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The Return of Another Bad Idea — the Two-State Solution

The most enduring myth of America’s Middle East diplomats


tudents of American Mideast diplomacy will be quickly be struck by the number of doctrines that have persisted long past their “sell by” dates and after having been refuted by events.

For decades, it was a fundamental tenet of the State Department that the Arab-Israeli conflict lay at the heart of the failure to thrive of virtually every Muslim regime, as if Muslim leaders deliberately kept their countries backward and unfree to spite Israel. And then came the Arab Spring of 2010.

As Jackson Diehl, deputy editor of the Washington Post editorial page, wrote in late March 2011, “A reasonable person might conclude from the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, et al., that the Middle East’s deepest problems have nothing to do with Israel and that the Obama administration’s almost obsessive focus on trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian settlement in its first two years was misplaced. But Obama isn’t one of those persons.”

Another article of faith of American policymakers was that no Arab country would make peace with Israel absent resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But then came Anwar Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem, followed by the 1978 Camp David Accords. Forty years later came the Abraham Accords between Israel and three Arab states.

And Saudi Arabia was widely seen as likely to join the Abraham Accords prior to October 7, despite the absence of a Palestinian state. Indeed, that prospect is thought by many to have lain behind Hamas’s October 7 attack, orchestrated by Iran.

Yet at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confidently asserted that Saudi Arabia would never join the Abraham Accords absent a clear pathway to Palestinian statehood. In that they may be right, but only because their public pronouncements made it impossible for the Saudis to move forward with Israel. Diplomatic relations with Israel, however, would not be an act of largesse by the Saudis toward Israel, but rather a calculated strategic decision that Israel is their best possible ally against Iran and an assessment of the economic advantages of partnering with the more advanced Israeli economy.

THAT BRINGS US to perhaps the most enduring myth of America’s Middle East diplomats — to wit, that it should be possible for men of good will to sit down with a map and pens and divide up the Land between Palestinians and Israelis to create the so-called two-state solution.

On its face, post-October 7 seems like an odd time to revive that particular fantasy. After all, as former Israeli national security advisor Giora Eiland points out, the Gaza enclave was in all but name the first Palestinian state. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it did so entirely. And how did that work out?

Had the Palestinian Authority in 2005, or Hamas, which seized power from the PA in 2007, wanted to do so, they could have demonstrated the Palestinians’ state-building capabilities. But that is not exactly what happened.

Immediately after the Israeli expulsion of the last Jewish family from Gaza, the local population gutted the lucrative hothouses purchased on their behalf by a group of philanthropists (mostly Jewish) from the expelled Jewish population. The Palestinian state in Gaza under Hamas rule has shown little concern for the well-being of its citizens, preferring to leave responsibility for them to UNRWA.

And it has siphoned off billions of dollars of international aid and directed it not toward bettering the lives of Gazans but to building an elaborate system of tunnels under Gaza, some as deep as 150 meters, and wide enough to drive a truck through, with close to 6,000 hatchways emerging into public buildings — schools, hospitals, and mosques — and private residences. The total length of those tunnels, now estimated to be at least 350 miles, greatly exceeds that of the London Underground, even though Gaza is narrow and only 25 miles in length, and London is one the world’s largest cities in land area.

In the words of the New York Times’ Bret Stephens, Hamas turned Gaza into a military fortress for the sole purpose of attacking Israel. And attack it did. Between 2005 and last October 7, Israel was forced to launch at least six separate operations to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli civilians.

That history culminated on October 7, with Hamas’s invasion of Israel, resulting in 1,200 murdered; hundreds of women brutalized, mutilated, and killed; entire families burned to death or tortured in the most sadistic fashion imaginable; and more than 240 taken hostage back to Gaza to be jeered by delirious crowds. Not exactly a compelling argument for a Palestinian state on Israel’s borders.

President Isaac Herzog spoke for the entire nation of Israel at Davos when he told the assembled grandees, “Israelis have lost faith in the peace process because they see that terror is glorified by our neighbors.... [F]or the vast majority of Israelis right now, talking about a two-state solution — while the hostages are still being held, while Israel is fighting on various fronts, and while Palestinian polls are giving Hamas a staggering amount of support in the West Bank — is just a pipe dream.”

YET THERE WAS US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan telling the same WEF audience that “the pieces are all there” to put together a comprehensive Middle East peace, “not years down the road, but in the near term if all of us pull together and make bold decisions.” That comprehensive peace depends on a clear pathway to a Palestinian state, he argued.

Secretary of State Blinken even went so far at the WEF as to place the blame on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for not having done enough to prepare his people for the profound changes that must come. He acknowledged that in the past it was Palestinian leaders, most prominently Yasser Arafat, who had stymied efforts to create a Palestinian state. But now, he told Thomas Friedman, the onus is on Netanyahu.

Who precisely are those Palestinian leaders who have prepared their people for peace? Presumably, Blinken does not mean Yahya Sinwar, the architect of the October 7 invasion of Israel. Nor does he mean Mahmoud Abbas, now in his 18th year of a four-year term as head of the Palestinian Authority, who has yet to condemn Hamas’s atrocities on October 7.

