Prior to October 7th, I was one of those leftists in Israel who had eulogized the two-state solution. I believed that the Jewish settlement movement and successive right-wing governments under Bibi Netanyahu had succeeded in destroying any chance of establishing a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel. The incremental annexation of the West Bank, the ongoing siege of Gaza and disconnect between Gaza and the West Bank, the dysfunctionality of the Palestinian Authority, the readiness of the Gulf States to normalize relations with Israel without demanding progress towards a political solution to the conflict, and the lack of belief from both the Palestinian and Israeli public in a negotiated settlement, all combined to convince me that the two-state solution was dead and that it was time to advocate for a one-state solution. To be clear, I was not talking about Likud’s apartheid state where Palestinians would remain imprisoned in their “bantustans”, but a democratic state where all citizens, Jews, Palestinians, Druze, etc. had equal rights. Such a bi-national state would spell the end of the Zionist dream for a Jewish democratic state. It was, however, the successive right-wing governments under Bibi Netanyahu who destroyed that vision and in the last year revealed their intention of crippling democracy to prepare for the absorption of 3 million Palestinians as second-class citizens in an authoritarian Jewish State. When push comes to shove, I choose a democratic state over a Jewish state.
Many things have changed since October 7th. The country is no longer as politically divided as it was, but our faith in the invincibility of our army and the omniscience of our intelligence services has been broken. The basic contract between the State and its citizens, that citizens pay taxes and serve in the military while the State protects its citizens, has been breached. Other more subtle changes have taken place which may have a more lasting impact. The inadequate military response to the brutal ISIS style massacre of civilians by terrorists in the Gaza Envelope emphasized the burden on our resources the occupation of the West Bank requires. As soon as the war began, questions were raised about how many battalions were stationed in the West Bank vs. how many in the Gaza Envelope. The possibility of an intifada on the West Bank, combined with aggression from Hezbollah in the north and internal unrest among Israeli Arabs could turn the war in Gaza into an existential threat. The “asimon” has yet to fall for most Israelis that a never-ending military occupation of the West Bank is unsustainability. A recent poll showed that 44% of the Israeli public believes that Israel should remain in Gaza, reoccupying it, after the war. This may be a temporary effect of the anger over the horrors of October 7th combined with the esprit de guerre which has unified the country. What is clear however, is that the concept of “kicking the can down the road”, managing the conflict and containing the situation is no longer acceptable. Israelis want a resolution of the situation, one way or another.
Perhaps more important than what Israelis want, is what the international community will demand, first among them the United States. It may be possible to ignore pressure from Europe to enter a political process with the Palestinians after the war and Israel may be willing to forfeit new diplomatic gains among the Gulf States in favor of a continued march towards a messianic vision in Judaea and Samaria, but this war has proven that Israel cannot ignore the United States. No other US President has provided the level of support for Israel as has Joe Biden and at such a high political cost. The liberal wing of the Democratic party, young voters, and voters of color, all of whom are essential for Biden’s reelection, have shown more sympathy towards the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza than the suffering of Israeli civilians in Israel. Once the war begins to wind down, or as the US elections approach, Biden will have to make stronger demands on Israel, not only in terms of protecting civilians from harm and more humanitarian aid but in terms of a political process which will lead to a Palestinian state. In addition, any long-term solution for Gaza must include a Palestinian civil service, of some sort, to manage the day to day lives of 2 million Palestinians in Gaza. Whether this service will be provided by some version of the current Palestinian Authority or a completely new authority, no Palestinian will agree to collaborate in the reconstruction of Gaza without a credible political process which will lead to a Palestinian State.
The two-state solution, with all its weaknesses, is now the most realistic path towards a resolution of the Palestinian Israel conflict. Israel’s leaders can best serve the interest of its citizens by recognizing that in the long run, a political solution and not a military solution is the only way to guarantee Israelis safety and security.