Ian Lustick, Yousef Munayyer, Jeremy Ben-Ami and Ahmad Samih Khalidi
The following is an edited transcript of the seventy-fourth in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held on October 9, 2013, at the Washington Court Hotel, with Omar Kader moderating and Thomas R. Mattair as the discussant. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
OMAR KADER, chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council
The Arab-Israeli conflict is not new to any of you in this room. It's about 65 years old, for those of you who do not want to deal with the Bible. Roughly 15,000 Israelis have died in this conflict, and about 55,000 Palestinians. Countless lives have been destroyed on both sides. And the stakes are really high over a pile of rocks called the Holy Land. I call it modern-day idolatry. It doesn't seem to abate. Today, we want to examine this unresolved conflict, which many, including the president of the United States, generals and policy analysts, say affects the national interests of America. But we keep pushing this problem further down the road and don't seem to have enough backbone to do what needs to be done.
We want to explore a solution that has been pursued over the past two decades and see if it still has any chance of success, or if there is another potentially good outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will benefit America's national interests and the people on the ground.
IAN LUSTICK, professor of political science, University of Pennsylvania
I'm a Jew from a shtetl in Northern New York called Watertown. In high school, I was a member of the modern Orthodox youth movement, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. I was actually a chapter president. We used to sing and dance to scores of nigunim, Hasidic-type melodies, for hours on end. The song I loved the best was one that we couldn't dance to. It's called "Ani Maamin," I believe. Almost all Israelis and most Jews know the words, the powerful melody and the deep emotion of its message. It translates, "I believe with a complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. And although he may tarry, yet I will wait for him. I will wait for him all the days of my life."
The deep meaning of the song is that, whether or not the Messiah comes, and whether or not there really is a Messiah waiting to come, the yearning for what his arrival would mean and the injunction never to lose hope for mankind are values in and of themselves that help make life worth living. Much of the intelligent and passionate criticism I've received in response to my New York Times op-ed piece "Two State Illusion" is the critics' own version of Ani Maamin. It is an anxious, yet defiant, song of resistance against despair, professing against all odds complete faith in the coming of the two-state solution.
The reality is that God will not announce that the Messiah is not coming. Nor, regarding a negotiated two-state solution, will he announce when the point of no return has actually been passed. But there is a great difference between the two. There's really not much to lose by declaring Moshiach ben David, the Messiah son of David, will come, even if he will not. But there is a tremendous amount to lose by continuing to advocate two-state plans that cannot be implemented, when the evil designs of others can exploit that error.
The most important message in my article was not that two states are absolutely impossible. Indeed, I did not say that and do not believe it. Rather, my argument is that paths to political decisions in Israel and the United States that could result in that outcome via negotiations are so implausible that the negotiations themselves end up protecting and deepening oppressive conditions. In addition, by diverting energies from the difficult search for alternatives, however painful they may be, fixation on the tantalizing mirage of the two-state solution's imminent arrival increases the likelihood that, when transformative change comes — and it will come — it will be catastrophic.
Let me be clear. I am not claiming, and I did not claim, that I have discovered a realistic path toward satisfying the legitimate rights of Jews and Arabs in Palestine/the Land of Israel. Such a path may exist, but it may not. For several decades I believed, and I think correctly, that internationally brokered direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians had a good chance of achieving a real two-state solution that would both normalize Israel's presence in the region and provide Jews and Palestinians with limited, but democratic and satisfactory, outlets for their collective aspirations. Problems there would have been, but those problems would have been far preferable to those associated with any other course of action. To be sure, neither its benefits nor its implementation were ever sure things. To have pulled off the two-state solution while it was available would have been in some ways more amazing than the establishment of the state of Israel itself. It would have made Israel the only European fragment to have successfully institutionalized its presence in a non-European region without effectively eliminating the native population.
The odds were always against the two-state solution's success, whether because of the crippling hold that a blinkered Israel lobby has on American policy in the region, the Islamicization of politics in the Arab world, or a cultural transformation of the Israeli political landscape driven by decades of siege, Holocaust mania and triumphalism. It is not that I have a better plan for a nice future than two-state true believers possess. But if catastrophic scales of destruction can be avoided, ways to do so will not be found by those blinded by faith in an appealingly familiar but no longer effectively available path. As long as Israelis and Palestinians do not feel, immediately and concretely, that their very existence is threatened by the absence of a way to live together, they will not question the assumptions that need to be questioned.
What are those assumptions? For Israelis, is statist Zionism the only framework for satisfying Jewish national and cultural ambitions? Can the fundamental inconsistency between Jewish-stateness and principles of citizen equality be the actual basis for stable relations between equal and powerfully mobilized Jewish and non-Jewish communities? Can those who live in a villa survive in a jungle unless the jungle is transformed into villas or the villa becomes a part of the jungle? Can the Jews of Israel ever expect to win an endless competition in brutality with the other peoples of the Middle East?
For Palestinians, can you as a people survive an all-out struggle between a Muslim Middle East and a Jewish state capable of using weapons of mass destruction? Can a Palestinian "Zionist" movement intent on achieving a return to its land, generations after the loss of that land, be more successful, humane or stabilizing in its effects than the Jewish version? Can the category of "Palestinian" embrace Jews in a way that the category of "Zionist" was unable to embrace Palestinians?
In my essay, I suggested a variety of things that could happen in a radically changed Middle East. I did not offer those ideas as forecasts, but as examples of possibilities that may help two-staters understand the category of the theoretically possible but highly implausible, a category that now also includes the negotiated route to a two-state solution. I agree that, despite the fact that ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims ally with one another in the Israeli parliament to support segregated schools and strict dietary rules in public facilities, it is a stretch to think of those two groups allying themselves more broadly. Certainly it is difficult to imagine the circumstances that would lead most Mizrachi Jews in Israel to identify also as Arab. On the other hand, if Germans and Jews could become close allies within two generations following the Holocaust, and if my own side of the Jewish world has no problem referring to itself as "Ashkenazi," meaning German, then why could not a changing mix of challenges and opportunities lead Jews from Arab countries to acknowledge their heritage in a parallel fashion?
Politics, as I noted, makes strange bedfellows, but only when circumstances demand it. That's what rough politics does. Rough politics is not something that moves according to a plan, but it is how history produces most of the outcomes to protracted struggles. Those outcomes are seldom the solutions that anyone planned for or sought systematically to bring about. Right now, for example, there is no one-state solution, but there is a one-state outcome. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, there is one, and only one, real state: Israel. It has shown repeatedly that it can and will send its military forces into any corner of that territory whenever it deems it necessary.
The Palestinian Authority's nominal administration over some domains and Hamas's position in Gaza notwithstanding, virtually nothing goes into or out of this entire area that the state of Israel does not authorize. The question, then, is not whether there can be one state in the country. The answer to that question is obvious. There is. The question is: what is that state like and can it be changed? Are there other outcomes available that are more compatible with principles of democratic and human rights for all the country's inhabitants and those with rights to live there?
Here is where I agree with the argument that, absent successful negotiations — and no one has produced a scintilla of evidence that the negotiations currently underway will succeed where so many others have failed — Lebanonization or apartheid are the two most likely medium-term outcomes.
On the other hand, as we can see from the South African case and to an extent in Lebanon, neither anarchy nor oppression is durable over the long run. What I have tried to do is draw attention to how the "dead plan walking" known as the two-state solution facilitates the integration of masses of disenfranchised Palestinians into the control system of the Israeli state, blunting pressures that otherwise would be brought to bear on the protagonists and discouraging new forms of mobilization and cultural change.
In this way, with its prospects reduced from the plausible to the theoretically possible, a negotiated two-state solution and the discourse surrounding it remain key factors in the political equation. Indeed, the fundamental reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu's embrace of the slogan — drained of all real meaning, of course — is that the tantalizing image of its availability sucks all oxygen out of the political atmosphere. To be sure, the large-scale pressures, mobilizations and psychological shifts necessary to make progress possible cannot be predicted in detail. But only thus can a situation featuring a single state that dominates life between the Jordan and the sea be transformed into a society within which more satisfactory confederal, unitary, regional, bi-national or even, eventually, two-state arrangements could evolve.
An interesting dimension of many public critiques by two-staters of my New York Times essay is the extent to which the authors agree with the core of my analysis, even if they often accompany it with shrill attacks on my motives, knowledge or bona fides. I believe most would probably agree with me that the systematic efforts of Israeli annexationists and their supporters outside of Israel to destroy paths to the two-state solution constitute one of the greatest crimes ever committed in Jewish history. Like me, they find themselves unable to trace a series of steps that could lead from where we are now to a satisfying two-state solution. Like me, they decry the fetishization of negotiations and Washington's chronic failure to act decisively. Like me, they understand the negotiations as serving many petty parochial interests, rather than the objective of achieving peace. I think, down deep, they also agree that neither the Kerry version nor any other version of negotiations per se will be capable of bringing about a two-state solution.
