Moment of Truth for Liberal Zionism

For the last ten plus years, advocates of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine have been warning that the “window of opportunity” for a two-state solution is closing fast.

Here’s Jordan’s King Abdullah II using the image in a 2005 speech:

Israelis and Palestinians must take advantage of a “small window of opportunity” for peacemaking, he warned. “If we don’t do it, I think the Middle East will be doomed, unfortunately, to many more decades of violence.”

From a 2007 Boston Globe report:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that a “two-state solution” in the Middle East is in jeopardy and described a narrow window of opportunity to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami, writing in a 2008 Forward op-ed:

The window is closing on a two-state solution, and Israel’s prospects for a second, safer 60 years grow are growing ever dimmer.

And as recently as two weeks ago, Ben-Ami used a different metaphor to underscore the urgency of the latest “moment:”

If this round of talks breaks down yet again – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single observer who’ll argue that they won’t – then Israel, like the boater on the river, can briefly revel in having avoided the risk of heading to shore.

But bear in mind that “sitting this one out” isn’t an option. The waterfall is still dead ahead.

As someone who’s invoked the “closing window” more than once myself over the years, I’m quite familiar with this pedagogy. Time is running out for a viable negotiated two-state agreement between Israelis and Palestinians – and thus the future of a Jewish and democratic state. The status quo – namely unrestricted Israeli settlement of the West Bank, coupled with an ever-increasing Palestinian birth rate – simply cannot be sustained.

At a certain point, however, I think it’s fair to pose the challenge: how many times can you repeatedly warn of a last chance before the notion is rendered devoid of all meaning? How long can advocates of a two-state solution invoke the urgency of a fleeting opportunity before admitting that this solution is simply no longer a realistic option any more?

To be sure, with each passing day, the warning of a last chance opportunity appears increasingly toothless. The latest “window of opportunity” occurred earlier this month when it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was “mulling gestures to Palestinians to keep the peace talks going.” Barely a week later, we learned that Israeli officials had formally informed the PA of its position that West Bank settlements “must be a part of the Israeli State.”

Such a position, of course, makes a complete mockery of any suggestion of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. It lays bare the truth that Israel is not really interested in two actual states, but merely the formalization of an inherently inequitable status quo.

The political realities here are stark and undeniable. Israel’s settlement of the West Bank continues with impunity and the US continues to provide its “closest ally” with all the diplomatic cover it needs to do so. Politically speaking, it is no longer possible to invoke windows of opportunity with a straight face. Perhaps the real question before us is not “how many times have we missed these opportunities?” but rather, “did they ever really exist at all?”

So what happens now? It’s reasonable to assume that this paralyzed, inequitable status quo will continue apace into the indeterminate future. Israel will continue to create facts on the West Bank with the tacit permission of the US, creating a conditions that no Palestinian leader could possibly be expected to accept.

Under such circumstances, it is equally reasonable to expect the reality for Palestinians on the ground to grow increasingly oppressive and dire.  As this occurs, their plight and their cause will be more difficult for the world to ignore. Governments, individuals and institutions will increasingly rally to Palestinian requests for support, most prominently the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

In turn, Israel’s actions will be increasingly more difficult for its supporters to defend.  As the status quo is allowed to languish, the state of Israel will become further and further isolated from the rest of the world community and more pressure will be brought to bear upon the political elites to fundamentally change their approach to ending this conflict.

While these are certainly sobering and painful prospects, I don’t think they are exaggerated or far-fetched. On the contrary, I believe the burden of proof is on those who believe the same tired approach to the “peace process” will somehow yield results in the future when it has failed repeatedly in the past.

Once we accept that a division into two states is no longer realistically possible, the calculus is sobering, to put it mildly: we will be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic apartheid Jewish state, in which a minority rules over a majority or a civil democracy in which all citizens have equal rights under the law.

For many liberal Zionists, this unbearably painful decision will represent a profound moment of truth. If forced to choose, which will it be? A Jewish state that parcels out its citizens’ rights according to their ethnicity – or a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens?

I truly believe this is more than an academic question.  Perhaps it’s time to stop talking about mythic “windows of opportunity” and open a new discussion: what will it take for us to admit that it is finally closed? And what will our options be then?

