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925 Silver Collection

Revival of the Two State Solution / Bill Lasarow

The single most hopeful ray of light emerging out of the Israel-Hamas war is the reemergence of the Two State Solution. I am using caps deliberately, and not just to establish a “TSS” shorthand. The last 30 years have demonstrated why it was always Israel’s best hope for long term survival. Its predicate was and remains that an affluent, thriving neighborhood is the best way to preserve and expand domestic tranquility. Military force, even with the capacity to project it regionally, will ultimately and inevitably lead to the violent destruction of Israel if it is not wielded strictly in self-defense. Only the context of a TSS designed to bring economic growth and stability to the new state while bringing economic and political benefits to Israel will Israel’s long-term survival be possible. More so if that growth in informed by a strategy of alliance building and interdependence.

The Oslo handshake, (left to right) Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton, PLO Chairman
Yasser Arafat confirm the Oslo Accords with a handshake on September 13, 1993 at the White House.

In the long term a peace enforced by military dominance is no peace at all. The right to self-defense is legitimate, but to survive in the Middle East, especially, the threat of military aggression as the means to stability may be a short-term winner, but it courts long term extinction. No other people on earth are better qualified to grasp this simple truth, and to set the example, than the Jewish people. Except that it is not working out that way, at least not right now.

Among many historical examples of the ebb and flow of political power and its deployment of constructive cooperation versus coercive force, the latter is far more common and the central reason that great (relatively speaking) civilizations of the past have declined and collapsed. There is a broad pattern to this, usually over a relatively short period of time and within what we would regard as small regions. The size and longevity of the Roman, Muslim, and Chinese empires were the exceptions, but the blueprint is consistent. We must also take into account that our Earthly civilization is not 10,000 years old. Far from being at the center of the cosmos, as was the common wisdom until very recently, we remain entrenched in barbarism. Global civilization has arisen overnight (in those terms); it is a flash in the pan. What will our culture, even our physiology, look like in a million years? The dinosaurs ruled for about 165 million years. If there is a space faring culture observing us, it is probably keeping its distance, waiting for yet another species (Homo sapiens) to either prove its staying power or self-destruct.

Yigal Tumarkin, “Monument to the Holocaust and Revival,” Rabin Square (formerly Kings of Israel Square),
Tel Aviv, 1974. Photo courtesy of Steven Braman.

As Jews we are often viewed with suspicion because of the simple-minded naivety that our historical continuity is somehow “ancient,” and a historical accident. That it has remained on the world stage in spite of numerous efforts to bring it to an end is exceptional. The Old Testament and the diaspora explain much of this. Together they provided the foundation of a cultural identity and a reason to maintain it through even the most trying of times. Groping for an explanation of their own failures, kings and tyrants have turned to fantasies of the Jews, along with other minority groups, to direct violent impulses designed to secure and maintain power, power in the Machiavellian sense. Until the advent of American democracy these were the most reliable platforms of political organization. At the same time, the medieval system has proven to be merely a somewhat more sustainable version of the yet more primitive tribal organizations that occasionally burst forth under a particular warlord only to fade shortly after that person departed the scene.

In a very real sense the establishment of the modern state of Israel, a direct result of the defeat of Nazi Germany, was the worst thing that could have happened to the Jewish people. Suddenly this state we were gifted as part of the post-War order, and thanks to the motivating power of Zionism from within, we had more to lose than since the golden age of Saul, David, and Solomon.

Emily Jacir, “Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages which were Destroyed, Depopulated and Occupied by Israel in 1948,” 2001, refugee tent, embroidery thread, mixed media, and a record book, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens.

