Is This The Death Of The Two-State Solution?

April 6, 2020

In his new book, “Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality,” Ian Lustick describes the end of not only the two-state solution, but also the idea of partition.

In his new book, “Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality,” Ian Lustick describes the end of not only the two-state solution, but also the idea of partition.


Paradigm Lost book cover. Image courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Kim Brown. A new book by Ian Lustick called Paradigm Lost details the story of the demise of the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine, and it argues that the one-state reality can no longer be denied even by the greatest supporters of the two-state solution. It’s not a book about the actual life of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, but about the idea that the occupation can end via partition into two states, an idea which is embedded deeply in the foreign policy of the European Union and in the United States, and also in the Israeli Zionist left. As Ian Lustick shows in his book, the supporters of partition into two states have become a small group of people fanatically clinging to an idea which has less and less grip in reality.

Dr. Ian Steven Lustick, he is a political scientist specializing in the Middle East. He’s also a member of the American Political Science Association, the Association for Israeli Studies, The Middle East Studies Association and The Council of Foreign Relations. He is most well known for his book prior to Paradigm Lost was titled Trapped in the War on Terror, from the year 2006. And today Professor Lustick joins us from the Philadelphia suburbs. Professor, thank you so much for being here.Ian Lustick: My pleasure to be here.Kim Brown: So Professor, many people who used to support the two-state solution for Israel, Palestine have now crossed over to supporting one democratic state for all, a one person, one vote model. So what was the moment that you yourself started to adopt this worldview, and what was the event that prompted you to write this book, which you wrote even before Trump’s “deal of the century” was revealed?Ian Lustick: Right. Well, one thing I want to make clear is that I haven’t switched to a one-state solution, and I don’t think too many people have. The bad news is that with the demise of the two-state solution, there really isn’t a solution, if by solution you mean a pretty picture of the future that you like better than the present and a way to get there. For me, and for many people, two states living side by side, Palestinian and an Israeli would be wonderful. So would a democratic state in all the country with equal rights for everyone or 10 cantons, everybody getting along. All these, they’re pretty pictures, but they aren’t solutions.

In order for a pretty picture to be a solution, you have to have a way to get there that’s plausible and nonviolent, or at least not involve things that you can’t accept. For a long time, the two-state pretty picture was also a solution because in the ’80s and ’90s it was possible to imagine, through negotiation and compromise on both sides with the international community at work, that you could have an agreed-upon treaty. It’s that that has gone missing. So what we’re left with is not changing to another solution but accepting a reality, a one-state reality, that has some dynamics that are promising and very different from the dynamics that were assumed to be associated with efforts to gain a two-state solution.Kim Brown: Professor, you have a entire chapter in your book called Holocaustia, which is the intentional misuse of the memory of the Holocaust to justify violations of international law by the Israeli government. How does that logic work? Because for most people, the lesson from the Holocaust is to be cautious of racism and extremist nationalism and reliance on military power to solve political problems.Ian Lustick: Well, first of all, I do have a chapter called Holocaustia, but it does not argue that Holocaustia has been an excuse or a rationale for mistreatment. I do think it has led to mistreatment. But what I say is this, that there have been multiple ways that Israelis and Jews have remembered the Holocaust, have considered it in collective memory. Some of those ways emphasize just what you said, that the Holocaust was an outrage against human rights, a crime against humanity, and a sign that racism and the genocidal thinking that associated with it, should be fought and struggled with and repressed wherever it appears. That’s one way Israelis have remembered the Holocaust. It’s not the main way. Other ways include that the Holocaust show that Zionism was correct, that the Jews did need to evacuate Europe and they didn’t do it in time. Another way to remember the Holocaust has been to treat it as an asset that will go away soon, because it is associated with gentile guilt that allowed Israel to gain enormous amounts of money from Germany as reparations. And that way of looking at the Holocaust was prominent in Israel in the 1950s.

