December 12, 2012
There are three subjects that Jews in my social circle never tire of: food, movies and the two-state solution.
Consider me officially tired of the third.
I began promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long before it was popular. In 1986, when I helped organize a rally in Beverly Hills calling for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians, no mainstream Jewish organization would have anything to do with us, and Jewish “patriots” shouted us down and disrupted the event.
I believed then — and still believe — that establishing two states is the best, most just way to resolve the conflicting claims two peoples have over a single piece of real estate.
I believed then — and still believe — that for Israel to annex or incorporate a massive Palestinian Arab population into its body politic would result in apartheid, an endless civil war or the end of a democratic Jewish state.
I believed then — and still believe — that if all sides wanted to achieve such a solution, they could do so in a week. In fact, in the years since that rally, a Middle East peace-industrial complex has arisen with so many agreements, plans, meetings, charts, understandings, negotiators, books and commentators that it now forms a kind of nation-within-two-nations.
The problem isn’t that my beliefs are wrong. The problem is reality.
Reality No. 1 is Hamas. Hamas controls Gaza. And, as its leader Khaled Meshal made clear earlier this week in his first visit there, it seeks the destruction of Israel.
“Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he told a massive rally of enthusiastic supporters on Dec. 7.
“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”
Maybe one day Israel will be able to negotiate with Hamas — but that day will come only when Hamas’ leaders, like the generation of intransigent secular Palestinian leaders before them, recognize that there is no other choice. In the meantime, there can be no “two-state solution” when there are two Palestinian entities, one sworn to Israel’s destruction. Last time I checked, 1 + 2 = 3.
Reality No. 2 is Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA). After going to the United Nations on Nov. 29 to successfully upgrade the Palestinian status to a nonmember observer state, Abbas could have then turned to Israel and asked for a resumption of negotiations without preconditions. He could have denounced Meshal’s speech. But he did neither of those things.
Instead, as analyst Douglas Bloomfield wrote, Abbas “renewed his demand for a total construction freeze beyond the 1967 lines, including East Jerusalem, and added a new one, resumption of talks on the 2008 [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert proposal that he initially rejected. He knows both are nonstarters.”
Reality No. 3 is Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not predisposed to taking great risks for a two-state solution, which it’s not clear in any case he really wants or believes in. Many of his coalition partners reject it out of hand, and his foreign minister, Avigdor
Reality No. 4 is the Arab Awakening, which has thrown Israel’s neighborhood into a lasting turmoil. Syria is on the cusp of even greater change, and the Jordanian monarchy, hiding in the corner like a kid hoping to avoid the teacher’s wrath, is bound to experience its own Tahrir Square.
These realities make a two-state solution as unlikely as a Romney 2016 bumper sticker.
So, as much as I believe in a two-state solution and would like to see it happen in the context of a regional peace, it just won’t.
But that splash of cold water doesn’t rinse away the underlying facts that make a separation between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza so important.
So I’ve moved on from what I think should happen to what I think will happen. And that is not a two-state solution but two-state attrition.
Israel, the dominant player, will resist ceding chunks of the West Bank to the Palestinians until it absolutely has to, when concerns over demography, democracy or international pressure become insurmountable. At that point it will pull back, adjust its security border and go on with its life. A Palestinian entity will fill the void, either the PA alone, the PA in cooperation with Hamas, or, worst-case scenario, a Hamas that has overtaken a weakened PA leadership.
Eventually, Israel will have given up the minimum amount of land and population it has to — including in Jerusalem — and the Palestinians will have established a state with the largest amount of land and people they can get.
The security fence, begun in 2003, was the first stage of the two-state attrition, and its success has proven the concept. Unilateral actions by all sides will arc toward a status-quo solution whose end effect will be Israel and at least one Palestine. It will be a less-than-ideal outcome determined by attrition, indecision, outside events and internal conflicts. There will be no signings on the White House lawn.
The optimist in me wants to believe that years after this dragged out mess, the two (or three) sides will eventually seek cooperation and negotiation. But I won’t hold my breath.
We’re all tired of holding our breath.