“Two-State Illusion” was an especially catchy title for the lead Opinion column in the Sunday The New York Times Review section (September 15). It was about time, I thought, after years of reading endless Times columns and editorials about the urgency of just that outcome, with Israel and Palestine living amicably side-by-side in wonderland. But “the idea of a state for Palestinians and one for Israelis,” wrote University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, “is a fantasy that blinds us and impedes progress.”
Lustick shed no tears for the demise of every Middle East diplomat’s favorite dream. He properly lacerated the “true believers” – Secretary of State Kerry is named. But Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, the Israeli sponsors of the lamentable Oslo failure whose twentieth anniversary just passed, escaped mention. He aptly warned that “obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than steering clear of icebergs.” Why, then, does everyone – Palestinians, Israelis and Americans – pretend to believe in the chimera of a two-state solution, and why are its prospects virtually nil?
It all seemed too good to be true and, pages and paragraphs later, it was. The hint of familiar animus came with the first reference to Jewish settlements, the persistently unwelcome (in the Times) indication that Zionism really does mean, as it has always meant, settling in the Land of Israel. But rather than providing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, settlements in Lustick’s conventional wisdom, undermine Israel’s claim to be the Jewish and democratic state that Zionist founders envisioned.
The imagined consequence of continued Israeli intransigence – it is always Israel that is unyielding – borders on the absurd: “ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel.” Like South African leaders twenty-five years ago (no disguised analogy there), Israelis will come to see that “fresh thinking” is necessary.
Where will such thinking lead? Hold your breath. In Lustickland, Palestinians, post-Zionists, non-Jewish immigrants to Israel and “global village Israeli entrepreneurs” in Tel Aviv will unite. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims might also “find common cause.” Israelis from Arab countries could think of themselves as Arabs. Outnumbering Jews, downtrodden Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel will turn to democracy, not Islam, to secure their state built on the ashes of Israel. And presumably (although Lustick does not say so), the Messiah will arrive in time for the celebration. “Peacemaking and democratic state building,” Lustick writes, require “blood and magic.” Mostly, it seems, magic, with Lustick waving his fantasy wand and declaring an end to “the stifling reign of an outdated idea”: the two-state solution.
Before Lustick laments its apparent demise, he might consider its resurrection in far less absurd form. Imagine the existing Palestinian state, known as the Kingdom of Jordan, which occupies two-thirds of the territory designated by the League of Nations as Palestine after World War I. It already has a Palestinian population majority. Palestinian cities and villages that are within the West Bank territory ruled by Jordan between 1948-67 could be reunited with their people in eastern Palestine, across the Jordan River. Israeli settlements would remain within Israeli borders. No doubt, given the congeniality that Lustick anticipates across national, ethnic and religious lines, a joint Israeli-Palestinian police force could easily preserve peace between two the states. But just to make sure, the Israel Defense Forces would stand by.
For someone like Professor Lustick, who claims to prefer “the world as it is,” a Palestinian state in Jordan and portions of its West Bank and a Jewish state in the Land of Israel would seem to meet his reality test quite nicely. That, to be sure, is not quite what he has in mind. But his call for “one mixed state” that erases Israel as a Jewish state is fantasy in the guise of realism. That may, however, help to explain why “the Two-State Illusion” found a welcome home in The New York Times.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of the forthcoming Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy.