I was horrified this week to come across a piece titled ‘Two-State Illusion’ which appeared on the front page of the New York Times Opinion Page last Sunday.
Written by professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, Ian Lustick, the piece advocates against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Going beyond a critique of the two-state solution, Lustick maintains that the best way to solve the conflict is a one state solution with an Arab majority, that dissipates Israel in its current form.
Lustick writes that “diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself.”
There are several factors which conjure alarm and great sadness.
First, why the New York Times chose to amplify Lustick’s view is bewildering.
Opinion pages give rise to diverse views and opinions. Indeed this is the beacon of a democracy. Yet are they supposed to soak up hate speech born from anyone with an agenda or a score to settle?
It is saddening that the New York Times decided to not only feature, but give prominence to a destructive view that claims; “once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s leaders saw in the 1980s, that their behaviour is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.”
Honest Reporting quickly took to the web to lament the article which it described as “a complicated and lengthy pantheon to a one-state solution- essentially the end of the State of Israel.”
The main problem with Lustick’s anti-Zionist proposal, however, is that it is rooted in blatantly misleading assumptions.
Lustick upholds that a drastic change of the conflict is not only possible but probable. And so he maintains “the disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum” is plausible. With an apparent enthusiasm Lustick welcomes the end of the Jewish State. In this regard he sees the dissolving of Zionism as inevitable, which he likens to the collapse of various imperialist regimes of the past such as the fall of the Soviet Union and British rule over Ireland.
In an article titled ‘Two States and the Anti-Zionist Illusion’, Jonathan Tobin of Commentary Magazine repels this assumption of the inevitable ‘crumbling’ of Zionism.
Tobin writes “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.”
Indeed the facts on the ground speak for themselves. The State of Israel is growing from strength to strength. A population that has grown from 650,000 in 1948, to over 8 million only sixty-five years later, has a thriving economy, potent military and vibrant culture that marries religion with modernity. Yes, the Zionist entity is not going anywhere.
Such discussions revive focus on the argument of a 1 vs. 2 state solution. However, in his unwavering support for the former, Lustick fails to capture a perspective on the magnitude of the problem which has a large bearing on the eventual outcome of the conflict.
There are currently around eight million people living in Israel (keeping in mind that exact figures differ depending on who you ask and I acknowledge this wholeheartedly).
In an interview with Haaretz Professor Arnon Soffer, a geography professor says that there are 6.2 million Jews and others in Israel, 1.7 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. There are 300,000 Israeli Arabs living in East Jerusalem.
And then include the figures of the Palestinian Law of Return, which is part of the Palestinian solution. The one-state solution would thus usher a significant Arab majority and dissolve the Jewish character of Israel entirely. This proposed ‘outcome’ has been broadly rejected by Israelis on both the right and far left and has not been entertained by any successive Israeli government. To harp on this as a realistic alternative to the two-state solution is not only unrealistic at current times, but counterproductive in the setting of negotiations.
Additionally, Lustick attributes the end of the Jewish character of Israel, replaced by an Arab majority, as amenable to the changing times of the Middle East.
He writes; ‘in such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists…Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern’ but as Arab.”
That Middle Eastern Jews from Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, who were persecuted for generations, would suddenly feel a sense of solidarity and brotherhood with the Arab nations that turfed them out shows just how little Lustick understands of the demographics of the region or the history of the conflict.
David Harris writes in the Huffington Post, of the absurdity of Lustick’s self-importance. He says “so, from his rarefied perch in West Philadelphia, Lustick dispenses with the foundational Jewish link among a people, a land, and a faith.”
Most unoriginal but disturbing, is that he equates Israel with apartheid South Africa, Suddem Hussein’s Iraq or the Iran of the shah. Yet this actually proves my point that political advocates like Lustick are driven by an unfounded hate for Israel that is deep-rooted, rather than minor disputes about borders or settlements.
Lustick’s ‘crux’ is that the facts on the ground, including Israeli settlers to Islamic fundamentalist, make a two state-solution near impossible. Yet as Jonathan Marks of Commentary points out, in defence of the one-state solution, he offers numerous examples of endings once thought impossible that have come to pass such as the outcome of the Irish situation with Britain and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This leads Marks to conclude that “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 appalling vision of a post-Zionist Middle East says more about him as an individual, than reveals about the current status of the State of Israel, or the Middle East at large.
There is no plausible scenario under which current day Israel will collapse or would allow itself to be turned into an Arab-Majority. The sooner people like Lustick acknowledge this as concrete, the closer we will be to securing a lasting two-state solution for two peoples.
Chag Sameach all,
Media and Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia