OpinionMiddle East

The ‘depraved indifference’ of the two-state paradigm

In light of the grim precedents provided by previous land-for-peace experiments, together with the no less grim trends in much of Arab society in general and Palestinian society in particular, continued insistence on this fatally flawed formula is both gravely irrational and grossly irresponsible.

Palestinians cross the Kalandia checkpoint on their way into Jerusalem June 10, 2016. Credit: Flash90.
Palestinians cross the Kalandia checkpoint on their way into Jerusalem June 10, 2016. Credit: Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

Ladies and gentlemen, when the Palestinians say “two states” they do not mean what we mean. — Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, October 2018

With the impending public announcement of the enigmatic “deal of the century,” pledged by the Trump administration, rumors are swirling throughout the Middle East and beyond as to what, in fact, its real nature might be. This, together with the dramatic rise in the electoral prospects of the newly formed Blue and White alliance between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, has once again raised the ominous specter of the return of the two-state principle.

Indeed, although no authoritative preview of the detailed content of the “deal” has been provided by the White House, the little that has been released referred to it as including significant Israeli concessions. Moreover, the leaders of the Blue and White Party have repeatedly referred to their approval of the principles of the INSS (Institute for National Security Studies) plan for unilateral concessions in Judea-Samaria and the throttling of all Jewish communities beyond the pre-1967 Green Line.

Significantly, the INSS plan explicitly defines the “preservation of the two-state option” as its “strategic purpose.” And this despite the fact that in presenting the plan at its public launch in October 2018, the head of INSS, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, conceded that the attempt to implement the two-state formula has failed disastrously in the past, is unfeasible in the present, and whose implementation in the future is dangerous.

Indeed, he warned his audience that the two state prescription is “detached from reality,” recounting that “the attempt to implement the two state solution—with the Oslo Accords (1993), the Camp David Summit (2000), the Annapolis process (2008), the Kerry initiative (2014)—has failed completely, and has led [only] to impasse and bloodshed.”

Yadlin proceeded to lay out the reasons for his dismal assessment: “The internal Palestinian divide between Gaza and Ramallah, Palestinian political weakness, and above all, the ideological extremism of the Palestinians, make any prospect of signing a comprehensive agreement unrealistic.”

Failed in past, unfeasible in present, dangerous in future

Echoing precisely what two-state opponents have been insisting on for decades, he pronounced categorically: “There is no one to agree with, there is nothing to agree on, and the implementation [of any two-state initiative] is dangerous.” 

But then, astonishingly, rather than arrive at the rational conclusion that the pursuit of the two-state objective be abandoned and alternative approaches be explored, he did precisely the opposite.

He urged that Israel should undertake a policy, set out in the INSS “plan,” that assumes that there is—or rather, that there might be—someone to agree with and something to agree on at some unspecified future date and as a result of some unspecified process that would somehow overcome his previously stipulated obstacles of “Palestinian divisiveness, political weakness and ideological extremism.”

Yadlin’s patently perverse and paradoxical position on the two-state doctrine, or rather dogma, underscores precisely why it must be renounced unequivocally and irrevocably.

Indeed, its deadly detriments are so glaringly apparent that it is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile calls for a Palestinian state with genuine concern for the well-being of the Jewish nation-state.

Surely then, when even its most avid adherents are compelled to put it on open-ended life support with only the most tenuous and nebulous arguments to justify its contrived preservation—the time to admit irredeemable failure has arrived—and to move on to alternative paradigms to approach the Palestinian predicament.

Two-statism: Immoral, irrational and irresponsible

Indeed, the two-state endeavor is demonstrably immoral, irrational, and incompatible with the long-term existence of Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

It is immoral because it will create realities that are the absolute negation of the lofty values invoked for its implementation.

It is irrational because it will generate the precise perils it was designed to prevent.

It is incompatible with Israel’s long-term existence as the Jewish nation-state because it will almost inevitably culminate in a mega-Gaza on the outskirts of the greater Tel Aviv area.

Why the two-state paradigm is immoral
Typically (indeed, almost invariably), two-state proponents lay claim to the moral high ground, invoking lofty liberal values for their political credo, while impugning their ideological opponents’ ethical credentials for opposing it.

However, given the socio-cultural conditions in virtually all Arab countries, and the precedents set in Palestinian-administered territories evacuated by Israel, the inevitable outcome of the two-state formula is not difficult to foresee. Indeed, there is little reason to believe (and certainly, two-state proponents have never provided anything approaching a persuasive one) that any prospective Palestinian state, established on any territory Israel evacuated, will quickly become anything but yet another homophobic, misogynistic Muslim-majority tyranny.

So why on earth then would anyone who allegedly subscribes to values of gender equality, tolerance of sexual preferences and political pluralism endorse any policy that would almost certainly obviate the ethical tenets they purport to cherish? On what basis could advocating for the establishment of such an entity be considered a valid claim for the moral high ground, or indeed, for any moral merit whatsoever?

