The debate on a just future to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine has often pivoted around the question of a two-state or one-state solution. In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, four longtime proponents of the two-state solution make the case for why such an approach is no longer viable. Despite whatever high-minded ideals may have once motivated the search for a two-state solution, such dreams have become glaringly disconnected from the day-to-day reality of Palestinians living under occupation. Co-authors Nathan J. Brown and Shibley Telhami join The Marc Steiner Show to discuss why they are moving away from the two-state approach, and what principles would need to undergird a just and politically feasible solution to the occupation of Palestine.
Nathan J. Brown is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Production/Post-Production: David Hebden
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Welcome to the Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, it’s great to have you with us. Now today as we record this interview it’s a holiday called Yom HaZikaron, which is celebrated in Israel and by many Jews around the world. It’s a holiday that commemorates the fall and those killed in battle, civilians killed in war, and as some would say, in terrorist attacks in Israel. Now in Arabic there’s another holiday, another saying, Yom Adikra, which is Remembrance Day for Palestinians forcefully removed from their homes, forced to live in refugee camps in Israeli prisons. So it’s intertwined, as these two people are and will remain. After the ’67 War there was hope and a push for a Two-State Solution, but now as our guest have written, this is all but fantasy because the occupation, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the growth of Palestinian populations, created a world where Palestinians and Israeli people are deeply intertwined, even if their relationship is one of the oppressor and the oppressed.
So just what would a One-State Solution look like? How would that happen? I was reflecting on this, looking in my study at home I have a poster, a poster I got actually in Cuba in 1968 when I was there. And it shows a map of the Holy Land. It draped the Palestinian and Israeli flags on the other side where the words, “One land, two peoples, three faiths.” Has this time come? Is it even possible?
Well, today we’re going to explore some of that, and my guests are Dr. Nathan Brown, who is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and a non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Dr. Shibley Telhami, he was the Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute. And they wrote a really interesting article along with Michael Barnett and Mark Lynch in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs called Israel’s One-State Reality. It’s Time to Give Up on the Two-State Solution, and they join me now. And gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you both with us.
So in the midst of the madness that we’re seeing in Israel and Palestine with the demonstrations taking place as mostly among Israeli Jews against the administration, with the continue organizing and going on the West Bank and other places and with a really right wing and religiously fundamentalist government in power at Israel, talk again from your perspectives, and Nathan, I want to start with you and then Shibley, jump right in. What is the One-State Solution which many people have talked about. Now, let me just take a quick digression. I remember a piece I did the other week just reflecting on 1948 when [foreign language 00:02:49], who was the founder of the modern Hebrew language, Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, and Albert Einstein all called for a binational state in 1948. So this is not a new thing, but talk a bit about the possibility for this vitality today, Nathan.
Well, I think one thing that we’re trying to do in the article is maybe postpone a little bit of that discussion by National State, a One-State, a Confederal State, even a Two-State option. Those things are ones that have various assets and liabilities. What we’re trying to see in the article though is we’re not there yet and we’re not probably going to get into any of those outcomes anytime soon. Where we are right now is in a One-State Reality, there is one state and that state is called Israel that controls the entire mandatory territory of Palestine. It includes both parts of what was going to be partitioned back in 1947, 1948.
And it is not a solution. It is not what you were referring to what somebody like Magnus or the poster you saw in Cuba was talking about. It is one of domination and repression and that’s not a solution. So we’re not going to get to a solution anytime soon. A One-State Solution might be a great one. Speaking for myself, I thought a Two-State Solution was a fine idea and I think we’ll hear from Shibley, but he probably would agree. What we have to do is to stop using the idea that there is a Two-State Solution just around the corner. We’ve got to stop using that idea to obscure the reality of what is right now a deeply entrenched, very unequal and very repressive situation.
Yeah, I echo what Nathan said. I mean, a lot of people misunderstand. We are, as political scientists when we started this, and all four of us come from being supporters of a Two-State solution even before it was popular. But what we have noticed is that as people have been using the promise of two states to distract from an awful reality on the ground in more of a smoke screen to cover up something that has to be dealt with. In fact, the Two-State Solution have become impossible in any foreseeable future at the very same time that you have had an entrenched One-State Reality that is unjust and strategically problematic. And so what we basically set out to do is to define that one reality, to say number one, why it is a One-State Reality. Number two, wherever you’re going to go down in the future and we don’t have a solution.
