The Two State Solution Is Workable – or Maybe It Isn’t

The issue of a two state solution continues to loom large in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Quite a number of people, including me, think it is the only answer. But it still remains an abstraction and even though there are numerous documents and plans for instituting two states reducing those documents and plans to actual shovel-ready projects has remained elusive. Actually calling for a two state solution has become a “shibboleth”, a “cliché” that sounds good but is increasingly empty of content. I see two lines of argument emerging in this discussion. The first is that the two state solution is not workable and will disappear. The second is that the two state solution is the only answer and will continue to develop. Let’s take a closer look at each of these alternatives.

The two state solution is not workable

We begin by pointing out that this call for a two state solution has been droning on for years and nothing has happened. This in itself is pretty good evidence that it probably never will happen. Moreover, the Palestinian insistence on the right of return and continued problems over settlement development make the two state solution even less attractive. Both sides are going to have to pay a price for two state solution, and as of now neither seems to be lowering its asking price. Israelis insist on recognition and Palestinians continue to remain firm with respect to their demands pertaining to refugees and settlements. We might even ask whether or not it’s time to start talking about alternatives, according to this perspective, because no progress is evident on any of the issues that divide these two groups. The attempts by the Palestinians to have the UN declare a Palestinian state has been one response to this conundrum.

Others see the Israeli government as moving toward increasing radicalization and away from a peace process that would result in two states. The composition of the Netanyahu government is one example. This is an interesting divide in Israel because while the leadership in Israel has become more recalcitrant and radicalized, the general population has made significant movement toward acceptance of the Palestinians as neighbors. Additionally, as settlers plant their flags in East Jerusalem and the West Bank they intertwine their economies with the Palestinians and make a two state solution even more difficult. In sum, the facts on the ground created by both Israelis and Palestinians are not conducive to the two state solution.

The two state solution is workable

Here the argument changes course. It begins with the notion that even though progress is

slow the two cultures are intertwined and tied to each other in such a manner as to make two states inescapable. If one accepts this point then it’s a small leap to the conclusion that Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state of Israel is not so necessary. Two states can be developed in the interest of peace and democratic expressions, and “official” recognition of Israel as Jewish can come later. This might hold true for the issue of refugees also. The Palestinian claim that they will never give up the right of return might be mitigated when faced with the reality of their own state.

Then there are all the arguments pointing to a parade of horrors if the two state solution is not implemented. The two state solution, as the quarrel goes, must be implemented because the one state solution is so unacceptable and probably means the end of an Israeli majority. A one state solution with all of its conflicts about identity, national recognition, cultural preferences, and political complexities is so unacceptable that a two state solution is the only viable alternative.

Part of the founding narrative in Israel was that it had returned to its homeland which was a “land with no people.” This just simply was not true, and all of the arguments about who is at fault notwithstanding, there were people living in the land of Israel who were displaced and must be dealt with. The Palestinians are a people – even if many aspects of their political nationality have been recently constructed – and must wiggle out from under the weight of the Israeli presence. A state of their own is one solution to this problem.

The clarity and distinctiveness of the Jewish nature of the state is important in Israel. Of course, there are many future arguments and problems to be solved with respect to just how Israel expresses itself as a Jewish state and remains democratic. But from a philosophical level Israel is simply not Israel if it doesn’t devote itself to Jewish particularity (again, recognizing the difficulties with respect to the meaning of “particularity”). The only way for Israel to retain its Jewish nature is by ensuring that the Palestinians have a state of their own in order to allow its particularity to flourish.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on January 24, 2012, in Israel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Two State Solution Is Workable – or Maybe It Isn’t.

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