On March 16, before the Israeli elections, an Israeli news site asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to confirm that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. “Indeed,” he replied.

After the election, he said he does support the two-state solution, but meant to say that such a solution is impossible under current conditions.

There are three problems with his latest statement:

  1. If you believe in the two-state solution but are unwilling to do anything to bring it about, your supposed belief doesn’t mean much.
  2. Netanyahu also bragged about trying to cut off the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state by construction in Har Homa, in east Jerusalem.
  3. I don’t believe him.

Of course, my disbelief is without any consequence, but it is shared by a great many other people, including the President of the United States.

Netanyahu bases his refusal to consider a Palestinian state on security concerns, ignoring the repeated warnings of top Israeli security professionals — including former heads of Shin Bet and Mossad and high-ranking generals — that Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank poses an even greater security risk.

There are others who no longer believe in the two-state solution, some of them on the political left. At the recent J Street National Conference, Marcia Freedman, founder of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, an organization that has since merged with J Street, said she no longer believed that the two-state solution was possible.

There are two things I’d like to discuss about Freedman’s statement.  One has to do with her views on the two-state solution. The other has to do with the setting in which she expressed them.

Freedman says she doesn’t believe that any Israeli government will be able to give back the land necessary for the formation of a Palestinian state.  She suggests that there could be a bi-national state with a Palestinian majority that is also a Jewish homeland and a secure refuge for the Jewish people.

Freedman implies that she, along with other commentators we’ve heard recently, considers the idea of establishing two states pie-in-the-sky thinking.  However, what these commentators propose as an alternative seems to me to be pie-a-la-mode-in-the-sky thinking.  If the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians can’t get together to work out a two-state deal along lines that have been long understood and widely accepted, how can we believe they can bring about a utopian state where both peoples live in harmony with a shared government and guaranteed rights for all?  Who are these alleged leaders who are capable of producing such a government and, if you can find them, how can you say that these same leaders can’t possibly produce two states?

The goal of a multinational state where the rights of all peoples are respected is appealing.  We in the United States seem to have done a pretty good job of it, although many African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans might disagree.  In most places, however, it hasn’t worked, and given the history of the region, it doesn’t seem feasible for the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Furthermore, ethnic groups with no home state have, in general, fared poorly in the world.  And by what mechanism could this hypothetical state possibly arise?

It seems to me that the only plausible way a one-state outcome (notice I don’t call it a one-state solution, because it would solve nothing) could arise is some version of the following:  A right-wing Israeli government annexes most or all of the West Bank.  Most or all of the Palestinians living in the West Bank are disenfranchised or given some kind of token Bantustan government.  Israel becomes an international pariah.  Even U. S. support is severely strained.  Ultimately, the Palestinians stage some kind of an uprising, with a great deal of backing from abroad, hopefully a non-violent one, but quite possibly not.  In the end, this may succeed in overthrowing the government of Israel.  The resulting government may state a policy of protecting Jewish rights, but there is no guarantee this policy will prevail.  Even if it did, the state would be yet another non-Jewish state with a Jewish minority.  In any case, there would undoubtedly be yet another uprising, this time by radical Jews coming out of the settler movement and its allies.

Now, it is, of course, possible for Jews to thrive in countries where they are minorities, as we do in the United States.  At the same time, I do remember the history of Jews in Europe, who felt secure there until their world was shaken by a Dreyfus affair or a Third Reich.  I can’t help thinking that Jews everywhere are more secure if there is one place on earth where we are a majority and control the government.

But one other aspect of Freedman’s comments that I think is worth noting is that she made them at the national conference of J Street, an organization that fundamentally disagrees with her position.  Personally, I am proud to be part of an organization that regularly welcomes the expression of divergent views.  It is not always comfortable to listen to those whose views are at such odds with one’s own, but it is also healthy.

I contrast this with the position taken by Eric Fingerhut, President of Hillel, who withdrew from an engagement to address J Street’s student arm because Saeb Erekat would also be addressing another session of the conference.  Mind you, Erekat is not some bomb-throwing radical.  He is a diplomat who has been negotiating with diverse Israeli governments, including Mr. Netanyahu’s, for decades over the terms of a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  Erekat has said some things I find objectionable, but that is also true of any number of Israeli statesmen.  If Israeli negotiators can sit in the same room with Erekat, Fingerhut should be able to speak in the same building.  (Fingerhut has since agreed to meet with J Street students.)

I find Fingerhut’s stance in keeping with others in some components of the pro-Israel camp who seem to feel that talking with someone is the same as agreeing with him or her.  Not only do I find that wrong, but I also find it antithetical to the kind of conversations that have to take place for there ever to be any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or any other conflict for that matter.

This brings me back to the two-state solution that so many are now declaring impossible.  Perhaps it is becoming less probable, but I refuse to believe it is impossible, because the alternatives are so unpalatable.  As long as there is a shred of possibility for a two-state solution, I believe we must keep fighting for it, speaking for it, talking to people with who we disagree.


Note:  A version of this piece was previously published in the New Jersey Jewish News.

About the Author
Martin J. Levine is a volunteer leader at J Street, serving on the Steering Committee of its New Jersey chapter.