Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Two-State vs. the One-State Solution: An Exchange.

No serious observer doubts that a two-state settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is currently all but dead, thanks to the continuing Israeli occupation, repression, settler expansion, and creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. An increasing number of activists and academic specialists on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict regard this process as irreversible. Consequently, many now advocate a “one-state settlement,” meaning the creation of a binational democracy in all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, with equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity: the democratic republic of “Isratine,” as some have called it.

I have been very skeptical of both the feasibility and desirability of such a single binational state: I can’t imagine circumstances in which Israel will agree to it, I don’t think it is likely to be a democracy, and I think it is more likely to exacerbate the Jewish-Palestinian conflict than to end it. (I develop the argument at length in a forthcoming article in the journal Political Science Quarterly, entitled “Zionism, the Jewish State Issue, and an Israeli-Palestinian Settlement.”)

In the last few days I’ve had several email exchanges with three leading scholars of the conflict who believe that a one-state outcome is nearly inevitable--Steve Walt, John Mearsheimer, and Yousef Munayyer, the Palestinian-American scholar and activist who heads the Palestine Center in Washington. I think this debate will be of interest to many readers, so I have received permission from Steve, John, and Yousef to publish the most important parts of our email exchanges.

I began the exchanges by writing the following comment:

There is no serious doubt that the only reason that there hasn't been a two-state settlement along the well-understood lines has been Israeli intransigence--i.e. not that of the Palestinians, including Hamas.  It is probably true that the two-state settlement is all but dead because of that intransigence.   However, the argument that the one-state position must address is this: every factor that accounts for Israeli intransigence on a two-state solution makes a democratic one-state solution, with a probable Palestinian majority,  doubly hard to imagine.  And if, by some miracle, Israeli attitudes should somehow change, that would make a two-state settlement attainable long before it could make a one-state settlement possible.
       What, exactly, is the counterargument to this assessment?

Walt responded:

I believe the main argument would run like this: even if Israeli attitudes were to change in the next decade or so, the two populations are by now sufficiently intermingled that it would be impossible—as a practical matter--to disentangle them.  The Palestinians will eventually shift from demanding independent statehood to demanding political rights within Israel, which Israeli Jews will resist at first (and for awhile).  They will eventually be forced to accommodate these demands, however, because the alternatives (ethnic cleansing or permanent apartheid) will be untenable globally [emphasis added]. This doesn't make a one-state solution easy to implement at all, it just means that we'll end up with a not very functional single state.  

I'm not saying this WILL happen, only that this is the basic logic that those forecasting one state seem to have in mind.

I responded:

Perhaps.  On the other hand, "untenable globally" in this context seems to mean morally and politically untenable in the eyes of the international "community."   The problem is that the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians already has been morally and politically anathema  (untenable) for many years now, with not the slightest impact on Israel or the U.S., which is the only member of the international community that counts for anything in Israeli eyes.   
       So, if you are right that's the logic of the one-staters, they have a mighty thin reed to lean on.    For that reason, I still think the best strategy is serious pressure on Israel to agree to a two-state settlement---and, moreover, a two-state settlement is likely to be far more stable and less utopian than one state. 
      Put differently, sustained pressure on Israel is the only hope; as remote as the possibility that such U.S. pressures will materialize, the possibility that even serious and sustained pressures would force Israel to agree to anything resembling a one-state democracy with equal rights for the Palestinians is, for all practical purposes, unimaginable. 

Similarly, Munayyer has argued that if the Palestinians give up the chimera of the creation of an independent state in the occupied territories, Israel will be forced to agree to a binational state. In our exchange, he put it this way:

If the two state outcome is exposed for fantasy, and Palestinians en masse demand civil rights, it is hard to see a sustained, western objection. This will force Israeli decision makers to do the math; what costs them more power sharing or relinquishing the land? It is hard math to do, in part because the cost of power sharing is much harder to determine when new political realities will create a completely different political landscape from which coalitions are formed. Yet, with every passing day, the cost of relinquishing the land continues to increase.

Joining in these exchanges, Mearsheimer wrote the following:

I think the main problem with your argument is that there is no way the US is going to put serious pressure on Israel to accept a two-state solution. Obama tried and failed miserably; it wasn't even close.

