Reading Lustick Carefully
Have critics of Ian Lustick's 'Two-State Illusion' been misinterpreting the controversial New York Times op-ed? Jeremiah Haber thinks so.
Defenders of the U.S.-backed peace process confuse the thesis articulated by Ian Lustick in his “Two-State Illusion” with those of one-staters like Ali Abunimah or Virginia Tilley. Lustick states correctly that attempts to negotiate the partition of Palestine into two states have failed since the 1930s; he explains briefly why that has been the case; and he challenges the notion that a viable deal can be negotiated that provides the minimum requirements for both Israelis and Palestinians. That is hardly new or radical, although its prominent placement in the New York Times guarantees that it will be seen by “Jews in their cocoon,” to use Peter Beinart’s phrase.
Lustick’s detractors assume that he is arguing on principle for a one-state solution despite the fact that he explicitly suggests that the road to two states may lead not through a negotiated solution but through an interim one-state arrangement that is less unjust to one side than the current status quo. “Such outcomes develop organically; they are not implemented by diplomats overnight.” From my reading of Lustick I infer that he would not be adverse to a two-state solution if it addressed satisfactorily the core issues, provided peace and security to both sides, and achieved the overwhelming support of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples (including, of course, the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas). That sort of two-state solution has never been anywhere near the negotiating table, as I explained here, primarily because of the power disparities between the two sides to the negotiation.
I am not interested in Lustick’s pro-Israel critics, who continue to delude themselves into thinking that they support a two-state solution, when what they really support is a strong state of Israel controlling a collection of emasculated Palestinian bantustans that they wish to call a state. Their clinging to the two-state illusion is the chief impediment to a viable two-state solution, even more than those who, like cabinet minister Naftali Bennett, have declared the Palestinian state dead. But what of those supporters of Israeli and Palestinian self-determination who genuinely believe that both peoples will receive the maximum amount of power and self-determination in their own states?
Hussein Ibish and Saliba Sarsar fall into the latter category. Although they too misread Lustick as a principled one-stater, they are correct to perceive that he opposes two-state negotiations under current circumstances and for the foreseeable future. The problem is that they react in a knee-jerk two-state fashion, relying on old arguments and out-of-date evidence, to support the possibility of a two-state solution emerging from the negotiations. It is one thing to say that two states are the best outcome; it is quite another to say that U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are the best way to get there, or even that the Clinton parameters (and, I would claim, even the Geneva Initiative) provides a real Palestinian state.
For example, they write, “one of the most compelling aspects of the two-state solution is that a solid majority of both Palestinians and Israelis alike have shown, in virtually every poll taken in the past twenty years and more, that they are in favor of peace based on two states.” It’s time to lay this claim to rest. For one thing, it ignores recent polling in which the Israelis have fairly conclusively rejected even the minimalist picture of a Palestinian state. Thus in July 2013 the Peace Index poll found that “the majority of Jewish respondents, to different extents, is not prepared to concede to the Palestinians on any of the four problems that stand at the heart of the conflict,” namely borders, Arab refugees, Jerusalem, and settlement evacuations. The data of the August 2013 poll strengthen the “previous finding that there is currently no sweeping support for the two-state solution and indicate that the Israeli public is not losing sleep over the basic premise of the negotiations that without two states a bi-national reality will emerge.” Close to 77 percent of the Jewish public oppose Israeli recognition in principle of the right of return, with a small number of Palestinian refugees being allowed to return and compensation being offered for others. For another thing, when Palestinians think of two states, they think of a state that will look more or less like Israel, something that virtually no Israeli (or their supporters) wish.
Ibish and Sarsar claim that the Israel-Palestinian negotiations represent “the only practical of means achieving the minimum goals of each party” without giving a single argument and without countering the historical record and the current circumstances, where one party—Israel—is simply not interested. Nor can the hardening of positions in Israel can be attributed to Israeli insecurity. On the contrary, history indicates that when Israelis feel most secure, their negotiating positions harden (cf. post 48 and post 67), and that is perfectly understandable. Until Ibish and Sarsar articulate how Israel can be effectively weakened so that the prospects of successful negotiations are enhanced, they are not serving their cause well.
What Ibish, Sarsar and Lustick share is a genuine desire to end the daily horrors of occupation and exile that have been the fate of the Palestinians since 1948. On the historical level Prof. Lustick is correct; there is no reason to believe that this round of negotiations will do anything besides hurting the Palestinians—unless the Palestinians can parlay them into advancing the idea of a genuine Palestinian state, and not the desert mirage offered them by the Israelis. It is not the fact that there is an international consensus for a two-state solution that should be emphasized, but rather that there is an international consensus for a Palestinian state. According to a recent poll, most Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank would prefer living in an independent state than in one state in which Jews and Arabs are considered equal. Can you blame them? After all, how many Zionist displaced persons would have preferred living in post-war Germany with guaranteed equality for Jews and Germans to living in their own state as a free people? That number appears to be dropping, though, as Palestinians realize what they are likely to get at the end of a negotiated process.
In fact, serious supporters of a two-state solution should hope that the current round of negotiations, like all its predecessors, fail lest a successful operation kill the patient. The worst thing for the Palestinians would be to receive a state that does not answer their minimal desires and needs, because their leaders, in weakness and out of self-interest, were forced to accept a bad deal.