Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The "Two State Solution" and the Question of Other Options

Crossposted at MyDD

Since the Oslo accords, the majority of American statespersons have adhered to a belief in a Two State Solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that may not be, and may never have been achievable.  Platforms of major Israeli political parties such as Labor and Kadima might indeed embrace the concept in name, but the current impasse may have less to do with disagreements regarding the final configuration of borders, the status of Jerusalem, and the questions of refugees and reparations than it does with a potentially irresolvable conflict over the institutional parameters of the future Palestinian state.  Israel is highly unlikely to accept a Palestinian state that is fully sovereign with regard to its military, water rights, and border control.  And setting aside competing narratives of how we arrived at this point, doing so would likely entail very real and enormous security risks to Israel’s population.  On the other hand, Palestinians will not accept anything less than a full state with regard to these functions, and it’s awfully hard to argue that they should.  Add to this the economic implications, and it becomes difficult to avoid seeing the outlines of the Two State Solution as deeply compromised, and a difference between what each side can and should accept as beyond compromise.  

If the implementation of the oft endorsed “two states for two peoples living side by side in security and peace” instead results in the formalization of a system wherein one community dominates another with regard to military and economic resources, the conditions of the conflict will simply be enshrined in law.  They will fester, and nothing will be solved.  And even if, on the other hand, Israel were to agree to full statehood for Palestinians, it would be deeply unrealistic to expect those Palestinians ascribing to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad platforms to allow a period of stability to erode their support.  Whatever hudna (ceasefire) they would agree to would only be acceptable as part of a staged struggle aimed at full liberation of Palestine and the creation of an Islamic Republic.  Whether such a republic would tolerate or eradicate Jewish inhabitants, both of which have been advocated by leaders of those movements, is not something that most Jews are open to testing.

My point here is that even if one adopts a view that removal of the occupation and cessation of appropriation of Palestinian lands is necessary for peaceful coexistence, a point with which I agree with wholeheartedly, I also remain unconvinced that these necessary moves are sufficient to establish a sustainable ethical and productive relationship between these two communities.  Furthermore, while I believe Jewish settlement of much of the land was accomplished through anti-ethical or insufficiently ethical means, I cannot accept the justice of instituting a Two State Solution wherein Jews are prevented from living as fully enfranchised citizens anywhere they establish themselves legally and with full respect for the rights and dignity of their non-Jewish neighbors.  Currently, the Two State Solution is often articulated as two hypothetical political entities, one for Jews that tolerates and fully enfranchises minority communities, and one that either legally or practically excludes Jews.  I have no sympathy for the Jewish settlers in Hebron, for instance, because of the framework through which they have imposed themselves there and given the way they hide behind the IDF while treating the Palestinians horribly.  On the other hand, I ultimately cannot accept the exclusion of Jews from Hebron and embrace the necessity of a framework that enables them to reside there peacefully and respectfully.

So if the Two State Solution has become, and perhaps always has been something of a proverbial red herring, we must look at other options.  In doing so we need to consider what might be accomplished in the short term, but also what promises sustainability.  These are not always the same thing and often stand in conflict.  Is there a way to achieve a secular democratic republic of a bi-national character?  My inclination is that there may be some middle ground.  Can we establish a confederated bi-national entity wherein the land is divided in such a way that Palestinians may live in Jewish administered areas as citizens of a Palestinian province and Jews may live in Palestinian administered areas as citizens of a Jewish province?  There would need to be a federal entity that coordinated between these two provinces and a constitution that recognized the “historic rights” of both populations and guaranteed their full enfranchisement regardless of demographic minority or majority status.  Even this seems more than a little utopian at this point.  

I invite here input that takes into account abstract principles of distributive (as opposed to retributive) justice and ethical government, but also the historical, material, and political factors that continue to inform this conflict, and to envision a solution that might be realistically implemented and sustained.  Let’s get out of the box.  Neither Jews nor Palestinians are going to abandon their commitments.  I endorse an immediate cease fire, international intervention to impose stability and provide humanitarian relief, and I believe that the question of war crimes should be investigated.  My question here is: What do we want to happen next?    


  1. Strummerson

    My availability to respond to comments and moderate discussion will be limited in the near future.  I am less concerned about the level of civility here than in the toxic MyDD environment.  Please consider crossposting your comments there as well to elevate the discussion.  We’ve had enough shouting matches.  They just don’t help.

  2. i wholeheartedly support a 2-state solution and don’t necessarily agree that it is a red herring.  i think that for the first time, ever, with the right players engaged (obama, livni, and abbas) a 2-state solution – and hopefully peace – could become a reality in the next 8 years.  i guess the point is though – that only currently 1 of the 3 players are a sure thing right now (obama).

  3. The reality is, as you say, that the two state solution has not yet yielded fruit, only rancour.

    Tony Judt wrote a brilliant piece about this a few years back: Israel: the Alternative where he makes some great points about a federated BINATIONAL state. Since the EU, to which Israel belongs (at least in terms of soccer and song contests) has gone to an increasingly borderless version of the nation state, with a transnational infrastructure, then perhaps this remains – albeit in the long term and far off – the ultimate solution for the populations of Palestine and Israel.

    I often draw analogies with Northern Ireland, and ultimately it was by vesting themselves in the over arching structures of the EU, both financially and politically, that the zero sum game of ‘a unified Ireland’ versus ‘the protestant majority in the North’ was ultimately overcome.

    This solution, of course, doesn’t completely answer the demands of either Palestinians or Israelis for a pure, unfettered and uncomplicated homeland, but perhaps such utopian expectations only breed dystopian realities, and some kind of post ethnic form of statehood is the realistic way out

  4. creamer

      The claim of Palestinians on ancestrial property seems to complicate any final resolution. And maybe it’s not important as I think but it seems Arab writers point to this.

     Before I posted this I see that Israel has declared a unilateral cease-fire. Think about that statement. One side has so much power they think they can declare a cease-fire without aknowledgement from the other side.

    It seems that kind of power has to be the one to take the biggest risk. Can they not afford to give the Palestinians much of what they want. Autonomy, much of the West Bank, take down or move the walls and barriers. Start to open trade with the Palestinian territories. It would seem they have to be the ones to offer the olive branch.

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