Some larger set of political forces will need to appear that will shake up the political landscape, especially in Israel, with sufficient force to produce a government ready to sign the agreement whose detailed provisions, they say, everyone already knows.
The exact place where I differ with many of these critics is in the scale of the political shifts that need to occur in order to enable real progress. For example, Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon have pointed to what they describe as the potentially game-changing option of Palestinians' bringing their case to the United Nations.* They imply that this is the kind of development that could jolt the two-state project back to life. I disagree. I do not argue, as they and others say I do, that the sheer weight of settlements, as facts on the ground, is what is decisive. Not at all. There were nearly twice the number of settlers in Algeria as there are east of the Green Line, and they were all evacuated. However, that evacuation was not produced by an FLN (National Liberation Front) maneuver at the United Nations. It was the complex consequence of the overthrow of the Fourth Republic in France, years of emergency rule in the Hexagon, a horribly bloody revolution in Algeria, and the reconstitution of political life in France under a radically new constitution.
It is not the settlements, per se, that are the problem, but the political constellation of power and purpose that produced them, that grows them and that will protect them. The entrenchment of the forces in Israel that have destroyed every effort to achieve two states is so deep and so firmly rooted in ideological, cultural and American institutional political realities, that much bigger forces will be necessary to transform them than operate within the normal course of Israeli or UN politics.
My message is not a happy one. The whole situation is deeply tragic. While there were unavoidable contradictions buried in all Zionist plans for transforming Palestine, the post-1967 period did open up the spectacularly hopeful prospect of successful partition. It is with profound sadness that I find that prospect has effectively vanished as a political program. But my commitment to Jewish values, democratic principles of government and the human beings I know and love on each side of the conflict's terrible divide subject of demands that I face this sadness with the tools I have.
I am not a prophet, nor am I a political leader. I am a political scientist. What I owe is no more and no less than the best analysis I can provide of a political situation that is turning the hard work of peace-movement heroes into threats to what they themselves hold most dear. I argued for the two-state solution beginning in 1969 and, ironically, for years was called a self-hating Jew because I supported two states. The passion I put into that effort was spurred by my certainty of the doom that intensive settlement of the territories would mean for the Zionist dream I embraced of a democratic, Jewish and civilized state. As I have said, God will not announce when pursuing that dream has become an empty hope. But any advocate of that political project must judge how he or she will know when that time has arrived. Otherwise, the illusion of its presumed availability will strengthen those ready to base Jewish life in the land of Israel on systematic coercion and permanent oppression.
YOUSEF MUNAYYER, executive director, the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestinian Center
We find ourselves today, 20 years since the Oslo accords, in a situation where many still advocate for two states. Two states, in fact, is the stated policy objective of this country's government, while in reality, we have never been further from two states on the ground. It's time to wake up. What we have today is a one-state reality.
The one-state-versus-two-states debate is not so much about which solution is better at all. To have a debate about which solution is more appropriate, there must first be an agreement about what the problem is we are seeking to solve. Two-state proponents see the problem as demographic, leading to the conclusion that drawing a line can solve it. One-state proponents tend to see the problem as one of rights denied, which can only be corrected by fully granting those rights. In my view, the problem has never been about finding space for two nationalisms in one geography, but rather about the basic rights denied to the native inhabitants of that geography for the purpose of empowering just one particular demography.
The foundations of Zionism, wrote the prolific and brilliant critic Hannah Arendt in the 1940s, were laid during a time when nobody could imagine any solution of minority or nationality problems other than the autonomous national state with a homogeneous population. Zionists, she said, are afraid the whole building might crack if they abandoned their old ideas. The contrary is true, she says. The building will collapse if we don't adapt our minds and our ideas to new facts and new developments.
The interesting question to me is not one state or two. It's clear that the answer is the former. Rather, the interesting question and one we should all be asking is, why. Why, despite stated policy, naming two states as the objective, and despite growing policy advocacy in favor of it, are we further from that objective today than ever? The answer, I believe, is that, even though the truth is blindingly obvious, it's inconvenient for many, especially politically. This forces two-state proponents to formulate advocacy based less on the landscape on the ground and more on the landscape of argumentation. More often than not, this means behaving reactively and operating in the small space available for dissent in an overwhelmingly Zionist discourse in Washington and, more broadly, in the United States. This approach is problematic, to say the least, and leads to the promulgation of several myths. These myths end up creating expectations that are never fulfilled. One state or two, we must correct this method of advocacy or continue to watch it falter.
Allow me to enumerate the three most problematic myths. Myth number one: Middle East peace and the creation of a Palestinian state is a "vital national-security interest of the United States." I can't tell you how many times I've heard this, especially from those dedicated to two-state advocacy. This became something of a battle cry after 9/11, the logic being that the blowback from prolonged U.S. support for Israel at the expense of Palestinians will cost the United States.
This much is true: Palestine is the bleeding heart of the Arab world and the cause of discontent among many across state borders. But a vital national-security interest? That's beyond a stretch. A vital national-security interest is, in plain terms, an interest the United States would use military force to defend. Seeing that the United States will not so much as condition aid to Israel on an effort to change its colonial behavior in the West Bank, I think it's safe to say that there is nothing vital about this interest. U.S. vital interests in the region are straightforward. It cares about maintaining Israel as an ally in the region and propping up other allied regimes. The overarching goal in the region has always been the same: ensuring stability in order to facilitate the free flow of natural resources out of the region.
Palestine can be connected to this. There's no doubt that the prolonged statelessness of Palestinians has had destabilizing effects on the region that nearly even brought the United States to war. In Jordan, in the fall of 1970, the United States was only a few Syrian tanks away from what could have been military confrontation with the Soviet Union. But much has changed since then. The instability of Palestinian statelessness has largely been confined to the "occupied" territories, thanks to an abomination known as the Oslo accords — which morphed a problematic PLO into an even more problematic Palestinian Authority — and of course, thanks to steadfast Israeli repression.
So the question of Palestine is far from being a vital national-security interest of the United States. That being said, a peace agreement could serve U.S. interests in the region insofar as it contributes to regional stability. But this is a secondary, if not tertiary, objective. While it might serve U.S. interests, crafting policy to achieve it involves a calculus that cedes great position to other interests, including domestic political constraints, which are strongly opposed to this end.
This brings us to myth number two: ending the occupation is in Israel's interest, a popular mantra of two-state advocacy. The idea is that Israel, an ostensible Jewish and democratic state, cannot subjugate millions of voiceless Palestinians without an identity crisis. But this dangerously conflates the interests of the state with the interest of maintaining this identity. Israel's claim to Jewish democracy and Israel's interests are two very different things. A growing number of Israelis are perfectly willing to jettison the notion of democracy in favor of demographic supremacy and keeping the majority of the settlements.
So what interests are involved in the occupation and, perhaps more important, what interests factor into the decision to end the occupation? Israel today is a strong state with a thriving economy. True, it is increasingly isolated in the world, but few Israelis seem to genuinely care. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, about 10 percent of the population, live in occupied territory. These folks vote, and they vote in growing numbers. In a study I did on Israeli election data from 2009 and 2013, the most striking thing I found was that when you disaggregate settlement voters and non-settlement voters, over this four-year period there was a 6.2 percent increase in the number of eligible voters outside the settlements, whereas inside, the increase was a remarkable 45 percent.
This is due in part to state policies of settlement expansion and financial incentives encouraging the transfer of civilians to the settlements, but also to the stark disparity in birthrates inside and outside the settlements. Couple this with the fact that, while turnout in the main population centers outside the settlements, like Tel Aviv, for example, was about 62 percent, turnout in the settlements was 78 percent.
Throw into the mix the fact that most Israelis who did not vote for Likud or the religious nationalist parties are more concerned about the price of cottage cheese than some abstract notion of identity and you can see why Israeli settlers and their interests are overrepresented in decision-making officialdom in Israel and will continue to be. But these are just the political costs. There are other costs associated with Israel's making the decision to end the occupation.
Some naively argue that — since Israeli settlements exist by virtue of the Israeli military's defense of them — if the Israeli military withdrew, the settlers would quickly leave. But as we saw in Gaza, there's nothing simple or cheap about this exercise. Aside from the need to use military force to evacuate the settlements in Gaza, the resettlement costs for about 5,000 Israeli settlers, many of whom resettled in the occupied West Bank, would be about $1 billion. Think, then, about 20 times this number. About 100,000 is a conservative estimate of the number of settlers who would have to be removed in a very unfavorable land swap deal for the Palestinians.
It is not Yamit we're talking about here. This is based on resettlement costs from the 2005 withdrawal, which is, by the way, in 2005 dollars, about 10 percent of Israel's current GDP. Add to this the additional value Israel gains from the occupation, including the exploitation of the land and resources, primary among which of course is precious water. Israel illegally draws some 80 percent from the mountain aquifer, which is located in the West Bank. That water is a significant portion of the state supply, 60 percent of which is devoted to domestic agriculture.
