Sunday, June 24th | 11 Tammuz 5778


Be in the know!

Get our exclusive daily news briefing.

November 28, 2013 10:50 am

Failure of the Two-State Solution: A Reply to Ian Lustick

avatar by Yale Zussman

Email a copy of "Failure of the Two-State Solution: A Reply to Ian Lustick" to a friend

Physical map of the State of Israel.

Blaise Pascal once noted, “The first moral obligation is to think clearly.”  In his “Two-State Illusion” (New York Times Sunday Review, Sep. 15), Ian Lustick provides proof that Pascal was right. By getting most of his details just wrong enough to inform sloppy thinking, Lustick reaches conclusions that are profoundly immoral. Since Obama’s and Kerry’s thinking on the issue resembles Lustick’s, it should be helpful to see where Lustick goes wrong.

Two “dirty secrets” lie at the root of the failure of the “two-state” solution, one on the Palestinian side and one on the Israeli. People involved with the discussions are aware of them, but because they identify the fundamental flaws with the Oslo “peace process,” much of academia and the media go to great lengths not to mention them, and Lustick certainly doesn’t.

On the “Palestinian” side the dirty secret is that there is no Palestinian People.  There are Palestinian people, but they owe their primary allegiance to tribes, clans, families (sometimes in the sense used in “The Godfather”), political, religious and economic groupings, rather than to a national entity. They are divided geographically as well, which simply reinforces the centrifugal effects of how Palestinian culture works. With peace, it might be possible for these groups to coalesce into a single nationality, but the Palestinians cannot make peace in their current configuration because there is no-one who can speak for them all.

Proof that there is no Palestinian People stares readers in the face each time they see the term. Arabic has no letter “P,” so no Arab group, which the Palestinians insist they are, would, or could, call themselves “P” anything.  In Arabic, they call themselves Filastiniyun, perhaps harking back to the Philistines of biblical days, but the Philistines weren’t even Semites, so if today’s “P”alestinians are Arab, they can have no connection with the Philistines. Turkish has a “P,” but the Ottomans didn’t call the country “Palestine”; indeed, they didn’t even see the country as a single territorial unit.

The Palestinians took their name, like the peoples of some African countries, from the name European imperialists gave to the territory where they lived. During the Mandate, “Palestinian” referred to the Jews, while the Arabs were simply Arabs.  Since the current “Palestinians” have seen themselves as such for only a few decades, it follows immediately that the claim to an ancient heritage on which their narrative is based is demonstrably false:  If they were an ancient people, they would have a name or names for themselves that they would have used throughout history, and they simply don’t.

That there was no Palestinian People accounts for the failure of the Palestine Arabs to establish a state in 1948/9, a reality Lustick acknowledges.  That there is no Palestinian People today is one reason they insist on “returning” to homes in Israel most of them have never seen rather than living in their own state.

A fragmented society like the Palestinians cannot negotiate because there is no-one with the stature to accept and enforce whatever agreements might be reached.  Arafat may have had this stature, but he realized that he could not make peace without opening himself to a very serious accusation:  The very best the Palestinians could do today, a fully militarized state on the 1967 lines, removal of the settlements, and a redivision of Jerusalem, is what they could have had in 1967, or even 1949, without subjecting his people to decades of life as refugees.  It follows immediately that Palestinian “suffering” was caused by the decisions of their leaders.  If they are victims at all, they are victims of their leaders’ bad decisions rather than of anything Israel has done.  This reality is a disincentive for current Palestinian leaders to agree to anything.  And the longer their leaders refuse to reach an agreement, the longer the Palestinians will suffer, and the barrier to reaching an agreement will get ever higher.

The “Right of Return” issue is basically about who bears the blame for subjecting Palestinian people to the “suffering” they have endured these last 65 years.

Whether or not Mahmoud Abbas privately wishes to resolve the conflict, he cannot do so without identifying someone to blame for his people’s suffering.  There are no good candidates today since the likely suspects, Haj Amin al-Husseini and Yassir Arafat, have both been put on a pedestal.  Abbas would rather not become the third candidate, which is why he wants Israel to accept the blame.  Israel has no reason to do so, and the evidence is clear that the problem comes from the Palestinian side. Until a “fall guy” is identified, Israel has no “partner” because no Palestinian leader will be willing to be that “fall guy.” The infighting between the factions guarantees that anyone who agrees to anything will be so labeled, and then likely assassinated.