What I’m referring to as Holocaustia is a fourth way that Israelis have remembered the Holocaust, and that is as a template for understanding what it means to be Jewish. A very extreme view, that was promoted by Menachem Begin and it resulted in a dominance of Israeli political culture by this idea that it’s always 1938, that there’s always a Nazi-like enemy lurking in the wings, and that no Jews can trust non-Jews when it comes to negotiations. That makes it very difficult, more difficult than it otherwise would have been, for Israeli moderate politicians to gain support for their ideas about compromising with Palestinians. But that idea of Holocaustia is one of several things I argue in the book that made the two-state solution very difficult to achieve, and then ultimately impossible.Kim Brown: The phlogiston analogy. I hope I’m pronouncing that right, by the way. Let’s stop for a second. Am I pronouncing that right? Is it phlogiston?Ian Lustick: Phlogiston, yes. Okay. You’re referring to phlogiston. What is phlogiston? Phlogiston’s a theory of what caused what fire was. The idea from Aristotle right through the Middle Ages to the 19th century was that things burned because they had fire in them called phlogiston, and if you burned up the phlogiston then it stopped burning, or if things that didn’t have phlogiston in them didn’t burn. But eventually Camus realized and there was no such thing as phlogiston, and there was a whole theory of oxygenation. There was something called oxygen. It could, with, heat combust and produce fire if it were in the presence of fuel. And they found for example, that when you burn something, it’s not lighter because the phlogiston is gone. It’s heavier. And that was a problem for people who thought about fire and thought about chemistry.

It took a long time to get rid of the phlogiston idea into accept the idea that a fire is a result of combustion. It’s a totally different kind of a thing. It’s called plasma. Well, the reason this is relevant is because the fundamental problem with thinking about Israeli-Palestinian relations is what is the area between the river, the Jordan River, and the sea? And those who have supported the two-state solution, including me, always imagined that what that was, was one territory that was divided into two parts, one that was the State of Israel and then parts that weren’t the State of Israel. But that fundamental idea is no longer supportable. It’s actually one-state from the river to the sea, even if it rules different populations in different territories with different rules and different norms.

That’s not unusual. States do it all the time. We have undocumented aliens in the United States. The United States has Puerto Rico, District of Columbia. The people who live there don’t live by the same rules as others who live elsewhere. Women lived in the United States for generations without political rights, but they still lived in the same state. Once you see that there’s one state between the river and the sea, it’s not a democratic state, but it’s a state, then the whole problem takes on a new aspect. You don’t worry about the things you used to worry about. For example, who cares if there’s more settlements in the West Bank? Because it’s not going to prevent a West Bank state. That’s already been prevented. But it will mean fewer Jews living in the Galilee where Arabs live. It means many things that open up ideas for future political alliances and future progress toward progressive aims.

But it is not a solution. It’s a reality that has to be looked at straight in the face instead of ignored by those who continue to hope and think and imagine that the two-state solution is still available. They are like physicists that can’t give up old ways of thinking about physics. Max Planck, the famous German physicist said, “Physics does progress, but only funeral by funeral, because it has to wait until the older scientists pass away before the ideas that are more correct, that they can’t come to terms with, are accepted by the new generations.” I’m hoping to help Planck not be right about thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian problem, that we don’t need to have a whole generation of scholars die before we look in the face of what the realities are between the river and the sea.Kim Brown: Well, your book frames the idea of a two-state solution as the relic of a bygone era. So given what you just explained in detail, how do you get this point across to so many politicians, to the European Union, to the Israeli Zionist left who are clinging very desperately to this idea that only a two-state solution is possible and the idea of one state is not very feasible.

Ian Lustick: It’s very difficult. And I don’t think it’s possible to convince a politician. Because for the one thing, most of the politicians who advocate negotiations, including the Democrats in the House of Representative who passed a resolution saying that there should be a two-state solution, or President Trump, or even Obama or John Kerry, when they talk about a two-state solution, they know it’s not possible. But it’s in their political interest to pretend that it is because if they don’t say that, they have to say very controversial things about Israel is not a democratic state. We have to take the long view, we have to struggle against discrimination wherever it is in the West Bank or inside of Israel. Their constituents are not ready for that.

It’s much more comfortable to talk about the two-state solution because progressives will still accept you as having a reasonable point of view. The Israeli government will accept you because they know it’s not going to happen anyway, so we might as well allow people to talk about it. And it means that as long as you talk about something that you can’t get, namely negotiation to a two-state solution, the undeclared situation of apartheid can be continued where you are ghettoizing Palestinians and telling them, “You don’t have any rights and you can’t get any rights or struggle for them because we’re still waiting for negotiations toward the new country that you’re going to have,” when those negotiations are never going to happen.

