A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Is a Two-State Solution Still Possible?
By David Corn December 5, 2023
Palestinians walk through the destruction in Gaza City on November 24, 2023. Mohammed Hajjar/AP
Throughout the horrific Hamas-Israel war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reiterated that pursuit of the two-state solution is the best path forward once the fighting concludes. In theory, yes. In reality, it seems that the goal of a fully sovereign Palestine existing next to Israel has become more distant. For the two-state solution to work, both sides must want it (at least, a majority or significant plurality on each side). Yet within Israel—where there has long been fierce right-wing opposition to this aim—the vicious massacre of October 7 has prompted centrist and liberal Israelis to wonder if they can live safely next to a Palestinian state. And in the Palestinian territories, the war has increased popular support for Hamas, which explicitly vows to annihilate Israel.
After the horrors of 10/7 and those of the Israeli counterstrikes, how do these two peoples get on the track to neighborly co-existence? Especially when there is no effective leadership for the Palestinians that advocates this endgame—the Palestinian Authority is widely derided as corrupt and feckless—and when Israel’s far-right, which helps keep Benjamin Netanyahu in power, is adamantly opposed to the two-state solution and now even inflames the fundamental conflict by using the war in Gaza as cover to intensify its attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. In the past two decades, Netanyahu and his political comrades have purposefully made a two-state solution more difficult by increasing Jewish settlements on the West Bank. And before Hamas’ assault on Israel, polling in Israel showed a general decline in support for a two-state solution.
It sounds good to say we must get past the war and move toward a political resolution that finally settles the blood feud between Israel and the Palestinians. But the level of fear and hatred has heightened on each side. And it will further increase (certainly among Palestinians) as the Israeli bomb strikes and ground assault continue to destroy Gaza and kill, injure, and displace large numbers of civilians. Whenever this war concludes—French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday that it would take Israel 10 years to achieve the “total destruction of Hamas,” if that remains its goal—there will likely be a need for a long cooling-off period before Israelis and Palestinians can start to work out a two-state solution, which would have to include territorial concessions on the part of Israel. The United States, European nations, and Arab states now ought to be discussing what must occur during such an interregnum, including the reconstruction of Gaza (and the financing for this). That might be more important at this moment than waving the flag of a possible two-state solution. After all, how can the stage be set for a political negotiation after all this death, destruction, and animosity?
But let’s assume such a point can be reached. Is there any reason to believe another serious stab at a two-state solution can succeed? In the last six months of his presidency, President Bill Clinton took a swing at this. He hosted a summit at Camp David in July 2000 with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But it fell far short of an agreement. Then, in the final weeks of his White House stint, Clinton tried again, presenting a framework for an accord. No deal. Historians, participants, and advocates still argue over whether that was mostly Arafat’s fault. (Dennis Ross, the lead American negotiator in that process, said last month that he recently learned that Arafat’s negotiators wanted to accept the Clinton proposal, but Arafat told them no.) And it’s unclear whether Barak could have delivered on any agreement, with a majority of Israelis at the time opposed to Clinton’s plan.
Yet there’s little choice: Either Israelis and Palestinians eventually find a way forward together, or the future is more bloodshed, pain, trauma, and tragedy. That’s why the Biden administration and the rest of us should continue to evaluate the current actions of Netanyahu’s government against the standard of whether they bolster or undermine the prospects for an end to the long-running conflict. That’s also why I was intrigued to read in Ha’aretz an article by Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political scientist and polling expert, who has a different spin on a two-state solution.
For a decade, she has been advocating a confederated association of two states “as the better framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (there is no best).” This approach, she writes,
rests on limited shared institutions, borders designed for freedom of movement subject to security needs, residency rights on the “other” side, and coordinating economic and security policy. It accepts the overlap of populations for both symbolic and pragmatic reasons, rather than striving for ethno-national separation of Israelis from Palestinians.
That is, Israel and Palestine would be intertwined, not fully separated. Scheindlin knows this at first comes across as absurd: “In the current climate, abandoning the separation paradigm in favor of greater togetherness seems mad.” But she makes this important point: Not enough Palestinians and Israelis are willing to give up land they deem as sacred or rightfully theirs for a peace that would separate the two people into two clear-cut states. You stay there, and we stay here.
But, she writes, what if there were two states that to a degree shared the land?
