Two States and the Anti-Zionist Illusion
Jonathan S. Tobin
Twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords the two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs that was its premise remains unrealized. Indeed, support for the idea that a century-old struggle can be ended merely by the stroke of a pen and a new round of concessions on the part of the Israelis is smaller than ever in Israel, even if some elsewhere (such as Secretary of State John Kerry) cling to such illusions. As I wrote last week, it is clear that while the majority of Israelis seem to have drawn some appropriate conclusions to twenty years of peace processing, there remains a constituency in Washington that is determined to ignore the costly mistakes that were made in 1993 and since in the name of promoting peace. So long as the Palestinians are unable to re-imagine their national identity outside of an effort to extinguish the Zionist project and to therefore recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, negotiations are doomed to fail.
This is frustrating for the vast majority of Israelis who, despite their political divisions, are united in a longing for peace that made projects like Oslo and other such initiatives possible. It also exasperates foreign onlookers who wrongly believe the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root of all trouble in the Middle East (a myth that has been exploded by the Arab Spring and its battles in Egypt and Syria that have nothing to do with Israel).
But it is welcomed by those in the West whose dreams have never centered so much on schemes of a “New Middle East” in which economic cooperation will make everyone happy as they have on simply ending the Zionist dream. One such dreamer is the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick, a political science professor and sometime State Department consultant who was given the front page of the New York Times Sunday Review today to explain in 2,300 words why the obsession with two states should give way to the project of simply eliminating Israel and replacing it with an Arab-majority nation. Given the persistent and increasingly obvious anti-Israel bias of the paper (especially its editorial and op-ed pages) it is hardly a surprise that it would give such prominent play to a piece with such a goal. But even by the low standards that currently govern that section, the disingenuous nature of Lustick’s rant is stunning.
The core conceit of Lustick’s piece is to put forward the idea that a radical transformation of the conflict is not only possible but also probable. Thus, he claims that “the disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum” is a plausible outcome. Indeed, though his essay occasionally hedges its bets, his enthusiasm for the prospect of the end of the Jewish state is palpable. Indeed, he compares it to the end of British rule over all of Ireland, the French hold on Algeria, or the collapse of the Soviet Union, historical events that he claims were once thought unthinkable but now are seen as inevitable outcomes. These analogies are transparently specious, but they are telling because they put Israel in the category of imperialist projects rather than as the national liberation movement of a small people struggling for survival. That tells us a lot about Lustick’s mindset but little about the reality of the Middle East. Unlike the Brits’ Protestant ascendancy in Ireland or the French pieds noirs of Algeria or even the Soviet nomenklatura, the Jews of Israel have nowhere to go. That he also compares Israel to apartheid South Africa, the Iran of the shah, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq shows just how skewed his view of the country has become and how little he understands its strength and resiliency.
Let’s concede that Lustick is right about one thing. The two-state solution as conceived by the authors of Oslo or those piously pushing Kerry’s negotiations is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future. The maximum concessions offered by Israel don’t come close to satisfying the minimal requirements of the Palestinians.
In 2000, 2001, and 2008, Israel offered the Palestinians a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and was turned down every time. Lustick found no space to mention this fact in his article, just as he failed to mention what happened in 2005 when Israel withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza, a concession that only led to the area being converted into a terrorist launching pad rather than an experiment in peace and nation building. Even the moderate Palestinians that are supposedly Israel’s negotiating partners continue to use their broadcast and print media as well as their educational system to foment hatred of Israel, laud terrorism, and to make it clear their goal is not two states living in peace alongside each other, but the extinction of the Jewish state.
Such inconvenient details don’t make it into Lustick’s narrative because they undermine his basic premise that it is Israel’s settlement policy that makes peace impossible. He even claims that if only the Carter administration had listened to him back in 1980, a full-fledged U.S. effort to force Israel to bow to Palestinian demands (at a time when the PLO wasn’t even pretending as it does now that its goal was not Israel’s destruction) would have brought about Oslo a decade earlier when he thinks it might have worked. But since the Palestinian culture of rejectionism and violence that he persists in ignoring now was even stronger then, the claim is as illogical as it is egotistical.
But this piece of shameless self-promotion isn’t nearly as outrageous as his vision of a post-Zionist Middle East. There is no rational scenario under which the current State of Israel will collapse and/or would allow itself to be dismantled or to be converted into an Arab-majority country. Those who dwell in the dream castles that they have built are generally insensible to the world in which the rest of us live. It is not surprising that those who, like Lustick, have spent their lives predicting Israel’s demise and cheering every sign of disarray in its society have come to believe in this notion with a faith that is as pure as that of any religious believer. Perhaps to those who believe everything that radical anti-Zionist columnists write in a left-wing newspaper like Haaretz, Israel’s destruction is not only possible but also inevitable. But the disconnect between that newspaper and the majority of Israelis is far greater than the gap between the visions of the liberals who edit the New York Times and the views of most Americans.
Unlike the nations of the past to which he compares Israel, the Jewish state has grown in strength, both economic and military, in recent decades. It continues to be assailed by an unreasoning hate that is rooted in anti-Semitism rather than petty disputes about borders or settlements. But unlike Western audiences who are insensible to the events of the last 20 years, during which the Jewish state has tried to trade land for peace and instead wound up trading land for terror, most Israelis have been paying attention to these facts. Though they have more than their share of problems, are weary of war and eager for peace, they have no intention of giving up. Why should they since the history of the last century has shown that in spite of obstacles that would have daunted far more powerful peoples from even trying to persist, Zionism has gone from strength to strength as Israel today is a regional military superpower and economic giant?
They also understand just how dishonest Lustick’s vision of a post-Zionist Middle East is. The professor claims Israel’s collapse will lead to an alliance between secular Palestinians and post-Zionist Jews (those Haaretz columnists) and others to build a secular democracy. He thinks the large percentage of Israelis whose families fled or were thrown out of Arab and Muslim countries (a refugee population that no one thinks to compensate for their losses) will come to think of themselves as Arabs. He also posits an alliance between anti-Zionist Haredim and Islamists. He claims Jews who want to live in the West Bank can be accommodated in the post-Zionist world. All this is nonsense.
Israeli Jews know the fate of non-Muslim minorities in the Arab and Muslim world. If Israel acknowledges that all Jews would be evacuated from a putative Palestinian state it is not because they agree with the Arab vision of a Judenrein entity but because even those on the left know the Jews there would last as long as the greenhouses left behind in Gaza in 2005. Those “Arab Jews” that Lustick thinks will be at home in the Greater Palestine he envisages know exactly what fate awaits them in a world where they are not protected by a Jewish army.
The problem with Lustick’s anti-Zionism is not just that it is built on such blatantly misleading proposals. It is that his determination to ignore the nature of Palestinian intolerance for Jews causes him not only to misunderstand why peace efforts have failed but also to be blind to the certainty that the end of Israel would lead to bloodshed and horror.
Much as it may disappoint the legion of Israel-haters and anti-Semites, as President Obama reminded them during his visit to the Jewish state earlier this year, the State of Israel “isn’t going anywhere.” As difficult as their plight may be in some respects, Israelis understand that they have no choice but to survive and to wait as long as it takes for the Palestinians to give up on their dreams of their destruction. Unfortunately, that day is not brought closer by the decision of a prominent organ such as the Times to give such prominent placement to dishonest pieces that serve only to feed those noxious fantasies of Israel’s destruction.