The Problem with Solutions

Image Courtesy of Cat J Zavis

Before we ask “what now?” we must ask how we got to “now.” Why has the two-state solution failed? The answer is methodological: we have attempted to implement the solution before we have identified the problem.

This is why we are where we are today: a state of disagreement. The French philosopher Jacques Ranciére says that a disagreement does not occur when one person says “black” and another says “white,” but when two people say “white” and have different understandings of whiteness. The real disagreement is not between those in favor of a two-state solution and those in favor of a one-state solution. It is between the multitude advocating for what seems to be the same thing: the two-state solution.

AIPAC can weakly promote a two-state solution, as can J-Street, Netanyahu, or Obama. But the near-universal mainstream embrace of the two-state solution has reduced it to nothing more than a trite phrase with little semantic value. While to the casual observer it may seem as if the entire world has agreed on the solution, there is no consensus on the problem or how to truly actualize its solution.

Netanyahu and those on the right advocate for a two-state solution, but identify the problem as the threat to Israel posed by the existence of the Palestinian people. For these right-wing hardliners, the two-state solution has become a disingenuous talking point that gives the impression of concern, but they remain committed to ensuring that a Palestinian state is never created. Those on the left can likewise advocate for the two-state solution. The Occupation and the human rights abuses suffered by the Palestinian people, argue many on the left, are the real problem, and are proof of the need to actualize an independent Palestinian state. When the problem is examined, the initial appearance of consensus withers away and explains the failure of the two-state solution.

We must consider these methodological mistakes before rushing to another paradigm within the same procedural framework of skipping ahead to the solution. The first step to this process is renewed analysis of the problems. A thorough analysis can’t be done without dialogue. The U.S. Jewish community must begin to openly and honestly discuss the human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel. Hillel International, in particular, must be a part of this open debate. Michael Lerner’s proposal is a commendable effort toward achieving this, but ultimately it is still muddled. He asks us: what should “people who support the rights of Palestinians to a state of their own (while still wanting Israel to survive and remain secure)” do to advance these goals? But in the context of current discourse, talk of “wanting Israel to survive and remain secure” does not refer to the geographic place or citizens of Israel. It refers to the national community and myth of Israel, something all nations have. It refers to “Israel as a Jewish state.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting Israel to remain a Jewish state (although wanting democracy as well may cause some mental somersaults). The problem is that we cannot begin an open discussion to search for a new paradigm with the foundational assumptions of the old, failed paradigm. In other words, Lerner’s question identifies the failure of the two-state solution and asks us to consider a new solution— but one that fits the criteria of a two-state solution.

A logical process starts with the problem, not the solution. Do we think it is a problem that Israel holds Palestinians in illegal, indefinite administrative detention? Do we think it is a problem that millions of Palestinians live under military occupation? Do we think it is a problem that illegal Israeli settlements continue to be constructed? I hope we all agree.

Do we believe in equality and equity? Do we believe in self-determinism and participatory democracy? I hope we all agree.

Do we believe that Palestinians have the right to these things too? I certainly hope we all agree, but if we never have the conversation, we’ll never know. A solution is based on specific criteria: does it address the problem and does it achieve the goals? If we skip ahead to the solution, we are bound to fail again and again. But if we focus on the process, I’m confident the solution that emerges will be just.


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