If the BDS people were capable of thinking through the issues, and had an interest in doing so, they would see that their efforts reinforce the disincentive effect of responsibility for Palestinian suffering on Palestinian leaders, and that makes them partially to blame for the continuation of that suffering.

The “dirty secret” on the Israeli side is that the Oslo process was initiated not solely to make peace with the Palestinians but also to discredit the Israeli Right.  It is no coincidence that the Left took up this issue shortly after their monopoly on forming the government was broken.  The idea was that by solving this problem, the Left would demonstrate that it alone was worthy of ruling the country.  The Palestinian response to the possibility of peace, to raise the level of violence, ended up proving to the Israeli electorate that the Oslo Process was a failure and this strengthened the Israeli Right.  The response from the Israeli Left has been an ever more desperate effort to force the peace process toward a solution that will “vindicate” the Left’s claims about their right to rule the country, regardless of the consequences for the country.

The centerpiece of this effort has been promoting hostility toward the settlements. The Left built the first settlements, but when the Right endorsed them, the Left turned against them as part of its effort to undermine the legitimacy of the Israeli Right.  Using their contacts abroad, especially in Europe, the Israeli Left has succeeded in vilifying the settlers — many of whom are religious, on the Right, or both — as well as the settlements and in the process legitimized violence against all civilians.  Initially, only Israelis were considered legitimate targets, but now we see this violence essentially everywhere in the world.  The Left’s “success” here further damaged its credibility with the electorate.  With each lost election, the Israeli Left has increasingly seen its survival depending on getting outside powers, the Europeans and the United States, to pressure Israel to accede to the Left’s ideas on how the conflict should be resolved.  Thus, we have J Street endorsing ideas rejected by the Israeli electorate while still claiming to speak on behalf of Israel.

The great irony of all this is that the settlements may be the only incentive available to encourage the Palestinian leadership to look past avoiding blame for past suffering toward reaching an agreement with Israel.  The Palestinians have made it fairly clear that they value land more than peace and more than the lives of their people (especially those people who come from outside their own circle) and the settlements present a risk of future losses.  The expectation that delaying a resolution now will lead to losses of things they value in the future is the only incentive such leaders have to move toward peace.  The campaign against the settlements removes that incentive and thus guarantees the failure of the “two-state” solution, bemoaned by Lustick and Kerry, who are, of course, vehemently opposed to the settlements.

Lustick proposes that the continuing failure of the Palestinians to agree to a “Two-State Solution” should lead the world to give them what they want, a single state where they would be able to do to the Jews whatever they wish.  He presents this proposal at a time when sectarian fighting is claiming hundreds, if not thousands, of lives a day in neighboring Syria and elsewhere in the Muslim world, and where Muslim Brotherhood-inspired attacks on Copts in neighboring Egypt have led tens of thousands of them to abandon their homeland of many millennia.  Jews are already nearly gone from most of the Muslim nations, and Christians are now being forced out as well.  Is Lustick (or Kerry or Obama) even aware of this?

Lustick believes Israeli Haredim can make common cause with Islamists — he sees them as similar religious fanatics — but the Haredim mainly want to be left alone to live their lives as they believe the Torah commands, while the Islamists seek to impose their conception of Shariah on everyone, killing as many Jews as possible in the process.  Is he even aware of, never mind does he understand, this fundamental difference?

Lustick also believes Mizrachi Jews in Israel will come to see themselves as Arabs.  This is even more delusional than the possibility of Haredim and Islamists linking forces.  Mizrachi Jews were expelled from Muslim countries where their ancestors had lived, in many cases since before the coming of the Muslims.  After the Muslim conquests, their ancestors lived under the dhimma, the original apartheid, only to be expelled after the establishment of Israel, often with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing.  In the process, they lost more land than there is in Israel in its entirety.  They came to Israel for protection from the Arabs, so the notion that they will regard themselves as Arab reflects profound ignorance at best.

But it’s not just the Middle East where multi-ethnic states are failing today.  All of the multi-ethnic states established in Europe in the wake of World War I, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, have now dissolved.  Scotland is contemplating departure from the United Kingdom, likewise Catalonia from Spain.  In Africa, Muslims and Christians could not coexist in Sudan or Ethiopia, so we now have Southern Sudan and Eritrea.

The notion that a bi-national state consisting of two peoples who have been locked in a bitter conflict for a century could succeed when these other less problem-plagued multi-ethnic states failed is basically irrational.

