THE BLOG
07/06/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The One-State Non-Solution

In what could be described as determinism running amok, Professor John Mearsheimer seemed to be drawing the outline of an Israel/Palestine scenario that is laid with too many big "Ifs"that in his analysis take the form of axioms about U.S. Mideast policy - it's determined by the Israel Lobby - and Israeli politics - they are immobilized by a Zionist "ideological barrier."

I was critical of the bashing of Mearsheimer and his colleague, Stephen Walt in response to their appraisal of the Israel Lobby's role in U.S. foreign policy and rejected the depiction the depiction of their views as "anti-Semitic." Yet I do find myself in strong disagreement with some the policy-oriented conclusions that Mearsheimer had presented during a recent address before the Palestine Center in Washington; and in particular to the following:

Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans - to include many American Jews - Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a "Greater Israel," which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.


Let me emphasize that contrary to the charges made by some pundits, I don't believe that warning that a failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank coupled with changing demographic balance between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land could eventually face Israel with a lose-lose situation (losing either its Jewish identity or its democratic principles). Ironically, many of the points raised by Mearsheimer in his address had been made a few days earlier by Tzvia Greenfield, an respected Israeli philosopher and politician who is both an ardent Zionist and an ultra-Orthodox Jew in a commentary in Haaretz, "Israel's Choice: Make Peace or Disappear."

But I don't buy into Mearsheimer's idee fixe that the Israel Lobby has been the main factor in determining U.S. Mideast policy and the reason why American presidents have failed to embrace a more activist peace-processing and making approach. As I pointed out in another commentary, "The Israel lobby, like the Saudi lobby or the Iraqis who lobbied for U.S. invasion of their country, could be compared to what economists refer to as 'rent seekers,' that is interest groups who profit from government policies, in this case U.S. interventionist policies in the Middle East." Powerful lobbies can only operate and thrive in the context of existing consensus in Washington over the U.S. national interest. When that consensus changes, any lobby, even the most powerful one, loses its influence and its relevance. Hence, "if and when Bush or another U.S. president decides to change policies in the Middle East based on a calculation of American interests - for example, by launching an opening to Iran - even the most powerful lobby in Washington will not be able to prevent him or her from doing that."

I also reject Mearsheimer's stipulation that there is some kind of "ideological barrier" that would make it impossible for any Israeli politician to agree to Israelis withdrawal from parts of "Mandatory Palestine." Labor governments were ready to negotiate the Jordanian Option (which would have required Israeli recognition of Jordanian sovereignty over most of the West Bank (and Gaza). And there exists a solid national consensus in Israel today in support for the two-state solution in Israel today.

I do agree with Mearsheimer that IF the Gaza and the West Bank were to "be incorporated into a 'Greater Israel,'" then the chances that an Israeli-Jewish government would grant full citizenship, including the right to vote in national elections to the Knesset) to the residents of these territories are close to zero. But then, I don't believe that any Israeli government is going to incorporate the West Bank and Gaza into Israel sooner or later.

Under Mearsheimer's scenario, Israel will try to regain full control of the Gaza Strip and re-establish Jewish settlements there. Unlikely. It is more likely that IF any Israeli government concludes that Mearsheimer is right and that the two-state solution is "a fantasy," it will probably "do a Gaza" in the West Bank sooner or later - incorporating the Jewish settlements in the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) and a few strategic outposts into Israel while withdrawing from most of the large Arab populated areas with a security fence separating Israel and the Arab population of Gaza and the West Bank. And IF that happens, a more realist scenario than Mearsheimer's - then Egypt and Jordan may end-up controlling respectively the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Moreover, Mearsheimer's notion of "a democratic bi-national state dominated by its Palestinian citizens" that would supposedly evolve in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River -- IF his earlier predictions would come to pass - is based on not very realist assumptions. Consider the disappearance of the multinational Soviet Union, the implosion of Yugoslavia, a divorce between Czechs and Slovaks, the disintegration of Indonesia, and the tensions created by the French-separatist movement in Quebec (not to mention the rise of secessionist and nationalist movements elsewhere--Basques in Spain, Kurds in Iraq, Chechens in Russia, Kosovars in Serbia, Walloons and Flemish in Belgium) - and we're just talking about Europe here. Yet Jews and Arabs - two people with a lot of "issues" that have to do with --- history, religion, ethnicity, anti-Semitism, colonialism, the Holocaust, the Crusades, etc. etc. etc. -- will be ready to live together side-by-side in a "democratic bi-national state." (see my critique of the One-State Solution here).

Now that is a fantasy that I would not expect to hear from any Realpolitik thinker. It sounds more like the fantasy that neoconservatives and a few liberal internationalists that envisioned about how Iraqi-Sunnis and Iraqi-Shiites (who share the Arab identity) and Iraqi-Arabs and Iraqi-Kurds (who share the same Muslim religion) would be living together happily ever after in a democratic and liberal Mesopotamia.

In fact, a "democratic bi-national state dominated by its Palestinian citizens" with a large Jewish minority will be an Arab State, a Greater Palestine, a mirror image of a Greater Israel -- which is by definition a Zionist State with a large Arab minority. These political marriage proposals are going to be dismissed by the respective leaderships and publics on both sides of the conflict that recognize that accepting them - Jews invited to live in Greater Palestine; Arabs asked to join Greater Israel -- would amount to raising the white flag. It just ain't going to happen.

Indeed, this is where the South Africa analogy breaks down, a point that should be appreciated by any expert in the study of power politics. The Afrikaners had lost the war over the control of South Africa and accepted their defeat. In the case of the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians neither side is going to either win the war or raise the white flag anytime soon. It does sounds depressing. But both sides seem to be willing to pay the enormous costs involved in defending what they perceive to be their existential values and core interests and are counting on the support of powerful regional and global players.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that either a Greater Palestine or a Great Israel will emerge tomorrow. IF that happens, the Jews in Greater Palestine will end-up fighting for independence -- which is exactly what the Arabs in Greater Israel are and will be doing until they win their independence, which bring us ...oops... back to square one: The need to divide the territory between two rival national communities: Israel and Palestine.

The right analogy here is not South Africa but the wars of succession in the former Yugoslavia that concluded with very messy territorial compromises imposed by outside powers. One could debate whether it is in the interest of the United States to pursue a similar approach in Israel/Palestine and/or whether Washington will have the power and the will to do that. In fact, there hasn't been a U.S. led peace process to resolve the conflicts in Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, or Kashmir, and the reason had nothing to do with the power of the Greek, Armenian or Indian lobbies. Ironically, if Obama decides to invest the necessary time and resources in trying to reach Israeli-Palestinian peace, he would be helping secure Israel's long-term interests even more than he would be protecting U.S. strategic goals.