I can’t speak for all four of us, but I would say that all four of us start with the principle that whatever arrangement you have, it should be one of equality, one of equal rights for both. And to our mind, there are only two real possibilities and somewhere in between, maybe confederation, but it’s either Two-State or One-State, none of that is on the horizon. But what we have noticed is at the moment, the idea that let’s wait for a Two-State has distracted from what has become a lifetime for most people on the ground, particularly Palestinians who are on the receiving end of a very unjust reality that we have. Once you call it a One-State, what we’re calling on people to do is let’s take a look at what now exists. Let’s put aside, a lot of people have been looking at it as if you have a pre 67 Israel, which is a flawed democracy with some discrimination against Arabs but not any worse than many other places, and then you have a temporary occupation that is about to end, then once it ends will all be fine.
And of course, that is not what’s happened because the occupation has become permanent, entrenched institutionally, legally, and nothing looks like it’s on the horizon to change that. And so we are asking people to put on a new pair of glasses to look instead at the entire territory as a single state that controls both pre 1967 Israel and the territories that were occupied in 1967. And once you put on those kind of glasses, then it’s impossible not to reach the conclusion that is something very akin to apartheid. And if that is the reality, then you have to ask the question, where do we start? We have to start with that reality. And then we look at our own government, all four of us are American, and we look at our history and what we’re doing now and what we doing for years, for decades is really enable and entrench this One-State Reality that is unjust and strategically problematic.
And so our point of departure here is to recognize this reality and to say, “No, we don’t want to be enablers. Don’t do it in our name as Americans, because what you’re doing is you are entrenching an apartheid-like One-State Reality and make it an impossible to address by throwing this smoke screen about of a promise of a Two-State Solution that has not been around the corner for decades and it’s not likely to be around the corner for decades.”
Now, I read your article actually twice because I want to make sure I had it all in my head before we sat down together. And when you write about how the 2000 Camp David Accords failed, and I think the line was “where the Two-State solution went to die” and we see where we are at this moment, so where do you think the discussion goes from here? How does it move ahead? You can’t talk about a solution to Israel Palestine without the United States, clearly. Whether people agree or disagree with that politically, it’s not the issue. The issue, the reality is that it’s not going to happen without that. And you see a growing, as I’ve been covering, a growing population of especially younger Jews who are staying enough, and that’s a political influential group that’s growing. But where does it go from here? How did the discussion even begin, both there and here about an alternative solution, about dealing with the reality on the ground and what that might mean? What do you both think about that?
Well, I think at this point it may make more sense to focus on how things get better and how we set things on the right path rather than the ultimate destination. You mentioned seeing a poster in 1968. I wasn’t in Cuba in 1968, but I remember 1968 very clearly. I won’t speak for Shibley, but we are of a generation, I think, that lived and understood the conflict a certain way. And when you talk about younger generation, I think that’s true on all sides, on Israeli side, on the Palestinians side, and actually on American side, American Jewish side and so on. So I think what we have to do is to realize essentially it is probably up to a future generation to find whatever kind of permanent arrangement if we’ll allow Israelis and Palestinians to live together justly. What we have to do in the short term, as Shibley said, is stop exempting this area from international standards about apartheid, about laws of occupation, about human rights.
And that’s essentially what we’re doing. So if we’re going to focus on what the United States should be doing, what the United States should be doing is not trying to sketch out some kind of final solution and them just saying when the party are ready, they’ll call us. What the United States should be doing is saying the same kinds of standards that we apply throughout the world in all kinds of conflicts to all kinds of populations have to apply here.
