Supporters of a two state solution are often characterized as delusional dreamers, useful idiots, Oslo criminals, traitors, and people who just don’t understand reality here in this neighborhood we call The Middle East. These epithets have become so pervasive and so reflexive that the phrase “two state solution” is now frequently replaced with the euphemisms “diplomatic solution” or “political solution.” That they are euphemisms is clear, for those supporting a diplomatic process leading to a political resolution to the conflict generally don’t have a single non-Zionist bi-national state in mind, or dream with the right wing of a Zionist state wherein non-Jews between the river and the sea happily accept citizenship in a nation-state that does not represent their historical, cultural, and national identities. But regardless of what vision one holds for the future of Jewish life in the Land of Israel, that is to say regardless of whether one supports the idea of two states for two peoples or opposes it in favor of something else, the idea cannot be dismissed by labeling its supporters delusional dreamers, useful idiots, and/or traitorous criminals. For the two state solution is supported by many of the most accomplished leaders of Israel’s security establishment, people whose knowledge of Israel’s security requirements and commitments to the future of the state are very difficult to question.
Is Yossi Alpher, who served for 12 years in the Mossad and is a former Director of The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University ignorant or deluded? Is he disloyal? What about Shaul Arieli, who commanded the Northern Brigade in the Gaza Strip? What about former Chief of the General Staff of the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi, who prior to leading Israel’s entire military as its top general commanded the Golani Brigade, served as Head of Intelligence for the Northern Command, as GOC of the Northern Command, and deputy Chief of the General Staff? Did his 39 years of service in the IDF, as well as his service as Director General of the Ministry of Defense teach him absolutely nothing about the reality Israel faces? Is he insufficiently familiar with its enemies? Does it make sense to question the loyalty and commitment of such a man without evidence beyond the fact that you may not agree with him regarding the desirability, necessity, or possibility of a two state solution? Other Chiefs of the General Staff of the IDF who support two states include Ehud Barak, Dan Halutz (who also served as commander of the IAF, so we might assume he has some familiarity with the proverbial and literal lay of the land from above), and Shaul Mofaz. Prominent retired Major Generals who support two states include Eitan Eliyahu (another former commander of Israel’s vaunted Air Force), Shlomo Gazit (who coordinated government activities in the territories captured in 1967 in the aftermath of the war, who therefore might be called the founding architect of their occupation and subsequently a longstanding member of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies/INSS) , Amram Mitzna, Yossi Peled, Uri Sagi, Natan Sharoni, Elazar Stern, Amos Yadlin (Director of the INSS), Danny Yatom (who also served as Mossad chief), and Ami Ayalon, who after retirement from active duty served as head of the General Security Services (GSS), known most commonly by its Hebrew acronym as the SHaBaK. Additional former Mossad chiefs who support two states include Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy. Other former heads of the SHaBaK who support two states include Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Avraham Shalom, and Yaakov Peri. Long lists of Brigadier Generals and prominent analysts and scholars at think tanks devoted to Israel’s security can be added to this prestigious list of security experts who support two states.
We could also undoubtedly compile a list of distinguished representatives of Israel’s upper security echelon who oppose a two state solution – our current Minister of Defense comes to mind – but it would be hard to dismiss supporting it as delusion, ignorance, baseless idealism, or disloyalty without indicting a significant swath of Israel’s most committed defenders as a band of idiots and/or traitors. In my view, anyone who does so forfeits the right to be taken seriously. Whether or not one agrees with the possibility, necessity, and/or desirability of a two state resolution to the conflict, from a security perspective it is an idea that merits respect and those who support it should not automatically be subject to aspersions cast upon their grasp of reality or their devotion to Israel.
