Current Thinking about Israel and the Two-State solution

Two-state solution

Most people who are considered “rational” resonate with the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In other words, there seems to be something coherent and right about both sides having their own state including cultural, religious, artistic, historical, and political traditions that define the nature of the state. In this nice rational world the two sides have clear borders and tolerate one another even if it means little more than going about their business. They would share business interests to each others mutual benefit and perhaps one day even find themselves in a certain amount of cultural convergence – just enough to appreciate the other side.

I continue to support and argue to keep the two-state solution alive. There are a variety of reasons for this but most important is the maintenance of Israel as a “Jewish” and “democratic” state, not to mention what would be an act of justice for the Palestinians. There is just no way Israel can maintain its democratic traditions and its Jewish identity if it has to oversee an angry and disenfranchised ethnopolitical group. The conflict with Palestinians has been damaging to Judaism as well as Zionism. And, it has been damaging to the Palestinians. Again there are many arguments about the history and nature of Palestinian identity and national culture but what matters most is the future and the reality of Palestinian national consciousness. A national consciousness that is inevitable.

A binational (one state for two nationalities) solution is a nonstarter and barely justifies consideration. It is opposed by the majority of Israelis and even plenty of Palestinians. In fact, it would be counterproductive with respect to the goal of securing a Jewish and democratic state living in peace. The two-state solution is the only path to avoiding a binational state. If handled correctly it could result in the dignity and cultural development of both groups allowing each to flourish. But alas settlers and Netanyahu are infuriatingly intent on preventing a Palestinian state.

The current thinking

Among many who see the demise of the two-state solution, along with the right wing who reject the two-state solution, the current thinking is summed up in the phrase “manage the conflict.” In other words, leave things just as they are. There will be no binational state and no state for the Palestinians. Things will stay just as they are and occasional tension and even violence is just the price you pay for normal political reality. “Managing the conflict” makes two foundational arguments.

The first is that Israel is doing just fine. It is a wealthy and prosperous country with a rich economy and a per capita income about 15 times the Palestinians. Israel maintains a strong relationship with the United States – Netanyahu’s insults to Obama notwithstanding – and continues to collect about 4 billion a year in foreign aid. Israel is a world leader in research, high-technology, and medicine. Typically, you hear the argument that these successes will not be improved by the creation of a Palestinian state.

The second point concerns the conscious settlement and geographical control of the West Bank. The Netanyahu government continues to support settlement expansion (under the guise of “natural” expansion) and the annexation of certain areas. This includes a recent announcement that about 100,000 Jews will be settled in the Golan Heights taking advantage of Syria’s inability to respond because of its civil war. Palestinians in areas A and B will not be citizens or have voting rights in Israel itself thus making employment difficult and increasing the possibilities for immigration. Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, therefore, see no need for a Palestinian state. Just “manage the conflict” and issues will settle themselves over time.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on February 16, 2016, in Israel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I assume that you do not accept the arguments offered in support of the “Managing the Conflict” position. Since I agree that this view is morally bankrupt and a thin veil for continued violence against Palestinians, I would be interested to see your rebuttals to these two arguments.

  2. This is a clear and cogent analysis so far as it goes. It leads to questions worth discussing. Isn’t “managing the conflict” a likely strategy for buying time to evolve a single Israeli state, i.e., one state sans Palestinians? Is democracy inherently incapable of engaging constructively the perspectives of two nations within one state? Are the two nations each univocal? Is there a possibility of confederation of one kind or another between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state? Is the two state option really only a lovely fantasy, or is realpolitik itself subject to transformation?

  3. Well, yes, managing conflict is designed to maintain a single state. But a single state with the Palestinian minority is not sustainable. That’s why managing the conflict is ultimately not going to succeed. It is possible for democracy to engage constructively the two groups within one state, but not if one of the state must be a “Jewish” state. It is impossible for two groups to engage democratically when one group is privileged. By privileged I only mean a state defined by a particular group identity. Jewish history, immigration to Israel, and the Zionist’s goals make no sense if the state is not at least in some sense Jewish. The only way for Israel to be both democratic and Jewish is to have as consistent and coherent population as possible. The two state solution is not a fantasy but has many barriers to overcome.

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