Commentary Magazine


Topic: two-state solution

“Parallel States” Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is a Recipe for Disaster

I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

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I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

With that said, solutions that are radically different are not automatically preferable just because of their radicalism. At Tablet, Mathias Mossberg has published an adaptation from the new book on the conflict he edited, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. It is a long read, but interesting and imaginative. It is also, however, deeply misguided, unrealistic, and a formula for trouble as far as the eye can see.

Mossberg’s basic idea is one of “Parallel States,” in which both Israel and the Palestinian territories would become part of one state structure but divide sovereignty among the individuals of this modified “condominium” based on religion, ethnicity, or personal preference. It’s worth reading the whole piece to see how Mossberg has fleshed out the plan, but here is the crux:

In a Parallel States structure, one Israeli state and one Palestinian would both cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In such a scenario, military, political, and economic barriers would be lifted, and a joint security and defense policy, a common and equitable economic policy, and joint and harmonized legislation would replace existing divisions. Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and would permit free movement over the whole area for both peoples, as well as providing a vision for an end of conflict.

There are a few points to make in response. The first is that the bureaucracy such a structure would create would be a nightmare–it would make the current Israeli bureaucracy look like a floating libertarian utopia in comparison. How to adjudicate a neighborly dispute when each is a “citizen” of a different state authority on the same land? What if someone changes citizenship, since personal choice is an option here? Which law applies to their past contracts? Employment terms? Accumulated physical and intellectual property?

Second, Mossberg relies on a few tropes to sign the two-state solution’s death certificate, such as discredited demographic time bomb fears and the idea that settlements contribute to a state of affairs that is making a Palestinian state in the West Bank virtually impossible, which is not remotely true and glosses over the lack of outward expansion of the settlements over the last decade-plus. Any solution to the conflict that’s based on false premises, as Mossberg’s is, should raise red flags immediately.

Third, Mossberg doesn’t–at least in this lengthy essay–really grapple with the toughest obstacles. Here is his section on security:

Security and defense would be of paramount importance in a Parallel States structure, as well as in a more conventional two-state structure. This poses particularly vital questions, in that security is a basic need for each side in existential and concrete ways. To craft a common Israeli-Palestinian security strategy, outlining how Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate and ultimately join forces in a common security system, covering external borders as well as internal order, is a challenge that should not be underestimated.

A joint external security envelope, with a high degree of cooperation on external security and with joint or coordinated external border control, has to be envisaged. It is worth noting, though, that already today there are elements of an internal security structure that contains separate institutions and security forces, but also a high degree of coordination.

Yes, it would be a challenge. How might it be solved? Not with academic platitudes, that’s for sure.

Fourth, Mossberg all but cheers the end of the Westphalian order. This strikes me as a mistake. Just because the nation state is struggling in the modern era does not mean it deserves to perish. It’s true that Mossberg is not removing sovereignty when he removes the nation state. But it would be a step backward in global order–possibly with major repercussions elsewhere.

Finally, there is the reason we are having this discussion, at least according to Mossberg: Gaza. The recent Gaza war, he says, probably signals the end of the traditional two-state solution. But his Parallel State structure calls for the erasure of borders. Israel and the PA in the West Bank have established some very constructive avenues for security cooperation, though they would be challenged significantly by this state condominium-esque arrangement.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. Yet Mossberg mostly treats Gaza as a question of economic integration, with not nearly enough energy devoted to the much greater question of security. Gaza is led by Hamas. The terrorist group won’t disappear just by having its official authority taken away. How could Hamas be integrated into a borderless Israeli-Palestinian state project? The answer is: it couldn’t, not in a way that would enable the survival of the state structure.

If the answer is, then, that Hamas has to be routed and replaced in Gaza, then that seems to be an argument for the rejuvenation of the two-state solution, not its abandonment. In any case, the Parallel States structure is not the answer.

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Want Two States? Not the Palestinians

For more than 20 years since the Oslo process began, those urging Israel to make more and more concessions to the Palestinians have based their views on the belief that both peoples supported a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. But a new poll of Palestinian public opinion shows that an overwhelming majority opposes any goal other than eliminating the State of Israel.

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For more than 20 years since the Oslo process began, those urging Israel to make more and more concessions to the Palestinians have based their views on the belief that both peoples supported a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. But a new poll of Palestinian public opinion shows that an overwhelming majority opposes any goal other than eliminating the State of Israel.

The poll, conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, showed some interesting and, in part, contradictory results. Only 27.3 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution. By contrast, more than two-thirds see the restoration of all of historic Palestine to Arab control as the only legitimate national goal for their people. Interestingly, of those who back the elimination of Israel, only one out of seven and 10.1 percent overall think it ought to be replaced by a single democratic state in which Jews and Arabs would have equal rights. What the other 60.3 percent who say that “reclaiming” all land from the river to the sea for the Arabs would do with the six million Jews who live there is left unclear.

Just as interesting is the answer to the question as to what Palestinians should do if a two-state solution were somehow to be achieved by their leadership. Only 31.6 percent say that should mean the end of the conflict while 64 percent believe that even after that the struggle against Israel “should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated.” Asked the same question in a slightly different way, 65.2 percent of the Palestinians think that if their leadership were to negotiate a two-state deal, “that would be part of a ‘program of stages’ to liberate all of historic Palestine later.”

However, just because the Palestinians don’t want to make peace with Israel or live beside it in a separate, independent state doesn’t mean that most of them want to fight it, at least not right now. More than 60 percent think that Hamas should maintain a cease-fire with Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. Although Gaza is home to the Islamist terror movement, not surprisingly more Gazans (70 percent) support the cease-fire than West Bankers (55 percent).

As to whether Hamas should abide by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s statement that it should recognize Israel and abide by past peace agreements (something that his own Fatah hasn’t done), opinion is divided. Overall, a bare majority—50.7 percent—agrees with that position. But there is a clear split between the West Bank and Gaza. Gazans, who clearly want an end to the violence, support the demand by a margin of 57.3 to 37.6 percent. But on the West Bank, where Abbas’s supposedly more moderate Fatah Party dominates, Palestinians are split down the middle with 46.8 percent opposing forcing Hamas to stand down while 45.7 percent support the idea.

Other questions show that while Palestinians are leery of another terrorist war of attrition against Israel, they want “popular resistance” against the Jewish state to continue. While that phrase might be interpreted as support for non-violent means of protest, in the Palestinian lexicon it appears to represent something different. In this context, popular resistance means mass protests conducted by violent means with rock throwing and firebombs rather than peaceful sit-ins or demonstrations.

One question that will get attention is the one the poll asked Palestinians about whom they believe should be leading them. While only 29.8 percent supported the current leader Mahmoud Abbas (who is currently in the tenth year of the four-year term that he was elected to in 2005), Hamas leaders did far worse with none breaking into double digits. But while the pollsters billed this section as having proved that Hamas “is not gaining ground” that may be slightly misleading. Hamas has no single dynamic leader, so comparing the ones they do have doesn’t tell us that much about whether the majority of Palestinians who, if the poll is to be believed, clearly share the Islamist group’s goals, actually want it to exercise power.

The irony here is that despite clinging to these intransigent beliefs, Palestinians not only wish to avoid open conflict with Israel; they want to work there. Over 80 percent want Israel to offer more job opportunities to Palestinians from the territories with a majority saying they would personally consider taking a job inside the same Jewish state most of them want to eliminate.