And when we, for instance, say something like, well, when you talk about international law, that’s really irrelevant, the parties really have to deal with each other and they have to sketch out this Two-State Solution, what we’re really doing is, as Shibley use the term smokescreen, we’re camouflaging what’s going on. So I think the focus really has to do with how do we make things better now? How do we set things on the right track? How do we enable future generations and much less, what does a future just solution look like in detail? Because our generation, and now I’m speaking solely for myself, Shibley may hope to live much longer than I do. I don’t think I’ll be part of the generation that solves this thing.
I’m afraid you might be right. Shibley?
Yeah. If I may add, just basically to think about what we’re recommending here. There are two layers here. One layer is recognizing the reality as it exists, which makes people pass different moral judgements and different policy judgements. We see, for example, that once you look at it through the prism of One-State Reality that is unjust, you looking at it through the prism of a social injustice issue. You look at it, and we see a lot of Americans, for example, in the public opinion polls that I’m doing in the US, the shifting attitudes toward what Israel Palestine are predicated on this shifting assumption increasingly looking at Israel Palestine as an issue of social justice similar to racial issues in America and elsewhere, rather than as a strategic problem that needs to be resolved. And even some of the young evangelicals are looking at it that way instead of looking at it through the prism of biblical prophecy according to our newest polls.
So I think that that’s one thing about the reality and figuring out how are you as a society, it’s not just government. We’re not only talking about governments, we’re talking about individuals, about society, about people who care about human rights, people who care about democracy, the world over, transnational organizations. So we’re not only talking about a government, but secondarily, we’re not taking anything away from the tools available to government in addressing what are obvious violations of international law.
So when we say we want the world to recognize that it is now a semi-permanent One-State Reality, we are not saying that Israel is sovereign over that One-State. We differentiate in our work between sovereignty and statehood. Statehood is about control. Sovereignty is about the outside world recognizing that control. And even if you accept the state control, that is the Israeli state control over that entire territory, it is still not going to be accepted by the international community by the fact that, for example, the settlements remain a violation of international law. That doesn’t change that order.
And so therefore you have two tracks here. You have one track in which you need to hold the state responsible for the same rules that apply in international relations, norms and laws. And you have to also have society and government hold the government responsible for what occurs in the territories that it controls as a single state. And so it’s not like we are basically… What we’re telling our own government is you got to do it on both scores. For example, you can’t be against settlements and then you go and shield Israel from the consequences of violating the international law at the UN when in fact it builds these illegal settlements. And the thing about it is, one of the things that the Two-State language did is that it replaced the term international law. So we say, “Oh, settlements shouldn’t be built because they undermine the prospects of Two-State Solution.”
Well guess what? It has nothing to do with the Two-State Solution. Settlements were wrong even before the Two-State Solution was on the table. And this is a violation of international law. And we got to go back to basics and we got to be consistent internationally to be able to, in fact, particularly for the Biden Administration, which is trying to make the case internationally over its support for Ukraine, it has to be very consistent. But in this particular case, it’s worse than that. It’s not just maintaining norms that are typical in international relations such as the sovereignty norm, but if we’re right about the One-State Reality being akin to apartheid, you’re talking about one of the stronger norms of the 20th century that we need to find a way to uphold.
I have difficulty formulating this. It’s almost as difficult as formulating a solution to this problem. But in the article, you have this quote in here from Itamar Ben-Gvir where he declared that “Gaza should be ours and the Palestinians can go to Saudi Arabia or other places like Iraq or Iran.” So the reality is that you have this extremely right wing fundamentalist government in charge of Israel at the moment. And so let’s take it back to the United States for a moment. How does that conversation happen in our country with this government that we have, election coming up and how you begin to address this and what it is that the United States should be doing, if anything, changing its position, changing the way it approaches this entire situation. I mean, that’s part of what you’re getting to in this piece. That’s a huge piece of this. So where do you think that goes given all this reality and how do you think you get there? Nathan, go ahead.
Yeah. It’s a tough question, and I will confess here, I’m realistic. I think that current Biden Administration just does not want to deal with this. People who deal with this issue are actually pretty well aware of what’s going on, and they wouldn’t necessarily disagree with much of our analysis about where things are right now. But just the idea of this incredible sea change as coming into an election, it’s like, “Let’s not deal with that. Let’s deal with deal with other issues.”
