To Reach a 2-State Solution, Israeli Doves Must Be Heard

<i> Yehoshafat Harkabi, a professor of international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the author of </i> "<i> Israel's Fateful Hour" (Harper & Row, 1988). This article is taken from the keynote speech he gave in March to a Palestinian-Israeli conference in New York. </i>

We are witnessing an historical development of momentous significance as the Palestine Liberation Organization accepts the principle of a two-state settlement.

Originally, it was the Zionist and the Israeli side that upheld the principle of partition--namely, the two-state formula. At that time, the Arab and Palestinian position called for a one-state solution; that Israel should not come into being. Later, it called for Israel’s demise. Zionist acceptance of the two-state settlement presented it as the conciliatory side for which it gained the acclaim of international public opinion. Without such support Israel could not have come into existence and thrive.

Now the roles have been reversed. Official Israel calls for a one-state solution in which the Palestinians will have only autonomy under Israeli suzerainty. To signal that it is not a transitory interim solution, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir announced that on no account would the Palestinians have a state of their own.


Thus, the balance of support of the international community will start shifting from Israel to the PLO. As an Israeli, I view this development with mixed feelings, welcoming the PLO change but writhing from anguish that official Israel has not yet awakened to the need to forsake its old positions. By adhering to the one-state settlement, the Israeli leadership follows a wrong political line that will be defeated with great damage to the Israeli cause.

The PLO is the national leadership of the Palestinian people. From time to time it did engage in ugly terrorist action, but that does not mean that it is only a terrorist organization. Israel rejects the PLO not because of terrorism but because it claims national rights for the Palestinians. Acknowledging that negotiations should be conducted with the Palestinians by necessity implies that it is up to them to choose who will represent them. The Palestinians from the occupied territories will decline the suggestion to substitute for the PLO. The effort to minimize the Palestinian problem as if it only concerns the Palestinians now under Israeli rule is bound to fail.

Palestinians cannot agree that only Israelis deserve to have a state of their own and that they can only have autonomy under probation. No diplomatic stratagem can sidetrack their claim for recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The mutual acceptance of the two-state scheme is a prerequisite for the beginning of negotiations.

Palestinians and Israelis will have to distinguish between their states--in which they will exercise political rights--and a common homeland to which they will owe sentimental ideological allegiance. Perhaps, in the future, having the same homeland may be translated politically to collaborative arrangements--common market, Benelux or confederation--but one cannot jump directly from hostility to such intimacy. The agreements should be detailed not to leave divergences that may subsequently escalate into disputes. Furthermore, only a detailed agreement may signify finality of demands and preempt and thwart attempts by extremists to undermine the settlement.

Both Palestinians and Israelis are gifted people. Both are destined to have only small states but, with their talents and skills that their suffering has sharpened, they should do their best to make their small states into model states. As the world is undergoing big transformations, it is the quality of industry and of states, and not their size, which will determine their international status and condition and how satisfied their inhabitants will be.

Peace cannot be made in social gatherings or in conferences or convocations. Conferences are important only if they are conducive to negotiations on the political level. Let me spell out what I think is needed.


Charity begins at home and the brunt of my demands will be directed at Israelis and Israel. Still, I would like to say a few words to the Palestinians. If you now base your demand for a Palestinian state on U.N. Partition Resolution 181, while rejection of this resolution has been a basic doctrine in the PLO’s ideology enshrined in its covenant, Palestinians have to acknowledge the change and explain it. The jump from the traditional rejection of 181 to suddenly embracing it, if not accompanied by an explanation, gives rise to suspicion of tactical maneuvers.

The PLO leadership should understand that any terrorist action by its extreme fringes helps Israeli extremists and serves to substantiate their contention that the Palestinians still aspire to their old aims. Claiming to represent the PLO implies responsibility for the actions of all Palestinians, including the dissidents. Lastly, the Palestinians should show understanding for Israeli security sensitivities. They are not baseless.

Now to the Israelis. Change can come through three agencies on three levels: international pressure, changes initiated by the political level and out of pressure from below.

As conflicts all over the world are being solved and as relations among the superpowers improve, they may, because this conflict has great violent potentialities, prod the parties to reach an agreement. Indeed, a settlement does need international midwifery.

I doubt the possibility of changes initiated on the Israeli political level because of the deep commitment of politicians to their traditional stance. Thus, they will be bypassed by history. What is left is change from below. The moderate Israeli case has been very good. Still it failed to convince. Why? I cannot exonerate the doves from this failure.

Israeli dovishness has been in many cases self-centered for its own sake, for self moral gratification, dovishness as social chic. It is vacuous if it does not start by demonstrating how an Israeli dovish position is feasible, and how changes on the Arab side enable a peace settlement. Hence, it did not answer the queries and rebuttals people inveighed against the moderate position--that the Palestinians stick to their old positions and there is no one to negotiate with. It became a moderate position without validation, unrelated to history and in some cases running before history and thus easily discredited.

The problem of Israel is not so much political as meta-political, the influence of distorted modes of thinking. Modifying public attitudes will entail changes in policy, a national debate in which the moderates will present a cohesive message. Without such a center of gravity their message is incoherent and diffused.

There are doves who enjoy describing artistically how tragic the situation is. For them, dealing with solutions is demeaning. People indulge in defining the situation as a Gordian knot. However, history cuts through all Gordian knots. It is not enough to diagnose the situation; we have to prognosticate how to achieve a solution.

The people of Israel show some readiness to change. Recent polls indicate that many are ready for negotiations with the PLO. Thus, they precede their leaders. This should be a source of hope for all of us.