Back to the Two States Thing

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I got a note this morning from TPM Reader CH who asked me a question I get with some frequency. He basically asks, why does the end-state need to be two states? Why won’t it be ethnic cleansing or genocide or bantustans? These are good questions. And it makes me realize that I may need to state more explicitly what is maybe too implicit.

I am certainly not arguing that there is some natural or inevitable progression to two states. On the available evidence there’s a much better argument that there is a natural and irremediable inertia holding the status quo of the last half century in place.

I usually use words like “viable” or “plausible.”

When I say that two states is plausible whereas one state is not I mean two things. The first is that I think it is an obvious recipe for a failed state and civil war, which I suspect would then lead to partition and two states or maybe something worse. More concretely, the main argument for people who say a two-state option is a pipe dream is that Israel has shown itself unwilling to accept it. They’ve got a good argument. (You can make a solid argument on this front for the Palestinians as well.) But between allowing the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza or having their own state dissolved, I assure you that the resistance to the latter is infinitely greater. If your argument is Israel will never agree, one state isn’t remotely something you can argue for.

What about ethnic cleansing? There has certainly always been a minority of the Israeli population who would like to do that, usually with euphemisms about “voluntary transfer.” But we’ve been at this for more than half a century and it hasn’t happened. And I don’t think it will. It is a 1,000% non-starter for all Israel’s allies. I simply don’t think it will happen.

Here’s the other part of the equation for me. When I say viable I mean a solution that allows both people to have collective and individual lives not focused on the mutual violence of the last hundred years. To the extent that Israelis want peace, the end to the degradation and corruption of their national institutions by the occupation, or to end terrorism against Israelis, expelling the Palestinian population certainly won’t accomplish that.

But all of this is kind of moot and beside the point. Either people might wipe out or slaughter the other. All sorts of horrible things could happen there and in every other part of the globe. But what this whole conversation is about is: what we are trying to accomplish? What’s the goal here? How can we possibly nudge things in the direction of something less horrible than the present status quo and hopefully something lasting, just and vibrant for both sides?

Two states is the only end state outcome that gets you even in that ballpark. It’s not that it’s easy or inevitable. It’s not perfect. Most of the time it seems frankly hopeless. But the other options are just things that will never happen and thus are just arguing points or things that will certainly be worse. Between goals that often seem hopeless and others that are impossibilities or profound catastrophes things that seem hopeless is certainly the best bet.

Can things get worse? Of course they can. But that hardly has any relevance for what we should be trying to accomplish. Presumably our goal isn’t to have things even worse. The fact that things can get even worse is, of course, simply a goad to get to the work of trying to improve them. And this is the only real option for that.

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