Peter Beinart is a terrific liberal commentator on many issues, among them the Israeli-Palestinian quandary. In this week's New York Times book review, Beinart reviews Padraig O'Malley's new book, The Two-State Delusion. It sounds like quite a good book. O'Malley asserts that when Israelis and Palestinians talk about the two-state solution, they envision very different things. The Palestinians think about a truly independent state; the Israelis envision a state with no teeth, so that Israel would be safe. O'Malley thinks the Israelis are wise to think as they do, because Hamas would truly view a new state as a stepping stone to total expulsion of the Jews.
Further, the Israelis have denuded the Palestinian lands of 800,000 olive trees, and since the Palestinians have not replaced olive trees with other economic activity, very little economic viability would be left to them. The governance of the Arab lands is so poor that little could be expected of Palestinian uplift. They cannot desalinate water, which is crucial; 50% of the Palestinian budget is for public employment; they cannot collect taxes. There is more, but basically O'Malley says, it's just a no go, no matter how close officials claim to have been in the past to settling on a two-state solution.
Good as the book is, however, Beinart bemoans the fact the O'Malley has no alternative solution to offer. O'Malley says, “Why should I be so presumptuous as to dare to provide a vision for people who refuse to provide one for themselves?” Don't leave us like this!, Beinart says. We need a solution! Not that anyone has one, because no one does.
Myself, I am suspicious of “solutions.” “Solutions” are an end result, a formulation. There is none here, because the forces as they stand preclude one. So, instead of trying to think of a solution, we need to find a pathway.
Readers of this blog might remember that, although it is a modest step, I offered a pathway in my blog on the Israeli-Palestinian quandary from February of this year: http://buddshenkin.blogspot.com/2015/02/israel-arabs-and-postulates-for-living.html.
In it, I recommend that Israel start an affirmative action program for Arabs within its borders as a first step, a pathway toward a solution. It's basically a “do the right thing” approach. Start treating people right, advance them, show them a good life path – issue birth control, for a start, so that the Palestinian strategy of “have as many children as possible and then don't educate them can come to an end, I wish one could make it mandatory – and see what comes next.
It's a cultural issue as well as a political issue, and cultural issues are very hard to solve. Cultures change slowly. But there exist germs of reconciliation in both Arab and Israeli communities. There are Arabs who do fairly well in Israel as it is. There are many Israelis who are not racist and would give individual Arabs a fair chance. This is always the way. People actually have their good sides, they just need government to foster that good side.
Smart as Beinart is, and I like him a lot, he needs to see that a pathway to an unknown future starts with changing the conditions on the ground, hard as that may be to do. Twenty years from now the future could look a lot different from how it looks today. Thinks steps, not finality.