In the last few days, the World Bank released an important and detailed report on the impact of Area C closures on the Palestinian economy. It made clear that in Area C Palestinians are losing out on billions of dollars in potential economic rewards from the land, the water, the mineral resources, tourism and so on. What is not explicitly stated is who is reaping these economic rewards in the meantime: the state of Israel.
Some will concede that Israel reaps many rewards from the occupation, but there are also costs to its prolonged military presence in the West Bank. Surely there are, but those costs have only become more and more bearable under the two-state framework and its peace process.
In fact, Israeli defense consumption in relation to its GDP is in recent years at record lows. Over the course of the past 20 years, that number has halved. So, while there are military costs associated with the occupation, they have only declined and continue to decline during peace processing. The rewards of occupation and the costs of withdrawal have only increased, in large part thanks to the same process.
If we're going to talk about Israel's interests vis-à-vis the occupation, let's talk about cold, hard interests, not abstractions. Only the former actually influence state behavior. This brings us to myth number three: the status quo is unsustainable. It's said that a lie told often enough becomes truth. I don't know if that's the case, but a lie told often enough might be repeated by the president and other principals of his administration. In 2011, President Obama said about Israel, "Precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth. The status quo is unsustainable. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation." The same was uttered by his secretary of state at the time, Hillary Clinton.
If anything has been sustainable in the turbulent Middle East for the last half-century, longer than Mubarak and longer than Qadhafi, it has been Israel's occupation. Sure, nothing is sustainable forever; at one point, the Grand Canyon was just a river. But this is particularly disingenuous language from the very officials who are crafting policy to ensure that the status quo remains sustainable.
The Israeli occupation is not only sustainable; it is profitable. Israel has done almost all it can to ensure that the occupation persists for generations by carving up the West Bank with colonies and entrenching its presence there. Washington has done little to stop it and is, in fact, actively encouraging it with economic and diplomatic support. There was a time, only 20 years ago, when a U.S. secretary of state was rallying international support for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, not as illegitimate, but as illegal. Today, it is the United States that is single-handedly standing in the way of such a resolution by using its veto, despite vast international support for it.
The status quo is sustainable in large part because of Washington's unyielding support for Israel. Telling ourselves otherwise is a recipe for disappointment. Why is it so important to debunk these myths? By allowing them to be our assumptions, we permit unrealistic expectations to arise. If, for example, a peace deal were a vital national-security interest of the United States, and if ending the occupation were in Israel's interest, and if there were an urgency created by an unsustainable status quo, it would simply be necessary to bring the parties to the negotiating table for a deal to be made. If power acts in its own interest, and if these assumptions are correct, the negotiation should lead to the desired outcome. Instead, as we have seen, negotiations have led to the opposite outcome.
In fact, it is due to the illusions these myths create that many can't see the blatant double standard so perfectly captured by President Obama himself in recent weeks. Just last week, the president told NPR, in regard to the stance House Republicans were taking by refusing to pass a continuing resolution before a government shutdown deadline, "You don't negotiate by putting a gun to the other person's head." Yet only days earlier, President Obama said, after meeting with Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians it occupies — not merely with a gun to their heads, but with an entire foreign military occupation in their land — were "the best way," the only way for a successful outcome.
These myths and assumptions also lead to an unrealistic and unhelpful understanding of responsibility and blame. If it's good for the United States and good for Israel, why hasn't it happened, we are led to ask. It must be because of Palestinian rejectionism.
Moving forward, we need to revisit these assumptions, challenge these myths and radically alter policy if there's going to be a change in the situation. Here is what most liberal Zionist and most other two-state advocates constrained by U.S. domestic politics don't want to tell you. Without massive — and I underscore massive — pressure on Israel, it has no reason to change the status quo. Advocacy for a two-state outcome without advocacy for massive pressure on Israel to bring it, at a minimum, into full compliance with international law is, in effect, advocacy for perpetual occupation. This is, in part, responsible for the morass of today.
This brings us back to the more fundamental question: should policy advocacy aim for what is right, fair and just, or should it aim for the path of least resistance, given the powers that be? I don't know where the United States might be if Martin Luther King, Jr., had chosen the latter. I don't know where South Africa might be if Nelson Mandela had. I do know where Israel-Palestine will be if advocates continue to choose the latter: precisely where we are today, but with more settlers and an even more deeply rooted version of Israeli apartheid.
It's time, as Hannah Arendt said, to adapt our minds and our ideas to the present reality and imagine new paths forward.
JEREMY BEN-AMI, president, J Street
I want to thank Omar and Tom for this opportunity to engage in what I consider to be an extraordinarily important and respectful discussion of whether or not there really is an alternative to a two-state solution for resolving the longstanding conflict between the Jewish and the Palestinian people over the land that we call Israel and Palestine. It goes without saying that I find myself in the slightly unusual position today of serving as the right end of the political spectrum. As some of you may know, I spend much of my time engaged in a different political dynamic. So I'm very grateful to the Middle East Policy Council for a little change of venue for me.
Let me just say forthrightly and clearly that I am a proud and unapologetic supporter of the state of Israel and of the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in the land of Israel. My family was among the very first Jews to return to the area in the 1880s. They fled persecution in Russia and sought to rebuild the home of the Jewish people that their ancestors had dreamed of for centuries.
The movement that they were a part of, Zionism, fit neatly into a larger trend in the nineteenth century towards nationalism, which blossomed as peoples across the globe sought to establish their right to self-determination and to claim a place among the community of nations. Today, most of my family lives in Israel, as I myself did for several years. And I remain firmly committed to both the necessity of a Jewish homeland and the justice of its existence, its defense and its survival.
My belief in Jewish nationalism is rooted in history, both the millennia-long connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the need for one place, somewhere on the globe, where Jewish people can live safely and securely in a home of their own, given our people's tragic history when living in the lands of others.
Let me state equally proudly and unapologetically that there will only be security, peace and justice for the Jewish people and their national home when there is security, peace and justice for the Palestinian people. I and J Street, the organization that I represent, do believe that the Palestinian people have the same right to freedom and self-determination as the Jewish people. I and J Street do oppose the ever-expanding settlement enterprise on the West Bank and the ongoing occupation that exists in post-1967 occupied territories. The present situation threatens the national interest of the state of Israel, a state that is only the home of the Jewish people if it is both democratic and Jewish in nature. The present situation threatens Israel's long-term survival physically, but it threatens the moral fiber of the Jewish people as well.
So those starting points lead directly to the question we're here today to discuss: how do we resolve a conflict between two people who both have valid rights and claims? For all the complexity at the heart of this conflict and the deep emotions that it understandably taps — not just over the past 45 years, not just the past 60-plus years, not just the past 100 years, but over millennia — I maintain that this conflict must be understood as a conflict between two peoples who have a legitimate and conflicting claim to one piece of land. And I only see three options for resolving that conflict.
One, continue to fight until somebody wins and takes control of the land in its entirety. Two, divide that land in some way and agree to be satisfied with only a piece of what you want. Three, share it without dividing it. I firmly believe that there is only one viable option, and that is the second, division of the land into two independent states. I hope that all of us in this room, and everybody on the panel, would join together in rejecting option one and agree there is no zero-sum solution in which one winner could take all. While there are those on both sides of this conflict who may harbor that illusion, theirs is a path paved in blood, pain and suffering that I hope all of good will seeking peace reject.
But I know that many in this room and on this panel would argue for the third option, sharing the land. I understand the frustration over the failures of the last 20 years since the beginning of the Oslo era, and I understand that, faced with that frustration, they suggest we stop trying. Don't try to divide what can't be divided. Start figuring out how to live together as one big happy family in one big binational state.
Let me note that on my right politically, as well, there is growing interest in exactly that, a one-state outcome — but for different reasons. In the version of one state supported by the settler leaders whom we all oppose and by Israel's most right-wing politicians, all those from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea would become part of one big state, but they wouldn't share equal rights.
I've heard this morning that those on the panel with me are only considering one-state options that incorporate having equal rights regardless of race, religion and background. And I do understand, Professor Lustick, why this one-state model has some attraction, especially for American liberals who've become used to lauding the development in our nation of an increasingly multiethnic and multicultural society. If we all managed to get along here in America, surely Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs can get along just fine in some imaginary single state — let's call it Israstine.
I don't view this as a solution. I don't call it a one-state solution; I regard it instead as the perpetuation of a one-state nightmare. A quick review of the political trends and recent history around the world shows we're moving away from, and not towards, some form of humanist utopia.
Look at the former Yugoslavia, which split into seven separate nations amid a frenzy of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing. Look at Belgium, where French and Flemish-speaking Belgians are barely on speaking terms; or Spain, where Catalans are joining hands in a human chain 250 miles long to demand independence. Czechs and Slovaks recently agreed to go their own separate ways. Even the Scots want out of the United Kingdom. And then there's the Middle East, where the fabric of multinational coexistence, which was enforced for centuries by the Ottomans and more recently by military strongmen, is violently unraveling before our eyes. Lebanon is torn between Shiites and Sunnis, Christians and Druze, barely hanging together. Iraq remains tormented by bloody terrorist attacks. Egypt's Copt minority is the frequent target of attacks. And, of course, Syria has disintegrated into an all-out civil war.
