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