The “Two-State Solution” Is Dead—Where Does the Palestinian Conflict Go From Here?


The National Interest has published our latest piece, titled “The Two-State Solution Is Dead.”  To read it, click here; we’ve also appended the text below.  As always, we encourage readers to post comments, Facebook likes, etc., both on this site and on The National Interest Web site.

The piece develops three themes we’ve highlighted for some time regarding Israel and Palestine; in addition to our National Interest piece, Hillary returned yesterday to MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Parry to discuss these themes:

–First, the real drivers of the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” are not “shared democratic values” and the legacy of the Holocaust—the real driver is America’s determination to dominate the Middle East.  As we write in The National Interest,

“Washington only began providing substantial military and economic assistance to Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel showed itself capable of unilaterally defeating and seizing territory from Arab states allied with Moscow.  From Washington’s perspective, supporting an Israeli military that would periodically show up Soviet-supplied Arab opponents was, in a Cold War context, strategically valuable.  After the Cold War’s end, U.S. policymakers continued calculating that U.S.-facilitated Israeli military superiority helped keep the region subordinated.”

–Second, American foreign policy elites’ attachment to what is humorously called the Middle East “peace process”—and, for the last decade and change, to its ostensible goal, the “two-state solution”—is fundamentally misleading.  As Hillary explains on Melissa Harris-Perry (see here, starting 4:20 in),

“The peace process was never an indigenous phenomenon; it was never conceived by Israelis or Palestinians or Arabs.  It was conceived by the United States, after the 1967 war, after Israel proved it could be, essentially, an aggressive state against Soviet-allied neighbors.  That’s where the peace process comes from.  It’s always been an instrumental element of American foreign policy, never about peace or ‘Kumbayah moments’ for Israelis, Arabs, Palestinians.”

And, as we elaborate in The National Interest, “The process was never meant to constrain Israel and help Palestinians exercise their right to self-determination as part of genuine conflict resolution; it has always been about empowering Israel and subordinating Palestinians and other Arabs as part of an increasingly militarized U.S. sphere of influence in the Middle East.”

–Third, the reigning paradigm for addressing the conflict over Palestine is shifting ineluctably from a two-state model to a one-state model.  As we write and as Hillary points out on Melissa Harris-Parry (see here, starting 8:00 in), the U.S. government’s own demographic data and analyses show that the number of Arabs living in areas under Israeli control—“Green Line” Israel, Gaza, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank—already exceeds the number of Israeli Jews.

Against this reality, the Israeli military’s ongoing abuse of Gaza will inevitably drive more and more Palestinians, other Arabs, other Muslims, and communities around the world to shift their terms of reference for the Palestinian conflict from a two-state framework to a one-state framework.  (For Hillary’s assessment on Melissa Harris-Perry of the grossly illegal character of Israeli military action against the civilian population in Gaza, see here, starting 6:03 in.  For her political impact of repeated Israeli military action against Gaza and of Washington’s open-ended support for Israeli occupation of Arab populations, see here, starting 5:05 in and here, starting 2:50 in.)

The Two-State Solution Is Dead

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, originally published in The National Interest

Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian “final status” deal highlight American foreign policy elites’ rhetorical attachment to a negotiated “two-state” solution as the only acceptable basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, though, underscores a fundamentally different reality:  the two-state solution is dead.  And no matter how much Israel and its supporters object, the reigning paradigm for addressing the conflict is shifting ineluctably from a two-state model to a one-state model.

The two-state solution is the illusory end product of a U.S.-conceived “peace process” that has always been about things other than actually achieving peace—just as, contrary to the conventional trope, the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” is not really about “shared values.”  From Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 to 1967—when memories of the Holocaust were fresh and Israel was arguably at its most democratic—America provided it no appreciable military or economic assistance; indeed, Washington barely gave it food aid.  During the same period, there was plenty of fighting between Israel and various Arab parties—yet America did not initiate any kind of “peace process.”

Washington only began providing substantial military and economic assistance to Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel showed itself capable of unilaterally defeating and seizing territory from Arab states allied with Moscow.  From Washington’s perspective, supporting an Israeli military that would periodically show up Soviet-supplied Arab opponents was, in a Cold War context, strategically valuable.  After the Cold War’s end, U.S. policymakers continued calculating that U.S.-facilitated Israeli military superiority helped keep the region subordinated.

Likewise, Washington only launched a “peace process” after 1967, to elicit Arab states’ buy-in for what were going to be ever-increasing flows of U.S. weapons and money to Israel’s military.  The process was never meant to constrain Israel and help Palestinians exercise their right to self-determination as part of genuine conflict resolution; it has always been about empowering Israel and subordinating Palestinians and other Arabs as part of an increasingly militarized U.S. sphere of influence in the Middle East.