Far from being prepared for peace, every poll of Palestinians living under PA rule rates their support for Hamas’s October 7 atrocities even higher than that of Gaza residents. A December 13 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that 85 percent of West Bank Palestinians supported Hamas’s October 7 attacks. Another poll of Palestinians by Arab World for Research and Development found the same thing. When asked what is the best way of achieving Palestinian goals, a comfortable majority responded “armed struggle” — i.e., terrorism.

On his first visit to Washington, D.C., in the new Obama administration in 2009, Abbas shocked the editorial board of the Washington Post by telling them that he had no intention of negotiating with the Israelis and would rely instead on American pressure on Israel. What has changed since then? Has Abbas, for instance, ordered changes in the Palestinian school curriculum, which whips Palestinian children into frenzies of hate against Israel and fills them with dreams of a Mideast where Israel has been wiped off the map?

Here’s how Lawrence Haas, senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, describes the Palestinian Authority’s preparation of its people for peace in the current issue of the National Interest: “Day to day, Palestinians are indoctrinated at school, in mosques, on TV, and on social media to hate Jews and reject Israel’s legitimacy, virtually guaranteeing that they’ll oppose the notion of two states ‘living side by side in peace.’

“The PA continues to describe Palestinian terrorists who lose their lives as ‘martyrs’ and portray them as innocent youth who are gunned down for no reason by Israeli forces. It also continues to pay monthly stipends to families of dead or jailed terrorists — the more murderous the attack, the higher the stipends. Among its latest libels, the PA has said Israel is stealing organs from dead Palestinians in Gaza and claimed the Talmud permits cutting open pregnant Palestinian women and stealing their fetuses. At least eleven Palestinian schools, eight of them run by the PA, celebrated October 7....”

In short, pace Blinken, nothing has changed since Yasser Arafat walked away from Camp David in 2000, without even making a counter-proposal to Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state; or since Mahmoud Abbas did the same in response to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of Palestinian statehood in 2008. Both recognized that they would have become “dead men walking” had they recognized Israel, even if they had gained a state by doing so.

Senior Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, head of Hamas’s political bureau, spoke for both Hamas and the PA leadership when he said recently, “We reject this notion of a two-state solution, as Palestinians would have to recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist entity.”

THUS, THE ONLY PIECE that has arguably fallen into place, in Sullivan’s phraseology, is that the Americans now think that they have the leverage to force upon Israel acceptance of a two-state solution with a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority because of Israel’s need for American armaments to finish the dismantling of Hamas.

That will not happen. About the only subject upon which Prime Minister Netanyahu can speak confidently for an Israeli consensus is rejection of a two-state solution. Four-fifths of Israelis, including Israeli Arabs, see no prospects of peace with the Palestinians, and 88 percent have no trust in a Palestinian leadership that they view as committed to Israel’s destruction. Even 71 percent of those who describe themselves as left-wing currently do not see any prospects for peace. Remember, the settlements around Gaza that bore the brunt of the October 7 attacks were among the most left-wing in the country.

That has not stopped the Biden administration, however, from continuing its efforts to undermine Netanyahu’s government — a near constant of Democratic administrations going back to the Clinton years. News stories of President Biden’s demands that Israel begin to wind down its Gaza campaign and of his disillusionment with Netanyahu are appearing with ever-increasing frequency.

Much of that criticism of Netanyahu is dictated by American domestic politics. Democrats fear that the administration’s support for Israel since October 7 is costing the party the support of younger progressive voters and the large Palestinian-American population in Michigan, a key battleground state.

Thus, 15 Jewish Democratic congressmen recently endorsed the Biden administration’s push for a Palestinian state.

“A future peace requires a very real pathway for Palestinians to realize their own peaceful aspirations for a Palestinian state,” said Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois, without providing any evidence of those “peaceful aspirations.”

And 49 out of 51 Democratic senators signed on to an amendment introduced by Jewish senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii to a national security bill before the Senate, which includes billions of dollars in military funding for Israel. That amendment specifies that it is US policy to support a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “resulting in two states living side by side in peace.”

That amendment could have described the position of every American administration over the last three decades, with the exception of the Trump years. And Schatz clarified that he would not use a failure to vote on his amendment to hold up aid to Israel. In short, it is primarily for political consumption.

The issue of who will govern Gaza at war’s end is a legitimate one, and one that America and Israel should be discussing privately. But it is also largely premature until Hamas is ousted entirely. Without knowing if, when, or how that will happen, it is almost impossible to speak of the postwar landscape.

Some solutions are clearly off the table — e.g., UN peacekeepers. Under the watchful eye of UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has amassed an arsenal of 150,000 rockets and missiles directed at Israel. And there is little enthusiasm in Israel for reoccupying Gaza beyond security strips along the border. But about what might work to ensure that Gaza does not become a launching pad for future October 7s, there are few good ideas so far.

Until there are, it is counterproductive for the Biden administration to publicly criticize Israel or promote purely fanciful solutions. As Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, wrote last week, by doing so, the administration only bolsters the view of Iran and its allies in the region that America lacks staying power and commitment to Israel’s security. Doing so promotes neither American nor Israeli interests.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 997. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com)

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