The Two-State Solution, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, is Still Dead

Getty Images

That “time is running out” for a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the great shibboleths of contemporary foreign-affairs commentary.

Citing this bit of conventional wisdom is as revealing an indicator of banality as repeating empty buzz phrases like “international community,” “never again,” and “leading from behind.”

Don’t get me wrong. I enthusiastically support a two-state solution as both a matter of justice for the Palestinians and security for the sake of Israel. I also think it would be wonderful if every little girl had a pony. The chances of either happening, at least in my lifetime, are roughly the same.

Yet listen to the foreign-policy wise men, and you would think the immediate imposition of the two-state solution is not just the only ethical resolution to Palestinian statelessness, but also the most pragmatic. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100%, cannot be maintained,” Secretary of State John Kerry declared earlier this year at the Munich Security Conference, describing as tenuous a state of affairs – Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – that has been “maintained” for nearly five decades.

In a widely-trafficked column  published around the same time as Kerry’s remarks, Tom Friedman of the New York Times announced that time had already run out for agreement between the two sides. “The peace process is dead,” Friedman wrote. “It’s over, folks, so please stop sending the New York Times Op-Ed page editor your proposals for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Before writing eulogies for the two-state solution, however, it’s worth asking a question: what’s so bad about the much-reviled “status quo?”

Listening to people like Friedman and Kerry, you would think that if only Israel were a little less belligerent and territorially ravenous, peace would be at hand. This ignores the glaring fact that the other side is divided between a genocidal terrorist organization ruling one half of the future Palestinian State (Hamas) and a somewhat less genocidal, though more corrupt, authoritarian apparatus (the Palestinian Authority) controlling the West Bank.

In contrast to Palestinian nationalism, what has made Zionism such a resounding success is the unity of the Jewish people. Even in the British Mandate period, as “revisionist” Zionist paramilitaries violently challenged the pre-statehood Israeli army, the Jews rallied around the common cause of national self-determination. Eventually, all the various Jewish paramilitary groups united under one sovereign, democratic authority.

To this day, 70 years after failing to drive the Jews into the sea, the Palestinians lack such unity and are as much at each other’s throats as they are the dread Zionist entity. How could such a riven polity be expected to administer a state?

Perhaps if the Palestinians lived in some remote, deserted area, and not next to the world’s only Jewish country, this question would be irrelevant. But Palestinian statehood will have consequences beyond the fate of just the Palestinians. When even a committed peace processer like former diplomat Shlomo Avineri concludes that the vast majority of Palestinians continue to see Israel “as an illegitimate entity, sooner or later doomed to disappear,” or when the leader of the Labor Party concedes there is no possibility for a two-state solution in the near future, the question of Palestinian statehood becomes more complicated.

Imposing the two-state solution before the parties agree to mutually acceptable terms, as peace process devotees insist, would likely lead to a situation whereby Hamas takes control of the West Bank in the same violent manner it did Gaza a decade ago. Then, the entirety of metropolitan Israel, including its international airport, would be within easy range of Hamas’ rockets.

Not only, in this scenario, would the two-state solution be a disaster for Israel, but there is little reason to believe that the lot of the Palestinians would improve. Surveying the state of Arab politics at the moment, the choices seem to vary between genocidal civil war (Syria), a kingdom under siege from refugees escaping that civil war (Jordan), or absolute military dictatorship (Egypt). There is no reason to think a Palestinian state would be the least bit democratic, never mind respectful of its Jewish neighbor like Germany is to France.

Given these options, living under (a relatively benign) Israeli military occupation looks pretty appetizing.

That said, I agree wholeheartedly with those who say the Israeli occupation corrodes the Jewish soul, demeans the Palestinians, inculcates hatred in future generations, and is many more horrible, nasty things. But it’s better than creating yet another terrorist statelet next door. When the Palestinians decide they would rather have a sovereign country than kill Jews, I’m sure Israel would be more than happy to negotiate, as it has repeatedly in the past.

But outside the confines of a Model United Nations club, discussing the fates of nations requires a heavy dose of realism, along with a sober understanding that perfect should not be made the enemy of the good. This applies particularly to the Middle East. Those who constantly insist that the two-state solution is imperative and urgent should answer the following question: Should we preserve the world’s sole Jewish state, or further risk its safety and possible existence for the sake of creating the 23rd Arab one? To paraphrase Winston Churchill on democracy: the status quo may be the worst situation for both Israelis and Palestinians, but it’s better than any of the alternatives.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More