Thomas Friedman’s NY Times op-ed (Feb 10 – link below) expresses his exasperation with Israel and the Palestinians and his conclusion that the two-state solution is dead. His piece stimulated a lot of debate and conversation this past week in American Jewish pro-Israel circles.
Friedman’s argument comes in the wake of the apparent break-down of the Oslo peace process, months of knife-wielding Palestinian children and teens against Israeli civilians, a new proposal to deal with the terror by Israeli opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog who advocates building a fence that would separate the populations, and a proposal by Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin to create a confederation of two states under Israeli sovereignty.
However, before everyone takes any of these proposals too seriously, I believe it is still too soon to hammer the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution. Shaul Arieli argues this point in his recent Haaretz op-ed: “The Settlement enterprise has failed,” (link below). Arieli’s cites the facts that because Jews comprise only 13.5% of the West Bank’s population and occupy only 4% of the land in the West Bank, that “the settlers have failed to create the appropriate conditions for annexing the West Bank.”
Then there’s Isaac Herzog’s security proposal made in direct response to Israeli fears of Palestinians attacking them everywhere. Though his proposal is a short-term panacea (the number of attacks this last month are significantly fewer than previous months), it is not a long-term plan. Herzog has affirmed that he still believes that a 2-state solution is the only way Israel can remain democratic, Jewish and secure. He offered his plan as a way simply to control the violence.
I get it. Israeli fear is palpable. I felt it myself in October when I was there for the World Zionist Congress. Terrorism terrorizes. That’s the entire point. It’s brutal and indiscriminate. But, Herzog’s proposal isn’t a solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It may even make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve because of the route the fence takes and what license it gives to settlers to build more settlements in areas that are contested, especially in Jerusalem. The benefit of his proposal, however, is that settlement construction outside the fence would cease.
President Ruvi Rivlin’s idea (he never believed in a two-state solution) is to create a confederation in which there would be two states, Israel and Palestine, with a defined border, two parliaments, two constitutions, security police in both, but one army, the IDF, that would control everything between the River and the Sea. There would be a shared infrastructure such as a common electricity grid and shared water resources.
Rivlin’s idea is, on the surface, appealing especially for many Jews and Israelis because it would eliminate the need to move large numbers of settlers from their settlements in the West Bank and maintain security over all the West Bank. Israelis living in the West Bank, wherever they are, would remain Israeli and vote in Israeli elections though living in Palestine, just as Palestinian Arabs would be citizens of Palestine and vote in Palestinian elections, but live in greater Israel under the complete sovereignty of the Jewish state.
President Rivlin’s plan is for an inherently unequal confederation. The problems in the plan include how to keep Jewish national zealots from building more settlements in the new state of Palestine, how to get agreement from the Palestinians to live under IDF control, what limitations would be placed upon returning Palestinian refugees, and what arrangements would be made in Jerusalem for Palestinians over their own population?
President Rivlin’s ideas, surprisingly, have attracted the support of the principle Oslo architect and left-wing former Deputy Prime Minister Yossi Beilin, among others.
There is also the position of the national religious settler movement led by Bayit Yehudi Leader Naftali Bennett. These people believe that Jews have the God-given right to settle anywhere in the land of Israel, that there is room only for one state between the River and the Sea, Israel, and that Palestinians can never be equal citizens of Israel.
There is no current viable solution on the table. The PA refuses to meet with Israeli leaders without international interlocutors. The Israeli government won’t meet with any Palestinian leader who demands agreement to preconditions.
What do we in the West do?
First, we have to continue to support the state of Israel, its people and its security needs. There are many Jews who are throwing up their hands and want to turn away. We can’t do it. Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people and what happens there effects us here. Israelis need us as we need them – we are one people!
Second, we have to continue to support Israel’s democracy and its commitment to equal rights for all its citizens, Jewish, Arab and other.
Third, we have to remind ourselves that anything that makes a two-state solution more difficult to achieve is a threat to Israel’s future viability, security, democracy, and Jewish character.
Hazak hazak v’nithazek! Be strong and let us strengthen one another!
The following articles discuss the various options confronting Israel and the Palestinians:
“The Many Mid-East Solutions” – Thomas Friedman, NY Times
“Jeremy Ben Ami Responds to Thomas Friedman” – NY Times Letter to the Editor
“The Settlement enterprise has failed” – Shaul Arieli, Haaretz
“Ruvi Seeks a Solution – The President stands up to the Prime Minister and charts a way out of the tribal morass engulfing Israel” – Leslie Susser, The Jerusalem Report