Time for Visions Beyond the Two State Solution

beyond-the-two-state-solution-a-jewish-political-essayI’ve been pointing out for some time now that Israel has been increasingly building settlements in Area C of the West Bank, while evicting Palestinians from their homes there and moving them to far reaching sections of Areas A and B. The intention? To eventually annex Area C to Israel and warehouse the Palestinian population of the West Bank in disconnected, isolated, bantustans.

Now it’s come to this: Israeli coalition leaders are unabashedly bandying about this plan in public:

From a recent article in the Jerusalem Post:

Israeli annexation of the West Bank’s Area C – where all settlements are located – received public support from two high-ranking Likud politicians on Tuesday evening, Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein and MK Ze’ev Elkin.

“Lack of Israeli sovereignty over Area C means the continuation of the status quo,” said Edelstein, as he spoke about an area of the country that is now under Israeli military control. “It strengthens the international community’s demand for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.”

But Edelstein and Elkin cautioned that annexation was a process that should happen slowly, not immediately.

Together with the Netanyahu government’s stated intention to build in the critical West Bank territory of E-1, it is clearer than ever that the conventional liberal Zionist notion of a two-state solution is a dead anachronism. It’s even worse, actually: as long as we cling to a two-state paradigm, Israel will be given free reign to entrench this injustice in perpetuity.

I’ve also come to believe that its high time for those who are interested in a truly just peace between Israelis and Palestinians to come forth with some new creative thinking that might provide alternatives to an obsolete two-state model. In this regard, I was happy to learn that “Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay” by the great Israeli academic Yehouda Shenhav, has finally been published in English. Shenhav has long been providing precisely the kind of innovative thinking that I believe is so very lacking in political circles – and I’m delighted his work on this subject will now find a wider audience.

Using post-colonial political and critical theory, Shenhav challenges many of the fundamental paradigms and assumptions that have delineated the Israeli political “left” and “right,” while suggesting new and exciting models that might well help us to envision a better future for Palestinians and Jews in the land.

Here’s an excerpt, from his Introduction:

I am deeply concerned with the violation of the political rights of the Palestinians, but no less so with the future political rights of the Jews themselves. I believe that the combination of a persistent foundational state of emergency and blatantly racist legislation – which grows restrictive and bare-faced day by day – poses a threat not only to Palestinians, but to Jews in the Middle East. For this reason, I wish to unpack the Jewish-Israeli discourse on the conflict, to highlight the dangerous political zones within which it roams, and offer an alternative political vision in which the rights of both Jews and Palestinians are intertwined and co-determined…

In particular, I argue that the so-called “two-state solution” in the form proposed by the Israeli liberal left no only is unrealistic but in essence is based on false assumptions that sustain and reinforce the non-democratic Israeli regime and mask the essence of the conflict. Instead, I offer a different vision for political thought, which is not based on state terror or Jewish supremacy.

Shenhav is a well known thinker in Israel, but less familiar to American audiences. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, I hope you will at least be open to this sort of new thinking. I personally find it liberating – I do believe that these kinds of outside the box ideas serve to provide us with a ray of hope along what is otherwise a very dark road…

20 thoughts on “Time for Visions Beyond the Two State Solution

  1. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta

    I haven’t yet read Yehuda Shenhav’s book, but having read your comments, I intend to soon. Ever since I heard Jeff Halper speak about the idea of a Middle East confederation back in 2001, I’ve thought that this would be the most workable way to go, either as the long-term goal or as a step on the way to an egalitarian single state for Israelis and Palestinians (something I don’t think we can get to directly from where we’re at now). Jeff describes his ideas in some detail in _An Israeli in Palestine_, which I expect you must have read. I wonder what you think of the multi-state (or entity…) idea. Thanks, Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta (http://refusingtobeenemiesthebook.wordpress.com)

    1. Marian Blanton

      Federation ideas for Israel/Palestine have been percolating for some time now. There are many versions of this idea online and available for review. I’ve just sent your reply to a friend who has been active for some years representing Palestinian side of the conflict. Hope she’ll contact you, directly.

