The two-state mirage

By Vic Rosenthal

The US and Europe, along with the Olmert government and Mahmoud Abbas all officially espouse a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. The great majority of Americans, if they care, would agree. For many people, a Jewish or Arab ‘extremist’ is just someone who doesn’t accept the two-state program.

But a few moments of thought indicate that a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank would not be viable or stable. The idea is only attractive because alternatives appear unthinkable.

The most significant problem is economic viability. Palestine would be tiny, even compared to Israel, with an annual population increase of about 3.7%. Half of the population is under 14 years of age and not productive. The economy would have to grow dramatically just to keep up with the population. But the land is poor, with little water and few natural resources. Infrastructure is lacking, the educational system is poor, and the political culture is one of corruption and inequality. In the past, many Palestinians worked in Israel, Kuwait, and other places, until their political activities made them unwelcome; this source of income has dried up. Finally, assuming that Palestine would be led by Fatah or Hamas, both committed to a Palestine “from the river to the sea”, it would be a ‘confrontation state’, and resources would be diverted for military purposes.

Palestinian attitudes also don’t bode well for economic success: when Israel left Gaza, American donors purchased the flower-producing hothouses from the Israelis and gave them to the Palestinians, in order to jump-start the economy. The Palestinians simply tore them apart, selling the pieces for scrap. Years of UN support, a culture of victimhood, and incitement from Arafat’s PLO and Arab nations have taken their toll.

Palestine would therefore continue to be dependent on international contributions for her survival. Some of it would of course continue to come from the UN. The Arab nations have always been long on talk and short on actually helping the Palestinians, but possibly Iran would be prepared to provide support in return for another armed satellite on Israel’s frontiers. Palestinian ‘independence’ would be over quickly.

Without economic viability, ruled by the corrupt Fatah or the militant Hamas, what kind of state would this be? How would it relate to its neighbors?

The question that arises on contemplating this is the following: what on earth are Abbas, Olmert, Bush, Blair, the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), and so many others thinking?

Judging by Fatah documents, Abbas thinks that ‘little Palestine’ will simply be a interim step on the path to ‘big Palestine’, from the river to the sea. That at least makes sense. The URJ, being composed of American Jewish liberals, can be expected to be unable to face painful reality. But Bush and Blair should certainly understand this. And Olmert?

The only explanation that I can think of is that these gentlemen are concerned primarily with the short term. It’s more important to them to get through the next few months than the next few years. In the case of Bush and Blair, there are important advantages in relations with Arab nations that can be achieved now, as well as domestic political considerations. Olmert, likely, is responding to pressure from the US.

In the long run, though, this policy will not help the Palestinians, if the result is to bring about the regional war that they so devoutly (and stupidly) wish to see.

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4 Responses to “The two-state mirage”

  1. Lise Rosenthal says:

    אלא מה?

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    Translation of above comment: “Otherwise what?”

    That’s what I meant when I said that the alternatives are unthinkable. But we have to think them, and they include Israel maintaining control of all of the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and the Palestinians gaining control of all of it. The original idea of an autonomous Palestinian area under Israeli security control and with economic links to Israel would work, if the Palestinians would accept it, but they’d rather fight.

    Sometimes there isn’t an answer that makes everyone happy.

  3. Shalom Freedman says:

    This is a powerfully convincing argument.
    As to why many American Jews, the Bush Administration many others endorse a solution which a little thinking in depth would show is no solution at all perhaps can be charitably explained by the fact that there seems to be no other viable alternative. The binational state, or state-of-all-its citizens solutions essentially translate into an Arab majority state, and the disappearance of Israel, and probably in time most Jews from the Holy Land.
    What to do when the best possible alternative is not a realistically sound and positive alternative either?
    Choose the one that on the surface seems to provide something like a solution.

  4. Vic Rosenthal says:

    Ami Isseroff has written an excellent defense of the two-state solution here. Although he explains some of the problems of one-state solutions, of the left, right, and status quo, he still doesn’t explain how a tiny Palestinian state alongside Israel can be viable and stable.