Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doesn't Solve Anything--But Pain

More than a dozen friends and acquaintances have asked me to respond to the Agha-Malley oped in the New York Times, rather unfortunately titled "The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything"--a follow-up, it seemed to me, to their rather bleak, and not entirely conclusive article in the New York Review last June.

Perhaps I am distracted by the need to finish painting my deck, but I don't really see why the article has raised so many anxieties. I'm not at all sure what it adds. The argument, at bottom, is that the Palestinians and Israelis each have "core" grievances, the former dispossession, the latter, existential terror, and that when seen as ideological expressions of their respective national movements, these explain why the two sides are talking past each other. "The first step will be to recognize that in the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians, the fundamental question is not about the details of an apparently practical solution. It is an existential struggle between two worldviews."

Really. A struggle between worldviews. Therefore, peace is more or less impossible, or at least the two-state solution is, because one worldview says a "Jewish state" contradicts the pain of the Naqba, and the other worldview says a Palestinian state contradicts Zionism's essential fairness--and also means accepting people who refuse to have the pain of the Naqba contradicted, and so forth. Put Ismail Haniya and Menachem Begin in the room and this is what you get. Obama had better steer clear.

I have learned much from Malley and Agha, but not this time. In fact, the entire framing strikes me as a little childish. Anyone who has--how would Dr. Phil put it?--"moved on" has learned that worldviews go on forever, but people nevertheless look for ways to improve their lives, or prevent their loved one's suffering, or both. If divorcing couples had to agree on the narrative of their marriage's dissolution before agreeing on custody arrangements, what child would survive the fight?

Palestinians hungry to develop their economy (about which, more in the October Harper's)know very well that making peace with Israelis on reciprocal terms, consistent with international law, is a promise they can make to their children. Most Israelis, still, feel similar things. Yes, the two-state solution solves nothing, or nothing finally. That's what makes it the solution for grown-ups.

The authors conclude: "As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel."

I agree, as any reader of my blog or book knows, that we need to refine our definition of a democratic Israel at peace. But then, why is the challenge any less for a democratic Palestine? I suspect this is a sly effort to suggest that, within the 1967 border, we need a bi-national state, not a state like Israel at all. If the authors believe this, they should have the guts to say it. For my part, a Hebrew republic called Israel will do nicely. Anyway, any effort at dismantling Israel will bring, not a one-state solution, but Bosnia.