Mondoweiss / January 31, 2023
The U.S. media, by maintaining the fiction that a two-State Solution is still possible in Israel/Palestine, is misleading its audience.
The opinion columnist Thomas Friedman, to his credit, recently said that the two-state solution in Israel/Palestine is, if not already dead, “in hospice.”
Now it’s time for his colleagues on the news side of The New York Times, and at other mainstream U.S. media, to look squarely at how and why two states is no longer possible. Mainstream reporters of course can’t give their own opinions. All we’re asking is that they go to the genuine experts, get their views, and then publish their findings.
Instead, the two-state solution is supposedly still the ideal — for the U.S. government, among others. The headline after the U.S. Secretary of State’s arrival in Israel yesterday was, predictably: “Blinken reaffirms need for two-state solution after talks with Netanyahu.” He’s not alone; two-states is still the purported goal for a certain (dwindling) segment of liberal Zionist opinion, both in Israel and here, and for the (increasingly discredited) Palestine Authority.
But if the general U.S. public realized that two states will never happen, opinions would start to change — as people became more aware that the apartheid system that multiple human rights groups say exists today in Israel/Palestine is not going to end by some kind of territorial partition.
In the spirit of dialogue, here are some viewpoints by well-informed people.
Professor Jerome Slater’s impressive, encyclopedic work is called Mythologies Without End: The U.S., Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1917-2020. So far, the mainstream U.S. media has successfully ignored this work, even though Slater, who is in his 80s, has studied and written about the region for decades.
Many of us were optimistic about two states when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, and Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres met on the White House lawn with Bill Clinton. But Slater explains that the tentative agreement did not stop the surge of Israeli Jewish settler/colonists into the occupied West Bank:
At the outset of the Clinton presidency, there were 3000 Israeli settlers in Gaza and 117,000 in the West Bank; when he left office at the end of 2000 there were 6,700 settlers in Gaza and 200,000 in the West Bank.”
Slater goes on to make an even more important point. He asserts that even if an Israeli government did miraculously agree to two states, it would require moving large numbers of Jewish settler/colonists back into pre-1967 Israel– today there are over 700,000 settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. And the Israeli army could not be counted on to carry out the assignment. In fact, growing numbers of Israeli soldiers actually grew up in the occupied West Bank, so they might be required to forcibly deport their own family members. Slater put it clearly:
Even if Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to withdrawing settlers and the Israel military from the West Bank ‘he would have faced a revolt, quite possibly a violent revolt, from the settlers and their supporters . . . even the armed forces, in which settlers and right-wing religious forces were becomingly increasingly strong, would refuse to obey such orders.’”
This angle should not be hard to investigate. Reporters from The New York Times (or The Washington Post, National Public Radio, or CNN) should start talking to their sources in the Israeli army, giving them anonymity if necessary. Of course you have to listen to all sides, so reporters could then get Israeli government spokespeople giving boilerplate responses that “our soldiers always follow orders.” Then let readers decide who is more credible.
What’s more, a two-state solution would clearly be impossible without strong support from both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. But a recent joint Palestinian-Israeli opinion survey shows that support for two-states “sank precipitously from September 2020,” and that it’s now at an “all-time low.” Instead, the pollsters found that “support for a Jewish-dominated state has surged among Israeli Jews.” Khalil Shikaki, who directs the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, which co-conducted the poll, said that it shows that “it’s becoming a tougher challenge for leaders to find public support for peace.” New York Times and National Public Radio correspondents should be racing each other to his doorstep to interview him.
Larry Derfner is another knowledgeable expert. He was born in America and moved to Israel in 1985, where he’s had a successful career as a journalist, newspaper columnist and the author of two books, including the page-turning No Country for Jewish Liberals. Derfner thinks the chance for a two-state settlement didn’t fully disappear until the 2000s. In an email, he told me: “If I had to choose a date, it would be June 25, 2006, when the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas. This followed the Israeli pullout from Gaza in 2005, which was followed by continued military exchanges between Israel and Hamas …
Shalit’s capture was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the camel’s back being the Israeli public’s willingness to give up territory in the expectation of peace. From then on, the very idea was discredited, the word ‘peace’ vanished from the Israeli vocabulary, and the long, unbroken slide further and further right began.”
The U.S. mainstream media could follow up Derfner’s view by interviewing Jewish Israelis, especially those who live in the occupied West Bank. The Times, and other outlets, characteristically hide these extremist Jewish settler/colonists, but real reporters don’t cover up the truth. Go to Hebron/Al-Khalil. Promise anonymity if you have to, (although it probably won’t be necessary; at this site we’ve found that settler/colonists are very open about their views). Ask them how they will respond if, say, a future Israeli government orders them to leave and return to the other side of the green line. Follow up by asking them what “peace” means to them, and if and how can it be achieved. Publish their answers.
Recognizing that the two-state solution is dead doesn’t mean that you have to believe that a one-state solution is anywhere near. It does mean that you can no longer hide behind the fiction that “further negotiations” and “concessions” can ever bring back the hope of Oslo. It means recognizing that the system of “apartheid” that characterizes Israel/Palestine is not a temporary aberration on the road to agreement, but a harsh reality that shows no signs of ending for decades.
James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large