Forcing a roughly equal number of Jews and Palestinians to coexist in one state and to compete for political power, economic resources and overall control is not a solution. Often it's a formula for similar tension, conflict and bloodshed. A two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians offers both peoples a way to avoid such a fate. It is the only way to give them both what they want: national self-determination. Again, I understand the deep frustration over a generation now of trying to reach a diplomatic solution. Believe me, I also understand the lack of belief that the present Israeli government intends in good faith to end this conflict, but I don't buy the notion that the obstacles in the path of getting to the goal of a two-state solution mean that the destination itself is wrong. To my mind, the right answer is to redouble our efforts to remove those obstacles so we can reach our goal.
I'm pleased to say that, with the energy and determination that is being brought today to the cause by Secretary Kerry, there is reason for renewed optimism. If these efforts fail and the two peoples end up forced to live together in one state, I see little chance of that turning into a blissful paradise of equality and coexistence. Instead, I think we would be condemning our children and grandchildren to a never-ending cycle of violence and bloodshed as each people seeks control and dominion over the other.
I look forward in the coming discussion to understanding better how those who promote a one-state future propose to deal with practical issues such as establishing the political rules of engagement in such a state. Who gets to vote? Who has the right to citizenship? How are resources allocated? How is the national defense of this hypothetical state established and run? And how do all these rules get set in the first place? Wouldn't the negotiations over establishing such a system be at least as complex and even less likely to succeed than the negotiations over a two-state solution?
Our children and their children and the generations that follow will be far better served if the Jewish people and the Palestinian people each have a country they can call home. Each of these two nations should provide full and equal rights to all citizens regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. Religious freedom and the rights of all people in both states should be fully respected, and full access should be provided to the religious sites of all faiths. Two successful states for two peoples living side by side could potentially bring them far closer together than they are today, affirming similar economic security and cultural interests rather than their differences.
But for now, my focus is not on idealism but on a practical solution to a generations-old conflict, a conflict that has taken too many lives, caused too much suffering and needs to be brought to an end. The only sustainable long-term resolution to this conflict is one that meets the most basic requirements of both parties: security and independence from one another and self-determination.
I understand that the bottom line for the Palestinian people in any resolution is that their rights must be recognized and respected, and wounds must be healed. In particular, that means a just and agreed-upon resolution to the refugee issue. But I ask in return that the bottom line for the Jewish people be recognized and respected as well. And that is that the security and survival of a national home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel be recognized and guaranteed. That will only happen through a two-state solution. Anything else is a formula for perpetuating the conflict, not resolving it.
AHMAD SAMIH KHALIDI, senior associate member, St. Anthony's College, Oxford; former PLO adviser (1991-93)
I am a Palestinian from Jerusalem. My family traces our origins back about 1,000 years. The Nusseibehs claim to have been there before us, but they have no proof of that. I have grown up in the diaspora and am currently based in England. I've been active in Palestinian politics for many long years, in official and unofficial peace making and with great success, as you have already heard from today's panel.
How can we characterize the Middle East today? There is a rampant regional civil war across the Levant, from Lebanon's shores to the Iraq-Iranian borders. Now it has taken a substantially sectarian character, Sunni-Shiite, with multiple underlays. Here and elsewhere in the region, there are ethnic and economic factors, regional power struggles, historical rivalries, personal animosities, great-power politics, generational transitions, youthful frustrations. All of these have created a maze of interconnected, overlapping conflicts and fault lines.
Out of this turmoil, we have had new borders and new identities. In Southern Sudan, there's a new state. In Syria, there is any number of statelets. Iraq has broken apart. Libya is polarized. Yemen is likely to go the same way. The map, as is now widely recognized, is changing shape, and its geopolitical permutations remain unpredictable. Will there be a new Kurdish state, for instance? Will new tribal and confessional entities redraw the region along more or less stable lines? Will the continuous collapse into more primordial and less heterogeneous polities ultimately bring peace and coexistence, or will the forcibly cleansed ethnic, tribal or confessional entities that are emerging remain in perpetual conflict and competition? Will they be as much a source of chronic instability as their predecessors?
You've already seen the tide of conflicting axes and alignments come and go; alliances and forces appear and wither: Yesterday's Muslim Brotherhood, which seemed to be sweeping through the region, is now being relentlessly swept out of power. New powers have emerged, dominated and then receded. Qatar, yesterday's master of the region, today has shrunk back into its football stadiums. Old players have appeared to be on the verge of extinction, only to demonstrate a confounding survivability, like our good friend President Assad of Syria.
Where is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in all of this? Certainly, it's not the most visible conflict, but compared to the rest, it is in a relatively bloodless moment, thank God. But visibility should not be confused with saliency. The Palestine-Israel conflict, among other things, is the point of convergence among almost all the elements I have mentioned. Borders, ethnicities, identities, religion, nationalism all come together here on this sacred ground. Its relative insulation from what is around it today is no indication of its incendiary potential, as we have witnessed before on many occasions. Furthermore, it is of global resonance. It is not a local affair, partly as a consequence of its history and the historicity of its place and its players, and partly because Israel is integral to the U.S. political fabric, just as Palestine is to the political and moral consciousness of millions around the globe. When the United States wants to go to war in and around the region, it is Israel that is invoked, for better or for worse. When protesters mass in Tehran against Western injustice, real or perceived, Palestine is still a genuine rallying call.
Will a Palestine-Israel solution address everything and resolve all these conflicts in the region? Of course, not. Will it help to create a stable zone in a sea of turmoil? Most probably, yes. Will its perpetuation as an open sore help to make the world a better place? Undoubtedly, not. This, I think, is the very basic calculus of the United States today. It is also the calculus of Israel and the PA/PLO's own dynamic.
Putting myself in the position of this Israeli government for a moment, I see an ever-expanding path towards growing delegitimization, spreading Jewish communal divisions in the diaspora, and a genuine demographic and political dilemma on the ground. How do you preserve the Jewish state when you're spread between and among roughly four million Palestinians?
If I'm Bibi Netanyahu, Iran certainly looms large, not just for the day when, but for the day after, whatever happens is going to happen. If you want the world to support you on the day after, you do what you have to do. The key, I think Bibi has come to realize, lies in potential movement with the Palestinians. Palestine, if you want, for Netanyahu, has become the key to Tehran.
But for Ramallah, the road ahead is also very uncertain. This leadership's slender national credentials hang by a thread. There's no visible alternative to them, but they still represent the very last breeze from the Palestinian national movement's winds of the '60s. The national project, so-called, in 1988, to build a state for Palestinians on territories occupied in 1967, is still at the PLO's shaky core. All talk of UN unilateral action notwithstanding, the PLO's leadership today is wedded to a negotiated solution and has little option of divorce from it.
The two-state solution is not a new invention. It is a very respectable 76-year-old. Lord Peel, in 1937, was the first to propose the two-state solution. It was, of course, tried again in 1947. It was manifestly unacceptable from the Arab point of view then. This is not the place to debate it, but it only really sprang back to contemporary life after the PLO adopted it unilaterally in 1988. Indeed, the much-maligned Yasser Arafat is today the father of the latter-day two-state solution. All those adamantly supporting it today seem to have forgotten that it was equally adamantly opposed yesterday by the United States and Israel for almost a decade. Even in 1999, just before Camp David, Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party in Israel, refused to include the two-state solution in its electoral program. It was not until 2003, paradoxically, that it was adopted by Israel, by Ariel Sharon, and not until 2009 that Bibi was converted to it.
Nonetheless, it is today the only common ground for all parties to the conflict: Israel, Palestine and the Arabs. Even Hamas does not oppose it in principle, so it will take a massive political earthquake to shift this cumbersome ship off its course. The fact is that there's no real Plan B. There's no other negotiable solution. There are many other options, but the practical alternatives to a two-state solution are unacceptable to one or both parties: an interim or provisional state or process, on the one hand, or a one-state solution, on the other. In between lie the whole range of unilateral actions that will only involve, at best, a partial and temporary solution.
I do not want, for the moment, to dispute the difficulties of reaching a fair and sustainable two-state solution. There is no doubt about the narrowing window that Secretary of State Kerry spoke of earlier this year at his confirmation hearings in Congress. I personally came to this conclusion many years ago. How does one shift 500,000 settlers out of the West Bank? How does one divide Jerusalem in a way that's workable? How do you get the Israelis out of the Jordan Valley after Bibi Netanyahu has told Abbas that he wants to stay there for 30 years? How do you ensure Palestinian security against future threats? How do you resolve the refugee problem and address the issue of a Jewish state? The problems of negotiating have to do with signing, ratifying, implementing, verifying and then sustaining. And these are immense. Negotiating is just the very, very first hurdle.
In spite of all of this, I believe that the prospects of actually reaching an agreement today are not negligible, and we should be prepared, not because the parties have suddenly turned to peace mongering, but because in the short to medium term, every other alternative looks worse to one or both sides. This is not about optimism or pessimism; it's about reading which direction the compass is pointing.
