The discourse of a two-state solution is cracking, even for liberal Zionists

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  February 7, 2023

Finally an honest discussion of the one-state reality by a liberal Zionist group

One positive result of Israel’s violently rightward shift is that the U.S. discourse of the two-state solution appears to be cracking at last.

The Biden administration was repeatedly questioned about the illusion of a Palestinian state by incredulous reporters during secretary of state Antony Blinken’s visit last week to the region. “Palestinians are increasingly disillusioned with the two-state solution.  Many have given up on it, convinced that Israel will never let it happen, yet you continue to advocate it,” Tracy Wilkinson of the LA Times said in Jerusalem.

While a group of Arab-American influencers who met with Blinken ahead of the trip said that the U.S. policy of embracing Israel has destroyed the hope of Palestinian sovereignty. “The two-state solution is no longer possible and US silence in the face of Israeli actions makes it clear that we will not defend Palestinian rights or respect their humanity,” James Zogby reports.

Now even liberal Zionists are beginning to accept that there is just one state between the river and the sea. “Establishment voices like former Ambassador Martin Indyk, who served as Obama’s Middle East envoy… acknowledge that a one-state reality has set in,” says Vox in a surprisingly honest take by Jonathan Guyer.

Last week, a liberal Zionist group called J Space Canada hosted Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland to offer what the group called “a perspective we oftentimes don’t hear.” Telhami then tore apart the claim of a two-state solution, describing it as a “smokescreen” for 55 years of military oppression, and challenged Jews with the thought, “How many of us would be proud of [our children]… if they did not resist their humiliation?”

Amazingly, Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum, a two-state organization, did not disagree with Telhami’s diagnosis of the problem. “There’s no question that Israelis and Palestinians are living in a one-state reality,” Koplow said.

Even more amazing, the two experts were then asked by their host, Maytal Kowalski, “What needs to happen to make one state palatable?” Here they differed, with Koplow explaining that one democratic state will never be palatable to Jewish Israelis.

Let’s listen to what they said about the “state of two states.”

First, here is Telhami’s deconstruction of the two-state discourse, based on the reality of 55 years of military domination.

This is a time of soul searching for everyone who cares about the issue… This is a moment that is very painful. The developments in Israel are really troubling for everyone there and here.

My worry always has been that the focus on two states, which is not anything that is possible in any foreseeable future, it’s merely a theoretical possibility, with no one able to provide a serious path to get there in any foreseeable future– that that simply serves as a smokescreen for covering up an intolerable reality on the ground every day of the week. When I hear the president of the United States, or the secretary of state saying we oppose anything that undermines the two state solution, when I hear let’s put a lid on it and not escalate, it suggests that the status quo is tolerable, when the status quo in fact is absolutely intolerable. We’re talking about outposts and settlements when in fact what we have is military rule over millions of people that has lasted for five and a half decades with no end in sight in any foreseeable future.

This is a lifetime for people. And let’s get it straight, it isn’t just the shootings… but there’s violence every single day that is invisible. How do you think that you can impose a military rule over millions of people for five and half decades, people who don’t want you there, who don’t want you in their homes, who don’t you want you in their towns– how do you think you can do it except with the gun, which of course is present even when it’s not fired? The status quo is intolerably violent and we camouflage this with a promise about some future solution that will get us out of there and instead every single day reduces our chance of getting there because we accept and we want to look the other way.

Telhami is an establishment figure. He works with liberal Zionists at Brookings; he got interviewed on PBS recently. I think he did the liberal Zionists the courtesy of not calling it “apartheid” to make the medicine go down smooth.

Telhami then issued that challenge about wanting your children to resist:

I’ve always asked myself and I ask you all to ask the same question, What if you had children or relatives who grew up knowing nothing but military domination, and living under humiliation every single day of their lives, and you see nothing on the horizon, and they’re now young adults. And you’re looking to see what they would do. How many of us would be proud of them… if they did not resist their humiliation? I cannot imagine that I would be proud of my children if they accepted to be humiliated every single day and to look at a future in which they will be humiliated every single day.

I would not want them to be violent, for sure, but I would want them to resist. And how are they going to resist when there is such a huge asymmetry of power without the help of the international community? How are they going to be resisting without recourse to violence, which we all hope they will not do, if we take away from them every conceivable way of resisting peacefully. Such as clamping down on NGOS that record the humiliation that they experience, the intolerable lives they live every day, such as preventing them from going to international courts to pass judgment on what is happening on the ground.

Telhami pointed out that the U.S. had removed one of the biggest incentives it had to get Israel to treat Palestinians with fairness by proceeding with the “Abraham accords” that normalize relations with Arab dictatorships. When peace between Israel and the Arab states was supposed to be a “reward for Israel ending the occupation of the Palestinians.”

