Last Sunday, February 5th, Mount Zion Temple, along with the Jewish Community Relations Council, hosted a panel discussion around the question: “Is a Two-State Solution Still Possible?” The following remarks were given by panelist Elyse Rabinowitz, and are being reprinted here (in edited form), in the hope of keeping the conversation going.
Is a two-state solution still possible? On Shabbat morning, as we say the prayer for the State of Israel, I deeply want to believe so. This prayer recited by Jews the world over, calls upon God to: “Spread over Israel a shelter of peace” and “to bless the land with peace and its inhabitants with lasting joy.”
For me, to recite this prayer with intention requires a profound belief in peace. Imagine the possibility of Israel, a Jewish nation in its historic homeland living side-by side in peace with its neighbors, with full recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign, democratic Jewish state. Imagine an end to all incitement, xenophobia and hostilities, leading to Palestinian independence.
Yet, when examining the historical record and 21st century reality, I come to a sobering conclusion. The possibility for a two-state solution is more a matter of my faith and dreams than reasoned analysis.
The basic paradigm of the Oslo accords held that Israelis and Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of each other’s national rights and aspirations. As Yosef Kupperwasser and Shalom Lipner detailed in “The Problem is Palestinian Rejectionism; Why the PA Must Recognize the Jewish State” (November-December 2011 Foreign Affairs), Oslo offered a framework for autonomy and a path to independence –provided Palestinians renounce terrorism and accepted Israel’s legitimacy.
Unfortunately, they have done neither. Were the Palestinians devoted to peaceful co-existence and desirous only of independence alongside Israel, they would have achieved statehood long ago. The view that “the only solution is a two-state solution” may make sense, but it is possible only if both sides of the conflict are willing to accept it.
An overwhelming consensus within Israel favors two nation-states for two peoples: from Rabin to Netanyahu, the Israeli government has demonstrated acceptance of legitimate Palestinian national rights. The vast majority of Israelis would enthusiastically accept a genuine opportunity to live side-by-side a democratic, transparent, peaceful, de-militarized Palestine.
Yet, nearly two decades of negotiations have failed. Having rejected Israeli offers of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, the collapse of the peace process is of the PA’s choosing. Underlying this failure is the Palestinian’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This refusal is the root of the conflict and impacts every core issue: security, borders, Jerusalem and the Palestinian demand for 1948 refugees and their descendants to return to Israel.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.S. Congress this past May, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has: “Never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. The Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.”
A majority of Israelis would agree that any viable resolution of the conflict requires Israel to cede sovereignty over most of the West Bank. Yet, the refrain that West Bank settlements and continued building in Jerusalem are “obstacles to peace” defies reason and the historical record. Settlements would not prevent a two-state solution if the Palestinians were willing to accept a state in the first place. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered PA President Mahmoud Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat.
Current Palestinian leadership knows if they are willing to sign a peace deal with Israel, there is a solid majority inside the Jewish state for evacuating substantial West Bank territory. Israel’s willingness to cede territories in exchange for peace is well documented: In 1982, Israel dismantled settlements in Sinai before transferring the territory to Egypt and in 2005 Israel withdrew its entire military and civilian presence from Gaza, in the hope of establishing peace.
Instead, Palestinian militants—with the support of their Hamas-led government—have used the territory to launch ongoing cross-boarder attacks and over 7,000 rockets into Israel’s pre-‘67 borders. Far from bringing peace to the neighborhood, the withdrawal has resulted in death, injury, damages, and less secure borders for Israel.
Last November, writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, summarized why Palestinians continue to resist the notion of a Jewish Israel and remain unwilling to renounce the right of return – which, if implemented, would eventually eliminate the Jewish majority in Israel.
Erekat wrote that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would “empty the negotiations on the refugee issue,” thereby abandoning any hope for the right of return. Recognition of Israel’s Jewish character, he explained, would require Palestinian “adoption of Zionist ideology” and repeal their basic narrative about the conflict. According to Erekat, the Palestinian national movement could never endorse such recognition.
Erekat provides a blunt reminder that Palestinian leaders are far from developing a culture of peaceful co-existence and transforming the popular mindset. Instead, there is relentless indoctrination against any acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, and cultivation of an ideology that sooner or later, the entire land will be “restored” to the Palestinians, either by force or political means.
Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli research institute, monitors Palestinian society and messages delivered by its leadership through a broad range of institutions they control. PMW has chronicled volumes of PA, Fatah and Hamas statements and actions, detailing its deception when speaking of a two-state solution to the West, while at the same time generating hatred and glorifying terrorists at home.
Hamas makes no bones about its intention to destroy Israel. Yet, in the West, Fatah is often billed as more pragmatic, it’s hallmark duplicity overlooked. In their recent reconciliation, Fatah and Hamas leaders expressed full conformity between the political programs of the two movements. Fatah’s charter, reaffirmed in 2009, mandates armed struggle until Palestinians have achieved: “complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military, and cultural existence.”
