel-reinforced concrete “separation barrier.” The 25,000 residents of Kufr Aqab, 20,000 residents of the Shuafat refugee camp, or 1500 of Sheikh Sa’ad are legal permanent residents of Jerusalem residing within the city’s municipal boundaries. Here, the “indivisible Jerusalem” has been quite literally divided, and its residents cut off from most basic municipal services. Moreover, because of surrounding Jewish settlement-colonies that Israeli conventional wisdom believes it will keep in a two-state solution, it is difficult to imagine any territorial contiguity with these areas will be achieved. So what do two-state supporters propose be done with these neighborhoods? Will they find ways of incorporating these long-neglected ares of the city? Will they forcibly expel these residents and ethnically cleanse the city? Or will they seek to maintain semi-permanent ghettos within their midsts forever?

Questions 1 through 3 are all about the borders imagines for a future Palestinian state. Anyone who cannot present a reasonable answer to the questions of where to draw the borders, what to do with Jerusalem, and where they consider Jerusalem to be is simply not talking about a serious proposal for ending the conflict. In the absence of clear proposals on these questions, expressing support for a two-state solution is absolutely meaningless. In effect, there is no difference between such meaningless expression for a two-state solution and expressing support for the current apartheid regime: both achieve the exact same ends.

Although perhaps the most obvious issue to consider, however, borders are not the only thing that supporters of the two-state solution must figure out if they want to present serious proposals for ending the Palestine-Israel conflict. Join us next time as we look at the more human factors. As we do so, we’ll also start to encounter more directly the sorts of issues that one-state supporters must address if we wish to present clear pathways towards ending the conflict.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s quixotic push to restart negotiations between Israel and the PA has yielded a flurry fo  articles about the two-state solution in recent weeks. Much of the writing seems to think that the primary problem to overcome is the current Israeli government.

To be sure, the current government is a great obstacle to achieving any sort of post-conflict resolution. Over one-third of the Kenesset now belongs to the pro-settlement-colony caucus, or at least it did before Netanyahu banned Likud MKs from participating. This includes large chunks of all of the largest parties in the government coalition, including several “centrist” MKs who profess to support a two-state solution in theory.

In addition, Likud-party Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Danon has recently been shooting his mouth off – which only means saying in public what everyone knows in private – about how this government will never, under any circumstances, approve of a two-state solution. Nor is it entirely clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees. The solution, according to countless liberal Zionist commentators in the U.S. and Israel alike, is to get new politicians in there to pursue a two-state solution. Tzipi Livni is the choice de jure for these folk, despite the fact that her own history of negotiations makes it doubtful that she is any more serious. But regardless, the idea  is to change the political class and return to the Oslo framework.

There are several problems with the common wisdom that it is the politicians standing in the way of justice, which we’ll explore in posts starting later this week. But for now, we have to get this one big misconception out of the way. The Israeli politicians in question accurately reflect the public opinion of Israeli Jews. A recent survey (Heb, good English summary here) from a settlement-colony University shows that 54% of Israelis do not consider settlement-colonies to be illegal (23% disagree), 52% of Israeli Jews consider settlements to be a part fo Zionism (26% disagree), 46% consider them a security feature protecting the rest of Israel (28% disagree).

In short: the politicians decrying the two-state solution and advocating for either the status quo or for a formalized apartheid system are not outside the mainstream of Jewish-Israeli public opinion. In other words, any sort of end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will require rather large shifts in the Jewish Israeli public sphere. Such shifts are possible, but they are incredibly difficult. And whether we are talking of a one-state or the viability of a two-state solution, this needs to be our starting point if we want to address reality.

The problem is not the politicians; they are broadly representative of the population who is allowed to vote. Unfortunately, the people who can vote is not the same thing as the people they rule over.


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.

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