The name “Israel” means “He who struggles with G_d”. Genesis tells how that name was given to Jacob after he triumphed over an angel with whom he had wrestled all night. And indeed there is a tradition in Judaism, unlike any other religion with which I’m familiar, of arguing with G_d. A typical example is Abraham, the first Jew. He argues over the number of righteous people there needs to be in Sodom for G_d to forgive them, and talks G_d down from 50 to 10, which is good bartering with anyone, let alone the Creator of the Universe. But when you struggle, you don’t always win. And it seems clearer that the State of Israel, in their struggle with G_d, has lost.
The story of that struggle has been told as a joke, going back to the founding of the state. Uri Avnery says that G_d asked Israel when it was born in 1947 what it wanted to be, and Israel answered that it wanted to be Jewish, democratic, and stretch from sea to sea (Mediterranean to Jordan). G_d thought about this, and said that Israel could have any two of those, but not all three. There was a time, maybe up until recently, when Israel could have settled for democratic and Jewish, and taken the ’67 borders, and allowed Palestine to be a separate country. But that time has passed. Now the Jewish settlers own so much land in Palestine and use so much of the water in Palestine that it is no longer possible to create any real Palestinian state. “Real” means a contiguous state with enough power to satisfy the Palestinian people. Nor is it possible to pull the settlers out of Palestine, as the power in the Israeli parliament depends on right-wing support. But leaving the settlers there without Israeli protection is also impossible, politically. So Israel will stretch from sea to sea, and now must choose between democratic or Jewish.
It can’t be both because there are more Palestinians than Jews, and the birthrate difference will only increase that numerical difference in the future. So if Israel chooses democratic, it stops being a Jewish state because Jews will be a minority there, as they are in all other countries. But if Israel chooses to remain Jewish, then the Palestinians in Israel will have fewer rights than the Jews, and that is not democracy. It will not be an easy choice, but it has become the only choice, as is increasingly clear to observers world-wide.
There are reasons why this has happened, both because of Israeli and Palestinian intransigence, and because of unwillingness to settle for less than they wanted on both sides. And at this point the reasons why we have gotten to this point don’t matter. In the realistic world of politics there are only two questions that matter: where are we now, and where do we go from here. So where are we? Carlo Strenger, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has been a long time supporter of the two state solution. Now he writes, “There is little use for us to decry the folly of Israel’s policy of the last forty years. We need to look at the situation as it is now: no Israeli politician will be able to retreat to the 1967 lines…The problem is that the longer the status quo continues, the more impossible the two state solution will become. In fact, it may already be dead. Hence the real question for liberal Jews and gentile friends of Israel is where we need to aim now.”
Gideon Levy, another Israeli writing for Haaretz, says, “The battle… has been decided. All that remains is to ask what will replace the solution that was put to death. There will not be two states. Even a child knows the alternative: one state. There is no third option.”
Andrew Sullivan, in The Daily Beast, has a devastating critique of those who defend the Israeli government’s willingness to negotiate a two state agreement, by asking over and over “Why continue to build the settlements?”, concluding at last “The answer is that the settlements are there because the current Israeli government has no intention of ever dividing the land between Arabs and Jews in a way that would give the Palestinians anything like their own state; and have every intention of holding Judea and Samaria for ever.”
In America observers are saying the same thing, though more hesitatingly. Robert Wright, in the Atlantic Magazine, says, “the most common cozy illusion is that, though the time may not be right for a two-state solution now, we can always do the deal a year or two or three down the road. The truth is that a two-state solution is almost completely dead, and it gets closer to death every day.” Stephen Walt quotes Prime Minister Netanyahu: “We are strengthening Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and we are strengthening the Jewish community in Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs. But there is one principle that we uphold. We do everything according to the law and we will continue to do so.” Walt observes “So Netanyahu’s aim is clear: keeping control of the West Bank forever. And the reference to “doing everything according to the law” is revealing, because “law” here means the law of the occupation, which is the same law that has allowed a half a million Israelis to move into the territories conquered in 1967 over the past forty years.”
So the dream of a democratic Jewish state in Israel is over. What is left? There are, Stephen Walt muses, three possible options. He says, “Once the two-state solution is really and truly buried, then what?… Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians to ensure a Jewish majority? Binational democracy and equal rights for all residents of a single state? Or permanent apartheid, with the Palestinians confined to self-governing enclaves under de facto Israeli control?” I see horrible bloody struggles on the path to any of those solutions, but I can not see any path that leads anywhere else. With the waves of Eastern European immigration, Israel is more right-wing now than it has ever been, and the west-bank settlers are there to stay.
So Israel’s struggle with G_d to be all three — Jewish, democratic, and stretching from sea to sea — has been lost. Israel has chosen for a variety of reasons, (historical, strategic, emotional, religious) to stretch from sea to sea. Now it must choose whether to remain democratic or to remain Jewish. It cannot do both. That is a tragedy of historic dimensions, and sadly it will be a long bloody struggle within Israel as well as with the Palestinians till the solution becomes clear. But fantasizing that a two-state solution is still possible does not help. We have passed that exit, irrevocably.