I might add that to create a viable Palestinian state would require us to put enormous pressure on Israel, because we would have to reverse so many facts on the ground and because the hardliners are so powerful in Israel. In my opinion, there is no chance this is going to happen. We now have and will continue to have for the foreseeable future a Greater Israel.

And by the way, as time goes by, it will become even more difficult to move toward a two-state solution as the settlement enterprise will grow even larger.

On the one-state solution, I think there is no question that Israeli Jews will mightily resist democracy inside Greater Israel. That situation will cause all sorts of problems for the Israelis and give them powerful incentives to expel the Palestinians. I worry a lot about that outcome and hope that the Palestinians have the good sense not to play into Israel's hands.

You think there is a good chance that Greater Israel can maintain itself for the foreseeable future, even if it is not a democracy and is indeed an apartheid state. After all, they have been able to maintain the occupation all these years. You may be right; one does marvel at how Israel has been able to avoid serious sanctions for its past behavior toward the Palestinians.

Still, I think you are wrong. The world has changed and is changing in ways that will make it impossible over the long term to maintain an Israel that is an apartheid state, and here I am talking the next thirty or so years. Very briefly, here are my reasons.

1. Israel has benefitted greatly from the illusion that there will be a two-state solution; that will soon be over.

2. Greater Israel will be (is) an apartheid state and that will be hard to miss and very difficult to defend -- I would argue impossible over the long term.

3. The face of Israel is undergoing a fundamental transformation with the steady drift to the right, the growing racism, and the growing numbers of ultra-orthodox. That, coupled with apartheid, will make it hard for Israel to sell itself as a "Western society," as it has done so well in the past.

4. The internet makes it almost impossible to miss what is going on in Israel.

5. Israel’s “new historians” have made it clear what the Israelis have done and are doing to the Palestinians and that has generated a huge amount of sympathy for the Palestinians around the world. Israel in the past was very adept at selling itself as the victim. Now they look like brutal victimizers and the Palestinians look like the victims.

6. The lobby is powerful, but it now has to operate out in the open and engage in smash-mouth politics. That is not good; as Steve Rosen said, "A lobby is like a night flower; it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun."

7. The American Jewish community is hardly monolithic and it contains a substantial number of people who are deeply critical of Israeli behavior and willing to voice their opinions. I believe those numbers will grow over time; Peter Beinart is a harbinger of things to come.

8. The Holocaust is receding into history and it will become increasingly difficult for Israel and its supporters to invoke that horrific tragedy to provide Israel with cover.

9. Elites in the Arab and Islamic world are becoming more Westernized and are much better able to engage in politics in the West than they were in the past.

10. The Arab world is likely to become more democratic and more educated over time and that is likely to make countries in the Middle East more critical of Israel. This is what is now happening in Egypt.

11. There is an important precedent that many will point to so as to delegitimize Greater Israel and make the case for turning it into a real democracy: South Africa.

For all these reasons, I don't think it will be possible for Greater Israel to maintain itself as an apartheid state over the long term. Again, this is why I am fearful that Israel will pursue expulsion.  Of course, I may be wrong about all this, but I don't think so.”

I responded:

I don't think we disagree any of the most important facts; indeed, in some ways my views are bleaker than yours, at least in terms of their implications in the next few years.   As for what may occur over the next thirty years, who knows? My gut feeling is that the longer the occupation goes on, the more and more irreversible it will become.  
I also agree that in the current circumstances there is no possibility of serious U.S. pressure.  Still, my view is that the best strategy over the longer run is not to abandon the two-state idea but to work to change US immobilism and complicity with Israel on this issue. A very long shot, to be sure, but more imaginable to me than a one-state “solution.”
Regarding your specific points:
1. I'm not sure there are any knowledgable observers, or governments, that still have illusions about Israel's torpedoing of the two-state solution.  The dispelling of those illusions, however, hasn't stopped Israel from continuing on its present course.
2. For those interested in the obvious facts--to be sure, a very large caveat--Israeli behavior is already not merely very difficult but impossible to defend.  Yet, it not only continues, but worsens.  