I and others, represented by the Israeli and Palestinian grassroots movement called A Land for All, envision two states, so that each side enjoys national self-determination. There will still be a border demarcating them. But each side’s longing for a connection with the whole land is honored, if each accepts a compromise: neither nation can own the whole land. Instead, the two peoples would have freedom of movement on an equal basis, with security limitations as the exception, based on individual or organizational threats rather than collective, and unequal, limitation of Palestinians as the default.
Under this plan, citizens of each state would have the right to visit, study, work, and reside in the other state (presuming they are law-abiding and recognize the sovereignty of the other side). It’s tough to imagine such interconnectedness. But Scheindlin tackles this: “Fears about the dangers of greater openness of the populations miss an obvious point: there are dangers in separation, fragmentation and isolation that many have somehow failed to see.” Hard separation breeds animus and, she adds, “fuels angry spoilers of the future.” She points out that Gaza—with its brutally enforced separation from Israel—has been far more volcanic than the West Bank. And she notes that within Israel, Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel have been able to forge communal ties. Of her proposal, she writes:
This isn’t a one-state argument. The tension that does exist among citizens is driven by the long-thwarted Palestinian national aspirations, which Jews perceive as a threat to their identity (when they get it, maybe Jews can stop worrying). Each side still wants national self-determination, and ought to have it. But the mechanisms of free movement, shared economy and exposure to each other in daily life have proven themselves.
This idea can easily be dismissed as pie-in-the-sky. Scheindlin herself asks, “How can anyone see a way there, from the misery of here, today?” Yet she agrees with the basic sentiment I expressed above: “The long-term future is easy enough to see: no one is going away, and Israelis and Palestinians will continue to live on this land. The only question is how.” And she also believes that Western and Middle Eastern countries must come to the aid of Gaza when the fighting is finished to build “a bridge to future Palestinian reunification, elections and ultimately independence.”
I’m not sure I’m optimistic enough at this moment to envision the dawn of a confederated arrangement, let alone a two-very-separate-states solution. The extremists of each side are serious obstacles (though Scheindlin is trying to turn their intransigence into an asset), perhaps more so now than ever. Still, as the bombs rain down on Gaza killing civilians and as Israelis continue to grieve the dead of October 7 and seek the return of the hostages, the only alternative to permanent conflict and war—which could lead to a regional conflagration—remains eventual cohabitation, with or without hard separation. I’m glad Scheindlin and her associates are pondering options. A dose of imagination is necessary to push beyond the hatred and violence. Other ideas ought to be put on the table. Inside or outside whatever boxes there are. The dream of a peaceful end to the Palestinian-Israel conflict—no matter how far-fetched that appears today— must be bolstered. Yet no better future can be negotiated, until the war in Gaza ends, the hostages are freed, the Palestinians rebuild their communities (with much outside assistance), and Israelis process the horrible trauma triggered by 10/7. There is so much to be done before that difficult path to a hard-to-reach peace can be tried.
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The Watch, Read, and Listen List
Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis. Earlier this year, I attended the Los Angeles Times Book Festival to promote my book, American Psychosis. In conjunction with the event, the newspaper compiled a list of the “26 absolute best L.A.books of all time.” I had read many of them—Joan Didion, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley, Nathanael West, Mike Davis, Chester Himes’ If He Hollers Let Him Go. But I noticed there was an obvious one I had somehow missed: Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis’ 1985 novel about the rich-kid party scene in the City of Angels. So when I recently saw a copy of the book in a Little Free Library a block from my house—in mint condition—I grabbed it.
Less Than Zero is the story of Clay, who is back home for the holidays from his first year at a college in New Hampshire. Written in the first-person, Clay, with an immense amount of detachment, describes the drinking, drug bingeing (mostly coke), clubbing, empty sex, and MTV-watching he and his old high school friends engage in. They’re the sons and daughters of movie producers, celebrity actors, real estate developers, and the like. They drive Porsches and other expensive vehicles. They are vacant. Clay participates in all the debauchery but with a deepening feeling of alienation. He has no higher sense of morality or purpose. But he seems to see the blankness of it all. The question is whether he gives a damn about what he perceives.