It isn’t hard to draw the obvious conclusion from this study. While a two-state solution would enable the Palestinians to achieve independence at the cost of being forced to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state next door, Israelis seem to desire such an outcome more than the Arabs. Even if the Palestinian leadership were to find the courage to sign a peace deal, their people would not be satisfied with accepting such a compromise. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the Palestinians have either turned down or walked away from opportunities to achieve statehood and peace four times in the last 15 years.

While Israel’s critics blame this failure on settlements or Israel’s leadership, the poll makes it clear that these are diversions from the real obstacle to peace: the Palestinian belief that any outcome other than the destruction of the Jewish state would amount to a historic betrayal. From its beginnings in the first half of the 20th century, Palestinian national identity has always been inextricably linked to the war against Zionism. This poll shows that despite the fact that they have little appetite for open war with the Jews, this is as true today as it was in 1947 when the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds rejected out of hand the United Nations partition resolution that would have created a Palestinian Arab state.

This poll tells us that Palestinians are torn between pragmatic desires for an end to violence and job opportunities inside Israel (an option that was eliminated by the second intifada’s wave of suicide bombings and other terror attacks) and a belief that nothing short of Israel’s elimination is the only proper national goal for their people. Until they resolve these conflicting trends in favor of a stance that would embrace real peace rather than a temporary cease-fire, all future attempts to negotiate a solution to the conflict will be futile. This is not what those who have made a career out of blaming Israel for every problem in the Middle East, if not the world, want to hear. But if they want to know what’s really going on, they should listen to the Palestinians. If they do, they will understand that there is nothing Israel can do to end this conflict so long as Palestinians are committed to their destruction.

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Do Unilateralists Own Israel’s Future?

Israel’s economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, has publicly written to Prime Minister Netanyahu advocating that Israel formerly annex key areas of the West Bank so as to bring the 440,000 Israelis who live there fully under Israeli sovereignty. Of course at the moment it is hardly conceivable that the Israeli government would implement these moves—Bennett himself has previously said that there would need to be elections to provide the necessary support in the Knesset—but with some members of Likud theoretically supportive of the plan, this may come to loom increasingly large on Israel’s political agenda.   

The latest debacle that has been the U.S. attempt to bring about a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has convinced many of the need to consider what the other options might be. Following the second intifada, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon similarly judged there to be no partner for a negotiated peace, Israel began to implement a program of unilateral disengagement. That policy was stopped in its tracks, most immediately by the stroke suffered by Sharon, but also on account of the barrage of rockets that have spewed out of Gaza, the harrowing test case for unilateral disengagement. Since then that approach has been filed away, although it is still occasionally referenced as a last resort by some commentators. In its place, those on the right have begun instead to talk about full or partial unilateral annexation of the West Bank. The most far-reaching incarnation of this strategy is presented by Caroline Glick in her new book The Israeli Solution which not only advocates for fully incorporating all of the West Bank into the Jewish state, but also absorbing all the Palestinians living there. 

In addition, there has been talk about various hybrids of current options. At the time of Sharon’s passing, one such option was suggested by former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren: that to avoid the ongoing headache of policing the Palestinians, Israel should still consider a unilateral withdrawal from much of the West Bank. However, Oren also recognized that under such an arrangement Israel would retain most settlements. Another hybrid proposal was recently offered by Hillel Halkin in Mosaic, in what he called his “Two-State-Minus” plan. This proposal advocates creating a Palestinian entity that wouldn’t quite function as an entirely independent state, but that would rather exist in federation with Israel.

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Israel’s economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, has publicly written to Prime Minister Netanyahu advocating that Israel formerly annex key areas of the West Bank so as to bring the 440,000 Israelis who live there fully under Israeli sovereignty. Of course at the moment it is hardly conceivable that the Israeli government would implement these moves—Bennett himself has previously said that there would need to be elections to provide the necessary support in the Knesset—but with some members of Likud theoretically supportive of the plan, this may come to loom increasingly large on Israel’s political agenda.   

The latest debacle that has been the U.S. attempt to bring about a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has convinced many of the need to consider what the other options might be. Following the second intifada, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon similarly judged there to be no partner for a negotiated peace, Israel began to implement a program of unilateral disengagement. That policy was stopped in its tracks, most immediately by the stroke suffered by Sharon, but also on account of the barrage of rockets that have spewed out of Gaza, the harrowing test case for unilateral disengagement. Since then that approach has been filed away, although it is still occasionally referenced as a last resort by some commentators. In its place, those on the right have begun instead to talk about full or partial unilateral annexation of the West Bank. The most far-reaching incarnation of this strategy is presented by Caroline Glick in her new book The Israeli Solution which not only advocates for fully incorporating all of the West Bank into the Jewish state, but also absorbing all the Palestinians living there. 

In addition, there has been talk about various hybrids of current options. At the time of Sharon’s passing, one such option was suggested by former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren: that to avoid the ongoing headache of policing the Palestinians, Israel should still consider a unilateral withdrawal from much of the West Bank. However, Oren also recognized that under such an arrangement Israel would retain most settlements. Another hybrid proposal was recently offered by Hillel Halkin in Mosaic, in what he called his “Two-State-Minus” plan. This proposal advocates creating a Palestinian entity that wouldn’t quite function as an entirely independent state, but that would rather exist in federation with Israel.

Then there have been the suggestions not to push for a final resolution of all disputes, but rather for a semi-negotiated semi-agreement. Nicholas Casey has recently written in the Wall Street Journal about the prospect of scaling back objectives and instead settling for a managing of the situation, as opposed to aiming for a definitive solution. Casey references a proposal by Shlomo Avineri who has suggested that the two sides reach an agreement on those matters that they can, with Israel transferring control of more territory to the Palestinians. Under this scenario the impossibly difficult final-status issues would be put aside and the two parties wouldn’t be obliged to recognize each other. Of course the problem here is that without the Palestinians having recognized either Israel or an end to their grievances, both the campaign of violence and the delegitimization of Israel internationally would likely continue.

There are two obvious problems with almost all of the unilateral proposals. One is security, the other is international opinion. Those plans that call for a near complete withdrawal from the West Bank risk recreating Gaza on a massive scale and on the strategically important high ground overlooking Israel’s population centers and vital infrastructure. Bennett’s plan of annexing Israeli controlled area C of the West Bank may seek to overcome this problem, but in reality it might simply lead to the creation of multiple mini-Gazas throughout the West Bank. And while this proposal may extend Israel’s sovereignty to territory inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Israelis, it is doubtful the international community would recognize this, just as they refuse to recognize the Israeli annexation of eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Of course unilateral withdrawal doesn’t solve this problem either, with the international community still wedded to the preposterous position that Israel continues to be the occupying power in Gaza.

The proposal that seeks to address both of these problems is Caroline Glick’s one-state solution. Presumably if Israel was to not only annex the territory but also extend full citizenship to all the Palestinians living there, then depending on the Palestinian reaction, international protest might be more manageable. Many object to this plan on demographic grounds. It may in fact be true that there has been significant Palestinian falsification of census data. Yet even if Glick is correct in saying that Jews would maintain a two-thirds majority, there are still serious questions to be asked about how so many Arabs could be assimilated into a Jewish state, and in the event that they all exercised their right to vote would Zionist parties still be able to hold the Knesset? None of these proposals is by any means flawless.

It is probably unwise to make forecasts here, but assuming international pressure was to considerably intensify, and with a negotiated way out unlikely, it is conceivable that something would eventually give and either left or right might implement their version of a unilateral plan.  

