It is time to have a clear-headed, hard look at reality: the two-state solution is dead.
Early in this fateful year 2011, leading Palestinian intellectual and President of Al Kuds University Sari Nousseibeh published his deeply disturbing book What is a Palestinian State Worth?. Nousseibeh, who has been a peace activist for decades, takes stock of the conflict. With rare empathy, he says that he doesn’t believe that after the Holocaust Jews would be capable of relinquishing the West Bank or full military control over the whole area west of the Jordan.
He suggested to Palestinians to relinquish the struggle for statehood. He even asked them to accept that for a long time, they would not have full political rights, and that they should settle for civic and human rights to make life as bearable as possible. His deeply pessimistic conclusion was that, given the realities, the human cost of continuing the struggle for a Palestinian state was too high.
At the time I did not want to accept Nousseibeh’s conclusion. I hoped that the Palestinian bid for UN recognition would bear fruit and that it would stop the march towards catastrophe.
I maintained this hope not just for the Palestinians, but for Israel; because I believed that both Jews and Palestinians wanted and needed political self-determination; but primarily because I couldn’t see the one state solution work; and finally, because I shuddered at the idea that we Jews would continue to rule another people.
My hope was misguided.
From a historical perspective, the two-state solution’s demise was, maybe, inevitable. Except for six years, the Likud has been in power for the last thirty-five years, and the Likud never relinquished its dream of the greater land of Israel. When Rabin won elections for prime minister in 1992, both he and Peres felt that this was a last chance; they believed that what they would not achieve in Rabin’s term would not be achieved at all.
Rabin had to govern with a minority of the Knesset supporting him, and Israel’s right never felt that he had a mandate for the Oslo process. Netanyahu spoke at demonstrations with posters depicting Rabin as a Nazi. He was later recorded taking pride in having killed off the Oslo process.
Now he can take partial credit for having killed the two-state solution. The other half goes to the Palestinians: as Mahmoud Abbas said more than a year ago, the Palestinians’ greatest mistake was the second Intifada. Indeed: together with Hamas’ win of the elections in 2006 and the shelling of southern Israel, the Intifada’s horrible violence has made Israelis averse to take further risks for peace.
Those of us who have invested years of hope and energy in promoting the two-state solution must now accept defeat. It’s too easy to blame this on Netanyahu exclusively: Israel’s electorate has, after all, given him the mandate; and, as some of his Likud MKs driving the recent wave of illiberal legislation keep saying, they have been called to implement the Likud’s policy: the prevention of a Palestinian state.
Where do we go from here?
To some extent, this depends on Palestinians. If they will return to the path of violence, the land West of the Jordan will soon look like Bosnia, descending into an even greater spiral of destruction.
If they will, as they say, stick to peaceful resistance, they will need a lot of stamina indeed. In the short run, I am afraid, they will, as Sari Nousseibeh predicts, live without full political rights. I say this with shame. But this is the truth.