From the left, Israel is increasingly being told by opponents, critics and self-styled supporters at home and abroad that it has wrecked its foundational commitment to maintaining both a Jewish majority and a democracy by expanding the settlement enterprise deep and wide across the West Bank. Since it can no longer disentangle itself from the Palestinians, and has thus destroyed the option of the two-state solution on whose basis Jewish statehood was revived, it has no choice now but to consent to a kind of sovereign suicide — and usher in a single binational state between the river and the sea, in which a higher Arab birthrate means Jews will become an increasingly small minority as the decades pass.
From the right, here and overseas, by contrast, Israel is loudly encouraged to expand its presence still farther into the biblical Judea and Samaria, to realize its historical rights and connections, punish the Palestinians for their perennial rejectionism, and put an end to the dangerous delusion that a tiny country in a toxic region can ever safely withdraw from an adjacent territory whose residents dream of its destruction. If expanding sovereignty can somehow be presented as according with democratic principles, so much the better, but if not, so be it.
Ironically, the two opposing camps are both essentially prescribing a purported one-state “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Attractive though the idea of magical solutions may superficially sound in the current hopeless climate and after decades of bloodshed and deadlock, however, their one-state panaceas are no help at all.
The one-state solution recommended by the extreme left means the demise of the world’s only Jewish-majority state — a sovereign entity to which the Jewish nation has a historical and, by virtue of UN Resolution 181 in 1947, international legal right. The Jewish people, which knows better than most the perils of statelessness, is not about to give up the thriving modern state it has created in its biblical homeland.
The one-state solution recommended by the extreme right requires being permanently intertwined with, and ruling over, millions of hostile Palestinians. It means the weakening if not the collapse of Israeli democracy, with Israel contorting itself to claim that it is not maintaining a racist and discriminatory regime in the contested West Bank, hemorrhaging international legitimacy and support including among Diaspora Jewry, divided from within, and condemning itself to growing isolation and weakness.
Fateful times for alleged solutions
Although the one-state solution is no solution at all, the two-state solution is hardly smooth sailing, either.
Modern Israel’s commitment, as specified in its Declaration of Independence, to stretch out its hand in peace to its neighbors has been rebuffed amid decades of conflict, its overtures most recently dismissed in 2008 when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas walked away from an offer by prime minister Ehud Olmert that met almost all of the Palestinians’ demands.
Negotiations have failed over the division of territory, over the fate of Jerusalem, and over the Palestinians’ unwavering insistence on a “right of return” for millions to Israel — an influx of refugee descendants that would destroy the Jewish state demographically. When push has come to shove in intermittent peace efforts, former PA head Yasser Arafat and then Abbas have, in short, demanded both an independent Palestine alongside Israel, and the right to turn Israel into Palestine as well.
Meanwhile Israel, having captured the West Bank in the 1967 war — preempting Arab enemies who were certain they were about to wipe us out — has gradually cemented its hold on the territory, with over 400,000 Jews now making their homes in the settlements, which reduces the viability of a future Palestinian state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now pushing to unilaterally annex those settlement areas — and the strategic Jordan Valley, too.
These are fateful times for alleged solutions — the last few weeks before the US moves fully into presidential election mode, and most other issues are marginalized or deep-frozen.
While the Trump administration unveiled a plan in late January avowedly intended to serve as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, with conditions for a potential Palestinian state, it has since proved spectacularly ambivalent about how its vision is intended to play out. Out of one side of its mouth, the administration seems to encourage Netanyahu to go ahead and annex the settlements and the Jordan Valley, and to hell with any prospect of negotiation. Out of the other, it specifies that the division of the contested territory needs to be negotiated. With a tweet, the unpredictable President Donald Trump could cut through the ambivalence and doom — or endorse — Netanyahu’s gambit.
But even the mercurial head of the world’s most powerful nation cannot change the deeper realities at a stroke. And from Israel’s point of view, one of those realities is that we cannot safely withdraw from the West Bank, not when the Abbas-led regime is an entirely unreliable entity, most recently to be found hailing a new era of cooperation against us with the Islamist Hamas terror group. Yet, simultaneously, we have an existential necessity in separating from the Palestinians — in order to retain an Israel with an overwhelming Jewish majority that accords equal rights to all its citizens.
Quite the complex dilemma. But not one that is solved by embracing destructive alternatives.
Israel needs to be here for the long term. If working to create the climate that best serves that long term interest is a painstaking process beset by setbacks, well, rather that than the dangerous and defeatist embrace of facile quick fixes
A two-state solution — the basis of that 1947 UN Resolution re-legitimizing Jewish sovereignty — is not viable today. So Israel needs to galvanize its military might, international diplomatic backing, and the internal resilience to protect itself against its regional enemies. It needs to follow policies and develop initiatives to boost more moderate forces in the neighborhood. It needs to eschew steps — notably including unilateral annexation — that undermine its strategic goals of peace, security, robust global support (including maximal mainstream US bipartisan backing), and domestic cohesion.
Yes, that all sounds so familiar, and offers so little prospect of major progress in the short term. Too bad.
Israel needs to be here for the long term. If working to create the climate that best serves that long-term interest is a painstaking process beset by setbacks, well, rather that than the dangerous and defeatist embrace of facile quick fixes.
To repurpose Winston Churchill’s summation of democracy, the two-state solution remains the worst way of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… except for all those other ways that have been raised from time to time.
This Editor’s Note was sent out Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.