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The Fake Palestinian Generational Divide

New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren hit on a clever way to reiterate a familiar theme for the newspaper’s readers in today’s story that sought to explore what she called a “generational divide” among Palestinians. The centerpiece of the article is an interview with Tareq Abbas, the youngest son of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in which the former explains why he supports a one-state solution to the conflict with Israel rather than the two-state formula that his father purports to seek. Along with other younger Palestinians quoted in the piece, Tareq Abbas says that he is tired of waiting for his father’s peace strategies to succeed and now simply wants “civil rights” that would presumably be his if the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean became a single democratic entity.

The conceit of this argument is that since Israel will never allow Palestinians independence, they should instead simply wait for demographics and international pressure to force the Jews to give up their state. This notion of a generational divide also supports the claims of those who believe Israel must act now to divest itself of the West Bank, lest it eventually be forced to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic one.

But the problem with the premise of this story is that it is false. Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected Israeli offers of statehood three times. He’s currently in the process of refusing another one that would probably, like the three previous peace bids, give the Palestinians the independent state they say they crave in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza (which is currently ruled by Hamas as an independent Palestinian state in all but name, but never mind), and a share of Jerusalem. The generational divide here isn’t so much about how many more Arab states there should be but rather the nature of the rhetoric employed in order to make the case against the existence of one solitary Jewish state.

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New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren hit on a clever way to reiterate a familiar theme for the newspaper’s readers in today’s story that sought to explore what she called a “generational divide” among Palestinians. The centerpiece of the article is an interview with Tareq Abbas, the youngest son of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in which the former explains why he supports a one-state solution to the conflict with Israel rather than the two-state formula that his father purports to seek. Along with other younger Palestinians quoted in the piece, Tareq Abbas says that he is tired of waiting for his father’s peace strategies to succeed and now simply wants “civil rights” that would presumably be his if the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean became a single democratic entity.

The conceit of this argument is that since Israel will never allow Palestinians independence, they should instead simply wait for demographics and international pressure to force the Jews to give up their state. This notion of a generational divide also supports the claims of those who believe Israel must act now to divest itself of the West Bank, lest it eventually be forced to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic one.

But the problem with the premise of this story is that it is false. Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected Israeli offers of statehood three times. He’s currently in the process of refusing another one that would probably, like the three previous peace bids, give the Palestinians the independent state they say they crave in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza (which is currently ruled by Hamas as an independent Palestinian state in all but name, but never mind), and a share of Jerusalem. The generational divide here isn’t so much about how many more Arab states there should be but rather the nature of the rhetoric employed in order to make the case against the existence of one solitary Jewish state.

The last 20 years since the Oslo Accords have shown that while the vast majority of Israelis are ready to trade land for peace, even those Palestinians anointed by the West as peacemakers are unwilling or unable to take yes for an answer. The difference between the generations cited in Rudoren’s article is not about goals but rather how to obtain it. The elder Abbas still feels obligated to go through the motions of negotiating with the United States and Israel for a two-state solution that he—and perhaps everyone else on the planet other than Secretary of State John Kerry—knows he will never accept. Doing so would require him to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn, and that is something that the political culture of the Palestinians will not let him do.

If the elder Abbas really were a champion of two states for two peoples, he would have said yes in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him a state and he wouldn’t be threatening to quit the current negotiations by refusing to say that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. Doing so would, as Palestinians have frequently admitted, undermine their “narrative” and the goal of forcing the Israelis to allow a “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants, thus transforming the Jewish state into a bi-national one in which Arabs would be in the majority. Palestinian nationalism came into existence as a rejection of Zionism and what is needed is a new vision that will contemplate a future for their people alongside Israel rather than locked in perpetual conflict with it.

Younger Palestinians have no such compunctions about pretending to want to live in peace alongside Israel. What they want is to extinguish Jewish sovereignty in any part of the country. This has nothing to do with a desire for equal rights or democracy, which, despite the assertions of his son, the elder Abbas (currently serving in the ninth year of the four-year presidential term to which he was elected) denies his people, as do his Hamas rivals in Gaza.

If the Palestinians wanted an independent state alongside Israel, they could have had it more than a decade ago and can still claim it by Abbas saying two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify he means what he says about peace. The fact that he won’t means that the contrast between him and younger Palestinians who say they want one state to replace Israel is a difference without a distinction.

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The Futile Search for Middle East Solutions

In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

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In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

Sorek and especially Glick, who writes with her characteristic clarity about the fatal mistakes of Israel’s leaders, perform a valuable service in debunking many of the false assumptions about the conflict that are the foundation of the two-state idea. Both rightly point out that Arab rejectionism is not based on anger about Israel’s occupation of territory in June 1967 but on their belief that Zionism is illegitimate. As Sorek writes about the Israeli embrace of Oslo, “In embracing the Palestinian national movement as its partner, Israel pretended not to see that, absent its fundamental objection to the existence of the Jewish state, there was no Palestinian national movement.” The reckless pursuit of peace on these false terms led to the abandonment of Israel’s claim to its own rights in the dispute, a form of unilateral moral disarmament that has helped legitimize the arguments of anti-Zionists, which have grown louder and more vituperative despite the Jewish state’s sacrifices at Oslo and in the Gaza withdrawal. They also call into question the conventional wisdom that the growth rates of the two peoples will inevitably lead to an Arab majority West of the Jordan, based as it is on unreliable population data and projections that may not be accurate.

But it is hard to argue with Halkin’s dismissal of their assumptions that, with patience and creative energy, the population of the West Bank can be integrated into a democratic Israel without fatally undermining the democratic and Jewish nature of the state. Indeed, the same factors that render the two-state solution a forlorn hope for peace also undermine the notion that the Palestinian Arabs will ever accept permanent minority status in a Jewish state even if they were never able to out reproduce the Jews. Some form of separation is inevitable.

Even more to the point, those who imagine that the Oslo genie can be put back into the bottle at this late point are mistaken. Israel’s predicament is that it can’t go back to the situation that preceded Oslo or that of the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War when it might have been theoretically possible (if still unlikely) for Israel to annex the West Bank in some manner or to give somehow give some of it back to Jordan. By bringing back Yasir Arafat to the country and giving his Fatah movement control over the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s leaders implicitly recognized the right of the Palestinians to self governance in some part of the country and made it only a matter of time until some sort of Palestinian state was going to be created. Though the reality of the PA under the reign of Yasir Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas rivals makes that acceptance look like a self-destructive delusional nightmare, it can’t be walked back. The U.S. and Europe may vainly rail at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in contravention to international law, an Israeli annexation of the West Bank (which, in contrast to Russia’s aggression, Israel could, contrary to conventional wisdom, make a reasonable case for under international law) would never be accepted by the rest of the world, including Israel’s vital American ally. Israel hasn’t the strength to resist the rest of the world in that matter. Nor, it should be pointed, do most Israelis have much appetite for such an idea. In spite of the fact that Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was a disaster, only a minority of Israelis would favor a plan to reassert their control’s permanent control of the area.

Sorek and Glick are right about the dangers of the two-state solution under the current circumstances and Halkin is right that a one-state solution in which the one state is a Jewish state of Israel is a fantasy. Other one-state proposals are merely thinly veiled programs for the eradication of the Jewish homeland and/or genocide of its population.

So where does that leave Israel and its government? In a difficult position where it stands to be criticized from the left for doing too little to achieve peace and to be blasted by the right for both countenancing a retreat from the country’s vital interests and the rights of the Jewish people. While the former critics are mistaken and the latter have a point, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn’t the luxury of pontificating from the sidelines. Instead he is left to try and do the only thing any Israeli government can do: manage the conflict until the other side comes to its senses and is willing to make a permanent peace on reasonable terms.

