Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two State Solution: We've Been Here Before

Netanyahu will give a speech in three days in which he'll accept the two state solution, as demanded by Obama, but also - it's worth noting - as officially accepted by his three predecessors Olmert, Sharon and Barak, and implicitly accepted by their three predecessors Netanyahu Peres and Rabin. We're a democracy, and in democracies newly elected governments are bound to international obligations made by their predecessors. Otherwise, no international order would be possible.

So on that level Netanyahu will simply be putting an end to a three-month hiatus of childish behavior, of pretending to live in Never-Never-Land; these three months caused a degree of damage to Israel that, while not being of major significance, was totally predictable and completely unnecessary.

Yesterday Netanyahu went through the preparatory act required of prominent right-wing leaders as they move to the center on this matter: they stand in front of their party stalwarts, and explain that wielding power requires recognizing reality and relinquishing silly slogans. Olmert had such a moment; Tzipi Livni had more than one; Arik Sharon had a memorable one in 2004; Netanyahu already had one in 1996 but he forgot; even Ezer Weizman had such a moment, back in the mid-1980s. In all cases Benny Begin rejects the thesis, and is joined by whatever party hacks happen to be in the Knesset at the moment - Tzipi Hotovely, this time. (You've never heard of her. She's young, feisty, and in about 15 years she'll stand before Benny Begin and his ephemeral cohorts and tell them that wielding power means recognizing reality).

A more interesting question is if Netanyahu will do what he has to do with good grace, or with surly nit-picking. Good grace means being explicit: we wish to live in peace with the Palestinians, each in our own state. Surly nit-picking means saying the same while pretending you're not: We wish to live in peace with the Palestinians according to the road map and after they fulfill all their obligations and we'll be watching like vultures for any traces they're cheating.

Requiring the Palestinians to fulfill their obligations is of course necessary - but it doesn't have to be the theme of your speech.

For intelligent good grace, Netanyahu could do worse than to lift his speech from today's column by Ari Shavit. Shavit is one of the many Israelis who mirror Netanyahu: the lefties who have accepted that wielding power means relinquishing silly slogans, in their case the slogans about justice for the Palestinians will bring everlasting peace etc. Shavit's thesis: the Two State Solution won't work, unless it reflects a two nation solution. It's a fine column. If you can, read the Hebrew original here; if you can't, read the very poor English translation here

Then, once you finish all that, I warmly recommend the bracing analysis of none other than Agha and Malley, here. This may possibly be the first time ever that I've approvingly recommended anything by the Hussein Agha-Robert Malley duo. Usually I find them quite exasperating. In this most recent effort of theirs, however, they explain
If, despite this desolate landscape, the Obama administration nonetheless is
determined to push for a final agreement, it could be because the President has
something else in mind. At some point, he might intend to bypass negotiations
between the parties and, with support from a broad international coalition
including Arab countries, Russia, and the European Union, present them with a
detailed two-state agreement they will be hard-pressed to reject. The concept
stems from the notion that, left to their own devices, the Israeli and
Palestinian leaderships are incapable of reaching an accord and that they will
need all the pressure and persuasion the world can muster to take the last,
fateful steps.

It is one option. But before jumping toward it, basic issues should be
explored. Getting the leaders to endorse a peace deal will be no mean feat, but
it is not the only and perhaps not the most substantial challenge. The other
question is how in the current climate the Israeli and Palestinian people would
welcome a two-state solution. Would they view it as authentic or illegitimate?
Would they see it as ending their conflict or merely opening its next round?
Would it be more effective at mobilizing supporters or at galvanizing opponents?
What, in short, would a two-state solution actually solve?

Their analysis (the first two thirds of their article) is very interesting, and shows, from an unexpected direction, why the two-state solution could easily not bring peace even if the international community were to force it upon two sides who cannot agree on it by their own. Precisely because it doesn't address the fundamental issues. Their recommendation at the end seem vague hollow and unconvincing, but no-one's perfect.


Anonymous said...

interesting even enlightening analysis is to be found galore everyqhere but to date I have not read a single recommendation that survives my scrutiny of everyday workability
my explanation for this is that all recommendations concern themselves with the big picture, none recommend to start by changing one minuscule problem at the absolutely lowest and presumably most ridiculously unimportant level, i.e. that one of those which are supposed to sort itself out by itself once the big problem has been taken care of. (Remember: the devil is in the detail or what might happen if you change one plus to a minus in a soft-ware)
But I do not hope for such an approach because getting started from ONE random item from on low low low*) will never be accepted as a reason for a big conference with red carpets and TV-cameras and brouhaha

*) and implementing the next one only after all the other changes that result from the first minuscule one have been well integrated -
think of what tends to happen if you move one picture in your living room to another place ...

Nobody said...

How does it follow that a new government in Israel must honor previous governments' arrangements and agreements because Israel is a democracy? I would think quite the opposite - the more democratic a country is, the more changes a new government would bring; voting for a different party would mean overturning the previous party's policies, not confirming them.

Anonymous said...

I do not know about state law, but ...
isn't a country, a nation, a state more than its government and isn't a signed contract a signed contract.
Of course a new government can try to re-open negotiations but just say, we are new, sorry the people have changed their mind somehow does not seem right to me as compared to "the others have not adhered to contract here and here" therefore adjustments must be talked about
PS: pessimist that I am I would assume that once there is a contract the world will judge Israes adherence with a magnifying lense while saying well Palestinians need time to adjust.

mrzee said...

"recognizing reality" would mean realizing just how unworkable the "two-state solution" is.

"recognizing reality" would mean admitting the Palestinians will NEVER honour any agreement they sign.

"recognizing reality" would mean admitting the Palestinians aren't interested in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state

Nobody said...

Silke: I don't mean to suggest that honoring past agreements is a bad thing in general, just that doing so is precisely the opposite of democracy. Full disclosure: I hate and despise democracy.

kai said...

Here's the response to Ari Shavit from the readers' section:

"We will never give up an inch of our land. No Bantusian state in the West Bank. Every inch of Palestine will be liberated. We will never surrender"

Welcome to Middle East.