Peter Beinart’s Utopian Wake-Up Call

When Peter Beinart published his two articles, particularly the shorter version in The New York Times with its provocative title “I no longer believe in a Jewish state,” the first response of many liberal Zionists was “Et tu Peter?” Have you also joined the ranks of those who no longer believe in a two state solution?

I am a graduate of Hashomer Hatzair, the socialist-Zionist youth movement, which originally advocated for a bi-national state.  When my father was just out of the American army in 1947, he helped Mordechai Ben-Tov, one of the leaders of the movement to submit “The Road to Bi-National Independence for Palestine” to UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which was deliberating over the fate of the British Mandate.  It was a beautiful and just vision that was also supported by philosopher Martin Buber and his group of mainly German-Jewish intellectuals in Brit Shalom and its follow-up Ihud, by Albert Einstein, by Hannah Arendt, by Hadassah Founding President Henrietta Szold, by Dr. Judah Magnes, first president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, by Albert Einstein and by the young Noam Chomsky, among others. Unfortunately, they were in the minority among the Jews in Palestine, and the proposal was rejected by almost all of the Palestinian Arabs and the neighboring Arab countries.

Therefore, the UN felt there was no choice but to decide upon partition, UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the creation of a Jewish and an Arab state in Mandatory Palestine.

That was the beginning of the idea of a two-state solution, and it’s also the basis of international legitimacy for the State of Israel.

Now Beinart writes that “the dream of a two-state solution that would give Palestinians a country of their own let me hope that I could remain a liberal and a supporter of Jewish statehood at the same time. Events have now extinguished that hope.”  Therefore, “it’s time to abandon the traditional two-state solution and embrace the goal of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians.”

The facts that Beinart ignores

This is where Beinart becomes utopian, since he is simply not taking into account the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli Jews don’t want to live in a bi-national state.  They want to live in a predominantly Jewish state, which includes a 20% minority of Palestinian Israeli citizens, but not one where the Palestinians would soon constitute a majority and determine the identity of the state.  He is also not taking into account the fact that the PLO, the official representative of the Palestinian people continues to support a two-state solution, the entire international community supports a two-state solution, and even the Joint List, the party which represents the interests of the Palestinian Israelis in the Knesset also supports a two-state solution.  Yes, one bi-national state is a beautiful and just vision, but after one hundred years of conflict between the Jewish and Palestinian national movements, including a series of violent conflicts beginning in the pre-state period, the 1948 war, and more recently the 1st and 2nd intifadas and rounds of violence between Israel and Hamas, what the young Executive Director Einat Ovadia of the new research and action oriented Israeli NGO Zulat, for Equality and Human Rights calls  ” rivers of blood between the two peoples,” it is extremely hard to imagine Israelis and Palestinians being able to make the leap to a bi-national one state solution in the foreseeable future.

A product of understandable frustration and despair

At the same time, I call Beinart’s two articles a wake-up call, because they are clearly a product of his frustration, if not despair about the current prospects for promoting a two-state solution, a view shared by many like-minded liberal and progressive Jews and non-Jews around the world, and also by some Israelis as well.  Given the Likud Party’s opposition to a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s readiness to consider annexation of up to 30% of the West Bank which would undermine any possibility for a viable two-state solution, the Trump administration’s unrealistic “Peace for Prosperity” plan, Palestinian divisions between Fatah and Hamas and lack of clear strategy, and the paralysis of the international community when it comes to any serious attempt to promote a two-state solution, this is totally understandable.

A Two-State Solution is still possible

Beinart writes that the “about 640,000 Jewish settlers who now live in East Jerusalem, and the Israeli and American governments have divested Palestinian statehood of any real meaning.”  However, according to Dr. Shaul Arieli, the foremost Israeli expert on the settlement enterprise and developments in the Occupied Territories, the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, accompanied by a mutually agreed upon land swap of 4-5% of land adjacent to the Green Line 1967 border, would enable Israel to include 80% of the settlers within the sovereign state of Israel, neutralizing settler opposition to the move.  That is doable, and something that joint public opinion polls by Dr. Khalil Shikaki and Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin indicate would be supported by a clear majority of both the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians.

All that’s needed for that to happen is for Joe Biden to defeat Donald Trump in November, and for Europe and the UN, maybe within the framework of the Quartet (the U.S. Russia, EU and the UN), to take the lead in convening an international Madrid-like conference, to set the ball rolling.  It would help if the Palestinians would be able to arrive at a unified leadership which would support such a move, and for the Israeli center-left to be ready to take the lead in actively promoting a two-state solution on the Israeli side.  The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel peace and normal relations based on an Israeli readiness to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside the State of Israel, with a mutually agreed upon solution for the refugee problem, would bring all 22 Arab states on board, backed by the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (including Iran!), would be one of the pillars of such an initiative.

In 2007-2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas came close to such an agreement.  New leadership on all sides can help to make it happen.

Peter, don’t despair.  A two-state solution is still possible, and is also the preferable and only viable solution in the foreseeable future.  Later we can move on to some form of confederation, and eventually to a bi-national reality based on genuine equality and cooperation.

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv
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