The illusion of permanence has always followed this general pattern: a period of ascendancy accompanied by the force of military power insulates a period of cultural flowering. As long as competing states know that they will lose in a direct conflict, the dominant state is “safe.” The longer that superiority is maintained the deeper this illusion becomes; the rank and file comes to regard the state’s success as their own, as the natural order, as an entitlement. Just as this mentality has settled in far too deeply here at home, so it also has in Israel. Enemies, closely and distant, survive and persist years of crushing overlordship and poverty. And so we get Hamas, and Hamas (along with Hezbollah) becomes more dedicated to violence, and is better armed to cause damage. There eventually comes a day of reckoning that tends to be unpleasant for everyone. October 7th is probably not that day for reckoning. Not as long as the Israeli mission remains one of domination by force of arms and political repression.

And so we are witnessing nothing more than the current cycle in a larger, longer Israeli-Hamas war. If the Israeli people persist in following the advice of the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu, even assuming Hamas is “crushed” for now, even if the Gaza Strip is subdued and the network of underground tunnels destroyed, the ultimate reckoning will only be put off. The twenty years between the intifadas of the early years of this century and Hamas’ atrocity perfectly fit this pattern. As long as their forceful grip over the Palestinians was maintained and settler expansion continued apace, the illusion of peace and security took hold as an assumption and felt, to so many kibbutzim, like a right. The towns positioned mere minutes away from the Gaza Strip enjoyed a lifestyle nearly identical to a leafy American suburb. But they never really were the same. They were a daily reminder to the nearby Palestinians of their inferior status.

Michal Rovner, “The Direction,” 2000, Digital print on canvas, 42 1/2 x 48 1/2”. Courtesy of Hezi Cohen Gallery, Tel Aviv.

Return to the mid-1990s if you would, and recall (or read up on) the Oslo accords, both its process and its terms. Taking the TSS as the central political goal it actually began the process of economic prosperity for Palestinians. Jewish and Arab organizations, separately and collaboratively, began to form. Economic activity between Israel and the Palestinian state-to-be accelerated. Then two things happened. A radicalized ultra-Orthodox extremist assassinated Yitzak Rabin. Mr. Amir, the assassin, may have acted on his own initiative, but he was the product of right-wing nationalists who, from their home in the Likud Party, regarded the Oslo Accords as a capitulation to Israel’s enemies. Likud’s leadership, egged on by their leader, the selfsame Mr. Netanyahu, led protests in which “death to Rabin” became their public chant of choice. Instead of then Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Perez riding the expected wave of sympathy and outrage over the assassination to victory in the 1996 election, it was the provocateur Netanyahu who won, and who has remained the head of state, to the shame of the Israeli people, for most of the 27 years since. Mr. Amir has expressed his satisfaction with a job well done, the price of his life in prison having resulted in a massive return on investment. But the bullet that killed Rabin was a bullet that may well destroy the modern state of Israel. That trajectory is what we are seeing played out.

Rather than patiently building a constructive partnership with the Palestinians through the establishment of the second state, through trade and investment, and through cultural exchange, the choice of the Israeli people has been to emulate so many failed states and empires of the past: security achieved through the use of force and coercion that is informed by bigotry and hate.

Khaled Hourani, “Nap 2,” 2022, acrylic on canvas, 42 9/10 x 33 12”. Courtesy of Zawyeh Gallery, Ramallah, Dubai.

Having been the victim of exactly this formula both recently and historically, it has been my lifelong hope that the Jewish people would lead the world into a new era of collaboration and reconciliation, of demonstrating the vast advantages of constructive disagreement rooted in mutual respect for one’s adversaries. The great advantage since 1948 was that the U.S. stood by as a guarantor and as a negotiating partner. But now the hubris and lax of the Netanyahu government has cast a bright light on the long national suicide march on which he has led Israel, not to the Promised Land but visibly within sight of the dustbin of history.

That November day on which President Biden observed that the TSS not only must be revived, but represents the singular path out of the morass of the Israeli right’s suicidal hatred and violence was the first day of hope that the Israeli people will give themselves a second chance. Let his November 14th press conference mark that turning point and begin the relegation of Mr. Netanyahu, his government, and his right-wing cronies to the infamy that they so richly deserve. May there be a peaceful transition of power. That must be achieved without resort to assassination, but at the ballot box.

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