So what solutions are there?  There appear to be two, both calling for the abandonment of the notion of a Palestinian state, which, as we have seen, is not in the cards any time soon, if ever.  If there is to be only one state, clearly it should be Israel because Israel is vibrant and is home to a unique culture that contributes a great deal to global civilization.  By contrast, the Palestinian contribution to world culture is a series of ever more ingenious, and nefarious, techniques for killing civilians.

One possibility is for Israel to re-establish the occupation, disarm the gangs and return the Palestinians to the rapid socio-economic progress they made after 1967.  This cannot last forever, but a decade or two of quiet is in everyone’s interest.

A more permanent solution would involve learning from what worked before 1967: Egypt would annex Gaza and undertake to remove Hamas and the Islamists based there.  Israel and Jordan would negotiate a border between them, including the demilitarization of any Jordanian territory west of the Jordan River.  One advantage of this approach is that both Egypt and Jordan have already negotiated treaties with Israel so the issue of recognizing the legitimacy of Israel would not be a barrier to success.  Given the current confrontation between the Sunnis and Iran, it might be possible for the Gulf States to endorse such a solution and then recognize Israel.  That would effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Separating Gaza from the territories that will be annexed to Jordan is an acknowledgement that, by dint of geography and demography, either Israel or the putative Palestinian state must be non-contiguous and the track record for non-contiguous states — think Pakistan and Bangladesh, never mind Germany and East Prussia in 1939 — isn’t good.  The Partition Commission in 1947 grappled with this and came up with an unworkable solution.  Since the region is mainly Arab, it simply makes more sense for Israel to remain contiguous.  Once contiguity has been factored in, separating Gaza from the rest makes sense and this proposal follows almost immediately.

This solution is unlikely to be tried because it would face opposition from Middle Eastern “experts,” like Lustick, whose careers have been built on “research” demonizing Israel for not being more forthcoming in its dealings with the Palestinians.  It would probably be opposed by similar “experts” in the media for similar reasons.

But given the track record of repeatedly pressuring Israel for concessions which go unreciprocated, no successes in perhaps 20 tries, the rationality of doing this one more time is called into question.  After all, Albert Einstein is said to have defined irrationality as doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Clearly neither Obama nor Kerry is an Einstein, so let’s try something new: focus on Palestinian intransigence. The problem all along has been the notion of a “Palestinian” state.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter Email This Article

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner
  • Israel is war criminal in Asia, UN and US Should do something to restrict Israel otherwise we The Pakistani would do something which would be “Terrorism” for US and UN..

    • Yale


      Over the years, I have had several friends from Pakistan, curiously, all named Muhammad, who have started off flaming at Israel the way you did here. Invariably, when they learned what is actually going on, they have been seriously embarrassed that they had been so thoroughly fooled by the propaganda in Pakistan, especially that coming from the mullahs.

      My suggestion is to take off the blinders and see this conflict for what it really is: Israel represents the first dhimmi people to throw off Islamist supremicism and imperialism and thus is a model for justice for the oppresssed within Muslim societies. The powers that be in those societies feel threatened by the potential loss of power and thus seek to destroy the evidence of what their subjects might enjoy if they threw off their oppressors.

      Unless you are one of those who benefits from the repression in Pakistani society, you would be a beneficiary of a more receptive attitude toward Israel.

  • Mike

    My question is – did Mr Zussman send this to the NY Times to be published in response to Lustick. Responses like this need to be seen by the people who read the lies.
    Although, I doubt the NYTimes would put the truth into their paper.

    • Yale

      Hi Mike,

      I sent it to the Times about a week after Lustick’s article appeared and appealed to their journalistic integrity to publish it. I never got so much as an acknowledgement.

      So much for the Times’ journalistic integrity.

  • Brian Goldfarb

    Zussman has plainly read Benny Morris “One State, Two States”, because his solution bears a remarkable resemblance to Morris’s. He squeezes his version into the last two pages of that book.

    And its only some 140 pages long!

  • Scott Smith

    There’s another option, Mordechai Kedar’s Palestinian Emirates plan. Such a plan would allow individual Palestinian cities to become independent when they have a leadership that is ready to accept Jewish self-determination in the Middle East without waiting for the Palestinian national movement (PNM) to do so. Creating such independent entities would also provide a demonstration to other Palestinians of the benefits that can derive from such acceptance which would strengthen the hand of the few Palestinian accommodationists that exist now (admittedly stronger than their current position can be quite weak).

