The Way Forward in the Middle East — Peled & Peled

Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled write in a guest column for Informed Comment

The Way Forward in the Middle East

Reversing a bi-partisan US policy in effect for the last two decades, the Republican National Committee recently endorsed the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resolving that “peace can be afforded the [Middle east] region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.” In all likelihood, this was an unintended consequence of the Republican party’s election-year pro-Israel frenzy. But, intentional or not, the RNC statement is correct. The Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” that aims at the establishment of two independent states, Israel and Palestine, bounded, more or less, by the 1967 borders, is totally bankrupt. If any evidence is needed, just look at the seventeen futile initiatives meant to revive Oslo process since its demise in 2000.

What makes the two-state solution unachievable is the fact that since 1967 Israel has settled close to three quarters of a million Jews in the territories it captured from Jordan in 1967. About one-third of those are in the area Israel defined as Jerusalem and annexed in 1967, declaring it to be non-negotiable. Of the remaining five hundred thousand, the lowest estimate of the number that would have to be removed in order for a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state to be set up in the West Bank is one hundred thousand. This is a task that no Israeli government, committed as it may be to the two-state solution, would be able to carry out, politically. To this day no Israeli government has removed even one of the West Bank “outposts” that are illegal by Israeli law (all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal by international law), despite promises to the US and several decisions by Israel’s own High Court of Justice.

The declared purpose of the settlement drive in the West Bank (as in the other occupied territories) was to change demographic realities in order to make Israel’s withdrawal from those territories impossible. This purpose has been achieved. Not only are the settlers, their family members and their supporters an electoral power block that cannot be ignored, settlers and their supporters now make up a significant proportion of the command structure of Israel’s security forces, the same forces that would have to carry out a decision to remove the settlers.

To counter this argument, critics may point to the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005. That example, however, actually supports our argument. In order to remove 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza, an easily isolated region of no religious significance to Jews, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a military hero idolized by both the settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had to deploy the entire man and woman power of all of Israel’s security forces. Moreover, the Gaza withdrawal was not done in agreement with the Palestinians, or in order to facilitate peace with them. It was done unilaterally, in order to make Israel’s control of Gaza more efficient. Judging by this example, removing 100,000 settlers from the West Bank, in order to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state, would be an impossible task.

Instead of pursuing the mirage of a two-state solution, would-be peace makers should recognize the fact that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in fact constitute one state that has been in existence for nearly forty-five years, the longest lasting political formation in these territories since the Ottoman Empire. (The British Mandate for Palestine lasted thirty years; Israel in its pre-1967 borders lasted only nineteen years). The problem with that state, from a democratic, humanistic perspective, is that forty percent of its residents, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, are non-citizens deprived of all civil and political rights. The solution to this problem is simple, although deeply controversial: establishing one secular, non-ethnic, democratic state with equal citizenship rights to all in the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

Supporters of the two-state solution have always used the prospect of one state as a threat, and still do. If a two-state solution is not implemented, world leaders from President Obama on down have warned, Israel will have to face the reality of being a state that could be either Jewish or democratic, but not both. But instead of a threat this could be seen as an opportunity. The Arab Spring has, for the first time, opened up the possibility of true democratization in several Middle Eastern and North African countries. Instead of viewing this development with alarm, as it has been doing, Israel could join this process and democratize the entire territory under its effective control.

The stability of the future secular, democratic Israeli-Palestinian state would depend not only on it being truly democratic, but also on the strictest constitutional separation between state and religion. This should not mean forced secularization or placing restrictions on the free exercise of religion, but it does mean that the state will neither sanction nor subsidize religious activities and institutions, nor will it tolerate religious practices that are discriminatory towards women. In the present state of affairs this idea sounds utterly utopian, because both Israeli and Palestinian societies are becoming more and more religious and suspicious of each other. But as the young activists of Tahrir Square and elsewhere have shown, powerful liberal, democratic, emancipatory undercurrents exist underneath the placid façade of many Middle Eastern societies. These forces, we are convinced, exist in Israel and Palestine too and, given the opportunity, could transform the political reality and bring an end to the hundred-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yoav Peled ( teaches political science at Tel Aviv University.
Horit Herman Peled ( teaches art at Oranim College.