In the absence of that sea change in Palestinian public opinion that will make it possible for Abbas or one of his successors to recognize Israel as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to give up the hope of a “right of return” on the part of the 1948 refugees, talk of a solution of any kind is a waste of time. And though Israel has been told for the past 46 years that the status quo isn’t viable, that has proven to be equally mistaken. As unsatisfying as merely preserving the current unsatisfactory arrangement may be for both sides, doing so in a manner which limits the bloodshed and the involvement of the two peoples in each other’s lives is undoubtedly preferable to giving in to the temptation to replicate Gaza in the West Bank or to imagine that Israel can annex the territories without a terrible cost.

That is not the sort of thing most people want to hear since they prefer to believe that all problems are soluble, especially those related to life and death. But it is nonetheless true. 

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Ian Lustick’s Iron Dice

As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

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As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

Let’s briefly recap Lustick’s dismissive take on the two-state solution in his new article. It is “an idea whose time has passed,” it is neither “plausible or even possible,” it’s a “chimera,” a “fantasy.” The “obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Conclusion? “The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned.” In fact, negotiations do actual harm: “Diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere.”

The ultimate two-stater

Yet only a decade ago, Lustick thought that the success of the “peace process” in achieving its aim of two states wasn’t only plausible and possible. It was inevitable. Lustick explained his thesis in a lengthy 2002 interview peppered with analogies and metaphors, including this one:

I like to think of it as a kind of gambler throwing dice, except it’s history that’s throwing the dice. Every throw of the dice is like a diplomatic peace process attempt. In order to actually succeed, history has got to throw snake eyes, 2. And, you know, that’s not easy, you have to keep throwing the dice. Eventually, you’re going to throw a 2. All of the leadership questions and accidents of history, the passions of both sides, the torturous feelings of suffering, the political coalitions, the timing of elections will fall into place.

What is Lustick saying here? Remember that the odds of throwing snake eyes on any given toss of the dice are 36 to 1, so only a fool or an idiot would despair after, say, a dozen or even two dozen throws. Even failure is just a prelude to success, since as long as you keep throwing, “eventually, you’re going to throw a 2.” The old sawhorse that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is belied by the dice-thrower, who repeats the same action knowing that each result will be different. And that’s why the United States keeps repeating the diplomatic moves that Lustick now finds so tiresome. The “peace processors” are just adhering to his logic, circa 2002, which guarantees that one of these initiatives is destined to succeed—provided there are enough of them.

And what did Lustick in 2002 have to say to those Israelis who “want the West Bank and Gaza to remain permanently under Israeli rule”? “You will have to roll a 13,” Lustick told them.

But you can’t roll a 13, which is to say that the right has no plan for how it can successfully keep the territories anymore. They don’t even advocate as a realistic option expelling the Palestinians. So they have no plan. So if you are the right and you know you have to roll a 13, the strategy is, don’t let the dice get rolled, keep trying to stop every initiative and subvert it if it gets started…. It’s the only rational thing to do in order to prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution.

So the Israeli version of a one-state solution—an Israel from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean—was the hopeless cause of dead-enders who defied “history” itself. In 2002, Lustick was certain that “one of these days,” Israel would leave the West Bank:

Israel is caught between the inability to make the issue disappear by making the West Bank look like Israel, and the inability to make it disappear by actually withdrawing, by getting through that regime barrier, that regime threshold. Some day, one of these days, that regime threshold is going to be crossed.

The Palestinian version of the one-state option? Lustick didn’t even mention it in 2002.

So Lustick was the ultimate two-state believer. I don’t think even the inveterate “peace processors,” whom he now dismisses so contemptuously, ever assumed that repeated failures would bring them closer to their goal. Lustick did believe it: one couldn’t “prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution,” and it was just a matter of time before “that threshold is going to be crossed.” So certain was Lustick of the inexorable logic of the two-state solution that he believed even Hamas had acquiesced in it. And because Israel had spurned Hamas, Israel had squandered an opportunity to turn it into a “loyal opposition.”

Here lies the problem—perhaps dishonesty is a better word—in Lustick’s latest piece. Lustick ’13 never takes on Lustick ’02, to explain why “history,” destined to lead to two states only a few years ago, is now destined to end in one state. It’s tempting to make light of the seemingly bottomless faith of “peace processors,” and I’ve done it myself, with relish. But the case Lustick made for them in 2002 had a certain logic. The case he’s made against them in 2013 is weak. Indeed, he never really builds much of a case at all.

Is it the number of settlers? If so, he doesn’t say so. Lustick knows how many settlers there are, and he numbered them in a lecture in February. In 2002, he says, there were 390,000 (West Bank and East Jerusalem). In 2012, he says, there were 520,000. That’s 130,000 more (two-thirds of it, by the way, natural growth). Presumably, some significant proportion of the 130,000 have been added to settlements whose inclusion in Israel wouldn’t preclude a two-state solution, because of their proximity to pre-1967 Israel. So we are talking about some tens of thousands. Which 10,000 increment, between 2002 and 2013, put Israel past the “point of no return”?

Lustick doesn’t say. In the Times, he claims that American pressure could have stopped Menachem Begin’s re-election in 1981, precluding the building of “massive settlement complexes” and prompting an Oslo-like process a decade earlier, in the 1980s. It’s a we’ll-never-know counter-factual, but it doesn’t solve the conundrum. Lustick knew all this in 2002, and it didn’t dampen his faith in the historic inevitability of the two-state solution. So the question remains: what’s happened since 2002 to change Lustick’s mind so drastically?

“The state will not survive!”

Here we come to Lustick’s supposedly original contribution to the “one-state” argument. He isn’t repeating the usual claim that Israeli settlements have made a Palestinian state unachievable. He’s arguing that the Israeli state is unsustainable. “The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible” as an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The best indicator? Israelis say so! “Many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of ‘If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!’”

I don’t know any research that’s established “the most common phrase in Israeli political discourse,” and I’m guessing that Ian Lustick doesn’t either. He just made it up. In his February lecture, he did cite one work, from 2009, that counted how many articles published in the left-wing Haaretz employed the phrases “existential danger” or “existential threat.” There’s a bump up after 2002 (Second Intifada), then a spike up in 2006 (Second Lebanon War). The “study” proves absolutely nothing. After all, this is Haaretz, the Wailing Wall of the Israeli left. A perfectly plausible explanation is that the paper’s editorial bias, exacerbated by the eclipse of the left, has tended to favor doomsday prognostication.

And Lustick is contradicted by real research on real people, which he either ignores or of which he’s ignorant. The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest large-scale poll, for 2012, shows that optimists outnumber pessimists among Israeli Jews by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent. Over 85 percent say Israel can defend itself militarily and only 33 percent think Israel will become more isolated than it now is. The Tel Aviv University academic who oversees the poll summarized the results: “It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically. Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.” That may be an understatement. Israel is ranked eleventh in the world in the latest UN-commissioned World Happiness Index, which hardly correlates to any level of depression.

According to the Peace Index poll ahead of this Jewish New Year, only 16 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country’s security situation will worsen. 46 percent think it will stay the same, and 28 percent think it will actually improve—this, despite the chaos in Syria and the Sinai, and the spinning centrifuges in Iran. The only thing Israelis are persistently pessimistic about is the “peace process,” but that doesn’t sour the overall mood—except for the small minority, including those op-ed writers for Haaretz, who apparently constitute Lustick’s “sample.”