    • Yale

      The idea is conceptually appealing, but doesn’t solve the problems that exist at higher levels: Anyone who agrees to anything with Israel is likely to be killed for abandoning the “national cause.”

      It’s a little like peace with Jordan: everyone believed Jordan wanted peace but couldn’t be the first to move. Which city would go first?

  • This is the first sound argument I have heard regarding the “two state solution”. The one thing that has been left out of this discussion is the ultimate goal of the two sides. The Israelis want to continue to build a thriving nation while the “Palestinians” strive to eliminate Israel and all Jews. That is the main reason why there is no such thing as the “peace process”. How can there ever be peace when the definition of peace by the Muslim Palestinians is the eradication of all that is not part of an Islamic Caliphate? That attitude can only bring about conflict and strife. There will never be peace as defined by western culture until both sides will accept the others right to exists.

  • David Hoffman

    Yale Zussman does a fine job of showing how Ian Lustick’s proposals are based on counterfactual premises and are utterly unworkable in the real world. Unfortunately, when it comes to offering his own ideas, he falls into much the same trap. Israel has offered Gaza to Egypt on a silver platter numerous times. The Egyptians have said “No thanks,” each time, with greater or lesser politeness , while struggling to keep a gleeful expression off their faces. Their attitude has always been “Praise be to G-d, we are free of that albatross. You wear it for awhile.” Egypt never had any use for Gaza except as a forward base for attacking Israel. The situation of Jordan and the West Bank is more complicated — too much so to address in a comment — but comes to much the same thing in the end. In the short run, the status quo is the “least-worse” solution. The only sustainable long-term solution is one that neither the parties nor the international community are willing to consider at present, so there is no point in discussing it.

  • Wallace Edward Brand

    The Palestinian Arab People were invented by the Soviet dezinformatsiya who drafted the first PLO Charter in Moscow in 1964. You will find them in the preamble to the charter with confirmation only by the first 422 members of the “Palestinian National Council” formed contemporaneously, each hand picked by the KGB.

    This was at a time when the Soviet Union was trying to dominate the Middle East and pushing Internatiuonal Conventions providing that each “people” should have the right to self determination. But under International Law, when there was a tension between the right of a people to self determination and the territorial integrity of a sovereign state, the borders of a sovereign state always have priority because that has been the mainstay of world order since 1648, the new world order established by the Peace of Westphalia. So even if the Palestinian Arab People were a real people rather than an invented people, they would still not get support for a unilateral withdrawal of territory from the Jewish People’s state established in 1920 by the Principal Allied War Powers at San Remo and recognized by 53 states in 1922.

  • Betty

    What could possibly be the reason now for a right wing government to continue with the farce of the “peace talks”?

    • Mel

      One possible reason is to prevent BHO from annihilating Israel the moment he feels certain he wouldn’t cease to breathe as a result. For centuries, Muslim madrassa schools have impregnated young, impressionable minds with the desire to behead all Infidels who refuse to submit to Islam. Living with his mother in the home of Lolo Soetoro, his Indonesian stepfather. The disdain Barry shows Bibi every time the latter is summoned to Washington reveals what is essentially post-hypnotic suggestion, hidden deep in the subconscious mind, that virtually no amount of deprogramming can ever remove.

  • Perhaps the best solution is to let the inhabitants of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza collaboratively but anonymously negotiate (and then eventually adopt) a mutually agreeable plan, thereby bypassing any intransigent policies and evading bumbling western attempts to impose a solution from without.

    That, at any rate, has been the aim of the APoJi on-line project ( In the past year alone, the initiative’s evolving document “A Peace of Jerusalem” has been viewed more than 1,700 times by Arabs of the West Bank. It may be that there is more of an interest in peace amongst the people than is reflected by their leadership.