15 thoughts on “Moment of Truth for Liberal Zionism

  1. i_like_ike52

    It is time to clarify assumptions made in Brant’s column:
    (1) There NEVER was a “two-state” option. An “Independent” Palestinian state within the pre-67 borders would never be viable…it would become a battleground between different groups supported by outside powers. In fact, this has already happened with the Gaza-West Bank split and the HAMAS-FATAH rivaly.
    (2) There is no mention of the “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees….this is the real deal -breaker, not the Jewish settlements. No Palestinian leader can give up the demand for an unlimited, unrestricted “right of return” and no Israeli leader can ever agree to it.
    (3) I reject the idea that “Israel is becoming increasingly isolated” because of the Palestinian problem. Most people in the world couldn’t care less about the Arab-Israeli conflict. No doubt people would be happy if some sort of compromise peace deal could be arranged, but most people also realize it is not attainable. This is just one of the many conflicts in the world that is unresolvable and this is understood by most people in the know.
    (4) There is no reason that situation of the Palestinians will be “increasingly oppressive and dire”. There is a solution. it is the “Palestinian-Jordanian ONE STATE SOLUTION”. This will be an informal modus-vivendi, rather than a de-jure, legal solution, but it is already partially in place now. Jews can continue to excercise their historic-religious right to live in parts of the West Bank, other parts will be under Jordanian-Palestinian control, Israeli security will be guaranteed and hopefully the security presence can continue to be drawn down, as it has been in the recent past.
    This is the ONLY way forward for Jews and Arabs in the country, and it is being implemented now, right under our very noses.

    1. Richard Kahn

      Which is why you’re not a liberal Zionist that R. Brant is talking about. Also, Jordan hates the Palestinians (and vice versa). You’re not offering a serious solution.
      (2) is right, though. It’s the crux of the issue that nobody wants to discuss.

    2. David

      In fact, Israel is becoming more isolated and increasingly viewed around the world as a pariah state and the leading threat to world peace:
      Jewish Life – Jewish Federations
      “European Poll: Israel Biggest Threat To World Peace”

      “Results of a new poll commissioned by the European Commission show that Israel is believed by Europeans in 15 countries to be the greatest threat to world peace, greater than North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan.

      “…7,500 people polled living in the European Union (500 in each of the 15 E.U. member states) were presented with a list of 15 countries and asked if these countries present a threat to world peace…. Israel was rated first.”

      1. i_like_ike52

        The Jordanian REGIME hates the Palestinians. The majority of the population of Jordan are “Palestinians”, i.e. people who came from the West side of the Jordan River. The Jordanian regime wants stability and an irredentist independent Palestinian state is THE biggest threat to their regime’s stability, because, as I said, an independent Palestinian state would never be viable and the relationship between the people on both sides of the Jordan River is close. Thus, Jordan has no choice but to cooperate with the West Bank Palestinians, which indeed is what happens. As I said, such an arrangement will be de facto, not de jure.

        How do you interpret such a poll, assuming it is accurate? Would creation of an independent Palestinian state change people’s views? Not necessarily. Maybe they are saying that the Arab-Israeli conflict is always in danger of exploding and this could affect the rest of the world by way of disruption of oil supplies. In any event, creation of an independent Palestinian state without resolving outstanding issues such as the demand for the return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel would not change the volitility of the conflict, so even should such a state arise, Europeans will still say the same thing regarding the essentially unresolvable nature of the conflict. The conflict is NOT over “Palestinian self-determination” as the so-called “liberal Zionists” think, it is over the existence of Israel which is why the Palestinians will NOT give up the demands for unrestricted right of return of the refugees.
        In any event, as I said, Israel is NOT “more isolated than ever'” Israel has good relations with most of the countries of the world, outside of the Muslim bloc. Israel has very good relations with the former Soviet Bloc, with new economic powerhouses Indian and China, newly emerging economies in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam. Even Turkey, with all the hostility emerging from their side, has constantly increasing trade with Israel.
        Finally, note how the Palestinian attempt to have the UN create a recognized state for them fizzled out.
        You are just going to have to get used to the fact that the Arab/Israeli conflict is going to go on indefinitely.
        If some American Jews want to disconnect from Israel that is too bad, but it will hurt them more than it will hurt Israel.