(Lustick also alludes to “demographic momentum” as working against Israel, and he has puttered around with figures in an attempt to show that Israelis are lining up to emigrate. He got away with this until an actual demographer, Sergio DellaPergola, took a hammer to one of his amateur efforts and left nothing intact. It’s a must-read takedown.)

Israel the balloon

But in the end, for Lustick, it doesn’t really matter how prosperous or stable or viable Israel appears to be, even to Israelis. That’s because Israel is like… wait for it… a balloon. “Just as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics.” Zionist Israel is a bubble that’s bound to burst. It’s been inflated by American support, and the “peace process” has protected it from rupture. But the larger the balloon gets, the more devastating that rupture will be. In February, Lustick revealed that he is writing an entire book on this thesis, evoking “history” again, with a fresh analogy to exchange rates:

History will solve the problem in the sense of the way entropy solves problems. You don’t stay with this kind of constrained volatility forever. When you constrain exchange rates in a volatile market by not allowing rates to move even though the actual economy makes them absurd, rates will eventually change, but in a very radical, non-linear way. The more the constraint, the less the adaptation to changing conditions, the more jagged and painful that adaptation is going to be.

Better, thinks Lustick, that the “peace process” in pursuit of the two-state solution be shut down now, so that both sides can slug it out again—this time to “painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side.” Israel, which has defeated the Palestinians time and again, has to stop winning. Pulling the plug on the “peace process,” he writes in the Times, would

set the stage for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.

And that’s where we want to be! Enough rolling of the diplomatic dice! It’s time to roll the iron dice! It may sound cynical to you, but Lustick thinks it’s destiny: “The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot.” Remember, this is someone who just a few years ago insisted that a two-state solution was inevitable. Now he argues exactly the opposite. The world should get out of the way and let the inescapable violence unfold—only this time, the United States won’t be in Israel’s corner, and so Israel will be defeated and forced to dismantle itself.

The problem with rolling the iron dice, as even an armchair historian knows, is that the outcome is uncertain. What Lustick would like “history” to deliver is a defeat of Zionist Israel of such precise magnitude as to create a perfect equilibrium between Jew and Arab. But it may well be that the outcome he desires is the equivalent of rolling a 13, because Israel has deep-seated advantages that would be magnified greatly were Israel ever to find itself up against a wall. (The fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war may be an apt moment to remember that.) Or something in his scenario could go wrong. As Clausewitz noted about war, “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”

One of the possible outcomes Lustick imagines is that “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab.” Given that even “the Arabs” don’t think of themselves anymore as “Arabs” (especially when they gas or bomb one another), and that Jews never thought of themselves as “Arabs” even when they lived in Arabic-speaking countries and spoke Arabic, one wonders how many thousands of dice rolls it would take to produce that outcome.

Prophet of Philly

In the end, it’s pointless to debate Lustick on his own hypothetical grounds, invoking rolling dice, bursting balloons, and volatile exchange rates. That’s because nothing has happened since 2002 between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Israel, that can possibly explain his own total turnaround. I suspect his Times article has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with Lustick’s attempt to keep his footing in the shifting sands of American academe.

Ever since Edward Said veered toward the “one-state solution,” the pressure has been growing, and it’s grown even more since Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, finally gravitated toward the same position (something I predicted he would do well before he actually did it). This turn of events left Lustick in the rear of the radical vanguard and far from the action. Ever since Tony Judt passed on, there’s been a vacancy for a professorial Jewish supporter of the “one-state solution.” So this is Lustick’s late-career move, and I anticipate it will do for him a bit of what it did for Judt, transforming him from an academic of modest reputation into an in-demand hero. Invitations will pour in. Soon we will hear of a controversy involving an invitation rescinded, which will raise his standing still higher. And it’s quite plausible that the Times piece will land him a heftier advance for his next book (as of February, “I’ve not written the conclusion yet”), and the promotional push of a major publisher.

In anticipation, Lustick is already casting himself as a prophet of Israel, exemplified in this quote from an answer he gave to a question last winter:

I argued in 1971 that 1,500 settlers in the West Bank were a catastrophe that would lead Israel into a political dungeon from which it might never escape. I was laughed at. I also argued for a Palestinian state alongside of Israel in the early 1970s, but it took twenty-five years before the mainstream in Israeli politics agreed with that. It may take another twenty-five years before they realize that what I’m saying is true now and will be even truer if Israel is still around in twenty or twenty-five more years.

This is not a human measure of prescience, as Lustick himself has acknowledged. How far in advance would anyone have been able to imagine the Iranian revolution or the fall of the Soviet Union? Lustick: “Ten years? No. Five years? Maybe two, if you were very, very good.” If, as Lustick claims, he consistently sees the future of Israel twenty-five years forward, he must inhabit a sphere far above the regular run of prognosticating political scientists. He is now compiling the Book of Ian. Read it, O Israel (enter credit card here), and weep.

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The Depravity of the Anti-Israeli Left

One is tempted to leave Ian Lustick’s Sunday op-ed, “Two-State Illusion,” alone. Its stench is so overwhelming that one might expect it to harm Lustick’s cause without the need for commentary. But because Lustick is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, one of our most prestigious universities, and because the New York Times has chosen to amplify his view, it is worth considering as a symptom of the depravity of the anti-Israeli left, as what passes for sober commentary in that crowd.

Let me set aside Lustick’s argument against the two-state solution and begin with what is most shocking in his op-ed, his own proposed solution. Lustick argues that the U.S. and others should abandon the two-state solution and let the parties fight it out. The key passage must be quoted at length:

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One is tempted to leave Ian Lustick’s Sunday op-ed, “Two-State Illusion,” alone. Its stench is so overwhelming that one might expect it to harm Lustick’s cause without the need for commentary. But because Lustick is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, one of our most prestigious universities, and because the New York Times has chosen to amplify his view, it is worth considering as a symptom of the depravity of the anti-Israeli left, as what passes for sober commentary in that crowd.

Let me set aside Lustick’s argument against the two-state solution and begin with what is most shocking in his op-ed, his own proposed solution. Lustick argues that the U.S. and others should abandon the two-state solution and let the parties fight it out. The key passage must be quoted at length:

With a status but no role, what remains of the Palestinian authority will disappear. Israel will face the stark challenge of controlling economic and political activity and all land and water resources from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The stage will be set for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel (my emphasis).

Lustick makes explicit the nihilism of the anti-Israeli left. He has no strong reason to believe that the bloodbath he wishes on the Israelis and Palestinians will have results favorable to either.  But why not break a few eggs if there’s some prospect of an omelette? Like many on the anti-Israeli left, but more explicitly, Lustick is prepared to entertain a morally satisfying position, which costs him nothing but means a blood sacrifice for those whose best interests he professes to have in mind.

Having dealt with the most disgusting elements of the op-ed, let me draw attention to the schoolboy contradiction at the heart of Lustick’s argument. He thinks that a two-state solution is impossible. The sole reason he offers for thinking it impossible is that the facts on the ground, from Israeli settlers to Islamic fundamentalism, make such a solution very difficult. But in defense of the extremely unlikely proposition that a one-state solution can succeed, he offers numerous examples of outcomes once thought impossible that have come to pass, from a solution to the Irish situation to the fall of the Soviet Union.

