Mondoweiss / September 1, 2021
Last week Foreign Affairs released a survey of expert opinion on whether a [so-called] two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine future is still viable. The magazine got 64 short answers and they reveal a remarkable trend:
The conviction that the two-state solution is viable is chiefly held by Israel advocates. Palestinian and Arab experts and Realists doubt that a Palestinian state can ever emerge.
Just as revealing: The view on the part of Israel-supporters that a Palestinian state is a viable option is often stated as a matter of hope and faith and not tied to facts. We just need better leaders, is one theme. If we don’t get a two-state solution it’s “the end of Zionism” (says Israeli Joshua Krasna). And even, Why are you daring to ask this question!
As Martin Indyk summarizes in a tweet, “Most Palestinian and Arab experts agree the two-state solution is not viable; most American and Israeli experts aren’t yet ready to give it up. That’s probably because without it they all know Israel is doomed but Palestine maybe not.”
But let me quote some of the responses. The experts were asked whether they agree, and how strongly, with the statement, “The two state solution is no longer viable.”
Palestinians Diana Buttu, Zaha Hassan, Youssef Munayyer, Nadia Abu el-Haj, and Haidar Eid among others all strongly agreed with the proposition.
Hassan’s answer speaks for many. Notice how much she describes actual facts/trends rather than offering a prescription:
“The two-state solution––and any negotiated political solution between Israelis and Palestinians based on international legitimacy––has become impracticable. There is no political constituency in Israel to support either meaningful Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem or enfranchisement in the state of Israel. Most Israelis are fine with a continuation of the status quo or formal annexation of the occupied territories. Israel’s Jewishness is valued more than democratic governance and equal rights. U.S. policy, which has operated to guarantee that Israel would be shielded from the consequences of its actions that violate international law, has facilitated the current sense of impunity among Israeli officials. There is no sign that U.S. policy will change appreciably in the next four years. The Israeli-Palestinian “conflict” has now morphed into a struggle for freedom and equal rights for all living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”
Now let’s move on to the main story: The extent to which the Israel lobby is clinging to the two-state solution as a doctrine or article-of-faith that must withstand a lot of facts on the ground.
Just about all the experts at Israeli institutions and the Israel lobby thinktank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said they disagreed. But they did so as a matter of hope. Sarah Feuer of WINEP expressed the ideology:
“The two-state solution is not currently viable, but as a framework it probably remains the most useful option for an ultimate resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Dennis Ross’s answer was also explicitly hope-based– opposed to the facts:
“I don’t have great confidence that it is still viable. But with two national movements and identities competing for the same space, there is no good alternative. In the Middle East, wherever there is more than one national, sectarian, or tribal identity, that state is either in conflict or paralyzed, and that is not the future we should hope for—for Israelis or Palestinians.”
Robert Satloff of WINEP was angry the question was being asked in a legitimate forum:
“I am very disappointed that Foreign Affairs is asking this question, which can only contribute to misinformation on an issue that is ultimately all about leadership.”
Indyk was also prescriptive not descriptive:
“[T]he parties are not ready to pursue the two-state solution at the moment. There needs to be a ripening process that generates new leaders, a new willingness to take risks, and renewed efforts to rebuild trust in the intentions of the other side.”
Aaron David Miller also expressed an opinion about an imagined future rather than an observation about the reality:
“No human can divine the future. However grim the prospects for two states appear now—slim to none—it’s the sine qua non to a conflict-ending solution… Israelis and Palestinians have a proximity problem that tethers them together. For the foreseeable future, they’ll remain trapped by a two-state solution impossible to implement on the one hand but too important to abandon on the other.”
Indyk is clearly correct in his tweeted insight: Israel is doomed, as a so-called Jewish democracy — without a two state solution; so the Israel advocates can’t say it’s not viable.
Those who agreed with the proposition include several Realists and Palestinians: Hussein Ibish, Khaled Elgindy, Marc Lynch, Marwan Muasher, Sarah Leah Whitson, Rex Brynen of McGill, Amahl Bishara, Leila Farsakh, Ali Jarbawi, Alia Brahimi, Michael Young of Carnegie, Steven Cook, Michele Dunne, et al.
Again I’d point out that those who agreed with the proposition offered political observations not hopes. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit:
“Consecutive Israeli governments’ acts in the West Bank and Jerusalem make the realization of the two-state solution rather impossible. To realize this solution, pressure on Israel by the international community is needed. However, the international community limits its involvement to managing the conflict, not pushing to solve it.”
Michele Dunne of Carnegie– more hard facts:
“While there are many political and economic obstacles to a two-state solution, the presence of more than 200 Israeli settlements, distributed throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem and inhabited by some 700,000 Israelis, has made the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible.”
Rex Brynen at McGill:
“[T]here is no current horizon for [a partition], given Israeli politics and attitudes and Palestinian leadership and divisions. While this could change, at the moment it is hard to see how or why it would.”
Brynen and four other experts tell Foreign Affairs that it’s an “apartheid” situation. No wonder Satloff doesn’t want this discussion to happen.
Let’s reflect on the importance of the Foreign Affairs survey. The two-state solution is a mantra inside the Democratic Party and the liberal Establishment, thanks to the strength of the Israel lobby in those venues. So daring to ask this verboten question is itself a breakthrough, as Satloff indicates in his anger. More, Foreign Affairs is giving a platform to many Palestinians who are routinely excluded from this discussion.
The survey exposes that the basis of belief in a two-state solution is… magical thinking. Some day Israelis won’t choose a rightwing leader! Some day the U.S. will actually bring some pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories!
And let’s be clear: The Israeli Prime Minister just affirmed to the New York Times there will never be a Palestinian state on his watch.
(It was for that reason — let’s abandon magical thinking — that Carnegie Endowment, which is heavily represented in the experts here, recognized in a report this year that the two state solution is not likely to happen and international bodies should start enforcing human rights laws in Israel/Palestine rather than putting energy into a peace process.)
There are a lot of other expert opinions at Foreign Affairs (including more neutral assessments by Nadia Hijab, Khalil Shikaki and Mairav Zonszein).
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006