It Has to be Two: New book says no alternative to two states for two peoples

In his essay How to Talk to a Fanatic, Amos Oz wrote in praise of compromise. The fanatics on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the ‘walking exclamation marks’ as he called them – offer only more death, while compromise, in the form of the two state solution, offers life.

Despite all, the two state solution remains the grand compromise that solves the three things that must be solved if the conflict is ever to end.

First, it solves the Palestinians’ need for a state of their own in which to exercise their right to national self-determination as a people, the Palestinian people.

Second, it solves the Jewish people’s need for the same.

Third, it solves a dilemma: both peoples can only exercise their right to national self-determination by sharing the same strip of land.

So, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Oslo II agreement, the online journal Fathom has published Two States for Two Peoples – an e-Book collecting 25 essays and interviews drawn from our pages.

While the two state solution reconciles two legitimate but competing claims, the other ‘solutions’ simply evade one claim or the other. The so-called ‘one-state solution’ manages to ignore both claims by bracketing not only the long history of murderous conflict between the two peoples but their common dream of living in their own sovereign state, thus proving the truth of George Orwell’s quip that some ideas are so ridiculous you can only get the intellectuals to agree to them.

Today in Europe we hear the argument that the two state solution is unjust because the Palestinian refugees – not just the first generation, but their children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren; now numbering some five to six million people – can’t return to the villages that they, or the parents, grandparents or great grandparents, were born in.

Well, here is the thing; they can’t. And yes, that is tragic. (The 700,000 Jews driven from the Arab and Muslim lands in late 1940s also don’t get to return. That’s also tragic.)

Yes, the tragedy of 1948 has to be acknowledged. Yes, narratives have to be respected. Yes, compensation has to be generous. All that can be done.  And more. But here is what can’t be done. The film of history can’t be rewound to 1948. The two-state solution is as just as we get to be, given how history went. It is as just as we get to be while meeting the need on both sides for national self-determination.

If 6 million Palestinian refugees ‘return’ to Israel  it will no longer be Israel. It will be another majority Arab state. And how will the Jews fare in that state? Those who say they will fare well should not be taken seriously, for theirs is what we can usefully call a vindictive one-statism.

But the failure of 20 years of the peace process can’t be ignored either. ‘One more heave’ is not good enough. What the process needs now is what some, including Ari Shavit, have called thinking about ‘new peace’. That means imagining how to build, with stubborn determination, the preconditions for compromise. And it means cultivating a new sensibility, educating both peoples in the spirit of deep mutual recognition. Without the enabling conditions, and the affective foundation, the excruciating compromises required of both peoples will never be made.

The Fathom collection is organised in four parts.

Writers from several perspectives assess why the peace process has not succeeded so far and how to breathe life back into it. Hussein Ibish argues for the urgent empowerment of the Palestinian nation-builders, while Moshe Arens, Ami Ayalon and Cary Nelson explore the viability of ‘coordinated unilateralism’ as a way to break the logjam.

Obstacles to mutual recognition and negotiations are explored: David Pollock on Palestinian incitement, Einat Wilf on the role of UNWRA, and Ofer Zalsberg on Israel’s National-Religious community. Shlomo Avineri and Joshua Muravchik argue for the cautious management of the conflict in a turbulent Middle East, while Joel Braunold appeals for support for those building peace through engagement at the grassroots.

Israeli and Palestinian activists, politicians and writers – Hitham Kayali, Isaac Herzog, Omer Bar-Lev, and Ari Shavit – make the case for the two-state solution, with a dissenting note added by Benny Begin who asks the sceptical question: does Israel really have a partner for peace?

The difficult ‘core issues’ of the negotiating process are examined. Meir Kraus and Danny Seidemann assess the future of Jerusalem, while Lior Amihai and Danny Dayan debate the settlement project and its compatibility with the resolution of the conflict.

The academic David Newman looks at how the border between the two states might be demarcated, while Sapan Maini-Thompson shows how research undertaken by the Portland Trust proves that boycott campaigns only damage peace-making.

Three experts – Michael Herzog, Gershon Baskin and Shlomo Brom – make the case for a new compact for Gaza: reconstruction for demilitarisation.

Finally, two Israeli foreign policy heavyweights – Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, and Dore Gold, the current Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs – wrestle with the implications of regional chaos for the peace process.

In the spirit of the journal in which they were published, the Fathom writers offer no ‘line’ but they do exemplify a certain spirit of refusal; they will not give up on the only serious option for peace. They keep probing. The deal may not be available today, but the paradigm must be available tomorrow. Because in the end, it will have to be two.

About the Author
Professor Alan Johnson is the Editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).