34 Responses

  1. Excellent. The only problem with this proposal is that it is rational, meaning that it will only happen when the irrational in both camps (and their international supporters) lose power. We can only hope – but we can also do what we can to support reason and the human rights movements across the planet.

  2. “The Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” that aims at the establishment of two independent states, Israel and Palestine, bounded, more or less, by the 1967 borders, is totally bankrupt.”

    “The solution to this problem is simple, although deeply controversial: establishing one secular, non-ethnic, democratic state with equal citizenship rights to all in the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.”

    While it does appear that the “Peace Process,” in its many iterations, that was supposed to lead to a two-state solution is bankrupt, the solution proposed in this post has no chance of being seriously considered, much less being wrapped up in a “process.” It would be Dead On Arrival. More to the point, it would not even arrive; it would be Stillborn.

    To think that Israel would even consider this solution is to engage in a fantasy. I am not making a value judgment on the proposed one-state solution. In principle, a case can be made for it. But Israel would never give up its claimed raison d’etre of being a Jewish home and state. And I seriously doubt that either side, Israelis or Palestinians, would be willing to make, and live with, the compromises that would be necessary.

    • To think Israel would even consider…

      “Israel”? What does that signify, again? The durability and extent of the fallacy of reification/hypostatization?

      From what I read in Ha’aretz and stuff, it sure looks like there are a lot of people, likely even a majority, among the the 7.6-odd million Israelis who are unhappy with their reactionary rulers sending them down the rabbit hole of history. But the really tuned-in geopolitical players, of course, apparently are limited to thinking (however nuanced and subtle the backgrounding might be) in terms only of dealing with, through, and by militarized and monomaniacal elites, who in the argot of the trade become “the US” and “Israel” and “Afghanistan,” et silly cetera. (And it’s not like many “Isreali” rulers don’t play the other Great Game, massive corruption and extra-legal shenanigans at the expense of the ordinary folks, maybe not to the scale of a Yasser Arafat but right up there… much like many “US” rulers also do. With a casual, insouciant “Apres moi, le deluge.”)

      The mostly guys who play those Games do everything they can, consciously or not, to front-load all the “processes” with self-fulfilling expectations that favor the continuation of their version of How Things Are Or At Least How They Want Them To Be. Usually things that are personally profitable and satisfying for them, and for their peers on all sides claiming to act for their respective collectives.

      The hope I have, and maybe some others too, is that ordinary people, like the maybe a million or more who went to the streets in “Israel” not so long ago, and the Occupy folks in Oakland who are getting gassed and clubbed and dragnetted out of “kettles” in what sure looks like another police-state kind of action as I write, complete with fraudulent reporting, and the people in Syria who are getting serious about something more than “regime change,” and so forth, sense that maybe they are not just little cells in a self-destructive battery, but have some collective power that can demand and work toward a survivable and sustainable future.

      The hard part is building expectations and institutions that can resist the implacable efforts of those who want to repeat the Imperial impulse (or just manipulate the tribal impulses we are a long way from evolving past,) for personal power and profit…)

      But then I’m just a dilettante observer, not an Experienced Player…

      • “But then I’m just a dilettante observer, not an Experienced Player…”

        As evidenced by your posting above.

        • Oh, indeed, and shouldn’t we all fall on our knees in gratitude that the Experienced Players have been there taking care of everything so beautifully.

          Seriously, JT McPhee’s hopes and those of the Peleds are certainly fantasies, but the idea that that “Israel” (meaning the Experienced Players of the Netanyahu coalition) can control the situation as it develops over the next five or ten, or even three or four years, is a fantasy too, and one far less likely to be realized. The situation as it is is really not sustainable, and it is not going to be sustained, even if the parliamentary committee that calls itself “Israel” decides to go whole hog with the creation of a true apartheid state, which everybody swears they do not want. If you’re going to fantasize, it’s far better to fantasize about a desirable outcome–by visualizing it you can see some way into how it might be achieved.

        • Of course I was pretty sure you could not resist a nice straight line like that, could you?

          Thank you for your service — in reminding all that there are people who “run things,” those Experienced Players, who keep the Great Spheres of Influence puffed up and in motion, grinding down the ordinary folks in pursuit of what, again? “Democracyn’freedom tm?” A global market for weapons? A safe place for deposed kleptocrat-dictators to retire to, with their stolen Wealth of Nations? Ensuring that, at whatever cost, The Oil Must Flow? A race-to-the-bottom Flat Earth, where upward wealth transfer and untrammeled selfishness is the ruling scheme?

          I’ve got no idea how you spent your career, or what church you go to, or whether you are now paid, like a lot of former Insters, for “security advice” of one sort or another, but I will claim a little knowledge about what’s right and what’s wrong for ordinary people like myself and family, where their lives are impacted by the Great Game and other geopolitical chicanery.

          So be smug about “expertise.” There were a lot of people who were “expert” in alchemy, back in the day, and in rooting out “heresy” via Inquisition, too — still a lot of the latter around, especially the ones who know all about torture and terror. link to The kind of thinking that seems displayed in your posts here, a small sample to be sure, that unfortunately does not seem to be about stability and sustainability, or even survival. But then folks of the kleptocratic persuasion know that their play is to maximize their personal pleasure and gain, grabbing wealth and influence that insulates them from any consequences for horrific acts, and setting themselves up for nice safe comfortable old age and a quiet, painless passing.

          But not to worry, of course — the Experts are lined up on the Winning Side…

  3. The one state solution is inevitable. A democratic state where all people have equal voting power is inevitable. It will be renamed Palestine. Ergo, “Israel” is doomed.

  4. One woman. One man. One vote.

    Thanks for spelling this out.

  5. Perhaps the US should simply take the one-state, “greater” Israel state as a given. In this case, we would advocate for/DEMAND that Israel open up their big open-air prison camps of non-Jewish Israeli citizens and allow these people to have the same economic and political access that all the Jewish Israelis enjoy.

    Frankly, if the Jewish Zionist Israelis actually want all that territory, they need to full accept the responsibilities that come with it. If they want/take the land, they’ve got the people who are living there, too. And any attempt to drive them out or exterminate them would clearly be “ethnic cleansing” – a recognizable war crime.

    Just look at the horrifying maps that Dr. Cole printed a few days ago – there is no “Palestine” left in Palestine. All there is is Israel. So – Israel absolutely must start caring for all of its citizens, not just the ultra orthodox and the settlers.

  6. What’s extraordinary is the favorite parlor game within certain circles to fantasize about how the world ought to “democratically” euthanize one particular nation state. All for the betterment of humanity, naturally.

    Beyond being unjust and unworkable, the Peleds’ prescription is defeatist. Tired to fighting for two states living side by side? Too bad. The alternative is far worse. Anyone remember Bosnia or is that too long ago?

    • A one state solution satisfied the people of South Africa’s region enough that they no longer support opposition to South Africa’s government or terrorism that could disrupt the functioning of the state.

      If the people of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others escape the grip of the colonial structure the US has in place in the region – which may be beginning to happen as we speak – those countries would pose far less of a threat to a post-Zionist state with that has accepted refugees, has an Arab majority and prime-minister and where Jewish individuals are able to live in peace if they choose than they would pose to the current Zionist regime.

      Maybe you think over 400 million people in Israel’s region should be either effectively held under colonial rule or sanctioned or bombed until unable to influence the region forever.

      But if those people become free, there is a lot accountable governments of those countries can do that the pro-US dictatorships are not doing to make life unlivable in a Zionist state.

      The Zionists may be well served to conclude what Apartheid concluded, it is better to negotiate a graceful climbdown while they are still on top.

  7. The benefit of the two state solution is not that it is feasible, but that it exists as an ideal to help, especially Americans, find comfort in supporting an ethnic state.

    Is it genuine naivete or cynical deception of self and others? I’m not sure, but Barack Obama will tell you, and tells audiences continuously, that the United States supports Palestinians being under the military control of Israel only as a temporary measure. It will end when two states are agreed upon, which is right around corner.

    Barack Obama would feel, or at least claim to feel morally justified if this two state solution was around the corner forever.

    We’ve reached and gone far past the point that US support for a two state solution is a just typical Western lie, not much different from US claims of support for democracy as it effectively maintains colonies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.

    • “The benefit of the two state solution is not that it is feasible, but that it exists as an ideal to help, especially Americans, find comfort in supporting an ethnic state…US
      support for a two state solution is a just typical Western lie, not much different from US claims of support for democracy as it effectively maintains colonies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.”

      It’s worth noting that the US supports ethnic states not only in Israel but in “Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.” These “others” are Arab/Muslim ethnic states (marginalizing those not Arab and Muslim) as surely as Israel is a Jewish ethnic state, Japan is a Japanese ethnic state (marginalizing, e.g., the Ainu), etc. Few nations in the world are not ethnic states; US efforts to become otherwise are fiercely opposed by the likes of Pat Buchanan.

      • Right. The problem with Zionism is not that it intends to create an ethnic state, but that its ethnic state required the dispossession of a native population and more relevant that it requires the subjugation of the people in the region – who vastly outnumber Zionism’s beneficiaries – who consider it an injustice.

        I’ll be clearer on that point in the future, though I expect most readers here wouldn’t have needed that clarification.

    • “it effectively maintains colonies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.”

      Colonies would consist of actual american settlers setting up colonies in these regions, where are these colonies in places like egypt or jordan?

      • If we define colonies differently, that would be a silly semantic dispute that would not impact the point of the comment.

  8. “In the present state of affairs this idea sounds utterly utopian, because both Israeli and Palestinian societies are becoming more and more religious and suspicious of each other.”
    Indeed. The religious Israelis are heavily concentrated in the settlements, indeed many of the settlers are religious fanatics. They would oppose secularization of the country even more than they would oppose removal from their (illegal) homes.
    The political will to reach an agreement does not exist on either side. If it did, negotiations might lead to either a one-state or a two-state solution. As things stand, there will be no solution–and, due to demographics, that favors the Palestinians.

  9. As Israel continues it’s lurch to the right, with more and more Ultra Orthodoxy and a less educated populace, politics will more resemble what the US would face with a majority of Tea Party in Congress. While Israel may implode of it’s own volition, it’ll remain a Jewish State.

    • “As Israel continues it’s lurch to the right, with more and more Ultra Orthodoxy and a less educated populace, politics will more resemble what the US would face with a majority of Tea Party in Congress. While Israel may implode of it’s own volition, it’ll remain a Jewish State.”

      With all due respect, your analysis is flawed. I don’t know how often you travel to the area but it sounds as if you’re relying too heavily on certain headlines and not others. Yes, Israeli public opinion is fragmented but there remains a strong plurality – sometimes bordering on a majority – in favor of a two-state solution. The conventional wisdom here seems to be that Israel remains doomed to be led by Bibi & the Likud crowd. I doubt that.

    • Stop to think in how many ways Israel has foreshadowed the US since that lurch began:
      1. invasion and occupation excused by pre-emption
      2. internal security and anti-terrorism measures
      3. the combination of privatization and militarization of the economy
      4. the fencing of the profits from #3 into a massive real estate boom, creating an asset inflation biased towards the rich instead of wage/price inflation
      5. the acceptance of theocratic politics holding democracy hostage
      6. the beginnings of a discussion of disenfranching the evil and disloyal minority group, slowly, steadily, to keep the current majority forever the electoral majority

      There’s just too much evidence that Israel was intended as a prototype for the US’s future. There are people in common in both countries involved in all the above events.

      The question might then be, what do these villains intend both countries to look like 50 years from now? How could such a Frankenstein society possibly function? Do they understand it will implode and thus arrange to steal as much as they can now before fleeing? Or worse, are they planning to be our feudal masters in the ruins of the future?

  10. So why would the Palestinians even want to get into bed with the Israelis based on their experience with the Jews of the area over the past 80 or so years: – ethnic cleansing, occupation, targeted extermination, martial law, stealing of resources and land, collective punishment, bombing, imprisonment without charge, etc.? Do you really think the Palestinians are stupid enough to think that the Israeli behaviour will change over the next 55 years?

  11. […] see much future for the two-state solution in the Arab-Israeli conflict. They argue, however, that a single state already exists: “Instead of pursuing the mirage of a two-state solution, would-be peace makers should […]

  12. Gee. The equality of all citizens, no matter their religious beliefs. Separation of religion and state. No discrimination against women. Kinda sound like ideas that most Americans would think of as distinctly all-American, don’t they? And these ideas are being propounded by two citizens of Israel.

    So, why do I feel safe and secure in assuming that those red-blooded all-American boys Mitt, Newt, and Rick (and – OK, OK – Barack too) would reject this solution outright?

  13. The authors do realize that the Islamist parties received over 70% of the vote in the Egyptian elections? Some “powerful liberal” undercurrent!

  14. I bet the Maronite Christians of Lebanon wish they had retained sovereignty over a much smaller state dominated by themselves. Ditto white South Africans.

  15. The Holy Land Nation
    What plans and actions will bring long-term peace to the Palestinian and Israelis. Today the general world wide consensus is a two state solution with a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. But the two state solution does not address the major problem of the Old City of Jerusalem that is at the apex. Neither side will concede the Old City of Jerusalem to the other side. This is one reason many of the earlier plans to divide Palestine into a Jewish state, Palestinian state and made a zone for the International City of Jerusalem.

    Given the religious significance of the region to the world’s three main religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Maybe why a one nation plan (the Holy Land nation) with three or four separate states should be considered. A peace plan like this might solve more problems than it creates. While creating a permanent governing structure for the long term for both sides to work within. Giving both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine there own autonomy within one nation. With the State of Jerusalem being a separate interrogated state with its own bylaws. With the four possible state being Gaza.

    The State of Israel will head up, in conjunction with the State of Palestine the security of the State of Jerusalem. Most of the State of Jerusalem having equal access to all. With the two possible exceptions being the Jewish Wailing Wall and the Islamic Temple Mount that will have some added restrictions. Creating a nation of states for the two people to peacefully coexist will create a tourists boom for the region. Where the people from both sides could prosper and over time build trust and understanding of one another. Global Crier

  16. The most effective promoters of a one-state solution in all of historical Palestine are definitely not the Peleds. I’m sure it won’t end up pretty. But it doesn’t really matter what people like them, me, or you think one way or the other. Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Barak are the ones who will make it happen. The rest of us, we’re just watching from the sidelines.

  17. I can’t say if the one-state solution or the two-state solution is more just, because they’re both legalisms that might be used by wealthy, lawyer-besotted whites to enslave and entrap non-whites, as they’ve done all over the world. South Africa had plenty of criminal legalisms that the “free” world was satistfied to tolerate, and so did the Southern United States. The evil of those societies could not be solved by diplomats or lawyers or the way they define problems. People had to be convinced to look past the rationalizations for the peculiar institutions of those lands, and recognize the essential and intentional injustice of their practices. It meant looking at Afrikaners and Southerners as under the sway of evil.

    But we don’t do that lightly when it’s people like us oppressing people like Them.

    In those cases, outside opinion (the world in the RSA’s case and the American electorate in the South’s case) had to impose outcome-based criteria for a just solution. One-state and two-state are means, not ends. The ends in this crisis must be hammered into the minds of Americans – the existence of civil rights for all Arabs living under the sovereign power of the Israeli government. We grasp that concept plenty fine when we see protestors in Cairo, but cross over that magic Biblical line, and suddenly God’s will beclouds our judgment.

  18. The Israeli apartheid will come to an end soon. The question is: Will Israelis make the inevitable even more painful?

  19. This is impossible. The Israelis would never accept such a solution because it would seal their own demise — the Arab population will outgrow the Jewish population only making the situation worse for the Israelis. The reason a settlement hasn’t come to fruition is because of Israeli politics; Israel needs more leaders that are willing to put peace ahead of politics and reelection, and sometimes peace might even mean death, like with Rabin. I suppose it sounds naive to think this way (that is, to hold on to the two-state solution wwith the hope for non-politicized politicians to fulfill it), but it’s better than dreaming up ideas about a one-state solution that will only make the region more volatile than the status quo.

  20. Alas, the one-state solution “under one law for all people” is no more likely to be implemented by Israel than the two-state solution. It would go up against Israel’s zionist raison d’etre, to be a Jewish state, a goal which has only been realized by the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians and the colonization of their land by Jews.

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