  • I. Barr

    Conveniently, this NYT article was published on Yom Kippur,hope in the NYT was that not many Jews will read it. Lustick, Bess W. Heyman Chair Political Science at Pennsylvania University, writes: “In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism”. These suggestions are totally ridiculous: There are no “secular Palestinians”. Muslims are Muslims far from being secular. Arab Israelis are intertwined in Israeli society and Islam is practiced freely. Democracy is not consistent with Islam. Allah, through Shariah, is the ruler, not a men elected parliament. There are Israelis who feel that they are not Zionists, but are Israeli just as the French are French. “…post Zionism”, as post pregnancy, is an empty expression. Israelis have free speech, and even those who are critical of the Israeli government will not start terror activity to replace Israeli democracy. “… non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants” did not create Kolkhozes (farming collectives) in Israel. On the contrary, they are well represented and enjoy individual freedom and free entrepreneurship. A few Russian criminals were convicted and deported back to Russia. “Foreign” workers, primarily a few thousands of Africans who infiltrated to Israel through the Sinai, many in camps in the Negev, are a problem not different than those in Sweden. Muslim Africans there account for 7% of Swedes but responsible for 77% of rapes. Hundreds of them have been deported from Israel to African countries. And, since the Egyptian army started ridding the Sinai of terrorists, the infiltration into Israel has almost stopped. “Global-village Israeli entrepreneurs” enjoy the business atmosphere in Israel. Why would they want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg? “Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews” (there are about 3000 in Jerusalem), believing that Israel should have been created only when the “Mashiah” comes, are an embarrassment to most Jews. Who are these ” Muslim traditionalists” that Lustik writes about? “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab”- this is the most ridiculous statement of all. Those who know the history of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the Arab Holocaust, the Farhud (Edwine Black’s book), cannot imagine such a stupid idea. Check ‘Thank God, There Are Almost No Jews in Syria Now’ And the Christians are next . . . “Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution”-Mr Lustick does not understand Islam: Hamas Covenant, similar to Fatah declarations and Muslim beliefs, states:

    Article Eleven:
    The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day… This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement…

    Article Thirteen:
    Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion.

    Article Fourteen:
    struggle against Zionism…Palestine is an Islamic land, which has the first of the two kiblahs (direction to which Moslems turn in praying), the third of the holy (Islamic) sanctuaries, and the point of departure for Mohamed’s midnight journey to the seven heavens (i.e. Jerusalem).

    Mr. Lustick has flight of ideas, imaginary concepts far removed from the reality in Israel, West Bank and Gaza that are not appropriate for a professor of history in an Ivy League university. Countries have their own life cycle. It took hundreds of year until the Roman, Ottoman, and British empires were replaced by other regimes. He feels that Israel democratically elected government can be replaced by Russian immigrants, Jewish religious zealots, Muslim secular Arabs and illegal African immigrants. He wants to compensate Israeli who live in the West Bank as long as they leave their homes. Mr Lustick does not understand radical Islam, endless terrorism, suicide bombings, and the treatment of Christians by Muslims. Will his imaginary “Palestine” treat Jews differently from the treatment of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Gaza or West Bank? Mr. Lustick comparative history analysis tailored to fit his wishful thinking that the Israel future is doomed is childish. Same analysis fit the natural evolution of every country. Same analysis, applied to Texas, suggests that the state will succeed and annex to Mexico? American Indians with the help of immigrants, legal and illegal, KKK, Latinos will replace the government of Dakota? In the article “Two State Illusion” Mr. Ian Lustick is suggesting the violent destruction of the state of Israel to be replaced by a Palestinian state. This is not a coincidence: Israel is the symbol of Jewish existence. Getting rid of the symbol, make no mistake, is the first stage for the “final solution of the Jewish problem” Ian Lustick style. The overt anti Semitic article should have been recognized by the editors of the New Times.

  • BH,I agree with you in entirely.More Jews worldwide & in Israel must start settling in Judea & Samaria.Another million settlers must start new lives in these areas.This will ensure our victory that prove GREAT BRITAIN at the time on behalf of world powers assured the JEWS a homeland west of the Jordan river & an Arab homeland east of the Jordan river

  • Reuven

    Lustick isn’t actually a self-hating Jew. That rotten kapo is in love with himself!

  • BH in Iowa

    The writer is approaching the conflict from the western perspective. To us in the west, a win-win outcome is reasonable and desirable. Israel is not dealing with reasonable actors. No outcome that enhances Israel’s security will be considered by its “peace partners” (enemies). Jordan renounced all claim to Judea and Samaria in 1988. The conflict is zero-sum. 1948 and 1967 were not skirmishes. They were failed attempts at complete genocide. The current worldwide incitement campaign is meant to drive this generation to genocide against the Jews, and for the next generation to be glad we’re gone.

    The only solution that guarantees a safe, secure, and Jewish Israel is the solution one dare not mention – Victory.

    • Joseph Silver

      A superb analysis!
      Happy Hanuka & Shabbat Shalom,
      JB Silver