“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” – Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks
On December 6th the House of Representatives passed a resolution that endorsed a “two-state solution” as the only outcome capable of ensuring Israel’s “survival as a Jewish and democratic state,” and “discouraged” the unilateral Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory. Liberal Zionists applauded the measure as a powerful rebuke to Netanyahu, Trump, and their allies. Dubbing it a “landmark resolution,” J Street declared that, “Coming at the end of a week in which President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly discussed potential Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, this vote sends a clear message that Congress strongly opposes such efforts to undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Bucking the tide of liberal Zionist euphoria, the “Squad,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley, broke with the Democratic mainstream and voted against the measure, emphasizing that the resolution had been denuded of references to Israel’s illegal occupation and that it gratuitously proclaimed an “iron clad commitment” by the U.S. to provide massive and unconditional military aid to Israel.
Yet only Rep.Tlaib had the temerity to call out (and then only in passing) the simple and glaring reality: that the two-state formula has long since become “an unrealistic, unattainable solution … that Israel has already made impossible … ”
For most liberal-Zionists the “two-state solution” remains the one-and-only righteous and realistic way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet this discourse has long ignored the awkward fact that, far from representing a “realistic” alternative, the two-state solution is nothing more than a zombie that continues to roil the present from beyond the grave.
Reports of the two-state solution’s demise, imminent or actual, have been arriving with increasing frequency for the past 35 years. In 1983 Israeli journalist Amos Elon wrote that, “for all practical purposes [the West Bank and Gaza] have already been annexed to the State of Israel, perhaps irrevocably;” and Meron Benvenisti, then deputy mayor of Jerusalem and director of the West Bank Data Base Project, asserted that Zionist colonization had become so widespread that the occupation was “irreversible.” Around the same time, Peace Now soberly warned that the settlement of 100,000 Jews on the West Bank would soon result in de facto, if not de jure, annexation. (By 2018 the number of West Bank settlers far exceeded 400,000; currently, one out of every eleven Israeli Jews lives in territory occupied in 1967.)
In 2016, Padraig O’Malley, a peace activist with long experience promoting dialogue and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and South Africa, published a magisterial (and despairing) analysis, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine, arguing that the facts on the ground, the political realities, and the psychology of the interested parties had long-since made the two-state solution “not just delusional but simply irrelevant.”
And now comes a slimmer and more focused volume, Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian S. Lustick, which says Kaddish for the two-state solution and calls for a new paradigm and a new politics based on a One-State Reality.
A long-time advocate of the two-state solution, who considers the failure to realize it “a great historical and political tragedy,” Lustick doesn’t reject the solution in principle. Rather, and like Jeff Halper, he has simply come to realize that the two-state solution is no longer “in the cards.” Why? Because Israel’s policy has been “to systematically, belittle, discredit, or ignore Arab peace initiatives;” to produce irrevocable facts on the ground; and to foster an Israeli-Jewish mental template; which make territorial compromise impossible.
“For better or worse,” asserts Lustick, there currently exists a “One-State Reality” in Palestine, extending from the river to the sea. In this “apparatus of power,” Israel
collects taxes from West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and determines who enters and leaves those areas, who enjoys rights to property, and who can live, build, or even visit where. … [M]ost Israeli maps feature no divisions between the sea and the river other than administrative boundaries of districts and regions … [and] all mail that enters or leaves the West Bank and Gaza does so via Israel.
The dangerous refusal “to acknowledge that the warning of a one state reality has already come true” has multiple explanations, which Lustick discusses only briefly. Defenders of the two-state solution who realize the untenability of the status quo, fear the “demographic threat” of Palestinian population growth and/or have resigned themselves to some species of Palestinian self-determination, cling to the mantra of “preserving” a “Jewish and democratic” state inside the Green Line- a refrain, Lustick observes, that has “always meant a polity controlled by Jews and for Jews … ”
Members of the Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, possess a powerful vested interest in paying lip-service to the two-state solution in order to perpetuate what remains of their aura of progressive nationalism, maintain the fig-leaf of their legitimacy and, incidentally, permit them to preserve jobs and material wealth.
For others, fealty to the two-state solution, simply amounts to a rejection of, or an inability to imagine, a one-state alternative. Yet as Lustick points out,
neither God nor history guarantees that the Israeli-Palestinian problem has a ‘solution.’ It is illogical to argue, as two-state advocates now commonly do, that since there is no one-state solution, there must be a two-state solution.
The current One-State Reality, writes Lustick, is obviously not a “solution.” It is an “outcome.” For good or ill it is a starting point, the only realistic starting-point for a consideration of the only relevant question, “What Is To Be Done?” Clinging to “the mirage of the two-state solution,” he writes, “prevents those who favor a democratic future from working effectively to bring [it] about, while abetting those who favor nondemocratic outcomes…. ” Viewing the situation through the lens of a one-state paradigm, however, promotes
analysis and action on specific opportunities to advance equality and lessen or end discrimination, which means not opposing annexation per se but rather shaping it. It means treating Arabs and Jews as having equal political rights regardless of where, in relation to the Green Line, they live.
In important ways, Lustick’s perspective corresponds with that of the BDS movement which, as Leila Farsakh pointed out years ago, calls for
a paradigm shift in thinking about the conflict from being composed of two national groups seeking territorial separation to being a single colonial structure that can best be dismantled by creating a democratic state for all of its citizens. In other words, it is a struggle for equal rights for all, Israelis and Palestinians, not statehood per se.
But Lustick is explicitly gradualist (“The pace of change,” he writes, “is likely to be slow [and] will [only] accelerate as both Arabs and Jews realize that neither will be able to ignore the other”); he challenges- rightly in my view- BDS’ opposition to “normalization” (he calls for “Palestinian-Jewish alliances”); and he encourages Palestinians of East Jerusalem to end their boycott and actively participate in the political life of the metropolis.
Above all, Lustick’s willingness to regard Israeli annexations with equanimity remains a controversial posture. As “events march undeniably toward substantive annexation,” he argues, the new politics “will make strange bedfellows” as “Jewish progressives who accept the One-State Reality will find allies among settlers and Jewish maximalists.”
Whether the transformed power dynamics created by an acceptance of the One-State Reality will ultimately produce a “solution” that promotes peace, justice and reconciliation, remains an open question. The great value of Lustick’s Paradigm Lost, however, is its insistence that we jettison the illusions and cant surrounding the ritual invocations of the two-state solution and honestly acknowledge and accept where we are now.
It’s an admirable injunction. One can only hope that, in Gramsci’s language, the “interregnum” will not be prolonged and the “morbid symptoms” accompanying it will not prove deadly.