A catastrophic failure of the talks, however, should lead to a rethink. Again, this is not new. I've recently been involved in a five-year-old project called the Parallel State Project. A book is about to be published, edited by Mark LeVine and Mathias Mossberg, on this very interesting idea. The idea is to take the whole of mandatory Palestine and superimpose one state over the other, so that, for instance, all the Jews would vote in one parliament, and all the Arabs would vote in another.
It is indeed, as a matter of principle, very hard to argue against the notion of one state. Ian Lustick makes a very good case for one state, not necessarily as a virtue, but as a possible outcome. It's very hard to dispute the vision of a civic state with one man, one vote, in which all can live wherever they want in the whole of Mandatory Palestine.
I think we can distinguish among three forms of one state. One has already been very clearly made. This is not just the reality of the day; it's been a reality since 1967. It is the apartheid state, the one that we have today. It is a de facto consequence of occupation, and its prevailing characteristics are Israeli domination and its oppression of the Palestinian people.
A second is one state as a desirable outcome. The question here is how. This to my mind is not something you can negotiate, at least not in the short term. How will the Jewish majority that is in control of every aspect of their life transfer power to either a similar number of Palestinians or even a Palestinian majority? In many ways, this is very similar to the predicament that the Palestinians found themselves in before 1948. I don't see any mobilizable partners for such a project in the short to medium term.
The third case is that something may arise, not out of a rational strategy but out of the convergence of some unseens and unknowns. Something may happen. But I believe we cannot base politics on maybes or unseen aspirations. This is neither good strategy, nor good analysis.
As someone who's not unsympathetic to the vision of one state, it poses enormous problems. Jeremy has mentioned some of them: Jewish fears of Arab domination, potential deadly competition over land and resources; the issue of Jewish technical and institutional domination; the emergence of a marginalized Arab underclass in a largely Jewish-run state. We've seen all of this before during the "one state" of the mandate. Furthermore, the region does not provide a perfect model of harmony and communal existence for one to draw on.
I believe that the one-state/two-state dichotomy is to some extent false. The options are not necessarily exclusive. One state could eventually arise as the result of two states. This could be a very likely outcome: a consensual new regime in mandatory Palestine born out of enlightened self-interest after the conflict has been defused. This is where the European model becomes relevant. It only took a few years from the end of World War II to the beginnings of the European Union.
For the one-statists, the real challenge is to operationalize it within a real time frame and a pragmatic political context. How, in essence, do you get Israel to de-Zionize itself in an era of ethnic and religious retrenchment, and at a point where Israel's Jewish population is becoming more nationalist, more religious and more Jewish than Israeli? Rabbi Ovaida Yosef's 500,000 mourners yesterday attest to this.
But the one-state/two-state dichotomy is not the only potential outcome of what is happening today. Other things may move as well. The worst case is a descent into intercommunal violence that is now all too common across the region. If Sunni can slaughter Shiite, Arab and Jew within and across the Green Line are perfectly capable of following suit.
A more hopeful scenario is one where the Palestinians retrench and reconnect in peaceful pursuit of their three primary national aims: full civil rights in Israel; an end to the occupation of the territories seized in 1967; and a fair, just and justifiable deal for the 1948 refugees, a struggle in which the precise form of national statehood takes second place to other goals.
THOMAS R. MATTAIR, executive director, Middle East Policy Council
Jeremy and Ahmad, given all of the settlements, bypass roads, the Wall, the separation of Gaza from the West Bank and the political strength of the pro-settlement forces, what are the steps that would have to be taken to make a two-state agreement possible? Jeremy and I were talking earlier today about how much evacuation of settlers and how much dismantlement of obstacles would be necessary. How would you patch together the political forces in Israel and the United States to make all that a possibility?
Ian, you haven't advocated one state necessarily. In fact, you've warned that it might only emerge after a lot of violent struggle. How could that be avoided? What concrete steps could be taken now to prepare for the failure of negotiations over two states? What kinds of constitutional foundations and institutional transitions would be necessary, and where are we going to find the constellation of political actors to put that together?
Yousef, you were talking about how it's a myth that it's in the U.S. national interest and to Israel's advantage to resolve this. It all depends on how you define interests, objectives and strategies. Maybe when you point to American behavior, you're talking about American objectives and American strategies that don't actually conform to American interests. Maybe because of domestic politics and a lack of courage and clear thinking, we've got objectives and strategies that are not in our interest.
MR. BEN-AMI: OK. I'll address the two questions you asked me, although I have opinions of course on all of them. The first question is, what practical steps can still be taken to achieve a two-state solution. The second is about the politics both in Israel and here in the United States. So, first of all, my basic argument against the notion that somehow a window has closed and can never be opened again on the two-state solution is that all of the obstacles — which are enormous, be they roads or army bases or walls or buildings —are, at the end of the day, man-made. And with sufficient political will, recognizing the balance of interests that you began to discuss, they can be unmade by men.
It's not easy. Moving 70,000-100,000 people back to the state of Israel from beyond the ultimate border that will be established in the context of a negotiated two-state deal will not be an easy task. It will require, I believe, wrenching conflict within Israeli society and the Jewish community more broadly. But somebody said resettlement of as many as several hundred thousand people — I think it will only end up being in the neighborhood of 100,000 — but even were it several hundred thousand people, it was implied that it's not possible. I would just say, remember that in the 1990s, the state of Israel absorbed a million Jews from the Soviet Union. Within a decade, those million people were housed, employed, integrated into Israeli society without benefit of understanding the language and the culture. So it is not impossible. The window can be propped open. The window can be reopened. There is no such thing for a man-made problem as an inability to solve it. There just needs to be the will to do it.
I don't buy the concept that this two-state solution is ever actually dead; it will only keep getting more and more costly and difficult. As I said in my opening remarks, the road that we will have to travel, as Ian also said, is going to be bloody and awful, and people will suffer.
On politics, let's take Israel first. The elections earlier this year marked a tick back towards the center for the political pendulum. The right-wing bloc today has fewer members than it did prior to the January elections. The number of Knesset members who support a two-state solution publicly is greater than half. There are members of the coalition — like Tzipi Livni and her whole party, and like Tzachi Hanegbi from Likud, who attended the J Street conference this week — who do support a two-state solution. Politics in Israel are producing a more extreme right wing, but one that's smaller, and a growing recognition on the center right that, in the national self-interest of those who believe in a democratic Jewish home in Israel and in the national interest, there must be a two-state solution. So I would argue that politics in Israel are actually not shifting inexorably over to the far right but are in the process of shifting back towards the center, and that the extremists in the settler party and within the Likud are becoming fewer and isolated.
In the American-Jewish community, one only needs to look at the recent surveys that just came out in the last week. One was by the Pew Research Center of the views of Jewish Americans on these topics. A second was just published yesterday by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, which looked at opinions of about 600 rabbis in this country.
The opinions of the American Jewish community on these issues are closely in line with the two-state outcome that I have described. And the political atmosphere in this town is changing as people recognize that the more extreme right-of-center voices that we always thought spoke for the entirety of our community do not speak for it. There is not only a diversity of views within the Jewish community but a majority who actually hold moderate, rational, sane views and understand that only through compromise and a two-state solution will there be peace and security for Israel in the long run. That is changing rapidly. My organization is a symptom of that, perhaps in some ways a bit of a catalyst, but at least a part of a larger wave that is emerging in the American-Jewish community.
So I would argue that politics here and in Israel are not as bleak as they are sometimes portrayed, and that the obstacles are in fact removable at great cost — but with the right political will it can be done.
DR. KHALIDI: One of the most extraordinary things that has happened in recent times is that the two-state solution has become a Zionist solution in the eyes of almost everybody I talk to on the Palestinian side.
What was supposed by the fulfillment of the national aspirations of the Palestinians has become essentially a means of satisfying Israel's need for demographic and strategic security. But I think there's still a genuine Palestinian national interest in this. There are very few people on the Palestinian side who will agree with me; the vast majority, certainly of young people, these days, have gone almost completely into one-statism. I understand why. It's partly because of frustration with the peace process and partly because of the realities on the ground.
If we actually reach an agreement — that's a very big if — it will be the first time that Palestinians and Israelis have ever mutually agreed on an end game. That in itself will create a new political reality. It's not enough, but if you can get an agreement, you can change the discourse, the hopes and the aspirations. It's no longer about something that may or may not happen; it's about something concrete and achievable.
And if this agreement — as it must, if it's going to be at all an agreement — sets the borders and resolves the issue of settlements, where you can continue building and where you can't, settlements will become less significant because you'll have decided where the borders are. The same applies to Jerusalem, even the issue of refugees.
So, even before you enter the phases of implementation, and despite all the difficulties, the very fact that you can achieve a common agreement that sets out where everything is going will completely alter the dynamics of the conflict and the nature of the discourse. For the short term, I think, this is the best we can hope for.