The book, written in a minimalist style, is a series of vignettes—scenes in a bar, a penthouse, a restaurant, this mansion or that mansion—as Clay floats through this rarefied and meaningless world of the progeny of L.A.’s 1 percenters. He observes—as his supposed friends shoot heroin, deal drugs, and hook up. At one of the never-ending series of parties, a disgusting snuff movie is played. (It was bought for $15,000.) Clay, like everyone else, doesn’t protest. But he has a smidgeon of conscience and leaves the room and smokes a cigarette. When a pal is forced to be a male prostitute, Clay is recruited to escort his bud to the encounter and (per the john’s request) watches. “I want to see the worst,” Clay tells us.
“Everything means less than zero,” Elvis Costello sang on his debut album, and he peers down at Clay in his room courtesy of a poster. (Elvis’ eyes are an updated version of the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby.) Clay is treading water in a sea of meaninglessness. His relationships, his encounters, his conversations—all are shallow. “What have you been doing, dude?” his friend Rip asks. “Oh, not too much,” Clay says. And Rip replies, “Yeah, there’s not a whole lot to do anymore.” In another scene, Clay/Ellis tells us, “I start to wonder if she did any coke in the bathroom. Probably. Then I wonder if it makes any difference.” The answer: of course, not. Nothing does.
Toward the end of his time back home, Clay’s on-again/off-again girlfriend asks, “What do you care about? What makes you happy?” He responds, “Nothing. Nothing makes me happy. I like nothing.” Less Than Zero is a chronicle of wealth-enabled nihilism. Still, you root for Clay. Has he truly seen the vapidity of this existence? Will that realization change him, or is he, like the surrounding zombies of affluence, permanently wounded? The fact that you care about him—more than Clay appears to care about himself—is a sign that Ellis hit the mark and turned a lot of nothingness into a worthwhile story.
Shane MacGowan. Shane MacGowan, the talented and troubled front man for the Pogues, a band that merged traditional Irish music with the freneticism of punk, died this past week at the age of 65. He was a skilled songwriter who defied convention and conveyed passion. You probably know his “Fairytale of New York,” co-written with bandmate Jem Finer and co-sung with Kirsty MacColl. It’s not Christmas for me until I hear that tune. (The New York Times yesterday published an account of how that song came to be written and produced.) And his version of “Dirty Old Town,” which was written by legendary British singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl (father of Kirsty), captures a timeless folk classicism. MacGowan’s “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” is a perfect blend of dance music and a pub tune. But one of my favorite Pogue tracks is MacGowan’s rendition of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” written by Eric Bogle, a Scottish-born Australian folkie. It’s a poignant anti-war song about a soldier who loses his legs in a pointless World War I battle. “Never knew there were worse things than dying,” he observes. RIP, MacGowan.
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
December 2, 2023: It’s not too late for a Kissinger reckoning; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Linda Yaccarino); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 28, 2023: Nikki Haley’s idiotic proposal; Mike Johnson’s spiritual warfare; Dumb Money is a smart pick; a Laura Cantrell duet with Steve Earle; and more.
November 21, 2023: The tragic indifference of “no ceasefire”; a Thanksgiving time-out; David Fincher’s silent Killer; Claire Lynch rides an “Empty Train”; and more.
November 18, 2023: Is it anti-Christian to criticize Speaker Mike Johnson?; the congressional ethics report on George Santos; a bizarre Albania-Russia-GOP caper; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 14, 2023: The Money Kings and Zionism, antisemitism, and conspiracy theories; the GOP’s minority rule; Oisin Leech’s “October Sun”; and more.
November 11, 2023: Donald Trump and revenge: a love story; the GOP and minority rule on abortion; Dumbass Comment of the Week; the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 7, 2023: Can we doomscroll to peace in the Middle East?; Mike Johnson in the Holy Land; “Now and Then” more Lennon than Beatles; the meta rock world of Daisy Jones & the Six; and more.
November 4, 2023: How the Hamas-Israel war threatens American democracy; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jared Kushner); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 31, 2023: Scoop: Mike Johnson urged a religious test for politicians; Michael J. Fox can’t sit still in his new documentary; U2 goes atomic; and more.
October 28, 2023: Leonard Leo and the Deep State on the right; recent news about Mitt Romney and Mike Johnson; Dumbass Comment of the Week (House Republicans); the Mailbag; and more.
October 24, 2023: Imagine Trump in charge during the Hamas-Israel war; Steve Bannon and Alex Jones conspiracy-mongering together; a Jim Jordan tale; George Santos speaks; and more.
October 21, 2023: Biden and Netanyahu’s delicate dance; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Ari Fleischer); the Mailbag: MoxieCam™; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.