He returned to battering the discourse of two states.

The problem I have is the language. The discourse of two states, is dead and– [talk of] this settlement or that one, is a complete distraction from a reality that has been there for five and half decades and is getting worse every day. I think the moment demands a different discourse. The moment demands a recognition of something that has endured with many people looking the other way.

It’s basically military domination over the Palestinians, no matter what kind of government [exists inside Palestine]. Whether it’s elected or not… that should not distract us from the intolerable military domination in the West Bank and the actions that are being taken by the Israeli government even inside [Israel] that jeopardize Jewish Arab relations… We have to voice our opposition, we have to take a stand, we have to rally behind those whose human rights are being deprived. We need to speak out, we need to have clarity… but especially among civil society voices, people who share values.

Michael Koplow has lately published a guide of 50 steps actors should take to “lay the groundwork” for two states. But he didn’t disagree with Telhami.

Everything that Shibley says is something that I agree with. And it has to be addressed now. There’s no question that Israelis and Palestinians are living in a one-state reality. and when you’re living in a one state reality where one side controls the other side, obviously it’s going to be the Palestinians who suffer the most. Not to negate Israeli suffering… but there is fundamental power imbalance here and as with any power imbalance it’s going to be the weaker side that ends up bearing more of the burden.

This just shows: When you put a Palestinian-American on a panel, everything %*$#@ changes!

Kowalski then asked, “What needs to happen to make one state palatable?”

And here the Zionist in Koplow asserted itself. “I don’t see any scenario in which Jewish Israelis will ever support a single democratic state if it means losing Israel as a Jewish state.”

Still, Koplow gave a good honest answer, describing a widely-held historical mindset among Jews.

It’s accurate to describe what’s happening today as a one state reality… That’s a very different question from what would make one state palatable for Israelis… Many people who advocate for one state talk about it in the sense of a single democratic state. That is not the kind of state that is going to be palatable to Israelis. One of the most worrisome trends in Israeli public opinion [is support for] a Jewish not democratic state… making [occupation] permanent forever with no possibility of reversing it.

I don’t see any scenario in which Jewish Israelis will ever support a single democratic state if it means losing Israel as a Jewish state… For Israeli Jews it’s understandable, given the history of Zionism, given the struggle to have a Jewish state, given the history of Jewish persecution. We’re living now in literally a golden age in Jewish history where diaspora Jews are as safe and secure as they have ever been. .. [but there’s a] long scope of Jewish history where Jews were not safe…. And that is one of the reasons why Israeli Jews are never going to concede in any peaceful or political way to give up Israel as a Jewish state. So I think that pointing out the ways in which there is currently a one state reality is really important…

But I worry that people who say you know, two states is not going to happen, time to give up on it, and let’s push for a single democratic state… I worry that that is going to end up in a solution that leads to more bloodshed, more strife between the two sides, and an outcome that people who have one vision for this are not going to like, when push comes to shove.

(My brief response is, This is plainly a problem of the imagination of Jews; and golden age Jews like myself have an important part to play in that discussion.)

Telhami said that neither scenario of freedom, one state or two states, is coming any time soon. So the world must be honest about what exists and apply international law.

Our starting point is, what is it now? And right now it is a one state reality. You have the need to pass judgement on the basis of that one state reality, you need to put on glasses. and make the judgement of the relations that exist in the prism of the one state reality, and what you will see is even uglier than when you look at in the prism of a ‘state occupying territories’… We have to start there. We cannot avoid that. The moment calls for us to start there.

Not analytically and policy wise, but to look at it normatively. This is a moral moment for most of us.. We need to grapple with that. And those who want an alternative future have to start with the reality as it exists today.

Telhami’s view is gaining traction. Yesterday in Haaretz, Amira Hass had a great piece about Palestinian reality titled, “Over Decades, Democracy for Israelis Has Been a Military Junta for Palestinians.” That Vox piece on the end of the two-state paradigm describes the unrelenting Jewish colonization of the West Bank and says, “This brutal new geography puts into question a Palestinian state’s economic viability.”

The two-stater discoursers are hanging on, of course. “It’s President Biden’s firm conviction that the only way to achieve that goal [equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice, and dignity] is through preserving and then realizing the vision of two states for two peoples,” Blinken said last week in Jerusalem.

And Israel Policy Forum published 50 steps that would “lay the groundwork” for two states. That includes “empower”-ing the PA Security Force, — it “keeps the West Bank quieter” — and a new U.S. policy on settlements (“it should focus its political capital on preventing construction outside of the 4-5% of the West Bank that will likely be part of land swaps in a negotiated agreement, and take a less public condemnatory approach to settlement units inside this zone while continuing to oppose their expansion”).

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-2006