DR. LUSTICK: I want to take direct issue with some of the things that Jeremy said. There is a huge difference between something being possible and something being plausible enough that it's worth entertaining. If you make the argument that everything that's man-made can be unmade, Israel is man-made. It can, therefore, be unmade. Therefore, why go for a two-state solution if you can actually go to the root? That is, if you're looking at it from a Palestinian point of view. The answer would be, well, that's absurd. Maybe in principle Israel could be unmade, but it's not a practical possibility, so let's not think about it.
In other words, even you, Jeremy, have to operate in the political world, distinguishing between things that are theoretically possible and the things that are plausible enough that they're worth pursuing. That is exactly what Secretary of State Kerry said in his confirmation hearing when he said we've only got — he said in April — a year, a year and a half, maybe two at most. Since it's six months later, he'd have to say six months, a year, a year-and-a-half at most.
Martin Indyk, when he spoke at the J Street conference, said — and this is a revealing non sequitur — the reason why this go-round of negotiations will succeed is because it's the last opportunity for it to succeed. The window will be closed, period. Yes, that's an exhortation to action. And I accept the impossibility of saying that it is impossible.
But what's not impossible is saying that the opportunity costs of pursuing something that has a very low plausibility may be too high. That's where I see, Jeremy, that you're not opening that question. What are the opportunity costs of pursuing something that becomes less and less plausible, so much so that the right can pretend to adopt the two-state solution?
You tell me Tzachi Hanegbi endorses the two-state solution. I knew Tzachi Hanegbi a long time ago; I know what makes this guy tick. When you see Bibi Netanyahu speaking at Bar-Ilan a couple of days ago about the two-state solution and what it entails — they're using you. They're using this tantalizing mirage to camouflage and protect the tightening grip of an Israeli version of a one-state solution that is based on oppression and based on a bet that Jews will be able to out-compete other Middle Easterners in a game of brutality forever. That's their bet.
I believe that there was a whole period of time during Oslo — which I do not consider an abomination — when that was a reasonably plausible way to get satisfactory arrangements, and it was not playing into the hand of the right. Now, there's a sense in which the relationship you have to the right in Israel is the same as the relationship Ben-Gurion had to Abraham Isaac Kook, the intellectual godfather of Gush Emunim. He came up with the idea of mystical messianic Zionism. When he looked at Ben-Gurion and the other apikorsim — the sinners, the Jews who wore short pants, had premarital sex and didn't eat kosher food — he said, it's OK. They're doing God's work. We will inherit their accomplishments, and we will bring the messiah and rule over the entire land of Israel. Of course, Ben-Gurion actually thought it was he who was playing the rabbi. We can see who won in the end.
Right now, Jeremy, you have to be aware of the possibility that you're being played in this way. And the way you have to become aware of it is to be able to say out loud, there are certain circumstances in which I will judge that the opportunity costs of continuing down this line are too great. When I hear you say that under no circumstances will you ever give up, that opens up the opportunity for permanent exploitation by the other side.
I'm going to close with a joke that I think really captures why these negotiations are going on. It's the last scene in Annie Hall, and Woody Allen says to the camera,
This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, doc, my brother is crazy. He thinks he's a chicken. And the doctor says, well, why don't you turn him in? And the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. Well, I guess that's pretty much how I feel about relationships. You know they're totally irrational, crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.
Every protagonist in these negotiations — the United States government, the peace industry, the Palestinian Authority and the current right-wing Israeli government — are getting eggs out of this negotiation. It's got nothing to do with actually getting a solution.
I have yet to hear anybody answer what I call the Thetford problem. I used to live in New Hampshire, which has a crazy system of roads and mountains and rivers, very old. Somebody's lost, driving around, trying to find Thetford, which is in Vermont. He asks a local, how do you get to Thetford? The guy stops a minute and says, "Well, you can't get theah from heah." It's not that we can't imagine a there, it's just that we don't have an outline for how we're going to get to it.
You talked about the Russians and the transformation of Israeli society. Yes, maybe the election goes this way or that way, within a very narrow range and a bizarre image of what the two-state solution really means, but from a political-cultural point of view, Israel has got to go through a much more fundamental transformation, in part because of the integration of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
MR. MUNAYYER: I just want to respond to what Tom raised earlier about the question of the myth of U.S. vital national interests. We exaggerate the extent to which the United States is going to commit itself to changing the situation. So, while I do think that a peace agreement can serve U.S. interests, the United States will only move in that direction if other things fall into place as well. Domestic politics simply do not allow that, for a variety of the reasons that we discussed.
I also wanted to respond to one thing that Jeremy brought up in his answer to the question about Israeli politics. I did not see the election this year as a move of Israel to the center. Actually, I saw it in the exactly opposite way, as a stark shift to the right. When you look at the numbers, they really only point to that fact. Israeli politics is about getting to 61. And only the right wing can get to 61, primarily because the non-right-wing parties, if we can call them that, do not include the Arab parties. So, by the Arab parties excluding themselves and the Zionist parties excluding the Arab parties, the opposition can never get to 60 under the current formulation.
The parties in the opposition, like Yesh Atid, for example, are not centrists. If you look at their politics, they've said very little about the question of Israel's position in the West Bank and the continued occupation. The leader of that party announced that he was running in the Israeli colony of Ariel, in the West Bank. This is by no means a left-wing pro-peace party. The center has moved to the right because the right has also moved further to the right, so much so that Avigdor Lieberman today is no longer the most right-wing fascist in Israel. He's part of the more mainstream right of Likud. So I think it's actually gone in a much more difficult direction than the one that Jeremy characterized.
MR. BEN-AMI: On the question of what is possible, I understand the difficulties and the costs, but what I don't hear from Ian and folks who put forward the one-state scenario is the road that they would follow. I think Ahmad made that point as well. It is really, really hard to see how Martin Indyk and John Kerry are going to be successful over the next couple of years. I admit that. The odds of success are not 100 percent. I don't know if anybody in this room thinks they're higher than 50 percent.
Let's agree that it is very, very hard to try to move a negotiation to success around the two-state formula, but to think that it would be easier to reach agreement on a one-state outcome is, to my mind, a flight of fancy. I think it would be easier to plan the colonization of Mars than to get the Israelis and the Palestinian people to sit at a table together and talk about the practicalities of arranging an equitable and just one-state future together.
Given that, I understand Martin Indyk's trying to inject a sense of urgency, saying the window will close. I think the window really will close with this round of efforts. I don't know that President Abbas has another go in him at age 78. I don't know whether another American secretary of state like John Kerry will come along for quite some time, willing to do what he did to get this back in gear. It's going to be a while. I do know that the next decade, the next generation, will be really, really ugly if we don't succeed. It's going to be very painful for all of my friends on both sides of the line.
I predict, and I hope I'm young enough to see this, that one day we'll come back to the two-state solution. After this window closes, if we fail — and I pray to God we don't — and we go through all that pain and suffering, ultimately everybody will come back to the table and say, how do we divide this land? Where is the border? How do we figure out Jerusalem? How do we meet the needs of the refugees? How do we figure out security? We'll be right back in the place we're at now. You talk about the plausibility of the two-state solution. Give me one scenario of a plausible future that is agreed upon and how you achieve this fanciful vision in our lifetimes, and then we can talk about plausibility.
I have one other thing to say — about Tzachi Hanegbi and those on the right. My father was a commander in the Irgun, a comrade in arms with Tzipi Livni's father, with Dan Meridor's father, and the parents of many of the leaders of Israel's right today. I understand the right-wing mentality, too. I grew up in it. I defended it.
But there comes a point — as it has for Dan Meridor, as it has for Tzipi Livni, as it has for Tzachi Hanegbi — when you realize that the only way to ensure the thing that matters to all of us, the survival of a national Jewish home, is some form of compromise. You can't have it all. That recognition from the center right is the single most important reason for optimism. There is hope, because of the confluence of Israelis saying it is in our national self-interest and Palestinians believing it is in their national self-interest, that this is the way to fulfill their national aspirations. This is where the hope lies. As long as there are people on the center right in Israeli politics willing to stand up and say that and work towards that end, they need to be embraced and not scorned.
DR. MATTAIR: If the two-state solution is impossible or will be impossible in a year, what needs to be done to avoid an apartheid state or a bloody revolution? And how long will it take to get equal rights for everybody?
MR. MUNAYYER: At this point, we can't avoid an apartheid state; we have one, and I would argue that we've had one since 1948, not just 1967. An apartheid state, by definition, is one that uses systematic human-rights abuses to empower a particular demography based on race or ethnicity or what have you. This has been the case since the creation of the state of Israel, by virtue of its refusal to allow refugees to return to their homes. It's used systematic abuse of human rights to maintain a particular demography as an empowered majority. That was the case in 1967. It continues to be the case today. The system has only become more and more complex.
I think there's only one way to change it. As I said in my remarks, it requires massive pressure on the state to change its behavior. You cannot convince Israel that it should end the occupation by trying some reverse psychology about its abstract interest years down the line, when they see that they can very well maintain it today. They are maintaining it. Perpetual occupation has been a viable policy option in Israel and continues to be. Until that calculus changes on the Israeli end, nothing else is going to change.
