A Response to Seth Mandel’s Critique of the Parallel States Solution

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Last month the University of California Press published a new volume I co-edited with Ambassador Mathias Mossberg, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. The book, which is the product of a six year research project and features contributors from leading Israeli, Palestinian, and internationals scholars, explores new definitions of sovereignty that would enable Israelis and Palestinians to establish overlapping or parallel state structures over the entirety of Israel/Palestine. We believe this idea to constitute perhaps the only two state solution left, in the context of the clear impossibility of dividing the West Bank and dismantling Israel’s matrix of control over the territory, and the need to address the issue of settlements, Jerusalem, and refugees in any viable peace agreement.
A brief summary of our main ideas was published by the Huffington Post. A more detailed analysis will appear in Tikkun in the near future. As part of the dissemination of the ideas, we published an excerpt of the introduction, by Mathias Mossberg at Tablet, as well as the conclusion, by famed Israeli writer Eyal Meged. A staff blogger/writer at Commentary, Seth Mandel, read the excerpt from Tablet and decided to write a critique of the entire idea of parallel states based on the excerpt from Ambassador Mossberg’s introduction. He titled it “‘Parallel States’ Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is a Recipe for Disaster”. As might be expected, being that this is Commentary, and Mandel didn’t bother to read the book before making broad generalizations about the ideas and arguments, his arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. We took the time to write a response, assuming that in the spirit of informed debate, the editors would allow us to publish a rebuttal, but when I sent it to the magazine I received an immediate reply from editor John Podhoretz stating that they don’t publish responses to blog posts and that if I wanted to respond, I could either put it in my own blog (I don’t blog) or subscribe to Commentary and then put it as a comment. When I responded saying that asking the author of a book that is being attacked to pay to subscribe to the magazine before he can even reply seemed a bit uncollegial, to say the least, he replied that I could “take [my] whining somewhere else.”
Well, there’s nowhere else I could imagine doing so than Tikkun, which after all, is pretty much the first and still most important intellectual space where serious discussion of Israel/Palestine can occur. “All the rest,” its masthead has always said, “is commentary.”

Below is our response to Mandel’s piece. We are not Commentary, and so if Mandel would like to respond to our response, he’s free to send it and we’ll make sure it gets up soon. He doesn’t even have to subscribe to Tikkun, although given he works for Commentary, I think that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
-Mark LeVine

