Herschel I. Grossman

Distributed August 2002
Copyright ©2002 by Herschel I. Grossman

Op-Ed Editor: Mark Nickel
About 865 Words

Herschel I. Grossman

For peace in the Middle East: A two-state solution?

Palestinian Arabs often take the colonial experiences of Algeria and South Africa as models for their conflict with Zionism: As Europeans ultimately lost power in both Algeria and South Africa, perhaps Jewish settlers will not prove to be permanent. But suppose that analogy is wrong. What if the situation is more like the example of Ireland, where a two-state solution has worked?

In 1947 the Palestinian Arabs and their allies rejected a U.N. proposal to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, just as 10 years before they had rejected a similar partitioning proposed by the Peel Commission. More recently, both at Camp David and at Taba, Arab negotiators rejected proposals that would have led to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Apparently many Palestinian Arabs – and much of the Arab world – continue to think that they can do better than a two-state solution. After decades of conflict, it seems the Arabs have not given up their ultimate goal of making all of Palestine into an Arab state.

True, Arab leaders differ over tactics. From time to time Arab negotiators have entered into discussions about the mundane issues that prospective neighboring states would have to resolve, such as political boundaries, security arrangements and economic relations. It is possible that at some point the Arabs will agree among themselves that the creation of a Palestinian state that claims to be committed to peaceful coexistence with Israel will be tactically useful. American and European governments seem willing to use the carrot of economic aid to encourage this development, just as the United States has been paying off the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders to acquiesce in the existence of Israel.

But unless the Arabs, in their hearts as well as in their heads, reconcile themselves to the permanent reality of a Jewish state in Palestine, the sad truth is that the creation of a Palestinian Arab state by itself will not provide more than the temporary palliative of a tenuous truce between Arabs and Jews.

The Zionist project of creating a Jewish state in Palestine entails a return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland, a land in which Jews have lived since biblical times and which the Diaspora has never abandoned. Whether or not this historical justification for the creation of Israel is convincing, the important fact is that the Palestinian Arabs and their allies do not buy it. The Arabs express their disdain for Zionism by equating the Zionist project to the creation of a colony to which millions of Jewish settlers have come. According to this equation the conflict between Jews and Arabs replicates the universal experience of conflict between colonial settlers and indigenous peoples.

If the Arabs believe their own argument that Zionism is an instance of colonialism, with themselves as the victims, then, whether or not anybody else accepts this view, the lessons that the Arabs glean from colonial experiences become relevant to prospects for peace between Arabs and Israelis.

Over the years Israeli governments have encouraged Arabs to participate extensively in the Israeli economy. This policy, which Israelis typically view as benevolent, supposes that economic integration of Arabs and Jews is possible without modifying the Zionist conception of Israel as a Jewish state. But this same policy from the Arab perspective reinforces their equating of Zionism to colonialism.

Arab rhetoric often takes the colonial experiences of Algeria and South Africa to be models for their conflict with Zionism. These analogies are important because in both Algeria and South Africa, colonialism ultimately failed. The descendents of the European settlers in Algeria fled back to Europe. In South Africa blacks have achieved political dominance over the descendents of the British and Afrikaner settlers, large numbers of whom remain for now as a tolerated minority.

A permanent end to the conflict between Arabs and Jews over Palestine will not be possible until the Palestinian Arabs and their allies become convinced that the failure of colonialism in countries like Algeria and South Africa is not a relevant lesson for them. In other words the Arabs will have to become convinced that they can neither subjugate the Jews nor drive the Jews out of Palestine.

The negotiating formula of “land for peace” and “breakthroughs” like the Oslo accords have not mitigated the conflict because the Arabs understandably interpret Israeli concessions to be signs of Israeli weakness. Unfortunately, the Israelis can show the Arabs that they cannot destroy Israel only by enduring, if possible, the violent war of attrition that the Arabs are pursuing. Also, there seems to be no obvious way to speed up the process of convincing the Arabs that Israel is here to stay except by making this war of attrition as costly as possible for the Arabs.

Looking ahead, suppose a two-state solution were to be achieved in the not-too-remote future. In thinking about this possibility we are drawn to the example of Ireland, where a two-state solution has worked. Having achieved an independent Irish state, the Catholics in the Republic came to accept the permanent existence of a settler enclave in Northern Ireland. But the Irish story has not had a happy ending because the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, whose position seems similar to that of the million Arabs who are citizens of Israel, eventually revolted against the dominant Protestants, with decades of violent ethnic conflict resulting. Even if a Palestinian state truly committed to peaceful coexistence were created, whether down the road Israel can avoid the fate of Northern Ireland will be the next big question.

Herschel I. Grossman is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor in the Social Sciences and professor of economics at Brown University.

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