      1. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta

        Thanks, Marian, but this approach goes beyond just Israel-Palestine to a regional confederation, making it unique amongst such proposals, I believe. I’ll be happy to hear from your friend, of course. Wondering also what Rabbi Rosen thinks of Jeff’s idea.

  2. Jeff Nguyen

    Thank you for speaking up for the Palestinians and whether they realize it or not, all Israeli citizens. I wish more Americans would do the same.

    1. Marian Blanton

      Having been a member of a Reform Congregation for most of my lengthy life, I know that a critical mass of American Jews will not speak out until the movement takes a position on issue of one-state solution. If Reform and Reconstructionist movements don’t show courage, we could watch another conflagration implode in the Mideast. Think how long Rabbi Lerner has been “speaking out” in his publication Tikkun–more than a generation. “If not now…when?”

      1. i_like_ike52

        Since you say you have been around a long time, I find it puzzling that you seem to think
        that a “critical mass” of American Jewry is going to support the state of Israel destroying itself, which is what your “single-state solution” entails and having the county turned into another version of Iraq, Syria or Lebanon which I think even you would admit are not very good prototypes. You must be aware that the large majority of American Jews more or less support Israel and Zionism, even if they are critical of certain Israeli policies, and that includes the majority of Jews who identify with the Reform or Reconstructionist movement, the Jewish Voice of Peace not withstanding. But even if the two “R” movements were to turn against Israel, it still would not represent American Jewish opinion because those two movements together only represent a minority of the Jewish community. And, finally, even if American Jewry were to turn against Israel, I think it is the height of arrogance to think that we Israelis would dismantle the state we spent so much blood, sweat and tears to establish and maintain because a group of guilt-ridden Jews on the other side of the world want us to do so , so that they can “feel good about themselves” as believers in the “progressive” religion. I suggest you get out of your little Reform ghetto and see what the wider world of Jews really thinks. You will be surprised.

      2. Marian Blanton

        Sir, when I say that few American Jews have had the courage to “speak out,” I do not believe that speaking out is equivalent to encouraging Israel to destroy itself so that we can “feel good about ourselves.” Most American Jews have not had the courage to speak out against continued persecution of Palestinians by the State of Israel because they are passionately connected to peoplehood of all Jews. A one-state solution does not necessarily mean the destruction of israel; it may mean that Palestinians and Jews will become creative enough to develop political structures to meet the needs of all its citizens as well as accommodate those who wish to be connected to an entity called Palestine. As for numbers belonging to any division of Judaism, sir, most American Jews remain unaffiliated. During my lifetime, Jewish leadership has come from the movements, not from unaffiliated Jews. I have the greatest respect for RHR in Israel, for JVP and for Rabbi Lerner in my own country. I was reared in the Pittsburgh ongregation which hosted the famous Reform Convention of 1885. No, I don’t quite go back to 1885. I will be 89 years old in the spring of 2013.

  3. Dave Boxthorn

    If the ‘One-state’ solution isn’t working out for Syria, (and barely for Lebanon) why recommend it for its neighbor?

    1. Shirin

      I have have to give you credit for at least being facile (as in superficial/lacking in any depth).

      Answer: Because there is no analogy at all between the situation with Israel and the Paslestinians and either Lebanon or Syria, and none between between Lebanon and Syria. Three distinct situation with three distinct histories, three distinct sets of causes, and three distinct solutions.

      Wish there were time and space to educate on this, but there isn’t.

      1. i_like_ike52

        Okay, please explain to me why a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-confessional single-state, Jewish-Arab Palestine would work, when multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-confessional Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have torn themselves apart in bloody internal conflicts and civil war, given the historic tensions that the Jews and Arabs have had. Just saying “they are different countries with different histories” doesn’t do it for me. They are ALL in the Arab-Muslim dominated Middle East which has many cultural and religious conditions common to all the Arabs and Muslims in the region, and we see many parallels between how minorities are treated in all those countries.
        Don’t forget that even a “progressive” like Uri Avneri opposes a “single-state” because the Arabs would still feel resentment over the Jews who would be economically stronger and would most likely dominate this new “country”. This is parallel to the situation in Lebanon where the Christians dominated the economy of the country, to the great resentment of the Muslim population, both Shi’ite and Sunni. Please do explain.