What Palestinians are saying to their children in schools, mosques, media, politics and culture will determine if there will be a future peace. In some ways, Palestinian leadership has not even begun the peace process when it systematically promotes a world where:
- Israel does not exist
- Israel does not have a right to exist
- Glorification and status are conferred upon terrorists and their families
- Schools and mosques teach that Jews defile Palestine
- And where more than two-thirds of Palestinians support suicide terror and share the goal of Israel’s annihilation
Palestinian society is not homogeneous –– there are moderate Palestinian voices and organizations that seek economic development, peaceful co-existence and recognition between two nation states. While deserving engagement and support, this minority is often intimidated, is without practical representation, and has no authority to prevent terrorism and incitement against Israel.
Palestinians are not alone in needing to combat radical ideologies: Israel must do more to challenge xenophobia, violence and incitement among its own citizens – the “price tag” violence is a case in point. However, there are fundamental distinctions worth noting: the Israeli government does not sanction, nor does it condone terrorism and incitement through media, cultural, political, educational and religious institutions. Extremists’ words and deeds are roundly condemned. Acts of violence are vigorously prosecuted through the rule of law. In Israeli society, extremist ideology is the exception and democratic centrism the norm.
As Westerners, it may be natural to project a spirit of optimism on the conflict and to suppose that with enough patience, incentives and moral reasoning, Fatah and Hamas can be enticed and entrusted to live peacefully with the Jewish state. But despite the short-term political deals that Hamas might make, violence is not just a tactic, it is the essence of Hamas’ approach to Israel and integral to its radical Islamist worldview.
In today’s climate any withdrawal from the West Bank inevitably means replicating what Israel faced after its departure from Gaza: the creation of a failed Hamas state, backed by Iran, a safe haven for terrorists armed with a cache of lethal weaponry. This scene is a vivid reminder that the ultimate Palestinian national goal is not independence, nor a two-state solution, but the destruction of Israel.
No one in Israel, even on the political left whose parties have declined due to the failure of the peace process, is willing to risk a repetition of Gaza right next door to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport. As long as this is true, there will never be Israeli majority backing territorial concessions that are essential to a two-state solution.
At the same time, the PA is fully aware that once they sit down at the negotiating table, they must answer whether they are ready to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. President Abbas appears uninterested in negotiations without preconditions, let alone recognition. Perhaps this is understandable, for it would be difficult for Abbas to reach an equitable compromise with Israel and accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state, which generations of Palestinians have been indoctrinated to reject.
Given this predicament, questions arise on whether Israel will ultimately be threatened as a Jewish, democratic state. Will Israel eventually facing a “one-state solution” and be forced to recognize Palestinians in the territories as Israeli citizens, thereby losing its Jewish majority and bringing an end to the Jewish state? Or, if Israel is unwilling to accept that dire fate, it will be branded as a Jewish apartheid state, losing support from the United States and American Jewry? These questions and contentions require serious consideration.
First, Israel has demonstrated its desire to find a democratic solution for both parties to the conflict and extricate itself from West Bank territories. The historical record shows its willingness to withdraw from territories, dismantle settlements and take significant risks to preserve Jewish democracy.
Second, the American public – Jews and non-Jews alike – are sympathetic to Israel’s concerns, alert to Palestinian intentions, and respect Israel’s democratically elected government and its security decisions. Israel’s backing in this country is broad based, bi-partisan and deep – polls routinely show that over 65% of Americans support Israel.
Unfortunately, there is a drift in public opinion in some quarters that has made it legitimate to single out Israel for blame and censure; sounding a clear message that the Jewish state is uniquely flawed. Israel is on perpetual trial – routinely held to account for its predicament and the violence committed against it. The apartheid canard is but one egregious example. Some days it is worth remembering Golda Meir’s sage advice: “Better a bad press than a good epitaph.”
Finally, no democracy in the world lives under a darker shadow of existential threat than Israel. Israelis have concluded that a more perilous and immediate danger to the Jewish state is the combination of Palestinian rejectionism, a near-nuclear Iran with genocidal aspirations, Iran’s Hamas and Hezbollah satellites, a newly hostile Egypt, plus a re-militarized Sinai. All together, these forces pose a far greater risk to the survival of a Jewish democratic state than do demographic trends. Given this reality, is it sensible, is it moral, for Israel to overlook material security risks and forgo its citizens’ right to a safe, defensible homeland?
For now, a two-state-solution is not possible given Palestinian rejection of the Jewish State. A sustainable peace cannot be built through concessions to those operating with a mandate to destroy Israel. At best, this means a continuation of a cold peace, one that secures Israel’s safety, aids conflict resolution, promotes provisional agreements, and builds the territories into a better place for its inhabitants. As difficult as the status quo may be, Israel can and must wait until a sea change takes place; a time when Palestinian society and leadership emerge to embrace a positive peace based on mutual recognition, accepting Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
As an American, a Jew and a Zionist, I will patiently wait with Israel and continue to recite a prayer for peace.
Do you agree? Disagree? What is the right way forward? Please share your thoughts in the comments, and let us take this opportunity to keep the community conversation going.