3. I agree with your portrayal of what Israel is becoming, or already has become. I guess where I differ is my pessimism that Israel will be forced to change course simply because it will be increasingly difficult for it to sell itself as a “Western society.”
4. The internet has already had the effect—or should have had the effect-- of making it impossible to ignore what has happened to Israel. Query: can anyone think of any other long-standing and highly visible conflict in which incontrovertible facts have mattered so little?
5. The work of the new historians goes back at least thirty years, proving not merely that the Israelis look like brutal victimizers and the Palestinians look like victims--but that the perceptions are true.  But the beat goes on.
6. In light of recent events, hard to see how the lobby has been hurt much by its need to operate in the open--to the extent that it has, that is.
7. It’s very hard for me to be optimistic that the growing minority of American Jewish dissenters have had, or will have, much impact on the U.S. or Israeli policy-making process.   Maybe Peter Beinart is a harbinger of things to come.  On the other hand, maybe the behavior of Obama, Romney and the Congress is a greater harbinger of things to remain the same.

8. I agree that “it will become increasingly difficult for Israel and its supporters to invoke that horrific tragedy to provide Israel with cover.” However, that has long been obvious….

9 &10. It’s too soon to know if the pro-democratic and moderate Arab elites as well as public opinion will prevail. Recent events suggest that the possibility that the Arab spring may yet turn into another—if different--Arab winter.

11. I agree that the South Africa precedent is a powerful and hopeful one. Still, I’m less optimistic than you that Israel will see it that way: the general Israeli reaction has not been to recoil in horror at the face in the mirror and reach the obvious conclusions, but to retreat further into defiance and a perverse belief that they are the victims.

I would love to believe that Steve, John, and Yousef are right in their basic analysis: that the growing international (and some Jewish) horror at Israel's policies will force the Israelis to confront their behavior, which will lead to positive change.   I just don't see it that way--on the contrary, nearly all the trends in Israeli society are going in the opposite direction.  (For a powerful statement of how an Israeli Jewish liberal sees it, see this: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/the-final-moment-before-the-liberal-population-leaves-israel.premium-1.465231).    Should these trends continue, we'll soon be worrying about how civil rights/civil liberties/genuine democracy can be preserved for liberal Israeli Jews, let alone expanded to include the Palestinians.

I can't resist adding this observation:  It is really interesting--indeed, heartwarming--that the most optimistic assessments of how the Israelis might be forced to reevaluate their present catastrophic course seems to be coming from the non-Jewish observers: John, Steve, Yousef, and others. Perhaps my pessimism is partially explained by the fact that, as a Jew and liberal Zionist, I am outraged by Israel's betrayal (and the American Jewish cover-my-eyes-cover-my-ears-cover-my-nose-I-don't-want-to-know  complicity in that betrayal) of so much of what was  worthwhile in the Jewish tradition. I fervently hope that they are right, and we can yet be saved from ourselves.

In the meantime, let me reiterate my main point: the burden of proof is on those who see the one-state solution as inevitable and/or desirable: as I see it, every obstacle to the attainment of a two-state settlement makes a one-state settlement inconceivable.   How do one-state proponents propose to deal with all the obvious problems of feasibility and desirability?  And if the argument is that under certain assumptions in the long run these problems can be resolved, then why can't the obstacles to a two-state solution, under similar but not quite so daunting assumptions, also be resolved over the longer run?

Put differently, the necessary changes in the Israeli beliefs, attitudes and policies that would make possible a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would allow for the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state long before they would allow for the creation of the binational democracy of Isratine


Gene Schulman said...

I found this an extremely interesting and timely post, and am happy to see that others agree with my own views about a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. From the very beginning, and I am old enough to remember, I had wished that Israel's settlement in Palestine would result in one democratic state. Alas, the hard line Zionists won out, and we are now stuck with the result after sixty-five years.