About 20 years ago, shortly after Yitzhak Shamir lost the election, he was interviewed by a newspaper. He said, if it was up to me, I would have negotiated autonomy with the Palestinians for 20 years, and by that point, we would have had half a million settlers in the West Bank.
DR. MATTAIR: Netanyahu has set conditions for an agreement with the Palestinians: no return to the 1967 borders, which he considers indefensible; no return of the Palestinians of 1948 and their children, the refugees and the diaspora and their children and grandchildren; and Israel has to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley. Given those positions, how are you going to get to a two-state solution? Another condition has been introduced in the last two years: Netanyahu has asked the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. There are 30-plus Israeli laws that institutionalize discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, including laws regarding land acquisition. Will you go on record as opposing these? If so, what are you and J Street doing to oppose them?
MR. BEN-AMI: I must first respond to Yousef. I can't sit and leave hanging the notion that, by definition, Israel since 1948 has been an apartheid state. I, of course, do not agree. I share with former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert my very deep concern about the future: where Israel heads if there isn't a two-state solution and what happens in a society in which a minority of Jewish residents and citizens have rights that a majority of non-Jewish residents and citizens don't have. The word apartheid has been used by Prime Ministers Olmert and Barak for where Israel is headed.
To me, the national home of the Jewish people must be a state rooted in justice, in treating people equally. If that is not the future, then we have lost Zionism; we have lost what it means to have an Israel. So, yes, that is a national interest to me, avoiding that future. But I don't buy that that is the very definition of Israel. I think there is a way to square being Jewish in character and being democratic in nature.
In answer to whether we speak out about the injustices to those who do not receive, as citizens of the state of Israel, equal treatment from the law, we do speak out on that, though it's not our mission. There's an organization called the New Israel Fund, I used to work for, that has that as its mission. I'm a supporter of the New Israel Fund, to ensure that equal rights are upheld. I said in my opening remarks that the Israel I want to fight for, and the majority of Jews around the world want to fight for, is one that upholds those rights. So, absolutely, that is of deep concern.
On the question of Bibi Netanyahu's conditions, we're in negotiations. Thank goodness we got past the notion of preconditions. What the questioner articulated — borders, refugees, the recognition of the character of the state of Israel — these are the topics of the negotiations. They are no longer preconditions because they are now subject to negotiation. We're all familiar with, let's say, the Geneva accords and the Clinton parameters. We're all familiar with the ideas that are out there about how to reach a resolution on those topics. The border between these two states, ultimately, will — if there is to be an agreement — hew relatively closely to the 1967 lines. We all know it won't be the 1967 lines; there will be swaps. The Arab League accepted that in May. It is U.S. policy under this president, and it's the common-sense end to this conflict. So, yes, the 1967 lines will not be the precise border, but there will be a pretty close adherence to them, give or take a small percentage.
The issue of Israel's security is a sine qua non. There won't be an agreement if there isn't a set of security arrangements that the state of Israel doesn't believe is sufficient. General John Allen, on behalf of the United States government, is now engaged in a separate track of negotiations with the Israelis to review every single security concern that Israel has placed on the table and to try to develop an assurance from the United States that they can be met.
The question of an Israeli military presence on the Jordan River is potentially one of time. Somebody said 30 years has been suggested. Other people have said zero years. So somewhere between zero and 30 lies a compromise that can perhaps save generations of suffering. I would hope that my friends on the Palestinian side can see that conceding some limited time, with clear markers for performance, with a gradual withdrawal of Israeli security, is a potential way to resolve this. That is called a compromise, and I hope we are heading in that direction.
As to the Jewish-state issue, it allows me to return to the question of Yair Lapid and whether he is a right-wing politician. It was just reported in the papers this morning that Yair Lapid repeated what Menachem Begin said about the need for others to recognize the nature of the state of Israel. And I share this very, very deeply. The state of Israel doesn't need anyone's permission or recognition to be the national home of the Jewish people. It is up to Israel to determine its character. Israel didn't demand this from the state of Jordan. It didn't demand this from the nation of Egypt when it made peace. No one who believes strongly in the national home of the Jewish people should rely on somebody else to tell us what the character of the state of Israel is.
So Yair Lapid said this should not be a precondition. There has to be a way to acknowledge both people's rights and both people's claims and both people's futures. But this notion that was introduced in the last few years is unhelpful. I think we really need to revisit that as part of the Jewish communal discussion of who we are as a people and how much we have to depend on ourselves for our own destiny and our own survival.
DR. MATTAIR: How can there be a negotiated solution if the negotiations are between a stateless occupied people on one side, and a regional superpower backed by the global superpower on the other? Is the United States fundamentally incapable of using its unique relationship with Israel to oblige Israel to accept a genuine Palestinian state? If you were an adviser to President Obama, what policies or strategies would you propose the United States adopt to promote a just peace in the Middle East? Given the fact that the United States has potential leverage, is it incapable of using it? What recommendations would you make to the president right now?
MR. MUNAYYER: You don't have a negotiation. What you have is a massacre. That is what happens. I often tell people, of course the Israelis are going to invite the Palestinians back to the table. If you were a 300-pound arm wrestler, you'd love to invite back to the table a 97-pound weakling every single time, especially when you have an 800-pound guy sitting in your corner. You know what's going to happen when you get back to the table. You're going to impose your will, and if they don't accept it, you can impose your will anyway and then invite them back to the table. You don't have a negotiation that way; what you have is a massacre. That's what we've been seeing with Israel continuing to impose its will on the Palestinians. Every single time you come back to negotiating table, the sliver of Palestine that is up for discussion is smaller and smaller and smaller.
I just want to say one thing about this notion of security and 30 percent of the Jordan Valley. There's a candid video of Benjamin Netanyahu speaking proudly with a family living in a settlement, about how he used the pretext of security to scuttle the negotiations. It was a ruse, a joke. We have to start seeing it as such. I don't want to be cynical about it, but it's comical to look at this situation and think that negotiations are going to yield a just solution. They're not. They may yield some sort of agreement at the end, but it will certainly not be anything just and lasting.
DR. LUSTICK: I want to point out, as I have said, negotiations toward a two-state solution is not an available route to a two-state outcome. We might get a two-state outcome, but not via negotiations. I would certainly say the same thing about a one-state. But is that unusual? Try to think of any kind of democratic state that's emerged through negotiations. Democracies are usually built because there's an exhausting struggle; neither side can dominate, so they compromise. But those kinds of struggles aren't at a negotiating table. How did the United States become a democracy? The Civil War and 600,000 dead Americans. How did Britain become a democracy? Civil war for more than 150 years. How did France become a democracy? One of the bloodiest revolutions in history.
This is not unusual. This is how it happens. So to say that in this case there will only be negotiation routes to democratic outcomes is not consistent with what we know of how politics work. It's not a nice thing, but it's a true thing. When you look at it in that context, you see that sometimes insisting on negotiations, imagining they're the only route forward, makes it more difficult to see other things that you could see if you weren't blinded by that "Ani Maamin" — faith that no matter what happens, he will come — I mean, it will come, the two-state solution. That entails the same faith, that both the Palestinians as a people and Israel as a country, and the Jews as a people, will be there. Who knows whether that is true?
Q: This is for Ian and then Jeremy. Are there any possible U.S. policies that would make a two-state solution more plausible? And, Jeremy, how plausible is it that the policies Ian suggests or alternatives you would suggest could actually come about?
DR. LUSTICK: I was asked by Tom if you were an adviser to President Obama, what would you tell him? I would ask which adviser? Am I coming from the domestic-politics side of the equation or from the State Department? If I'm coming from the first side, I say, there are two questions in foreign policy where the United States doesn't care about the actual truth of the matter — Cuba and Israel — those are third rails in American politics. All of your agenda is at risk if you do touch them, so just do whatever is safe. Right now, what's safe is saying there's still a chance for the two-state solution; let's negotiate.
DR. MATTAIR: OK, you're not a domestic adviser.
DR. LUSTICK: Now, I'm a foreign policy adviser, and I say I recognize that it would be silly for me to tell you to use the kind of pressure that Yousef Munayyer mentioned; you'll never be able to do it. So I'm going to tell you this: The United States should say that any outcome Israelis and Palestinians can agree on, we would support. In the meantime, we're going to say what we think, and that means voting what we think at the United Nations. It means reducing our profile and our association with Israeli activities of any kind over the Green Line, trying to keep that Green Line intact, even though we know we can't, which will embroil us, Mr. President, down the road in the question of Israel's slipping into pariah status. As you know, the EU has moved in this direction, and we are quietly supporting them, and that's a good thing.
