I do not follow the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians closely because it is complex, well outside my area of expertise, and deeply depressing. I find it depressing because I have always believed in a two-state solution, and it has long been difficult watching that goal slip ever further out of reach. After the barbaric terror attack on Israelis by Hamas and the increasing likelihood of an excessively brutal Israeli response it is worth asking if a two-state solution is still a sensible goal and, if so, how we can move towards it, no matter how long or difficult the path looks. My personal metaphor for the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has long been a dog fight. The dogs are too angry and scared to just stop and make peace. Instead, a
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I do not follow the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians closely because it is complex, well outside my area of expertise, and deeply depressing. I find it depressing because I have always believed in a two-state solution, and it has long been difficult watching that goal slip ever further out of reach. After the barbaric terror attack on Israelis by Hamas and the increasing likelihood of an excessively brutal Israeli response it is worth asking if a two-state solution is still a sensible goal and, if so, how we can move towards it, no matter how long or difficult the path looks.
My personal metaphor for the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has long been a dog fight. The dogs are too angry and scared to just stop and make peace. Instead, a bystander needs to hit the dogs with a stick to get them to stop fighting. That bystander is the international community, and especially the United States. Peace, or at least a cessation of hostilities, must be forced upon initially reluctant parties.
Unfortunately, the United States has spent decades pretending that the dogs must be allowed to stop fighting on their own. Rather than dealing with the dog fight, American policymakers pretend we are witnessing a well-mannered disagreement at high tea. (Like all metaphors, the dog fight shines light on some aspects of reality and casts shadows on others, notably the unequal power of the Israelis and Palestinians, and the importance of outside actors besides the United States. It’s just a metaphor.)
I have no objection to efforts to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to change course. Words matter. Given the current level of animosity between them, however, the most promising route to something that looks even remotely like peace is to persuade Americans to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to a settlement that both sides would rather reject.
To state the obvious, we seem to be far from that goal. Former Representative Andy Levin, D-MI, introduced a bill in the last Congress to make achieving a two-state solution an explicit goal of United States foreign policy. For his trouble, AIPAC, an organization that does not represent the views of most American Jews but has a formidable fundraising and political influence operation, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that Levin lost his re-election bid. The expenditures were not the only reason Levin lost. He had been redistricted, and his opponent in the Democratic primary had previously represented more of the new district than Levin had. In addition, his opponent was a woman, which was probably a significant advantage in the post-Dobbs political environment. Indeed, it is reasonable to suspect that the money AIPAC gave to his opponent was intended primarily as a deterrent to any future Democratic defections from the laissez-faire attitude that has marked American policy towards the peace process for so many years. (Andy is a close life-long friend of mine. I have no idea why anyone would find this relevant to my argument, but the point of disclosure is to let you decide for yourself.)
Despite the daunting obstacles, I still see little alternative to a two-state solution. It is even possible that the current hostilities will help to persuade Israelis as well as Americans that the long and uncertain road to a two-state solution is worth pursuing. The attack by Hamas showed that the threat posed by Palestinian radicals is greater than had generally been understood. It is, of course, very unlikely that Hamas or Hezbollah or any other hostile force will be able to conquer and hold Israeli territory. (Some news reports suggest Hamas intended to capture territory, but this is so crazy it is hard to believe.) But the ability of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other groups to rain missiles down on Israel and overwhelm Israeli defenses will likely grow, and improvements in drones and other technologies may make Israeli society perennially vulnerable to highly damaging attacks. It is not inconceivable that perpetual conflict with Palestinians and other opponents armed with more numerous and sophisticated weapons will make it difficult for normal life to proceed in Israel, just as the threat of ongoing conflict with Russia could undermine an economic recovery in Ukraine, even if Ukraine recaptures all of its territory.
You can argue that making peace with Hamas is impossible, and that an Israeli campaign to destroy Hamas is a precondition of any moves towards peace. You can argue that Gaza cannot be a viable state. You can argue that the Palestinians will never accept Israel’s right to exist. Maybe. But a cold peace may develop into something more durable. Protestants and Catholics learned to live together.
It seems unlikely that Israel can defeat Hamas, if only because civilian casualties and IDF casualties will be unsustainably high. At some point in the not-too-distant future we may get an opportunity to push for peace. I hope we are ready when that moment comes.
To reiterate, this is all above my pay grade. But it is difficult to see what better alternative there is to a peace process with a two-state solution as the end goal, even if the road is long and there is no assurance that a two-state solution will bring peace. The alternatives all look much worse, at least to me.