And that’s one reason why I think a little bit of longer term focus may be required. I think the sorts of sea changes in thinking that Shibley was talking about, focusing on rights, focusing on equality, one implication for instance would be that the situation of the population of Gaza, a million people under siege now for really in some ways a couple of decades, that’s a pressing issue. That’s not just a short term security curfew or anything like that. This is an ongoing engineered humanitarian disaster. And talking about issues like that much more placing current restrictions and some of which may have some security justification, many of which do not.
And these are ones I will say, you mentioned Ben-Gvir, certainly the current Israeli government is suggesting the prospect of making things far, far worse. But these problems predated the current Israeli government. So the kind of sea change that we’re talking about in thinking and in prioritizing is one that will, I think, lead to some pretty painful choices. Again, I don’t expect the current Biden Administration to do this, but I suspect that with the sorts of changes, the generational changes that are going on, the changes in public opinion shifts in public opinion that Shibley was talking about, that’ll be the way the debate goes, and politicians are probably going to have to get used to it and start having to address the problem in new ways.
So Shibley, I’m curious how you’re polling or how you see public opinion in this country shifting and what that says about what Nathan was just saying and what might happen next?
Yeah. So first let me just add to what Nathan said-
Oh please, go ahead. Absolutely, yeah.
Basically on this thing that it’s not just Ben-Gvir, right? I mean that’s awful and obviously we see that and that made it real for a lot of people who who’ve been trying to look the other way or in denial. But the reality of it is the pupil in Israel showed 48% of Israelis support the statement that Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel. That’s nearly half. 79% said that Israeli Jews should have privileges over non-Jews in the State of Israel. So this is something that has been happening in society over time. Society have moved to the right and honestly, had it not been for the 20% Arab citizens who also get to vote and have some share of the seats in the Knesset, it would be overwhelmingly a right-wing government in Israel. There’s no question that’s where the Jewish population has gone.
But going back to, number one, where public opinion is in the US and also what the Biden Administration can do. The first with public opinion, there’s no question there’s been a transformation, particularly among Democrats. Less so among Republicans, but definitely among Democrats were increasingly Democrats are tilting toward the Palestinians over Israel. We saw not just my polling, but the Gallup poll recently, that showed for the first time in all their years of polling, Americans sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel by 11 percentage points. We’ve seen that. Also, Americans, I’m not sure that they see Israel the same way that politicians do. In fact, I’m releasing a poll literally today in an article that Brookings Institution is publishing that shows that among those who express opinions about what kind of state Israel is, there is a equal plurality that on the one hand says Israel is a flawed democracy, and the same number of people say it is a state with segregation similar to apartheid.
So that’s all Americans and a plurality of Democrats say that it’s a state with segregation similar to apartheid. So we have something really shifting even at the public level, but with the Administration, while I agree with Nathan that there’s nothing that could be expected that would lead to a solution by the government. There are things that the government can do without much trouble, in all honesty, to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. For example, if in fact our description is right, that what we now has a One-State Reality similar to apartheid, do we really have shared values between the United States and Israel as it now exists? So if not, why are we saying that? Why are we misleading people?
Why aren’t we telling the truth? If in fact a Two-State Solution is not on the horizon, why are we lying that we’re trying to stop a UN resolution in order to save a Two-State Solution, when in fact, in the process we’re enabling the construction of settlements. We’re working overtime to reinforce the status quo instead of change it. So all we’re saying is stop doing it. Not do something new. Stop saying these words. Stop shielding Israel at the UN when in fact it’s violating international law over settlements, for example.
And why are we working overtime to try to bring peace between Arab states and Israel without tying it to addressing the Palestinian issue, divorcing it from the Palestinian issue. We’re working overtime, we’re sending our diplomats, we’re twisting arms, we’re creating incentive. Even the president himself went to Saudi Arabia in part for that purpose. Why? So we are already doing things that actually entrenched the status quo. All we have to is stop doing that. It’s not that we need to do a solution, but stop being part of the problem. That’s the first step to moving forward.