Our Reply to Seth Mandel

Seth Mandel, in his review of excerpts from our newly published edited volume, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States, raises several important issues. We welcome this opportunity to discuss some key elements of the ideas laid out in the book. Obviously an abbreviated excerpt can only briefly cover the contents of the volume and we encourage people to consider detailed arguments in the book to make a full evaluation of the arguments we discuss.
Mandel describes the idea of parallel states as “deeply misguided, unrealistic, and a formula for trouble as far as the eye can see.” To support this he makes three basic points, first that a parallel states structure would require a “nightmare” bureaucracy, second that a two state solution is not dead, and third that the essay does not deal sufficiently with security.
His first point is an important one and worth discussing at length. We readily admit that a parallel states structure would be complicated in many ways, particularly when it comes to the modalities of parallel legal systems. The basic argument for exploring the idea, derived from experience (and participation) in a generation of Oslo peacemaking, is nevertheless that the alternatives are more unrealistic and bleak. The present way of solving neighborly relations by military means, based on a skewed balance of power, is hardly a sustainable solution.
There are plenty of precedents both in history and in the present of unified, integrated, harmonized, and separate jurisdictions cooperating in various combinations. As was pointed out in the article, they include medieval Europe and the Ottoman Empire historically; more recently, we have the example not only of the EU, but also of Scandinavian countries, which have been harmonizing legislation for over a century. There is nothing saying that a combination of these approaches could not deal with most legal issues arising in daily neighbor relations.
That implementing such arrangements would entail cumbersome bureaucracies is no doubt true. But bureaucracy is an inescapable component of modern political systems. The question is whether the benefits of such complex political arrangements outweigh the costs. We find it hard to argue that even a “cumbersome” bureaucracy linking both states together in a range of common policies – including security, economic, environmental and development policies, and civil legislation – wouldn’t be a huge improvement over the existing state of affairs or any other feasible alternative solution. However problematic, the EU and other regional bodies where common policies are developed historically mark a great advance over a completely anarchic system where everyone is looking out purely for their own interests, especially when the balance of power between the two sides is as great as that between Israel and Palestinians.
Given the reality of the last generation of peacemaking Mandel’s second argument about the feasibility of the two state solution based on a territorial division seems to be based more on faith than empirical observations – Indeed, just this past Friday Prime Minister Netanyahu again reiterated that he would never agree to a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. And here Mandel completely misses the point: a parallel states structure, or some form thereof, may in fact be the only way to preserve a two state solution.
If Mandel continues to believe in the old two state concept he belongs to a dwindling bunch. To dismiss the role of settlements is to disregard realities. Already in 1987 Meron Benvenisti wrote about the impossibility of severing the settlements from Israel. Since then they have grown tenfold and Israel’s “matrix of control” includes not only settlements, but security zones, bypass roads, the Wall, and numerous regulations and limitations, all settling as a geopolitical layer upon Palestinian society, threatening to choke all meaningful life there. The settlement system of the West Bank is so interwoven into the fabric of Israel – territorially as well as politically, economically, and culturally that it is no longer feasible to imagine a separation that would enable the establishment of a territorially and economically viable Palestinian state.
Equally important, Israeli control over most every aspect of Palestinian economic life was solidified, not ameliorated under the geographic/territorial arrangements of Oslo – Palestinians were increasingly closed into smaller areas, Israel controls most elements of both trade and monetary policy, there is no means of autonomous development or policy-making, and Israel continues to limit access to land and resources, as well as destroy swaths of territory whenever it deems fit. At the same time, Oslo has encouraged – in fact demanded – a level of corruption and cronyism in Palestinian governance that will only be exacerbated under a traditional two-state separation, that leaves a barely (if at all) viable Palestinian state at the mercy of one of the world’s most advanced economies. As detailed in the book, our economists have determined that a parallel structure offers a much better balance between autonomy and cooperation for the two sides that could be achieved under the Oslo paradigm.
The third criticism by Mandel, about an alleged lack of focus on security, is a valid point as far as the excerpt is concerned. But in the volume this is the central issue, addressed in two lengthy chapters, one from an Israeli and one from a Palestinian perspective, both written by known authorities in the field. Security challenges, threats and threat perceptions are discussed in detail and a common Israeli-Palestinian security strategy is outlined, developing in stages over a long transition period. In very general terms such a strategy envisions a gradual, long-term enhancement of Palestinian defensive capabilities, while retaining an Israeli military superiority, and at the same time introducing an international component, possibly from NATO, to guarantee the arrangement. After a long transitional period (thirty years) the possibility is perceived of Israeli and Palestinian forces gradually integrating into one force, and the international force phasing out.
Both separate and joint civilian security forces are foreseen to maintain order and counter internal security threats, building upon the established “constructive avenues for security cooperation” that Mandel describes, as well as an international component. A parallel states structure would enhance internal security mainly by creating common purpose, common cause, and common interest in both parties to preserve it. Among the conclusions are that an end of conflict and an end of territorial claims would reduce not only the mutual threats against each other but also diminish regional threats and tensions. The contributors to this section of the book discuss these arrangements in significant detail. What is clear is that if Israeli and Palestinian security forces can cooperate to police the Occupation and suppress dissent, they can cooperate to protect a comprehensive peace agreement where it’s in each side’s interest to protect all the territory of the two states.
As to the possible end of the Westphalian order, no value judgment is passed on this phenomenon. What does seem clear is that the Westphalian order of exclusively territorially grounded nation states is being increasingly undermined by various developments. The construction of the European Union is but a case in point, and also shows what can be done together by former enemies who, only a short time ago by history’s measure, slaughtered each other by the tens of millions.
Economic and cultural globalization, and the ease of technological innovation are but three areas of this process that have profoundly impacted the space of Israel/Palestine, so far to the direct benefit of one side, but potentially to help develop both. The international problems of today can not be met merely with yesterday’s solutions. We do not claim that our ideas are the answer, or even merely an answer. Our hope is that by offering an alternative way of thinking and a new paradigm for approaching conflict resolution, we can provoke discussion and stimulate new thinking on this old and tragic conflict. We invite engagement with the ideas as detailed in the book and look forward to developing them through a robust public and scholarly discussion of the proposals it contains.
Mark LeVine has been a contributing editor at Tikkun since 1995 and is professor of history at UC Irvine. Mathias Mossberg is a former Swedish Ambassador. Their newest book is One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States, published July 1 by UC Press.