Why the two-state paradigm is irrational

But it is not only in terms of moral outcomes that the two-state paradigm is a perversely self-obstructive endeavor. The same is true for the practical outcomes that it will almost certainly precipitate.

It’s hard to say what has to happen before it is recognized that the land-for-peace doctrine, from which the two-state concept is derived, is a perilously counterproductive endeavor, as it has proven in every instance it was attempted—not only in the Arab-Israeli context, but whenever an effort was made to appease tyranny with political concessions and territorial withdrawals.

For whenever that unfortunate formula has been applied, rather than result in peace, it has—as INSS’s Yadlin conceded—produced increased violence and bloodshed. Every time territory has been relinquished to Arab control, that territory has, sooner or later—usually, sooner rather than later—become a platform for launching lethal attacks against Israel: almost immediately in Gaza, within months in Judea and Samaria, within years in South Lebanon and after several decades in Sinai, which is now descending into the depths of depravity and unspeakable brutality with no good options on the horizon.

In light of the grim precedents provided by previous land-for-peace experiments, together with the no less grim trends in much of Arab society in general and Palestinian society in particular, continued insistence on this fatally flawed formula is both gravely irrational and grossly irresponsible.

Why the two-state paradigm is irresponsible

Accordingly, apart from wishful thinking, dangerously detached from any prevailing (or foreseeable) reality, stubborn adherence to the two-state dogma has no value, neither in terms of its moral merits nor its political pragmatism.

Worse yet, the pursuit of it is totally incompatible with Israel’s long-term existence.

To grasp the fundamental validity of this seemingly far-reaching statement, it is necessary to recognize that today, with the changing nature of Arab enmity, the major existential challenge to Israel’s existence as the Jewish nation-state is no longer fending off invasion, but resisting attrition.

Nowhere was this more starkly evident than in the 2014 “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza, where continued bombardment resulted in the evacuation of entire Jewish communities in Israel’s south.

Without compelling evidence to the contrary, there is little reason to believe and certainly to adopt as a working assumption that the realities in the south will not be repeated on Israel’s eastern border with several chilling differences.

The most plausible outcome of an Israeli evacuation of Judea-Samaria is the emergence of a mega-Gaza on the very outskirts of the greater Tel Aviv area and other major urban centers in the heavily populated coastal plain. Indeed, just as in Gaza, once Israel evacuates the area, there is no way it can determine who will rule it—certainly, not for any length of time.

But unlike Gaza, which has a border of around 50 kilometers and no topographical command of adjacent territory inside the pre-1967 frontiers, the situation in Judea and Samaria would, to understate the case, be alarmingly different.

The ‘depraved indifference’ of the two-state paradigm

Any Arab entity set up there would have a front abutting Israel’s most populous area, of about 500 kilometers and total topographical superiority more than 80 percent of the country’s civilian population, vital infrastructure systems and 80 percent of its commercial activity.

All of these will be in range of weapons used against Israel from territory evacuated and transferred to Arab control. Accordingly, this grim caveat cannot be dismissed as “right-wing scaremongering” for it is merely the empirical precedent.

Any force deployed in these areas, whether regular or renegade, could, with cheap and readily available weapons, disrupt at will, any socio-economic routine in Israel’s coastal megalopolis, turning the popular tourist city of Netanya into a Sderot-by-the-sea, and making the attrition in daily life increasingly, perhaps unbearably, onerous.

Of course, no-one can discount the likelihood that if Israel were to evacuate Judea-Samaria, it would fall into the hands of Hamas-like elements, or worse. At the very least, such an outcome is highly plausible. Indeed, the only way to ensure that what happened in Gaza does not happen in Judea-Samaria is for Israel to retain control of this territory – thereby obviating implementation of the two-state formula and the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Surely then, given the grave (indeed, existential) risks inherent in the two-state paradigm, considerably heightened by the precarious position of the current regime in neighboring Jordan, threatened, as it is, by ever-ascendant Islamist elements, would it not be eminently reasonable to consider further advocacy of this perilous prescription as “reckless endangerment,” even “depraved indifference”?

The two-state paradigm: The imperative to say ‘No’

Accordingly, with the catastrophic consequences of continued insistence on the quest for a two-state resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict an ever more ominous likelihood, a determined search for plausible and durable alternatives—more moral, more rational and more compatible with the survival of the Jewish nation-state—is now an urgent imperative.

This is the unequivocal position that the Israeli government must convey to the purveyors of the Trump “deal of the century.” This is the unequivocal message that the Israeli electorate must convey to the peddlers of the two-state formula, whether post-dated in the guise of “separation” or not, in the upcoming elections.

For when it comes to this immoral, irrational and irresponsible ongoing paradigm, the time to say “no”—resounding, resolutely and irreversibly—has come.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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