In other words, Lustick does not really think a two-state solution impossible. Instead, he thinks that when confronted with a choice between two difficult ways forward, one should choose the one that results in the end of the State of Israel. Again, Lustick says out loud what his crowd thinks:

The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion, or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible as a two state solution.

Lustick’s op-ed should be required reading for anyone who thinks that to stand with the anti-Israeli left is to support of the rights of Palestinians. To stand with the anti-Israeli left is instead to hope for an open conflict that will result in the end of Israel. It is not just friends of Israel who should be disgusted with academics who hope to foment such a conflict, knowing, unless they are complete fools, that in making a poorly thought out, long-odds bet on a one-state solution, they gamble with the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

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Gaza Illustrates Palestinian Statehood

Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the Middle East again to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. His goal remains a deal to create an independent Palestinian state and thereby end the conflict for all time. But as much as Israelis crave peace, along with the rest of the world they are getting another good look today at what happens in an independent Palestinian state and the result is far from pretty. That’s the only rational way to process what happened earlier today as the Islamic Jihad group fired half a dozen rockets at southern Israel from Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes on the terrorists and the upshot was that for the first time in six months the fragile cease-fire between the Hamas rulers of the strip and Israel seemed in danger. But as the Times of Israel pointed out, the rockets were not so much aimed at Israelis (though if some Jews had been killed that would have been considered a welcome bonus by the shooters) as they were at Hamas.

That sounds confusing, but it actually makes perfect sense. Hamas and Islamic Jihad share a commitment to violence against Israel and imposing Islamist law on Palestinians. But the two have different patrons. Islamic Jihad is now backed by Iran, which used to supply Hamas with weapons, while Hamas now is tight with Turkey, which is opposing the Iranians in Syria. But with Hamas worried about starting another round of fighting with Israel just at the time when it wants to keep pressure up on its real rival—Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—support for Islamic Jihad is apparently starting to grow. That has led to a crackdown of sorts by Hamas on Islamic Jihad. Hence, the rockets fly as the Palestinians maneuver against each other by shooting at Jews.

While the fight between two factions of extremist terrorists may not seem particularly relevant to Americans, Washington should be paying close attention to this battle since it is a preview of what may happen in the even more strategic West Bank in the unlikely event that Kerry gets his way and Israel is forced to abandon not just settlements but the military presence that keeps a lid on terrorism. With all the talk about the need to create a Palestinian state for the sake of justice or even to assure that Israel remains a Jewish state, Gaza provides a daily clinic on the consequences of more Israeli territorial withdrawals.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the Middle East again to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. His goal remains a deal to create an independent Palestinian state and thereby end the conflict for all time. But as much as Israelis crave peace, along with the rest of the world they are getting another good look today at what happens in an independent Palestinian state and the result is far from pretty. That’s the only rational way to process what happened earlier today as the Islamic Jihad group fired half a dozen rockets at southern Israel from Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes on the terrorists and the upshot was that for the first time in six months the fragile cease-fire between the Hamas rulers of the strip and Israel seemed in danger. But as the Times of Israel pointed out, the rockets were not so much aimed at Israelis (though if some Jews had been killed that would have been considered a welcome bonus by the shooters) as they were at Hamas.

That sounds confusing, but it actually makes perfect sense. Hamas and Islamic Jihad share a commitment to violence against Israel and imposing Islamist law on Palestinians. But the two have different patrons. Islamic Jihad is now backed by Iran, which used to supply Hamas with weapons, while Hamas now is tight with Turkey, which is opposing the Iranians in Syria. But with Hamas worried about starting another round of fighting with Israel just at the time when it wants to keep pressure up on its real rival—Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—support for Islamic Jihad is apparently starting to grow. That has led to a crackdown of sorts by Hamas on Islamic Jihad. Hence, the rockets fly as the Palestinians maneuver against each other by shooting at Jews.

While the fight between two factions of extremist terrorists may not seem particularly relevant to Americans, Washington should be paying close attention to this battle since it is a preview of what may happen in the even more strategic West Bank in the unlikely event that Kerry gets his way and Israel is forced to abandon not just settlements but the military presence that keeps a lid on terrorism. With all the talk about the need to create a Palestinian state for the sake of justice or even to assure that Israel remains a Jewish state, Gaza provides a daily clinic on the consequences of more Israeli territorial withdrawals.

Hard as it is for some people to remember, when Israel withdrew every last soldier or settler from Gaza in 2005, it was not assumed that the strip would become a terrorist base. Rather, there was hope that it would provide a chance for the Palestinians to show that they truly could govern themselves. But from the first day after the withdrawal—when mobs burned abandoned synagogues and tore down the greenhouses that had been purchased from their owners to give to the Palestinians to use—what has happened in Gaza is a walking, talking illustration of what the world could expect if the independent Palestinian state that we are endlessly told is the only solution to the conflict ever actually comes to pass.

Of course, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, Gaza is for all intents and purposes already an independent Palestinian state in all but name. Though some claim that the fact that it doesn’t have complete control over its borders means it is still “occupied,” that is nonsense. It is true that both Israel and Egypt have sought to isolate the Hamas regime, but the Islamist group exercises effective sovereignty over the area. Moreover, if that is the measure of independence, do advocates of complete Palestinian independence over the West Bank expect Israel to accept a militarized West Bank or one that is free to allow the entry of foreign weapon supplies or even armed forces? If so, then the danger that such a state would pose to Israel is even greater than some have thought.

The point here is not so much to dismiss all the arguments that have been assembled on behalf of the creation of a Palestinian state by both Americans and Israelis out of hand. Most Israelis would like to be separated from the Palestinians of the West Bank. Indeed, after the terrorism of the second intifada, most want nothing to do with them and reject the idea that there can be any ultimate solution to the conflict that does not involve two states that would allow the two peoples to exercise their right of self-determination alongside each other. So long as violent groups dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state dominate the political culture of the Palestinians, the prospect of the West Bank becoming another Gaza makes the high-flown rhetoric about the two-state solution look naive at best.

The main obstacle to peace remains the inability of Fatah to do what Hamas and Islamic Jihad will not consider: recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to renounce the so-called right of return that would swamp Israel with the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. If they were ever able to do that and to convincingly promise that this ended the conflict rather than just pausing it, they’d find Israel ready to deal. After all, Israel has already offered the Palestinians a state three times only to find each one rejected. But so long as Palestinian independence is synonymous with terror groups and their infighting, Kerry will find few serious observers heeding his calls. Anyone who wants to know why Israelis are skeptical about a Palestinian state in the West Bank need only look at Gaza.

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The Ever-Vanishing Two-State Timeline

Is the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict still alive? According to Secretary of State John Kerry, it’s on life support, but there are still two years for it to become reality. This piece of prophecy delivered last week in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee is presumably the justification for the peace offensive Kerry is planning on conducting in the coming months. This will keep the secretary busy shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah where, he says, he sensed a new seriousness of purpose in Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. The deadline of two years is supposed to scare these two leaders and presumably their constituencies that Kerry hopes to save from a future of unending conflict with patient diplomacy. His prediction has more to with his fantasies about achieving success in an endeavor that has chewed up and spit out better diplomats than the former Massachusetts senator than any actual chances of peace.

But however foolish Kerry’s ambitions might be, this idea of a definitive timeline beyond which peace is impossible is far more dangerous than the new secretary’s ego trip. The obstacles to a two-state solution are formidable right now. Indeed, they are so great that Kerry’s attempt to jump-start them at time when the prospects for a deal are less than negligible is actually a greater inducement to violence than the status quo. But by setting an artificial deadline without any real hope of success or by recognizing what the real threats to peace actually are, Kerry is doing more than setting himself up for inevitable failure. He’s also undermining any hope that peace can be achieved in the future.

