In the Wake of Arafat, Will the Two-State Solution Survive?

Labor Party leader Shimon Peres is the former prime minister of Israel.

Toward the end of the 19th century, especially around the time of the Dreyfus affair, the debate over what was known as “the Jewish problem” reached its peak. The question from Paris to Moscow, and across every Jewish dinner table, was why anti-Semitism continued to persist, even though Jews were integrating themselves into the secular civic community of Europe?

Two schools of thought sought to answer this question. One argued that Jews lived in a world that provided them no home. In a world of religions, Judaism was not accepted. In a world of races, the Jewish “race” was not tolerated. In a world of nation-states, there was no place for a nomad people with no land of their own. In a world of classes, the Jews belonged to no class. The Jews who followed this school of thought joined communist and socialist movements. They wanted to repair the world. They wanted a world with no religions, no racism, no states and no social classes.

The second school took a very different approach. Its adherents believed that it was not necessary -- or possible -- to repair the world. It was the Jewish world that needed repairing. The Jewish people, they argued, had to reenter history as a faith, as a state and as an economy in which Jews could be full members.

The communist experiment survived for 80 years. Ultimately it went bankrupt and revealed itself to be anti-Semitic to the core, ruled by an arbitrary class as a terrorist state. Communism failed, but anti-Semitism continued to live.


But the establishment of the Jewish state 50 years ago was not a failure; it was a success. It is not a state ruled by Jewish religious law; it is democratic. Yet it is a Jewish state because it has a Jewish majority. It is a state that cannot be anti-Semitic by definition. By growing and thriving and surviving, Israel proved all the anti-Semites wrong (not that anti-Semites ever have cared for facts).

In its first years, Zionists failed to appreciate the emerging Palestinian nationality. What was supposed to be a meeting of mutual understanding turned into a bitter struggle, both militarily -- Israel was attacked five times in five decades -- and, more recently, demographically. The growing Palestinian population is threatening the Jewish majority forged through decades of aliyah -- emigration to Israel -- and natural growth.

If Israel loses its Jewish majority, it will cease to be a Jewish state. If it tries to maintain its Jewish character by force, it will no longer be democratic. If the majority is Palestinian, a minority will be Jewish, which is not a good position to be in the Arab world, where there is a democratic deficit and a dangerous fanaticism.

That’s why, from the Israeli point of view, there is no such thing as a one-state solution. There is only a two-state solution. To prevent the continuation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, there is no choice but to divide the country, and to create a Jewish state with a Jewish majority alongside a Palestinian state with a Palestinian majority. The Jews will have less land, perhaps, but they will have a greater majority. The Palestinians will not have what they think of as “historic” Palestine -- from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean -- but they will have their own territory and independence.

In effect, the two peoples have already agreed to that; it is the essence of both the Oslo agreement and the “road map.”

What is stopping this from becoming a reality? Only the mistakes of the past. Over the last 35 years, Israel has created a map of settlements that simply does not fit into a map of peace. The Palestinians, for their part, are not in control of the terrorist gangs that obstruct any rational political move. Israel, to its credit, recently decided to start the long process of dismantling the settlements, to create a just basis for peace and democracy. The Palestinians have not yet begun dismantling their terrorist organizations. Perhaps now, with the death of Yasser Arafat, they will do so.

If two states are not created, the Israelis and Palestinians will not come to terms with one another -- not religiously, not historically and not culturally. The national conflict will grow increasingly personal, with no end in sight. It will be an eternal war for every piece of a densely populated land. The time has come for a final-status agreement. The right wing of Israeli politics, or at least most of it, now agrees for the first time to the establishment of a Palestinian state on part of the land currently ruled by Israel. With Arafat gone, there may be a new Palestinian leadership that will support a two-state solution.

The Middle East is full of declarations and plans. Now it is time for the planners to roll up their sleeves and get down to work.