So I’m very curious as to both of your personal political analysis about where you think the future might take this. And none of us are prescient, you know what I mean, but when you look at the end of apartheid in South Africa and the falling of the apartheid regime, you look at the end of segregation in America and what happened in the south and across the United States from the 1960s, neither one ended up in a panacea and the right wing is very powerful in this country, and South Africa is a mess. Let’s put it lightly. So given that though, I’m really interested to hear what you both think about how you think it can proceed to go forward. And you’ve both been in this for a long time and as have I, and I have no answers. I’m not going to ask you to say that you both have answers to this, but how do you see the future unfolding and how can it unfold, given the reality of One-State at the moment, because that’s what it is?
I think that’s a fantastic question and I don’t think I have a fantastic answer. I think different communities are moving in different directions, and let me just make a couple observations.
I don’t offer hope or a panacea, but just some interesting movement. I think one of the interesting things here, and I’m going to speak personally, American Jewish community made almost a deliberate decision in the last quarter, last third of the 20th century, we’re going to reorient American Jewish identity around Israel in terms of pronunciation, in terms of food, in terms of Israel experiences and so forth and so on. And I think that’s in crisis right now where you’ve got a significant part, especially of nonorthodox American Jews essentially saying, “We don’t like where this country is going.” And so it’s a crisis for the American Jewish community that you won’t see at the leadership level, but you’ll see at the grassroots and the younger generational level, and it’s beginning to play out in policies of Hillel towards dealing with BDS and so on across college campuses and so on.
So it’s playing out in an interesting way there. And I don’t know how it will shake out. Among Palestinians, I think there’s a disengagement from the old leadership structure, the PLO. Palestinian Authority doesn’t look to anybody right now like it’s the colonel of a Palestinian state. But where that goes? Do new structures arise? How is it the Palestinians who are divided among all these different West Bank, Gaza, Israel, the Aspirants? Do they have any capability for forming new strategies, new visions?
Again, there’s a new generation that’s toying about with these things on social media, but are they capable of building a sustained movement? I don’t know. And then a final thing just to watch is Shibley said, we’re not just talking about governments, we’re talking about people and individuals. There are social movements. There’s transnational activism in a way that didn’t exist or was much less vital I think, in previous generations. So I can see those are interesting trends to watch that will probably shape how the conflict emerges, but where they lead in the long term, I don’t know.
Shibley, you got your crystal ball in front of you?
Well, it’s a process. None of us really know how this is going to end in all honesty. And we all obviously hope whatever it is, it would be one where you have equality and fairness and human rights respected for both Arabs and Jews. That’s what we all want. We don’t really have a particular aim be beyond that. And obviously one that would be stable over time. I think the idea here though is along the lines that Nathan suggested that what we’re trying to do is shake up the conversation in order for people to make up their minds and create a different momentum that is going to inevitably move this in some direction or another, but hopefully away from the awfulness that now exists and what shape or form it takes, who are going to be the key players in society and in government, who will move it, I don’t know.
But I do know that we, the United States government, have a critical role to play and have played a critical role. There is no way that the settlement building would’ve expanded and occupation would have lasted as long as it did without all the things that the US government provided to shield Israel at the UN and international organizations, to provide the cutting edge technology that enables a regional superiority, that gave the comfort to do what it does on the West Bank, to seek peace treaties between Israel and the Arab states without advancing the end of occupation in the process. Those things would not have happened without the United States. And the entrenchment of that reality as we speak is happening because these things are still ongoing. And we got to stop that.
Well, A, this article is a really good article, and B, I really enjoyed our conversation and hope this is one of many we can have over the coming months as we see how this unfolds, because I think we’re at a very critical juncture. As you wrote in your article, there are all kinds of factions and divides among Israelis, among Palestinians, and across. So the fact is not so simplistic answer. You can see in the reality of people’s ideas and where this is going. So I want to thank you for the work you’re doing, bringing this all to our attention, and I really look forward to seeing what comes next in the work you both are doing. And so I want to thank you both, Nathan Brown and Shibley Telhami for taking your time today to joining us here on the Marc Steiner Show. It’s been a pleasure as always, to talk to you.
Thanks for having us.
Thank you. Appreciate it.
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