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Is the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict still alive? According to Secretary of State John Kerry, it’s on life support, but there are still two years for it to become reality. This piece of prophecy delivered last week in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee is presumably the justification for the peace offensive Kerry is planning on conducting in the coming months. This will keep the secretary busy shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah where, he says, he sensed a new seriousness of purpose in Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. The deadline of two years is supposed to scare these two leaders and presumably their constituencies that Kerry hopes to save from a future of unending conflict with patient diplomacy. His prediction has more to with his fantasies about achieving success in an endeavor that has chewed up and spit out better diplomats than the former Massachusetts senator than any actual chances of peace.

But however foolish Kerry’s ambitions might be, this idea of a definitive timeline beyond which peace is impossible is far more dangerous than the new secretary’s ego trip. The obstacles to a two-state solution are formidable right now. Indeed, they are so great that Kerry’s attempt to jump-start them at time when the prospects for a deal are less than negligible is actually a greater inducement to violence than the status quo. But by setting an artificial deadline without any real hope of success or by recognizing what the real threats to peace actually are, Kerry is doing more than setting himself up for inevitable failure. He’s also undermining any hope that peace can be achieved in the future.

The idea that the situation is ripe for a re-started diplomatic process is pure fantasy. While Israel has declared its willingness to negotiate peace without preconditions (a stance that has finally been endorsed by President Obama, who has apparently given up his first term determination to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of Abbas), the Palestinians aren’t ready to do so. They remain divided with Gaza under the control of Hamas, which will never make a real peace with Israel and the West Bank in the hands of a Fatah Party that is incapable of making peace even if wanted to do so. Unity between these two blood rivals is impossible, even though both are equally unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

If, as the recent elections demonstrated, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have given up on the prospects of peace in the foreseeable future, it is not because they don’t want a two-state solution. Most clearly do, and even those who specifically reject it understand that were the Palestinians to ever be ready to end the conflict, they’d be ready to make the same sort of painful territorial compromises that past Israeli governments were ready to make. But the Palestinian rejection of generous peace offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and the conversion of Gaza into an independent Palestinian terror state have convinced them that peace is not possible. That’s why they regard the idea of allowing the West Bank to become another Gaza as not so much a mistake as it is insane.

But the peace processers and their cheering section among some American Jews who are determined to ignore everything that has happened in the last 20 years and pretend that land for peace hasn’t been already repeatedly tried contend that if peace doesn’t happen now, it never will. They contend that if Israeli settlements in the West Bank aren’t uprooted now, they will become too large to be extracted in the event of peace. They also say that in the absence of peace soon, the Palestinians will be too radicalized to ever accept Israel.

Both these contentions are wrong.

The first assertion about settlements is based on the Palestinian fantasy that all Israelis living east of the 1967 lines would have to be removed for peace to be possible, but this is absurd. The main settlement blocs where most of the West Bank Jews live are not going to be uprooted. Nor need they be for the Palestinians to have a state. They can have sovereignty in most of the West Bank and Gaza and even theoretically a slice of Jerusalem (though even that is probably unworkable) with most of the Jews staying right where they are. While the outlying settlements would be a problem, as Gaza demonstrated, if the majority of Israelis believed peace was the price of such a sacrifice, it would probably be made, either two years from now or in 20.

As for Palestinian radicalization, those expressing such worries are a little late. Palestinians have been rejecting Israel’s existence since it was born 65 years ago. They didn’t accept it when Jordan ruled the West Bank and half of Jerusalem and Egypt ran Gaza and they don’t now.

The United States is hoping to convey to the Palestinians that their only hope for statehood is to return to the negotiating table that they abandoned over four years ago. But there is more to it than that. Even President Obama appears to have caught on to the fact that Abbas is too weak to make peace. More importantly his party, which spews out hatred for Israel and Jews in the official PA media every day, is incapable of ending the conflict. And neither Fatah nor Hamas currently has the ability to give up on the right of return that means an end to the Jewish state.

For decades, we’ve been told the chances of peace are vanishing–but they are no more, nor less, realistic today than they ever were. Despite the changes on the ground, peace will happen if the Palestinians show they are ready for it.

What must occur is a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will accept the reality of Israel and that there will never be a right of return. That will be difficult for a Palestinian national movement that was created in order to stop Zionism and not to promote a local Arab identity. Given enough time it might be possible, although when that might be is impossible to say. If it ever happens, a two-state solution will not just be possible but probable. But until then the dwindling hopes for a two state deal must be put on hold.

That’s the message Kerry should be sending the Palestinians. But if he keeps talking about a deadline that must be met, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This sort of untimely urgency will only encourage the extremism he wants to combat and set the region up for another round of unnecessary violence that won’t help anybody. The Israelis are hunkering down to wait for the Palestinians to change; Kerry should show that he’s prepared to wait with them.

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Anybody Listening? Netanyahu’s Not the Obstacle to Two-State Solution

Listen to anyone in the liberal chattering classes talk about the Middle East and there’s little doubt about who is to blame for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians: Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the conventional wisdom spouted by most daily editorial pages, not to mention the many foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians, the Israeli prime minister is alleged to be an intransigent foe of peace talks that has single-handed stopped progress toward peace. That this contradicts the facts about Netanyahu as well as ignores the record of the Palestinians doesn’t seem to bother anyone who spread this disinformation. So no one should be surprised if Netanyahu’s latest affirmation of his support for a two-state solution and call for talks with the Palestinians without preconditions doesn’t change anyone’s mind.

For those paying attention to what is actually going on, as opposed to Palestinian propaganda, Netanyahu gave a watershed speech back in 2009 at Bar-Ilan University in which he formally embraced the two-state concept. Since then he has constantly asked Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the negotiating table that he fled in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him an independent state including nearly all of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. As Ynet reported, the prime minister said he stood by his Bar-Ilan speech:

Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel, Netanyahu said he still stands by his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech where he backed the concept of two states for two peoples.

 “I believe that a framework to peace (with the Palestinians) is what I outlined in my speech in Bar-Ilan University – two states for two peoples: A demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

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Listen to anyone in the liberal chattering classes talk about the Middle East and there’s little doubt about who is to blame for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians: Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the conventional wisdom spouted by most daily editorial pages, not to mention the many foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians, the Israeli prime minister is alleged to be an intransigent foe of peace talks that has single-handed stopped progress toward peace. That this contradicts the facts about Netanyahu as well as ignores the record of the Palestinians doesn’t seem to bother anyone who spread this disinformation. So no one should be surprised if Netanyahu’s latest affirmation of his support for a two-state solution and call for talks with the Palestinians without preconditions doesn’t change anyone’s mind.

For those paying attention to what is actually going on, as opposed to Palestinian propaganda, Netanyahu gave a watershed speech back in 2009 at Bar-Ilan University in which he formally embraced the two-state concept. Since then he has constantly asked Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the negotiating table that he fled in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him an independent state including nearly all of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. As Ynet reported, the prime minister said he stood by his Bar-Ilan speech:

Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel, Netanyahu said he still stands by his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech where he backed the concept of two states for two peoples.

