Without two states, time is running out

Without two states, time is running out

Thomas Friedman writes that the two-state solution is dead. I think I still feel a pulse, but it is alarmingly faint; the enemies of the two-state solution have their hands pressed down over its mouth, choking out its last breaths. And if the two-state solution is dead, so is Israel.

Many Israelis and supporters of Israel (including me) have long noted that without a two-state solution, Israel would have to choose between being a Jewish state and being a democratic state. An undivided state would eventually have to decide whether to give the Palestinians in the occupied territories the vote. With a Palestinian population growing faster than the Jewish population, granting the vote would render Israel no longer Jewish. Withholding it would mean turning away from democracy. 

I am beginning to think the situation is even worse than that. Israel could become neither Jewish nor a democracy, and might not survive as a state at all.

In a well-known Talmudic story, the great sage Hillel is asked to teach the whole Torah while standing on one leg. He replies, “That which is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go forth and study.”

Would it not be hateful to a law-abiding Jew to have his or her house bulldozed because of a crime his or her relative committed? Would it not be hateful to be blocked at a checkpoint for hours from getting to one’s place of employment on a regular basis? Would it not be hateful if one’s property was destroyed or one’s relatives murdered and the authorities refused to take action against the perpetrators? 

Yet this is how Palestinians are treated. Can a state be Jewish while violating the one precept that Hillel describes as being “the whole of the Torah?”

These activities are not separate from the occupation. They grow from it as a tree grows from a root. And getting rid of the occupation means a two-state solution.

In lieu of two states, some advocate expanding Palestinian rights, the core of which would have to be the right to vote. But will the Israeli officials who refuse to consider ceding less than a quarter of the land to a Palestinian state ever cede all of it by giving voting rights to a Palestinian majority?

A disenfranchised Palestinian majority would still be a majority, so the resulting state would not only have abandoned Jewish values, it would also no longer be an ethnically Jewish state.

But it is not just the Jewish character of Israel that is at stake; it is its very survival. 

Israeli security experts, high-ranking military officers, and former directors of the Mossad and the Shin Bet warn that the occupation itself is the gravest existential threat that Israel faces.

The situation is dire. The Israeli government continues its relentless march toward more and more settlements, and moves to suppress critical voices. The Israeli opposition too often offers just a weak echo of the government’s policies. The moderate Palestinian administration holds on by a thread. Every day, these developments make the possibility of two states more tenuous.

Israel, whether it acknowledges it or not, depends greatly on the military and diplomatic support of the United States. We here in the United States have a great deal of power to positively influence Israeli policy, but too often we haven’t taken that responsibility seriously enough. 

There is an effort afoot to preclude a two-state solution by fooling us into accepting the illegal settlements as part of Israel. When the Israeli ambassador to the United States cynically makes a point of giving our officials gifts originating in the settlements, his implicit statement is, “You dare not question the gifts, but if you don’t, you are recognizing that the settlements are part of Israel.” A similar game is being played by those working to include language in Congressional bills that equates the settlements with Israel. 

President Obama, to his credit, has made a point of rejecting such language in signing statements and in public remarks, but a stronger response is required by the U.S. government if we have any hope of influencing Israel to turn from its self-destructive course. Too many Israeli leaders have come to believe that they can act as they please in entrenching the occupation and abandoning the two-state solution — without any repercussions. 

Supporting Israel does not mean that one must support disastrous policies. The president and the candidates who aspire to succeed him must speak even more forcefully about the need for a two-state solution and the steps needed to allow it to happen, including a stronger and more effective stance on settlements. To do otherwise is to help put the existence of Israel as we know it in profound danger.

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