Ultimately, the way one thinks about the two state solution depends on how one interprets the violence we have witnessed and endured and in which we have participated since the signing of the Oslo Accords. Opponents of the two state paradigm blame all the violence on that same accord that was meant to inaugurate a new era of peace and prosperity. Indeed, they take the subsequent violence as proof of the failure of the two state paradigm. For some, this is a convenient perspective, as they wouldn’t want one even if it could work. In a sense, this view functions as a moral get-out-of-jail-free card. No one need feel ambivalent or uncomfortable about preferring land to peace if that peace is illusory. No one need say out loud that they prefer biblical land and messianic hope to sustainable political peace based on contemporary reality if the latter is unavailable. For others, this view represents a bitter pill they have swallowed. They blame the violence on the accord in which they once placed their hopes and of which they have now despaired in a situation reminiscent of Irving Kristol’s famous quip that “a neo-conservative is a liberal who got mugged by reality.” On the other hand, those who still support a two state solution blame all the violence since Oslo on the degradation and derailment of the process, on its disappointment, and on the abdication of Israeli and/or Palestinian leaders and their failures in bringing it to fruition. How can one say that the two state solution has failed when there haven’t yet been two states? The occupation that produced the first intifada did not end. It therefore produced the second intifada as well, and the three wars we have fought in and with Gaza since. It’s clear that there was violence prior to Oslo. But is the escalation since then due to vulnerabilities that the accords foisted onto Israel? Or is it due to the fact that settlement building on disputed land has continued apace and on the exponential growth of Jewish population precisely in areas necessary for a future Palestinian state that could have any sort of conceivable contiguity? Did Oslo go too far and encourage further violence, or did it fail to go far enough to prevent escalating frustration that fed the escalation of violence? If one holds with the former, then a two state solution would promise to make Israel less secure. If one holds with the latter, then a two state solution would promise to make Israel more secure. Obviously, the security experts listed above believe the latter, while others not listed here believe the former. But neither position is without rationale or attention to facts or suggests more or less commitment to Israel’s security. They rest on different interpretations of the same facts the meaning of which, despite partisan assertions, are far from self-evident.
But if the security experts listed above believe that a two state solution is desirable, and especially if they think it’s necessary, then they must take responsibility for it. And time is likely running out. Yitzhak Herzog’s Labor Party does not seem poised for an electoral renaissance. And neither Tzipi Livni’s Hatnu’ah, nor Yossi Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which includes former SHaBaK commander Yaakov Peri, seem to possess the political will to leave the government and partner with Herzog’s Labor and with Meretz and Hadash in an effort to bring about a future coalition committed to pursuing the two state solution. Many of these figures have asserted the emergence of new opportunities for a final status agreement of two states within a regional framework in which Egypt and the Arab League will play significant roles and that therefore does not depend solely on the trustworthiness of our Palestinian counterparts. All of them seek a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, but with agreed upon land swaps to ameliorate displacement of populations and to address security concerns. With some disagreements of degree, all of them see the future Palestinian state as one of limited sovereignty with only domestic security forces. All of them seek, as proposed in both the Saudi/Arab League Initiative and in the Geneva Initiative, normalization of political and economic relations with all states in the region as part of a two state solution. But as long as Lapid and Livni prop up Netanyahu’s government, without any realistic hope of commitment to a diplomatic process, they cannot be taken seriously.
What the two state solution will require from the Israeli side is a political movement that will reestablish its political credibility. And this will not come from current politicians. In my view, the Israeli electorate has frequently placed too much trust in generals and not enough in statespersons. And Israel has also suffered from too many political parties, often with overly specific commitments and constituencies. But in this case, it seems that a new party with a specific goal is precisely what is required. If the two state solution is to have any chance, there must be a new party list of generals and security experts with strong credentials dedicated to implementing an agreement as its central and perhaps its only platform. They must run on this as their sole purpose and commit to opposing any coalition that does not prioritize immediate progress. They must turn the next elections into a referendum and a measure of national will. And they must commit to calling for new elections once it has been accomplished to highlight that their goal is security and not political power. Only they can convince the electorate of the viability of a regionally sustained two state solution. Only if they demonstrate commitment to this idea above all else will they have the credibility to pursue it. It must be their mission to advocate and vouch for it, to make the arguments anew, to articulate new circumstances and possibilities, and to force Israel’s gummed up democratic machinery to move swiftly in that direction. And they have already waited far too long.