 “I believe that a framework to peace (with the Palestinians) is what I outlined in my speech in Bar-Ilan University – two states for two peoples: A demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu’s critics claim that his acceptance of two states hinges on conditions that are impossible for the Palestinians to accept. But in contrast to Abbas, Netanyahu is prepared to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians are not being asked to pledge anything in advance of talks. It is, in fact, the PA that insists that the Israelis must concede the entire substance of the negotiations on territory, settlements, borders and everything else in advance of Abbas deigning to rejoin the peace process.

Though it is true that much of Netanyahu’s constituency is uncomfortable with the idea of a Palestinian state, where Abbas, or any Palestinian leader ready to actually end the conflict and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, no Israeli government could possibly refuse them. But despite repeated Israeli offers of a state, the Palestinians continue to refuse to talk, let alone sign off on a permanent peace accord.

Nor is it reasonable to argue, as many of Netanyahu’s critics do, that settlement building approved by his government makes peace impossible. The construction of homes in Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs that any putative peace accord, even the one put forward by Israeli leftists at Geneva a few years ago, would place inside Israel would not stop the Palestinians from establishing their state in the parts of the country that would go to them.

That’s why the talk about President Obama needing to prod Netanyahu to make peace or return to negotiations that has been heard since the Israeli election makes no sense. Even when Netanyahu did agree to an unnecessary settlement freeze, the Palestinians still refused to negotiate.

The PA didn’t have to go to the UN to get their state. Nor do they require American or European pressure on Israel to achieve their goal of independence. They need only be willing to give up on the dream of replacing Israel with a Palestinian state instead of having one alongside it. Their failure to do so is why most Israelis have lost interest in the peace process. Nor has it escaped their notice that the independent Palestinian state in all but name that currently exists in Gaza is a launching pad for terror attacks on Israel rather than a place where development takes priority over the long war against the Jews.

Rather than placing pressure on Netanyahu to do what he has already promised, the U.S. government and those putting forward canards about Netanyahu need to learn the same lesson start paying attention to the Palestinians.

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The New York Times, Leon Wieseltier, and Cartographic Literacy

Last week, the New York Times quietly made two corrections to Jodi Rudoren’s December 2, 2012 news article headlined “Dividing the West Bank, and Deepening a Rift.” In a December 7 “Correction” appended to the article, the Times acknowledged that Israeli development in the E1 area “would not divide the West Bank in two” (emphasis added); and it “would not, technically, make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). So technically–not to put too fine a point on it–the central premise of the article was flat-out wrong.

The E1 area, which connects Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem in a stretch of desert less than two miles long, is retained by Israel in the “Everyone Knows” peace plan–as everyone knows who has bothered to look at a map of the Clinton parameters, or maps of various similar plans. But in a December 6 post at the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier called the plan for Jewish housing in E1 “an outrageous proposal …. which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians.” Since the proposal would not divide the West Bank, nor prevent a contiguous Palestinian state, nor preclude it on about 95 percent of the West Bank, Wieseltier appears to be cartographically challenged. Either that, or he relies on the New York Times.

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Last week, the New York Times quietly made two corrections to Jodi Rudoren’s December 2, 2012 news article headlined “Dividing the West Bank, and Deepening a Rift.” In a December 7 “Correction” appended to the article, the Times acknowledged that Israeli development in the E1 area “would not divide the West Bank in two” (emphasis added); and it “would not, technically, make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). So technically–not to put too fine a point on it–the central premise of the article was flat-out wrong.

The E1 area, which connects Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem in a stretch of desert less than two miles long, is retained by Israel in the “Everyone Knows” peace plan–as everyone knows who has bothered to look at a map of the Clinton parameters, or maps of various similar plans. But in a December 6 post at the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier called the plan for Jewish housing in E1 “an outrageous proposal …. which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians.” Since the proposal would not divide the West Bank, nor prevent a contiguous Palestinian state, nor preclude it on about 95 percent of the West Bank, Wieseltier appears to be cartographically challenged. Either that, or he relies on the New York Times.

The executive summary of a new monograph from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), reflecting a six-month study of the Times’s coverage of Israel in 2011, documents “a disproportionate, continuous, embedded indictment of Israel that dominates both news and commentary sections.” CAMERA notes that Arthur Brisbane, in his final column this year as the Times’s public editor, described a worldview at the paper reflecting (in his words) “political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times,” treating certain developments “more like causes than news subjects,” making “thousands of errors” every year. Rudoren’s article was another one.

In contrast to his ill-informed opinion regarding E1, Wieseltier was relatively restrained in describing Mahmoud Abbas’s UN speech, which accused Israel of “one of the most dreadful campaigns of ethnic cleansing and dispossession in modern history;” of unprovoked “aggression” in Gaza; and of “an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism.” Wieseltier thought the speech was “mean and small.”

Since the occasion for Abbas’s slander was the Palestinian rejection of the fundamental commitment of the “peace process” (not to take “any step” to change the legal status of the West Bank outside negotiations), a better informed, more morally precise description of the speech would have used the word “outrageous.”

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Hamas and the Two-State Solution Myth

Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.

It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.

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Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.

It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.

Beinart is right when he characterizes the Israeli counter-offensive as merely a short-term solution rather than a long-term strategy. Many Israelis regard Operation Pillar of Defense in much the same way they saw the 2008 campaign called Cast Lead: as nothing more than a periodic effort to hamper Hamas’s military capability. The 2005 decision to withdraw from Gaza was a security disaster, but few Israelis want any part of governing the strip again. All they want is for it to be prevented from threatening their country, and to that end they back a regular “grass cutting” in Gaza that will make it harder for Hamas to terrorize millions of Israelis the way they have in the last week.

This Israeli consensus frustrates foreign observers like Beinart who insist they can solve a problem that citizens of the Jewish state see as having been proven to be intractable by 20 years of failed peace processing. They also understand that, contrary to Beinart, the last thing Hamas wants is either peace with Israel under any circumstances or democracy for the Palestinians.

Far from being tempted to bolster Abbas, the current Hamas campaign is intended to boost their own standing among Palestinians at Fatah’s expense. Moreover, Hamas’s leadership believes the support it has gotten from Egypt and Turkey renders Abbas obsolete. In a sense, they are right. Far from highlighting the need for a Palestinian state, the current fighting is a reminder that one already exists in Gaza and its leaders believe the Palestinian people prefer to be sacrificed on the altar of unending war with Israel than good government or peace.

Ending the West’s efforts to isolate Hamas won’t revive the two-state solution. What it would do is to legitimize a brutal, dictatorial Islamist regime in Gaza and encourage Hamas to think that they can eventually seize the West Bank as well.

Should his friends in the Obama administration heed Beinart’s point of view and the United States reward Hamas in this fashion, it wouldn’t just strengthen Hamas’s ability to withstand future Israeli counter attacks. It would also kill whatever slim hopes exist for democratization of the corrupt and violent Palestinian political culture.

Beinart concludes his piece by trotting out one of the oldest lamest arguments of those trying to revive hopes for peace with Israel’s foes. It is the old quote about the need to make peace with enemies, not your friends. But if there is anything Israelis have learned in the 20 years since Oslo, it is that you make peace with enemies who are willing to live in peace and give up the hope of your destruction, not enemies who merely wish to gain concessions prior to restarting the conflict on more advantageous terms. That’s the mistake Israel made with Yasir Arafat. It won’t make the same one with the Islamists of Hamas.

The fact that there is no long-term political solution available to Israel as it copes with a terrorist state on its doorstep is frustrating. But pundits like Beinart and the Obama administration need to be reminded that the choice facing Israel isn’t between peace and talking to Hamas. It’s between survival and death.

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