Word on the Street: Responding to the Death Knell for the Two-State Solution

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on February 15, 2016

Sounding the death knell for the two-state solution has sadly become an all-too-popular pastime.

Political activists on the left point the finger of blame at Israel and say that expanding settlements and the rising political power of Israel’s right mean there will never be a viable independent Palestinian state.

Political activists on the right maintain that Palestinian terror, regional chaos and — for some — divine will mean that the Jewish people must fully control the land from the Jordan to the Sea.

The unlikely realization of the two-state vision is also becoming conventional wisdom among mainstream Mideast analysts. This past week New York Times columnist Tom Friedman declared the peace process dead and snarkily asked op-ed contributors to stop submitting proposals for a two-state solution.

In Israel, even the leading opposition party approved a diplomatic plan which accepts that “it is not presently possible to realize the vision of two states.”

However, as I see it — and as many of Israel’s leading security figures see it — failure to realize the vision of two states is the single greatest threat to the survival of Israel. It stands to imperil both Israel’s physical security and its future as the democratic home of the Jewish people.

Failure must not be an option.

For nearly two thousand years, the Jewish people lived in other people’s lands, often as an oppressed minority.

In exile, we dreamed of being a free people in our own land. We developed a marvelous code of ethics about the treatment of the other, rooted in the principle that one should never treat another people the way one didn’t want to be treated oneself.

Those dreams became reality thanks to an optimistic, can-do spirit whose anthem is “The Hope” (HaTikvah) and whose motto is “if you will it, it is no dream.”

Now, the fate of the two thousand-year dream of Jewish statehood hangs in the balance. If the two-state solution dies, so do the Jewish people’s state, democracy and code of ethics.

The political leadership of Israel today seeks one state under Jewish political control from the River to the Sea. It maintains that Israel will always have to live by the sword and that it must build tall, thick walls to keep the “wild beasts” all around out.

This is a vision for Israel rooted in fear, pessimism and despair. It runs counter to the spirit on which Zionism and the state of Israel was built.

Those of us who believe that the path charted by the Israeli far right is in part the cause of Israel’s growing insecurity must present an alternative vision rooted in hope, optimism and a belief that it is still possible to remake the world as it is into the world as it should be.

Our alternative to the present path Israel is on must address the very real fear and insecurity that Israelis feel in the face of terror and regional chaos.

At the heart of that alternative must be the promise that once Israel is living side by side in peace and security with a Palestinian state, it can and will be accepted into the Middle East at the center of a regional alignment that advances common strategic and economic interests.

In the 1970s, the Arab League famously said no to Israel, no to peace and no to negotiations. Today, many key Arab states are ready to establish a strategic alignment with Israel, recognizing that Israel’s economy can be the engine of regional growth and a centerpiece of regional security.

Beyond the region, with a two-state solution, Israel can achieve full acceptance by the international community rather than suffer increasing isolation. Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in two states is the surest path to defeating the Global BDS Movement.

As important, Israel can yet be the light unto the nations our ancestors hoped it would be and the thriving democracy its founders intended, but only if it works to ensure the success rather than the defeat of its Palestinian neighbors.

All this is possible and within reach. But it depends on actively and urgently ensuring Palestinian self-determination, an end to occupation and a two-state solution to the festering conflict.

That there is not a path today to that goal is not a fact to be accepted or bemoaned.

It must be the call to arms for all those who care deeply about the existence of a state for the Jewish people.