One finds it difficult to argue with Stephen Walt’s compelling argument in justifying listing the elusive Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution as “a unicorn” and dubbing whoever still believes in it as “something of a crackpot”. In his words, that argument went as follows: “I have concluded that it simply is not going to happen”.
Others, like the former Israeli national security advisor, Gen. (Ret.) Giora Eiland, who shares that view, took the trouble of enhancing the argument by (mis)quoting Albert Einstein, to the effect that trying the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result qualifies as irrational behavior. To them, having tried the two-state solution for 23 years now – since the 1993 Oslo Accords – and failed can only mean one thing: if it has not happened – it never will. By that logic, the objective was wrong, not the means employed in its pursuit.
Well, I doubt that Einstein would have endorsed this interpretation of his words of wisdom. For by the same Walt-Eiland logic, the State of Israel should not have been born in 1948 and the fathers of the Jewish state were a bunch of crackpots for not having dumped the idea by 1920 – 23 years after the first Zionist Congress.
The Walt-Eiland school of thought might dismiss the comparison by pointing out that by 1920, the early Zionists must have taken courage in the growing international support for the cause of a Jewish state, not the least as encapsulated in the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Such progress, they might argue, justified perseverance.
In so doing they will ignore present day’s international and regional equivalents: an almost universal support for the two-state idea in the international community, and more important — at least for us Israelis, who for decades experienced the belligerent consequences of Arab rejectionism: the Arab environment too has changed, and in quite dramatic ways.
Some 16 years ago, the same Arab League that for decades rejected Israel’s right to exist (in line with its 1967 Khartoum Resolution with its infamous “Three Nos”: no recognition, no negotiations, and no peace with Israel), reversed its position in what is known as the Arab Peace Initiative (API). It promised Israel recognition, full normalization and peace, should it accommodate Palestinian aspirations for independence. If that dramatic change did not suffice as evidence of progress, the same resolution was embraced by the Islamic Conference, making it the position of all 57 member states.
Since then, some of these states have fallen victim to the turmoil which began with the ‘Arab Spring’. Others (like Iran) are as rejectionist as ever. Nonetheless, over the past few years, the leading Arab survivors of that chaos, have not only annually reiterated the viability of the API, but repeatedly conveyed to Israel — both privately and in public — a readiness to discuss Israeli reservations to it once two conditions are met: Israel demonstrates the sincerity of its stated commitment to a two-state solution (i.e, by halting settlement expansion) and expresses its willingness to conduct negotiations on the basis of the thus revised/updated API.
As one of those crackpots who are convinced of the inevitability of the two-state solution, I would like to suggest why. While I plead “guilty” to the romantic notion that Palestinians have an equal right to self-determination as we Zionists do, that idea alone – however justified, morally and otherwise potent — hardly turns a unicorn into an inevitability. Indeed, my conclusion is based on a very different and quite pessimistic premise: Israelis and Palestinians will not live in peace under one roof; we shall bleed each other to separation.
In making that point I will focus only on us, Israelis: we shall never voluntarily accept to be a minority in our country. Even if I were to accommodate fictitious demographic statistics produced by Israelis hostile to the two-state idea, whose ‘data’ envisions a permanent Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, still, we’ll never agree to be but a slim majority. Many Israelis find it difficult to accept as equals our 17% Arab minority. They and the far more liberals alike, will fight tooth and nail any attempt to grant equal rights to a minority more than double that size. That fight, to preserve Israel’s Jewish character, will clarify to many who presently see no point in parting with the Palestinians, the consequences of their position. Indeed, to appreciate how incomprehensible the idea is to the very people who reject separation, one needs only to ask them to visualize the possibility that once millions of Palestinians are granted Israeli citizenship, an Arab party comes second in an Israeli election and there is no way to form a coalition government without entrusting it with the budget, defense, or education portfolios…
As Palestinians can hardly be expected to passively accept a permanent deprivation of independence in a two-state solution, or of equal rights in a one state reality, a prolonged tranquility under such conditions seems highly unlikely. And sooner or later the Palestinians may have the international community making their case for them, and in quite forceful ways. The despicable BDS offers but a taste of that possibility.
To his credit, Walt lives at peace with the apparent contradiction between his conclusion that the two-state idea has expired, and his calling upon “the United States…[to] push… hard for Palestinian and Israeli security and for both peoples to have full political and legal rights”. In spelling out what security for both peoples mean, and what is entailed in “full political and legal rights” the majority of retired Israeli generals and their Mossad, Shin Bet, and police equivalents – who are united in Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) — recently presented Prime Minister Netanyahu, his coalition partners and the Israeli general public with a detailed plan for enhancing security in the short run, while securing the two-state option for the moment when leadership on both sides is willing and able to make the tough decisions required.
Their “Security First” plan is featured at TwoStateSecurity.org — a dedicated website of the Israel Policy Forum which is CIS’ American partner. It is premised on the conclusion of those over 250 senior security experts, whose cumulative experience exceeds 6500 years of service, that Israel’s future as a Jewish-democratic state can only be secured in a negotiated two-state reality.
Consequently, the role of leadership — Israeli, Palestinian and all others’ who wish us well — is not to secure the inevitable two-state solution, but to get us there before the bloodbath which will ensue once the illusion of the status quo goes up in smoke once again.