MR. BEN-AMI: I think there are some things that Secretary Kerry has done that are making it more plausible, and I think he's tried to learn lessons from the failures of the past, so I'd just point out three. I think it is very, very important that the secretary engaged the Arab League early. Some of the outcomes of this negotiation that might be positive do require broader ratification or acceptance than simply Palestinian acceptance. I think questions around Jerusalem and questions around refugees are broader than just negotiations of a bilateral nature. So I think number one is internationalizing the process and not isolating the Palestinians, as Arafat was isolated at Camp David.
Two is that I believe the economic piece that the secretary is trying to put together does provide a vision of a better future. This can't only be about what are the least bad alternatives; there has to be a vision of a better future. I think the effort to put together both public support and private sector investment as a carrot is exceedingly important, and I'm glad to see he's doing that. Three, as I mentioned before, having the security discussion with General John Allen take place on a U.S.-Israeli basis is an important step forward. It is something that addresses the most significant Israeli concern. Those are three pieces that are different this time around. They are part of the reason I'm more optimistic than many other people are on this question.
On the question of political change, one of the most unpopular things that J Street has done over the course of its five years was on the settlement resolution in 2011, urging the United States not to take a position. The polling that is coming out of the U.S. Jewish community on settlements reveals that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans understand that settlements are exceedingly unhelpful to Israel and to the United States. I think the political temperature on that is going to shift. The voices speaking for the Jewish community are out of step on these questions with the majority of the Jewish public. I think this will create some more political space to potentially do something in the future at the United Nations — for instance, not vetoing that kind of a resolution — which is in line with American policy.
DR. KHALIDI: There is one area that I think the United States has been very remiss on: Jerusalem. I don't see why the United States cannot speak out like the rest of the world on the issue of maintaining East Jerusalem as an option for a Palestinian capital. I understand that when you come to the issue of settlements, the United States does not want to use its veto in the Security Council because it thinks this will jeopardize the peace process. But we know what the U.S. position on settlements is by and large. Today, it's going to be solved through redrawing the borders. We don't know what the United States thinks about Jerusalem anymore because it's not saying anything.
As we all understand that the U.S. relationship with the Islamic world is not at its best these days, to put it mildly, it would seem that the returns of a higher profile on Palestinian-Arab-Muslim rights in East Jerusalem are much higher than the costs that the United States would have to pay, either domestically or anywhere else, if it were to take a more proactive role on East Jerusalem.
Q: I am Edy Kaufman, former director of the Truman Institute for Peace at Hebrew University, and now at the University of Maryland. I'd like to ask if there's another piece of advice you would give to President Obama. If negotiations collapse in nine months, would you consider the possibility of formulating an Obama vision similar to the Clinton parameters endorsed by the Quartet, the United Nations and everybody else in the world, and would you ask the leadership of both Israel and the Palestinians to submit it to a referendum, since both leaders have committed themselves to the idea of a referendum, and then fight hard for an Israeli and Palestinian public opinion to endorse it? There have been good ways of doing it — a Good Friday in Northern Ireland. There have been bad ways of doing it, as in Cyprus.
I personally resent the term you used, Ian: the peace industry. I don't know if you include people like me or others in Israel who are dedicated to fight for peace, but we need reinforcement. Just as there is an AIPAC here, why not have an Israeli public affairs committee for Israeli policy in Jerusalem? We are now playing on the same terrain. AIPAC can do it here. We should do it there — public diplomacy, soft power, denying a visa to a member of Knesset who is saying Obama is a villain. I'm not saying if you cannot change Bibi, change the Israeli public. I'm asking you whether a referendum is a viable option for a two-state solution.
DR. LUSTICK: First of all, the problem with referenda is how they're written. You talked about Cyprus; we could talk about de Gaulle's referendum in France. Whoever gets to write the wording determines how the vote is going to go. The whole struggle about whether to have a referendum is inherited by who gets to write it. What's it going to say, and what does it mean when the vote takes place?
I don't think it's a magic bullet, but I do agree, and I should have said this, that if I were the foreign-policy adviser to Obama, I would say that the United States should articulate much more forcefully that our main criteria for evaluation and our aspirations aren't just democracy and equal rights. That's something we don't say often enough. We need to refocus, not just on Egypt as a democracy, but on Israel and Palestine. That's the key thing. We should not be as committed to particular political arrangements — two states, one state, parallel states, confederal states, consociational states — as we are to however you can get those principles honored.
I want to say something very positive about J Street. I'm actually a financial supporter in my modest way. Why? Not because of the two-state solution, but because if you read their materials, and if you listened closely to what Jeremy had to say today, you never hear the term "Jewish state." It does not appear in their statement of principles. Nor do you hear the term "Zionist." In fact, you hear the term "democratic" and "Jewish," which leads me to wonder whether, if they ran on this platform in Israel, they'd be illegal as a political party because of it. What that's doing is helping move the boundaries of the political discourse. They may not emphasize that side because Jeremy's constantly having to fight on his right flank. But to me, an important element in J Street is what it's doing on its left flank and how it's pushing that discourse in the direction that I think the United States should also advocate.
Edy is correct, I should have referred to the "peace-process industry," not to the "peace industry."
Q: Yair Lapid yesterday also talked about Jerusalem, and what he said baffled me: we can negotiate about Jerusalem, but we're not going to give up on it. He didn't really explain what that means. I don't even know what Jerusalem he was talking about. The Jerusalem that Israel has had since 1948 and the 1949 armistice agreement? The Jerusalem that Israel has had since 1967? Or the Jerusalem that now consists of the areas annexed since 1967? I was wondering if the panel could talk about how you negotiate over something, but you're not going to give up on the principle of holding on to it.
The second point has to do with internationalizing and having a multilateral approach. There's one vestige left from the Madrid process: MEDRC, the Middle East Desalination Research Center, which has been operating very quietly and apparently effectively. There's nothing else left. When President Obama, on his way to Cairo, stopped in Saudi Arabia, he could not even get the Saudis to agree to overflight rights for Israeli aircraft — not landing rights in Saudi Arabia, but overflight rights. The Israeli government doesn't seem to have any interest in dealing with the Arab League proposal. I don't know if there is a lack of confidence there. Could you talk a little bit more about that as well?
MR. BEN-AMI: Just one second on Edy's proposal, which is something I've written about. I believe, should these negotiations fail, that one important step the United States can take is to put out another set of parameters. I think the notion of putting it before the people as a political choice — there's no mechanism to actually require a referendum — to force political discussion and change: I'm in favor of that personally, and we'll see if we get to that point. I hope we don't.
On Jerusalem, it is very unclear what people mean when they talk about it. And Lapid has been very vague. Our view, which I think is the majority view within his party, is that it is possible to establish sovereignty over neighborhoods in Jerusalem based on demographics. That is the Clinton model: Arab neighborhoods are the capital of the state of Palestine and Jewish neighborhoods are the capital of the state of Israel. The Holy Basin, the most contested square kilometer on earth, has no sovereignty; it is a place that I would say belongs to a higher authority. The most important thing human beings can do is ensure that everybody has access to it.
When someone says, don't divide Jerusalem, the image is of a wall down the middle of Central Park or the Mall here in Washington. You would have one side and the other. That's not what anybody wants. I think the notion is of an open city with freedom of religion. Within Yair Lapid's words there is the possibility for that. I know the majority of the people in his party have policy understandings that relate to it.
In terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, I think it's a huge missed opportunity. I don't think that overflight rights of one country is a carrot, but I think that full acceptance of the state of Israel in the Middle East for the inevitable future is a carrot. That's what the Arab Peace Initiative offers. And I think that's what Secretary Kerry is trying to ensure is on the table on behalf of the Arab League, by bringing them back in and the adjustment of the of '67 lines with swaps that they endorsed in May. I think that is a very underutilized resource in persuading the Israeli people that there is a real, solid reason and a benefit to moving forward.
Q: Jeremy, don't you believe that, if the United States stepped back from opposing Palestinian efforts to get recognition in the General Assembly, it would advance the two-state solution in some way?
MR. BEN-AMI: No.
Q: I think the two-state solution was achievable under Bill Clinton. The problem was that the team he put in charge of it were neither competent nor capable. They represented everything that is wrong with the U.S. foreign policy establishment. It lacked diversity. What happens when the United States effectively becomes irrelevant to this process and maybe then other venues open up, namely a regional dynamic and a transformation that could take place in that context?
DR. KADER: Do any of the panelists believe that America will become irrelevant in this issue?
DR. LUSTICK: I'm often asked questions along those lines, and I use the following analogy. Saying that the United States should get out of the conflict is like telling the sun to stop affecting the earth. We could stop all our explicit support for the Netanyahu government, but we still have a tremendous presence, like the sun, that organizes expectations in the Middle East. In order to change meaningfully in the directions that Yousef was suggesting, we would have to do things that are completely unsustainable politically in the United States.
DR. KHALIDI: The Middle East is not just a regional issue. It's a domestic issue in the United States. For the United States to disengage from the Middle East, it would have to disengage from itself, and I don't see that happening very soon.
* Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon, "Partition Skepticism and the Future of the Peace Process," Daily Beast, September 25, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/25/partition-skepticism-and-the-future-of-the-peace-process.html.