– In its first proposals, Washington suggested in 1969 that Israel return some of the territories it had conquered to Arab states—but not to Palestinians.

– Henry Kissinger’s 1974-1975 “shuttle diplomacy” sought to give Saudi Arabia political space to break with the oil embargo imposed in 1973 by key members of OPEC.

– To facilitate Egypt’s transformation into a subordinated American “partner,” the 1978 U.S.-brokered Camp David Accords posited a self-governing administrative council for Palestinians, with some recognition of their “legitimate” (but not political) rights.

– As the Cold War ended, Washington was challenged to appear more forthcoming on the Palestinian issue to maintain Arab state buy-in to a heavily militarized, U.S.-led political and security order in the Middle East.  So, at the 1991 Madrid Conference, America brought Palestinian representatives into the “peace process” for the first time.  Two years later, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops still deployed in the region after the first Persian Gulf War, the 1993 Oslo Accords held out the prospect of a self-governing—but not sovereign—“authority” in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, with some recognition of Palestinians’ “legitimate and political rights.”

– President George W. Bush’s 2003 “Roadmap” finally proposed two states,” Israel and Palestine, “living side by side in peace and security”—but neither his administration nor his successor’s made appreciable progress toward this goal.  (While the Obama administration also endorsed the two-state model, if it were serious about “peace” and helping the parties achieve their rights, it would not be using every lever at its disposal to block Palestinian membership in international institutions and access to the International Criminal Court; it would instead be leading the charge.)

As Washington’s “peace process” strategy has become harder and harder to sustain, U.S. officials have hid behind pious claims that America can’t want peace more than the parties.  In reality, though, Washington is the only party that truly wants the “peace process.”  Certainly Israel has never wanted it; Golda Meir’s “leftwing” Labor government rejected Washington’s first peace plan in 1969.  Palestinians, for their part, have never come together to accept a “process” meant to deprive them permanently of genuine sovereignty and self-determination.

The two-state solution’s demise inevitably conditions long-term erosion in the perceived legitimacy of the current Israeli political order.  The proposition that Israel cannot continue occupying Palestinians while claiming to be both Zionist and democratic is no longer predictive analysis.  The U.S. government’s own demographic data show that the number of Arabs living under Israeli control—in “Green Line” Israel, Gaza, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the rest of the West Bank—already exceeds the number of Israeli Jews.

In other words, what we call the state of Israel is already a minority regime for the people it governs.  In the context of the current Gaza campaign, Israeli officials’ descriptions of Hamas as a foreign threat that must be defended against are disingenuous.  Hamas is a homegrown movement, born in 1988 in Gaza under Israeli occupation.  Even with the 2005 closure of Israeli settlements there, Gaza remains under Israeli control.  Thus, Hamas is not an “external” threat to Israel—it is an internal challenge to what the movement’s constituents see as an unjust and illegitimate political order still dictating their interactions with the world and exercising harsh and indiscriminate police powers over their daily lives.

This leaves the one-state option—some version of one person, one vote for people living under Israeli control.  For the foreseeable future, the one-state model will be opposed by the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews and supporters of Israel.  It will also threaten current regional governments—e.g., in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia—that have bought into Washington’s vision for a U.S.-led political and security order in the Middle East that includes nearly absolute freedom of unilateral military initiative for Israel.  But other important actors—Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and any other regional state where government becomes more representative—would support it.

A one-state scenario has profound implications for America’s position in the Middle East.  For the United States to “lose” Israel as a proxy for projecting hard power would severely circumscribe Washington’s capacity to keep its Middle East strategy oriented toward regional dominance.  It would instead push Washington toward a strategy of stabilizing the regional balance through serious diplomatic engagement with all relevant players (Iran as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia).

This is a radically different approach from the one envisioned by U.S. policymakers during the Cold War and pursued in relatively unconstrained fashion by U.S. administrations after the Cold War’s end, entailing a highly militarized U.S. presence and American micromanagement of regional political outcomes.  Given the deeply counterproductive results of America’s Middle East strategy over the last quarter century, one may hope that Washington will finally stop making policy in defiance of on-the-ground reality.  In the near-to-medium term, though, American politicians and policymakers are more likely to continue doubling down on the sorts of policies—including ever-increasing military assistance for Israel—that have put the United States on a trajectory of ever-declining influence in one of the world’s most strategically vital regions.

