Two States or Bust!

Twenty years later, the two-state solution must be reviewed, not abandoned


Reminders of why a two-state solution is the only workable answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aren’t difficult to find, and events this weekend provided yet another stark example. Israeli Air Force sergeant Tomer Hazan, lured into a cab by a Palestinian co-worker, was kidnapped and murdered in an open field. Confessing to Israeli officials, the perpetrator Nidal Amar hoped to use Hazan’s corpse as leverage to free his brother, who has been serving a prison sentence in Israel since 2003 for his role in planning a number of terrorist attacks.

Although the Shin Bet has yet to release all the information related to the tragedy – including Hazan’s motivation to enter the cab – it is another gruesome episode on the eve of renewed peace talks between the two parties.

For Israelis, this incident only serves to reinforce a common conviction in the two-state solution, the security fence (or separation wall, barrier, etc.), and a growing desire to reduce future interactions between the two populations. However, advocates to disband the two-state solution persist, and although there have been a number of rebuttals to Professor Ian Lustick’s recent New York Times column, “Two State Illusion,” I felt it appropriate after Sergeant Hazan’s passing to contribute a few thoughts.

For those who are less familiar with Professor Lustick, a little background:

Professor Lustick has been a fixture at the University of Pennsylvania for over two decades, writing prolifically on comparative politics and identity politics. He has penned numerous essays on the affairs of the Middle East, Israel and Palestine in particular, and founded the Association for Israel Studies.

In 1980, Professor Lustick worked in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research while Israel and Egypt, after signing their historic treaty on the White House lawn, continued Palestinian “autonomy negotiations”. Though it was obvious to Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, who were so exhausted after painstaking peace talks that they kicked the issue of Palestinian autonomy down the road for later governments, thirty-three years onwards Lustick is clearly still miffed that he wasn’t first consulted. He even suggests in his article that the U.S. should have strong armed the Begin government on its West Bank policies, and altered the course of history – vaulting Shimon Peres into the premier’s chair in 1981 and staving off the First Intifada.

Naturally I disagree with Lustick’s interpretation of America’s influence over Israeli politics, and I imagine that Professor Lustick was prepared for the inevitable backlash to his piece. It is impossible to write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without getting your head bitten off, especially if the NYT grants you four times the space allotted to Vladimir Putin to state your case – one cannot help but be a little envious. Shmuel Rosner challenged Lustick‘s notion that Israel has entered a post-Zionist era with strong statistical evidence, and later highlighted the differences between the Israeli-Palestinian model and other ethnic conflicts in the last century. In a fantastic Tablet magazine piece, David Mikics outlined the history of the bi-national state theory and why it failed. And most recently, Bernard Avishai brilliantly paralleled the future of the conflict with the unique case of Quebec in the mid-19th century, asking the essential question:

“How do you reconcile the fierce desire for national distinction—and the fear of national extinction—with civil rights for all?”

Not that Bernard Avishai advocates for divorce. In fact, he argues that a successful future requires Israel and Palestine to develop “along confederal lines,” cooperating on a myriad of financial, political, and security issues. A divorce scenario is impossible –  the conflict can only be resolved through constant dialogue.

This question is, of course, ignored by Lustick. He naively – and without any supporting evidence – believes that Palestinians and Israelis would abandon their nationalist aspirations for the sake of some hybrid state. Someone with such vast experience should know better. Does he truly believe that the region would be better off with another failed state where, a la Syria, ethnic sects duel for political dominance? How would that reduce the cyclical narrative of violence and retribution so central to the perpetuation of ethnic grievances?

The path chartered twenty years ago in Oslo has lost its meaning for some, but it was the first time in which Israelis and Palestinians agreed upon a global stage. To undo this first step, which has admittedly been followed by moments of progress and failure, would be cheapening the concessions of both sides and returning the conflict to its primal roots. What Lustick proposes is defeatist, cowardly, and dangerous.

Some will use Tomer Hazan’s death as an opportunity to advocate for a complete divorce from the Palestinians and the peace process (see Avigdor Liberman); if not for the 35,000+ Palestinians permitted to work in Israel, perhaps acts of terror would cease altogether (Palestinians would make a similar claim about the presence of Israeli settlements). Instead, it should be a solemn reminder of the cost both Israelis and Palestinians will pay if they lack the resolve to recommit to the two-state solution. Lustick suggests that it is time for American diplomats to disengage from “an idea whose time is now past.” I contend that it is time to start talking about what that idea means today before the arrival of such a grisly possibility.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel