Earlier this month, my darling wife, referring to an article in the Star-Ledger, said that Israel’s decision to give the go-ahead to 300 new homes in east Jerusalem is undermining Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart peace negotiations. She concluded, as she often does, with, “And what are you going to do about it?”
I assured her that when Bibi Netanyahu calls to solicit my advice on the matter, I would share her opinion with him and felt confident that upon hearing it, he would alter his policy. After all, I have frequently revised my thinking after listening to her opinions during our decades of marital bliss, so why shouldn’t Bibi?
In its current issue, Moment magazine conducted a symposium on the topic “Is the Two State Solution Dead?.” The 16 responders, save one, are familiar names representing the spectrum of Israeli thinking, weighted toward the center-left. Ten are Israelis (including one Arab and two olim) and six from abroad (including five Americans). Those advocating a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan were represented on the extreme Right by deputy foreign minister Dani Danon and on the extreme Left by linguist and anti-Zionist Noam Chomsky; where they disagree is over who should manage the state and who should be its citizens.
Those occupying what roughly would be considered the “center” advocate for a two-state solution, though they acknowledge the difficulties in achieving it. They all agree the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank would mean, even with border adjustment and land swaps, relocating at least 100,000 Israelis, assuming that they would not want to live under Palestinian rule. These 100,000 include non-ideological residents, drawn by subsidized rents and wide-open spaces; as well as the most irredentist settlers, including those responsible for “price tag” raids on Palestinians, Israeli security forces, and dovish Israelis.
The Israeli predicament is summed up by Efraim Halevy, former director of the Mossad. “The idea that we will maintain the status quo is a mirage,” says Halevy. “The status quo is non-existent — things happen on the ground every day. The two-state solution is the most desirable but the least operative [solution]; the status quo is probably the most operative but the least desirable because it means ultimately Israel will not be able to sustain itself as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Another problem, say many of the responders, is the inconsistency of both Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Though Netanyahu has come out in favor of a two-state solution, “he doesn’t act as if he means what he says,” says Dror Moreh, the Israeli director of the Academy Award nominee The Gatekeepers. On the other hand Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, says that “as long as [the Palestinians] are unable to recognize the Jewish state, it’s impossible to have a two-state solution.” To which David Makovsky of the Washington Institute’s Project on the Middle East Peace Process counters that Abbas has many faults, “but there’s not a single observer anywhere today who believes he is a proponent of violence.”
(A word should be said concerning Israel’s demand that the Arabs recognize it as the state of the Jewish people. This is a new demand originating with Netanyahu. Previous governments, no matter if they were led by David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, or any other prime minister, never made such a demand. Netanyahu’s predecessors considered that it was up to Israel to define itself while pursuing peace with its neighbors.)
Yossi Klein Halevy, an advocate of the two-state solution, suggests that most Israelis would be ready to make a deal, but are convinced that Palestinian leaders “are either unwilling or unable” to confine refugee return to a Palestinian state. In the meantime, Klein Halevy offers an interim proposal: “First, abandon the fantasy that an agreement is possible now. Second, freeze settlement building. Third, focus on economic and infrastructure development in the West Bank. Finally, try to negotiate a ‘shelf agreement’ — that is, an agreement that won’t be implemented immediately but would exist as a goal and a sign of hope.”
Perhaps that is the most we can hope for now.