On Relinquishing Hope for a Palestinian State Alongside Israel
By Jeff Warner and Eric A. Gordon
Donald Trump’s December 6, 2017, decision on Jerusalem—to establish the United States Embassy there against our own past policy and world consensus—and his following tweets, supported by Congress, have implications for U.S. Middle East policy that have finally convinced us that the two-state solution, a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is indeed a fantasy.
Achieving a sovereign, economically viable Palestinian state had always been a long shot, arguably ever since 1948, and more so after 1967. The disparity between rich, politically connected, militarily strong Israel and poor and weak Palestine, allowed Israel’s leaders to block any possibility of a Palestinian state. It has been clear for decades that Israeli leaders turned away from peace initiatives to fulfill their openly expressed goal to control all the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
There is no political will in Israel among either the leadership or the people to allow a Palestinian state, nevertheless, two-state advocates worked tirelessly to change that situation by promoting significant pressure from the U.S. and Western democracies.
Although the U.S. had shown little inclination to pressure Israel for 25 years, a potential opening existed based on the tension between stated U.S. Israel-Palestine policy and U.S. actions. For decades the U.S. said it supported an end to the Occupation and the emergence of a Palestinian state, but it has acted contrary to that policy. There would be a chance for peace if the U.S. resolved that tension by acting in conformity with its stated policy. The personal antipathy between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a time suggested that the U.S. might hold fast to its declared policy.
Trump’s Jerusalem decision shattered that path to peace, resolving the tension by changing American policy to conform with its actions. That killed any hope for a Palestinian state, and set Israel-Palestine on a short path to fully realized apartheid.
What Will Happen
The Israeli right is energized and has already passed laws that strengthen Israel’s hold on the West Bank, increasing Palestinian dispossession and oppression. And more will follow, including formal annexation of large portions of the West Bank. The land between the river and the sea will look more and more like the single state it actually is, and the apartheid nature of that state will be harder and harder to deny.
Apartheid is a crime against humanity according to the 1973 United Nations Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As such, the U.S., and all members of the U.N., are compelled to act against any country that practices apartheid. But we expect no such action from the United States, surely not so long as Republicans have enough power to block Congressional or executive action.
Nevertheless, apartheid has a limited life because it is inherently unstable. The Palestinians cannot be suppressed in perpetuity. Eventually the disenfranchised majority will rise up. And, supported by the international community, they will demand their rights.
Apartheid will be overthrown, and likely a bi-national state will emerge. But that is too far in the future to discuss with any detail.
Requiem for a Palestinian State
We supported a Palestinian state alongside Israel as the best path to peace for many decades. Alas, Trump’s Jerusalem decision made achieving a two-state solution far less likely in the foreseeable future.
Michael Lerner argues in his Spring 2017 Tikkun editorial that a One Person/One Vote strategy is the best response to the demise of the two-state solution. He wrote, “If Israel is not prepared to end the blockade of Gaza and help Palestinians create an economically and politically viable state of their own, then it must give all Palestinians a vote in the Knesset elections.”
If we thought that was possible, we would work hard to make it happen. But it seems as unlikely to emerge as a viable Palestinian state. Although a movement for equal rights, meaning a single democratic state, is starting to emerge with recent statements by Palestinian leaders like Saeb Erekat and Mustafa Barghouti and younger Palestinians, there is not a significant political movement in either Israel or Palestine for a single democratic state to emerge from the fierce opposition, especially among Jewish Israelis. Even after Trump’s Jerusalem decision, the Palestinian Central Council recommitted the Palestinian people to a Palestinian state.
In addition, we doubt that a unitary state will satisfy the strong nationalisms on both sides that each demand a sovereign state. And finally, after 50-years of a violent occupation we worry that the Israeli and Palestinian people are not ready to live together – that a unitary state would quickly collapse into violence.
We see One Person/One Vote as a non-starter. While we would never deny the place for visionary, even utopian thinking for the future, Lerner’s argument is predicated on dreams for “a world of love and justice,” unsubstantiated by any on-the-ground research. Nor does he take into account the economic importance of the Occupation to Israel – the high tech, military and security sectors that are booming, producing monstrous profit both in the domestic and the global market.
In fact, the two-state solution was never our preferred political structure for the region. Rather it was a pragmatic option driven by the existence of a regional and international consensus for two states, and the apparent impossibility of a one-state solution.
We deeply regret the loss of the two-state solution because we know that whatever happens, there will be many years of Israeli oppression that creates massive suffering, mostly on the Palestinian side, but also of the Israelis. We also fear that opposition to Israeli apartheid will lead to ever more heightened anti-Semitism, partly triggered by Israel and its supporters irreducibly conflating Judaism, Zionism, and Israel government policy.
From many years of friendship and working alongside those individuals and organizations committed to two states, we still appreciate their idealism, passion and dedication. What we see missing in those efforts at this juncture is the vision of how two states will come about. To those friends we would urge a sharper focus on practical achievability: What forces must come together to implement the long dreamed-of two states that now appear so elusive?
Perhaps the answer to that question lies in the inscrutable workings of history, whose sudden lurches and switchbacks can sometimes instantly change the terrain. For example, suppose the investigations of corruption against Prime Minister Netanyahu were to unleash massive evidence of collusion, bribery, self-aggrandizement, fraud and worse; and Israelis rose up in a movement to restore democracy and implement policies of a more just society, allowing space for a wider conversation with the Palestinians about the future of the region. It could happen.
And what if Trump falls, by resignation or impeachment? And the majority party changes in Congress? That could come within a year’s time. The Democratic Party is pro-Israel, but includes a substantial fraction who want to see the United States pursue a more balanced Israel-Palestinian policy and recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination.
We have many mixed feelings now that we have come to agree with our numerous colleagues who have lectured us for years that the peace process was a fantasy. In truth, we never saw that the alternative—a single democratic One-Person, One-Vote or bi-national state—was an achievable solution. That assessment has not changed with Trump's Jerusalem decision. Achieving a single democratic state still has enormous barriers because a political movement for it does not exist among either Israelis or Palestinians, likely due to a single state not satisfying either side's strong nationalism. Michael Lerner’s editorial falls into the voluntaristic trap of many centuries of brave but futile prayers.
So now we feel adrift, wondering if the future will bring out the worst in humanity, or just conceivably the best.
January 20, 2018
Jeff Warner is the Action Coordinator for LA Jews for Peace; he visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of four humanitarian missions, most recently the 2017 Jewish Center for Nonviolence 9-day mission to Bethlehem and Hebron.
Eric Gordon is the former director of the secular Jewish organization Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring in Southern California; he is an editor of People's World where he writes regularly on politics and culture.