It postpones the day when people can come to terms with the need to start forming alliances between Jews and Arabs, moderate Jews and Arabs who want political rights, in the same way that the Democratic Party eventually made alliances with black Americans, so that right now the Democrats can’t win elections without massive black turnout. But in the 19th and early 20th century, it was the Democratic Party that enforced Jim Crow and did everything it could to prevent black Americans from exercising political rights. That’s because politics has an alchemy of its own. It changes the way people think. When politicians have interests in seeing and talking differently about a problem, they will, not because they hear the truth from Ian Lustick.

So my goal is to help people who are not themselves politicians, who are analysts, who are people desperate to think in creative and progressive ways that are more effective than the ways they’ve been stuck with thinking for the last 10 or 15 years. Which is an answer to your previous question, why did I write this book? I wrote this book because for decades I was able to talk in exciting and interesting ways about the Arab-Israeli conflict by talking about two states for two peoples. But after about 2005, 2006, I came to realize that I was repeating the same old slogans about maybe negotiations will start, the United States will take them seriously. Maybe the settlements could be stopped. Perhaps there’s still a map whereby the Palestinian state could be created. And yet it was boring. It was never true anymore. It wasn’t opening up anybody’s ideas. It wasn’t convincing me or my audience. And I would rather be anxious about what the future is going to be here than totally bored and be counterproductive by pushing ideas which cannot be realized and provide a cover for undeclared apartheid.

Kim Brown: Well, exactly. Because in the book you don’t discuss so much a one-state solution but a one-state reality, that of apartheid. So if the idea of a two-state region where these two entities are living side by side is to be abandoned, and the idea of the one-state reality is what we’re left with, isn’t that a bit of a pessimistic approach in your opinion? And can we, or can you rather, envision a pathway towards equality and justice for all living there?

Ian Lustick: Yes, I can envision it. Not clearly enough to call what I have to offer a solution, but I think if we look at cases like United States that I mentioned, where blacks were freed from slavery in United States, but no one did that, including Abraham Lincoln, with the idea that there would eventually be a multiracial democracy. That was a result of the unintended consequences of incorporating large numbers of people as citizens into the country, which then changed the political calculus of groups, including the Democratic Party. And thanks to the struggles of black people and of white supporters, eventually the entire political constellation in the United States was transformed. And we do have something like a multiracial democracy even though nobody thought that that was the reason why the Civil War was being fought. Britain annexed Ireland in 1800, never imagining that the Irish Catholics would, within 80 years, become not only full citizens, but dominate through their party of British politics, enforce actually a two-state solution 120 years later after annexation.

These are the kinds of things that produce change. Women, how did they get the vote? They didn’t get to vote in the United States or Britain or France because men and women got together and negotiated and agreed that now women are going to have the vote, the men had been wrong all the time. No. What happened often is some men were afraid that other men were going to kick them out of office and thought that if they gave their vote to women, the women would vote for them. So those kinds of politics makes strange bedfellows will produce eventually, and have already produced, if you look at the politics in Israel now, about what kind of a government can be created … Although Arabs are not in the government, they’re not going to be, we can see that they’re the third largest party, that more and more Jews are voting for the Arab party. It’s called the Joint List, and it’s become central, absolutely central to Israeli politics. That’s a sign of where things are going.

It may take decades and generations instead of months or years. And I may not see the pretty picture I’m hoping we could get to, but that’s the way we have to look at this problem. And that can help us do things that we haven’t done in the past, is rally moderates, for example. They’ve always argued the demographic line. We have to get out of the West Bank and Gaza because we don’t want to live with all those Arabs. And that was a way to convince Jews, who ultimately weren’t that sympathetic to the Arabs, to get out of the territories and wanted to compromise. That hasn’t worked. Now, if you make the argument that Arabs can’t be lived with, they’re too scary, they’re too suspicious, they’re too undeserving, you are convincing Jews not to get out of the West Bank because they can never get out of the West Bank or Gaza. You are convincing them to get rid of Arabs or to enslave them.

So what used to be a progressive idea, let’s make an argument about the demographic problem so that there’ll be a smaller Jewish democracy, is now a repressive idea, and one that stands in the way of building bridges between Jewish voters and Arab voters, which is what the future holds as far as a progressive line of progress.

Kim Brown: We’ve been speaking with Dr. Ian Lustick. He is a professor, and he’s also a political scientist specializing in the Middle East. The name of his book is titled Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality. Dr Lustick, we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. Thank you so much.

Ian Lustick: Thank you. My pleasure.

Kim Brown: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.