  2. Seth Morrison

    Brant raises significant issues and concerns, especially for people like me who do believe that the two-state solution would be best for both Israel and Palestine.

    I am curious what Brant and others think of proposals from the Federation of Israel-Palestine as documented in the draft constitution at

    It seems like this is a version of the two state solution that might be more viable than a one-state solution that many Israeli Jews would have a very hard time accepting even if more of us liberals did support it.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      I think at least we need to be opening the conversation on fresh and creative ideas to the problem. As far as the federalist approach goes, in fact, as far back as 1991, respected Israeli/American political scientist Daniel J. Elazar was promoting a “federal solution” for Israelis and Palestinians:

      It is time to find a way to share the land without an exclusive reliance on partition … It is this writer’s deep and considered belief that the federal option is the only option for peace… within which all will find their place without foregoing their separate characters and cultures and their desire for independent development.

      (From “Two Peoples – One Land: Federal Solutions for Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan.”)

      Along these lines, you might also read my recent interview with Palestinian journalist Ahmed Moor, who offered up the example of how federalism enabled the US to “recover from the wounds of the Civil War:”

      What I’m thinking of specifically is a state with four federal units: the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem is its own district, sort of like Washington DC, central Israel and the Negev and finally the West Bank and the Mediterranean corridor so now you’ve got four districts and Jerusalem. And each of those federal units would be defined geographically and every one of them, with the exception of the Strip, would be made up of minorities either of Jewish people or Palestinian people.

      And so in the West Bank federal state you’d have an expression mostly of Palestinian culture. Why? Because 5 out of every 6 people on the West Bank are Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip you could have an expression of Palestinian culture. In the northwestern state there’s a big minority of Palestinian Israelis, but it’s primarily Jewish. I mean we’re talking about the Tel Aviv – Haifa corridor and that would be a majority Hebrew culture state. Same with the Negev.

      So you have parity amongst the states because the states are defined geographically and you enable people over time to move for personal preference reasons. Over time your could get a drift across these federal lines, kind of like what happened in the States. You used to define yourself as an American 100 years ago as a South Carolinian or a New Yorker, but today your primary locus of identity is as an American when you deal with the rest of the world. This was the failure of Lebanon – instead of geographically defining the states, the individual community boundaries within Lebanon don’t allow for that drift, so what they’ve ended up with is kind of ossified sectarian structure.

      So I don’t think it will be perfect, I don’t it will be easy, but the idea is that you grant people equal rights and give them the freedom to move back and forth across borders. They won’t initially, but they will eventually. That’s been the American experience.

      Clearly there are daunting challenges to these kinds of suggestions. But once one truly accepts that the two-state solution, as defined by the current process, is a closed window, we will need fresh new ideas if there is to be any real hope for the future of these peoples on this land.

  3. Larry Hamilton

    Thanks for another insightful post. In addition to the two alternatives you have identified – a Jewish state that parcels out its citizens’ rights according to their ethnicity, or a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens – there is actually a third possible (albeit unconscionable) alternative: an ethnically cleansed Jewish state that has completed the process of expelling its non-Jewish inhabitants that began in 1947. I have come to believe that that has been the conscious or unconscious trajectory of the Zionist dream all along, and it is no surprise that polls indicate that support among Israeli Jews for the so-called “transfer” option is increasing. The problem is Zionism itself, which was nothing less than the adoption of the whole cognitive framework and orientation of our tormentors as our own. And even if, heaven forbid, the goal of 100% ethnic cleansing were to be achieved, there would still not be peace in Israel, because then we Jews would start devouring each other, just as happened the last time in history when there was a Jewish commonwealth.

  4. David

    “Liberal Zionism” has never existed. Its objective from the very beginning was to facilitate and encourage mass immigration of foreign Jews to Palestine and thereby set the stage for the eventual expulsion of the native Palestinian inhabitants by force and establish an exclusionary/expansionist “Jewish State.”

    Zionism is a curse for the Palestininians, other Arabs, the world and Jews everywhere. The only postitive thing about Zionism is that like all racist neo-colonialist ideologies, it contains the seeds of its own demise. Already, nearly one million Jewish Israelis have emigrated seeking better lives and immigration is a trickle. Meanwhile, Palestinians living in Israel proper are increasing by 60,000 per year and according to the US State Dept., they already outnumber Jews between the River Jordan and the Med. Sea.

    1. Dave

      If the rate of Jewish emigration is so high, how come there were huge demonstrations against the high cost of housing in non-Haredi areas? With so much housing being built for Jews, and allegedly, with so many Jews leaving, the cost of housing should be falling-indeed it should be collapsing.

      And who’s living in all these non-Haredi empty housing units that this alleged huge amount of net emigration is causing?

      No need to worry about the ‘Judaisisation’ of East Jerusalem-if Jews are (net) leaving Israel en masse.

      Not even the State Department (well maybe the State Department) can’t say that Jews are both leaving Israel and filling up East Jerusalem and the West Bank at the same time

  5. John Pitman Weber

    Clearly a ONE state “solution” has been the only possible one since the beginning of the apartheid wall. My calling it that, since it was patently designed to separate Palestinians from their land and livelihood, indicates my position. Israel is already an Apartheid state. It remains only for all, Jews and non-Jews, who treasure democracy and human rights to draw the conclusion and take action. BDS, until Israeli Apartheid falls. Then and only then a new democratic, bi-national or secular state will be possible. The sooner that happens the better for the Jewish population. Israeli military superiority will inevitably deteriorate- and rapidly. Israel will never again have such a favorable position from which to negotiate the transition away from Apartheid.


    Sure John, who wouldn’t want to live next to an Egyptian soccer fan. Or those happy go lucky lads from hamas and hezbollah Don’t expect this to get posted. Pro-Palestinian Jews like the Rosen are the worst censors.

    1. Seth Morrison


      As you can see your remarks were not censored, which gives me the opportunity to reply. Debate is healthy even when there is significant disagreement.

      Those of us who believe strongly that Israel is a major part of the problem in the Middle East are still very concerned about security. Too many Israelis and Palestinians have been innocent victims and we must ensure that any peace agreements include appropriate security. However as General Petreaus testified before Congress a year or so ago the ongoing state of conflict is a major cause of terrorism. Peace will enable both sides to focus on education, job creation and the positive change that eliminates terrorism.

      I would also challenge you to explain how peace can be achieved without negotiations and an end to the occupation. Do you want to see Israel become the apartheid ruler over the Palestinians? (I know some readers will say Israel is already there) How could that possibly be viable?

      While I do not totally agree with Brant’s thesis — I believe that a two-state solution is still possible — I do believe that Israel has become an occupier, discriminates against Arab Israelis and must make significant changes to ensure peace.

  7. Jeffrey Silverman
    Here is another site that is funded by NED, National Endowement for Democracy, Unfortunately there too has been an unfortunate Israel footprint in the military and domestic affairs of the country of Georgia, Israel drones sold to Israeli, technicians on the cluster bombs, and military advisors. Israel as a Jewish state should be a role model to Jewish values and not the opposite – and it is clear that Georgia is part of US plans for possible military action against Iran, an action that would destablize the entire region and threaten the security of Israel and the Jewish people.

  8. pabelmont

    The trope or meme of “window of opportunity closing on 2SS” is not accurate from any reasonable viewpoint. If the viewpoint taken is that of Israeli politics, then 2SS has been dead for many years, “Oslo” was a trick to speed it to its demise. If, instead, the viewpoint is that of UN or EU politics, then all that is required is a SUFFICIENT impetus to break the EU and BRIC and others out of their lethargy far enough to insist (with sanctions as required) that Israel remove the wall and the settlers and the settlements buildings (I’d imagine the Palestinians would not want them, but I could be wrong) and the siege on Gaza. That should breathe new life into 2SS particularly if Israel were given enough time (before sanctions became unbearable) to withdraw largely from West Bank/East Jerusalem and to bargain other exchanges with the Palestinians to save a few near-Jerusalem settlement blocks.

    A war with Iraq might be the required impetus, the required “cry for help” from Israel which, as noted, cannot overcome its own internal politics to seek peace and evidently requires help.


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