I agree with many of your points about the difficulty of obtaining a one-state solution, but I think, given the facts that prevail it is all but inevitable that such a solution will be the outcome, whether the Israelis and/or Palestinians want it or not. Everything in that region depends almost entirely on US policies. So long as the US backs Israel, the status quo will prevail, and I believe the US will continue to back Israel, because Israel conforms to the US ideology of keeping the Middle East in turmoil. The US will continue to use Israel as its excuse to remain in the Middle East, but existential threats to Israel are not its primary reason for being there. The only way Israel will come to its senses is when the US comes to its senses and realizes that it, itself, is becoming a failed state. Its policies over the past decade or so are eating it up from within, and will take Israel along with it. It is when this comes to fruition that Israel will have no choice but to settle with its neighbors if it is to persist at all. Probably, by the time this happens, most Israelis will have long left the area for safer ground in the US or Europe. No one can predict how long this will take, but it is all but inevitable. An Israel Jewish state was a mistake from the beginning. It should have been created as a secular democracy for all the people living there. As many, including Albert Einstein, had wished.

I think Mearsheimer's assessment is probably closest to my own.

Gene Schulman said...

Albert Einstein, who also opposed the creation of a "Jewish state," 1939: “There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done us [in the western world], we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people…. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs.”

John said...

2 state solution dead because the 'facts on the ground' make that impossible? What were the facts on the ground in the mid-late 1940s. The facts then certainly changed, did they not?
Nothing is irreversible.
Can't change Israel except with US pressure which won't be forthcoming? Agreed, US pressure won't be forthcoming, but Israel/US can be changed with world-excl-US pressure, the US is less and less the only game in town, so the rest of the world should stop deferring to the US and act. How? I don't know, well, I don't have all the answers. John UK, where the seeds of the problem were first sown.

Jerome Slater said...

Agreed--in principle, nothing is irreversible. Unfortunately, however, there is absolutely nothing indicating that Israel will respond to any world pressure that doesn't include the U.S. Not boasting, I can assure you--merely reporting a sad fact of life.

Ran Greenstein said...

The basic problem in this entire exchange is the focus on statehood: the focus should be on rights, here and now, without prejudging what the final outcome would be. At the moment, the quest for statehood - whether one or two democratic states - is futile. It is huge misdirection of energies and political resources. The only thing that can possibly work is attempts to work on a point-by-point, step-by-step localized struggles to defend and promote rights wherever they are violated, and to enhance equality wherever it is breached: whether this is within the Green Line or beyond it, or both. Any other strategy would elevate states - and their oppressive institutions - and diplomacy on its built-in bias against popular participation - at the expense of the concerns and needs of ordinary people.

Jerome Slater said...

If I understand them correctly, you are not merely opposed to the Israeli state, but to states in general. In other words, you appear to favor anarchy---but only that form of anarchy that somehow guarantees that human rights and care for "the concerns and needs of ordinary people" will be observed.

Know of any examples?

Jerome Slater said...

That should have read, If I understand YOU (Ran Greenstein) correctly..

Ran Greenstein said...

No, the argument is not an anarchist one about the state in general, but specifically about the debate around the one-state versus two-state solutions in Israel/Palestine. At this point in time (and perhaps over the last decade at least), neither 'solution' is possible, and therefore the debate around them is a huge waste of time. It directs attention to futile diplomatic efforts (the two-state solution) or to noble but empty rhetoric (the one-state solution). The only thing that can possibly work is attention to the concrete daily needs of people: struggle against injustices such as blockage of free movement between villages and towns, against house demolitions, against the apartheid wall, against arbitrary arrests, and so on. It doesn't sound very grand and does not lead to or encourage lofty rhetoric, but it affects people on issues that matter directly and immediately. You need a longer-term political vision as well, but that should be a product of the concrete set-up that emerges from such daily struggles, rather than an abstract framework imposed from above. OSS/TSS debates have provided many opportunities over the last two decades for NGOs, academics and intellectuals to travel around, hold conferences and publish papers, but with zero impact on relations on the ground...

Paul Lookman said...

Ran Greenstein: you advocate a movement aimed at defending the political and civil rights of the Palestinians. Who, what institution would effect a change in attitude of the occupier who is so blatantly violating their rights, given that neither the US, nor Europe or the international community at large has been ready to lift a finger for decades? How do you envisage to break the vicious circle hampering any solution, whether one-state, two-states, or a “status-quo with rights,” to materialize?