  4. Marian Blanton

    What are Shenhav’s specific proposals for achieving the confederation? Has anyone read the book? Where can we find a review that presents his road map? And what are realistic signs that existing players are motivated to pursue this goal? We keep talking to one another. Who is working to do the work to establish this confederation? Perhaps I’ve lived too long to believe in miracles.

    1. Vicky

      I’ve read the book, but I don’t want to give a thorough review on my tablet. Too fiddly. :p It is worth reading if you can get a copy.

      Practical things are being done to advance the ideas outlined by Shenhav. Last year Zochrot and Badil organised a joint trip to South Africa to meet veteran anti-apartheid campaigners and devise strategy for Palestine/Israel, focusing on achieving equality within one entity rather than on the usual tired two-state framework. In the country itself we have a small handful of ‘mixed’ schools pioneering bilingual integrated education, which I am very interested by as they are dealing with the issues that provoke the most reluctance and concern in the wider community – how do we teach history, celebrate holidays, use our languages, organise religious education; does this lead to intermarriage, what about army, how does having a child in an integrated classroom affect family life when the parents grew up very differently, etc. For me the most effective way to achieve a political vision like Shenhav’s is to focus on projects like these – not the fake let’s-sit-and-eat-hummus dialogue groups, which adhere very closely to the two-state concept with their talk of ‘hearing the other side’ (what, there are only two?) and the relentlessly cheerful search for ‘our common ground’; but projects where the difficult stuff gets explored simply as a matter of course.

      One of the greatest failures of the two-state concept was its incessant fixation with borders and territory, which tried to render those questions unnecessary, and it would be very problematic if we started to view the one-state solution in similar terms – as something involving men round a negotiating table rather than people on the street. Once we start to think like this, we risk erasing people’s experiences and personal histories. There is so much suspicion and disillusionment and hurt everywhere you look, and there is no political roadmap that can change that, be it for one state or two or twenty. I saw this on Saturday, when I took an Israeli friend into Hebron Old City to meet some people I know. Discussing statehood and borders would not have been helpful to anyone in that room. Rather than looking at the explicitly political aspects of the conflict – state-building, etc. – it is sometimes necessary to start with much smaller things, and to prepare to be very patient. It has got to the point where I myself don’t think much about big political solutions any more, but rather just the people I will meet that day.

      1. Marian Blanton

        Thanks for your lengthy explanation of Shenhav. A Christian friend, active with organizations supporting legal efforts of Palestinians to achieve a better way of life through nonviolent means, said yesterday that “nothing will happen in Israel/Palestine to change the status quo until our country stops financial support of Israel.” I’d appreciate some dialogue about BDS strategies which forced South Africa to drop apartheid. Why or why not are they appropriate in this instance, but not for Israel?

      2. Vicky

        Marian, the SA study tour and integrated schools were two examples of grassroots activities that fit with and advance these political ideas – Shenhav’s book does not go into detail on them. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I can’t review the book itself without my computer, it is too frustrating to try and quote on this thing.

        BDS is largely accepted within the activist mainstream now, I think, and considering its youth it is doing well – the South African BDS movement was basically unheard of when it was only seven years old. Opposition to it tends to come from people who see it as justified, but not effective; and people who see this as a conflict between two equal sides (with BDS therefore being unfair). Those perceptions do need challenging, and for this it helps to go back to some of the objections raised against South African BDS. They were uncannily similar.

  5. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta

    BDS strategies are appropriate for Israel – and growing fast. For background, take a look at bdsmovement.net and Omar Barghouti’s clearly written and well-argued book, _Boycott, Divestmet and Sanctions_, for starters. Also, as you mention JVP, please check out their “Divestnow” website.

  6. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta

    I did – but it disappeared. I’m on a library computer and may not have time to repeat everything: Basically: BDS is definitely appropriate for Israel. Please read Omar Barghouti’s clearly written and well-argued book Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and take a look at the official website of the Palestinian BDS call, bdsmovement.net. Also JVPs “Divestnow” website.


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