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

 

Hillary Mann Leverett Underscores the (Studiously Ignored) Demise of the “Peace Process”—and Rebuts the Myth of “Inclusion” as Panacea for Iraq

As the apocryphal Chinese curse would have it, we are indeed living in interesting times as far as the Middle East is concerned.  Hillary appeared today on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as part of an extended panel discussion on developments in Palestine and Iraq.  The discussion spanned three separately linked segments (two on Palestine and one on Iraq).  The above embedded video is actually the third segment and is discussed below.

Regarding Palestine, see here and here, Hillary places the sad events of recent days against an essential strategic backdrop, which America’s political class goes out of its way to ignore—namely, that if there were ever any serious possibility of a “two-state” solution, this option is dead, and has been dead for a long time.  But American elites keep talking about a “Middle East peace process.”  They do so because that process is—as it always has been—about things other than actually resolving the conflict.  As Hillary explains,

“The ‘peace process’ started after the 1967 [Arab-Israeli] war.  The state of Israel was declared in 1948.  From 1948 to 1967, there was lots of fighting—but there was no peace process.  The reason a peace process was initiated, in particular by then national security advisor Henry Kissinger, was to get buy-in by Arab states for what was going to be an increased amount of military aid and financial aid to Israel—to justify that to Arab states.”

Of course, American elites like to tell themselves and their countrymen that the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” is somehow rooted in “shared democratic values.”  Hillary recounts the uncomfortable historical truth:

“It’s so important to understand this.  From 1948 to 1967, when the Holocaust was fresh in our minds and Israel was arguably at its most democratic, we barely gave Israel food aid.  It’s not about shared values; it’s about…our relationship, our alliance with Israel.  But I would say it’s, strategically, to work with or to use Israel to project American dominance.

Now if you want that out of U.S. policy, Israel is useful.  And so during the [George W.] Bush administration, Israel was particularly useful.  Where it’s less useful is in an administration that’s pulling back from the Middle East, and that’s where you have the friction between Obama and Netanyahu.”

And so, to keep perpetuating the charade with (willfully?) gullible Arab states, Washington has pursued “various iterations of a peace process” over the last four and a half decades.  But, in Hillary’s view, we are coming “to the end of the road, with the two-state solution being the putative goal of that kind of peace process.  And I think what we’re seeing now—what we’ve seen, probably, for the last couple of years—is the death of the two-state solution as a possible resolution.”

As Hillary notes, this means “we’re left with a one-state solution.”  And that ultimately means a big shift in Palestinian strategy:

“I think what you’re going to see over the next few weeks—you may see more or less violence.  But what you’re really going to see, if the Palestinians can step up to what I call their ‘Nelson Mandela moment,’ is to proclaim ‘one state, one person, one vote,’ and to push in September, with the opening of the General Assembly here in New York at the UN, for a state to sign up to the International Criminal Court, bring the Israelis there, and have this adjudicated that way, and not rely any longer on the United States and Israel to come to their aid.”

As Hillary lays out, this shift is linked to important “changes in the international system, where you have the United States as a power in relative decline, and other powers relatively increasing.  And so with that, this focus that I think you’ll see as a next step with the Palestinians—to unilaterally declare statehood in the General Assembly…[to] bring their case to the International Criminal Court, to use international institutions and international public opinion will be something that the United States has never had to deal with before.”

Regarding Iraq, click on the video above or see here, Hillary takes issue with the conventional Washington wisdom—espoused with particular fervor among Democrats—that the current crisis is all the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:

“This is an excuse.  This is a bipartisan failure of catastrophic proportions for the United States—first with Republicans in invading Iraq, and now with the Democrats essentially blaming it on Maliki.  The idea that Maliki can be more ‘inclusive’ and bring in foreign fighters—one of the key leaders in this is Chechen, for Russia—the idea that that can become a more inclusive government is snake oil and should be seen for what it is.

Maliki won the last election, it’s a parliamentary democracy.  He is now going to go about the very messy process—like he did last time—of assembling a coalition in a state that is majority Shi’a.  So surprise, surprise, the majority government is going to be Shi’a.  The Sunnis have never accepted this, they’ve never accepted to live under a Shi’a-dominated political order, and they have very powerful patrons outside the country—like the Saudis, like the Qataris—that have armed, funded, and trained this to the hilt, and now we have a disaster on our hands.”           

Hillary also disputed the accumulating collection of overly facile demands from Washington elites that the United States micromanage some new and, at least from an American perspective, “superior” political reality in Iraq:  “We shouldn’t be in there manipulating political outcomes to our favor.  People don’t want to live in a militarily dominated, U.S. political order in the Middle East.  We need to pull back and rethink this policy.”

Yes, but old habits die hard in official Washington.

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett