A Bloody Quarter-Century Later, the Jury Is In on the 'Two-State Solution'

Martin Sherman is the founder and CEO of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, and served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He holds undergraduate degrees in physics and geology, an MBA, and a PhD in political science. Sherman’s publications include The Politics of Water in the Middle East (1999), Despots, Democrats and the Determinants of International Conflict (1998), as well as numerous essays.

Here is a December 25, 2018 quote from Israel's Major General (res.) Gershon HaCohen, spoken just days after I conducted the interview with Martin Sherman that follows:

It is mind-boggling how proponents of West Bank withdrawal so cavalierly ignore the likely threats attending this move. So strong is their fixation on the necessity of withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines that it has made them totally oblivious to realities on the ground.

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David Levy: What is one to make of the so-called two-state solution? Makes little sense today. Did it ever make any sense? The Fatah and Hamas charters are and have always been very clear in their advocacy of a one-state solution: A Palestine from the river to the sea that would replace Israel. Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah never speak of two states.

How is it that there are, even now, prominent Israelis who see this mythical two-state solution as a resolution of the conflict?

Martin Sherman: I certainly identify with the skeptical tone of your question and I certainly have never been able to understand why people chose to go along that route. Apparently many were taken in by its seductive allure. I think in many ways Israeli political parties that opposed the two-state notion were at fault, because they did not offer a sufficiently persuasive case for the alternative view.

I think you are right about Fatah and Hamas. In fact, if you look at the Fatah constitution, if anything it is more explicit about eradicating the “Zionist entity” than Hamas.

DL:  How have Israelis been able and willing to ignore that reality?

MS: The power of wishful thinking. In the early 1990s, the two-state concept became an accepted and acceptable element of Israeli foreign policy. Up until then ... to suggest two states was an anathema, border-line treason. You could go to jail for doing what the government is doing today.

DL: Before the Oslo Accords?

MS:  Yes, and in fact people did go to jail.

Let me give you one quote, spoken almost four decades ago:

The establishment of such [a Palestinian] state means the inflow of combat-ready Palestinian forces (more than 25,000 men under arms) into Judea and Samaria; this force, together with the local youth, will double itself in a short time. It will not be short of weapons or other [military] equipment, and in a short space of time, an infrastructure for waging war will be set up in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Israel will have problems in preserving day-to-day security, which may drive the country into war, or undermine the morale of its citizens.

In time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will constitute an excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount attacks on infrastructure installations vital for Israel’s existence, to impede the freedom of action of the Israeli air force in the skies over Israel, and to cause bloodshed among the population ... in areas adjacent to the frontier-line.

DL: Who is the source?

MS: You’ll never guess -- Shimon Peres! You might well ask why someone who had such well-founded positions exchanged them for positions that proved completely unfounded.

In this regard, Henry Kissinger remarked that Israel had no foreign policy, only domestic policy. Let me give you a supposition: My take on Oslo is that it was never really a foreign policy initiative but a domestic policy initiative to make the political right irrelevant. As you said, it makes little sense if you think that the real objectives of Oslo were its declared objectives. If the actual objectives were latent or hidden objectives -- like making the right irrelevant -- it begins to make sense. Even more troubling, I’ve heard very authoritative accounts that Rabin buckled and accepted Oslo because of intra-party rivalry in the Labour Party, which made him feel that if he opposed it he would lose a vote in the central committee and be deposed by Peres and Yossi Beilin's crowd.

DL: Rabin was quoted as saying he thought Oslo was a gamble. Didn’t seem terribly happy when it came time to shake the hand of Yasser Arafat.

MS: Why, then, did he do it? Was he gambling with the future of the state? The jury is no longer out on the two-state proposal. When two-statism became the centerpiece of Israeli foreign policy in the early nineties, proponents promised sweeping benefits and opponents warned of dire dangers. A gory quarter-century later, none of the promises of benefits have come true and all the warnings of grave dangers have indeed been proven true.

Yet its left-wing proponents refuse to discard their advocacy of two states. Clearly, the left-wing doesn’t care about being correct. It just wants to win the argument, and it doesn’t care how it wins the argument.

When you look at the plan for Palestinian statehood ... it didn’t begin in 1967, it began before that. Egyptian president Abdul Nasser, as early as 1965, proclaimed:

We should not enter Palestine with the soil covered in sand, we should enter it with the soil saturated in blood.

What “Palestine” was he talking about? Even more to the point, on the eve of the Six-Day War Ahmad al-Shukeiri, Arafat’s predecessor, threatened:

D-Day is approaching. The Arabs have waited 19 years for this and will not flinch from the war of liberation. This is a fight for the homeland. There is no middle road. The Jews in Palestine will have leave. We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants. As for survivors if there are any, the boats are ready to depart them.

In other words, before Israel held a square inch of Judea-Samaria -- the West Bank -- they were threatening to annihilate the Jews, to liberate the homeland. But what homeland were they talking about?

It certainly had nothing to do with Judea-Samaria, or settlements, or anything like that. In fact, if you look at the first edition of the Palestinian national covenant, formulated in 1964, the Palestinians explicitly deny any sovereign claims to Judea-Samaria or Gaza (emphasis added).

They explicitly admit that the West Bank is part of Jordan, and Gaza is part of Egypt. Now they claim these areas as their “ancient homeland”!

DL: In the matter of restraint, it does appear that there has been virtually no Israeli response to this year’s incendiary kite campaign by Hamas, or to the Hezbollah tunnels, or to the spate of what appear to be Hamas-directed shootings in Judea-Samaria. How to explain?

MS: It is definitely disturbing. I’ve been warning for many years now that Israel is backing away from confrontations it can win until it might back itself into a confrontation it can’t win, or can only win at exorbitant cost. By embarking on an ill-advised policy of restraint, Israel has allowed terrorist nuisances to evolve into strategic threats.

In this regard, one of the dangers of a nuclear Iran, even if Iran doesn’t use the weapons, is that it can spread a nuclear umbrella over terrorist entities operating in the north, in the south, and if we make ill-advised territorial concessions, in the east as well.