By Joshua Marks
Is the two-state solution over?
That was among the provocative questions New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asked of his fellow founding member of Kol Shalom, former Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, at a discussion about Ross’ new book Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama.
“I hope not — because if you like what you’re seeing right now, that’s what a one-state solution looks like. You’ll see this level of violence on an ongoing basis,” Ross said in response to Friedman. “Look at the rest of the region. There isn’t one state in this region where there is more than one identity that isn’t at war with itself. These are two national identities, two national movements competing for the same space. If you have a one-state outcome, this is what it looks like. You lose Israel as a Jewish democratic state, but you also have an enduring level of violence. So I hope this isn’t the direction that we are going in.”
Ross said that avoiding the fate of a binational state by separating from the Palestinians is what motivated former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, and other Israeli leaders.
The Q-and-A session was held Sunday evening at the Rockville synagogue.
Friedman said his view is that Benjamin Netanyahu is “forever dog paddling in his Rubicon” when it comes to making big decisions to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I think there is an absence of greatness there,” Friedman said.
The Israeli prime minister, who was in Washington meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday and was scheduled to speak to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly on Tuesday, is from a different generation than Rabin and Sharon, who fought for Israel’s independence and were willing to make big decisions, according to Ross.
“What guides Bibi is essentially the threats he sees, not the opportunities he sees,” said Ross. “He can look around the region right now and he sees very big threats. I do think he wants to make big decisions. But he makes it difficult to get to the point where he can make the big decisions. I’ve often felt about him that if we could create the set of circumstances where now he has to make the choice, then I think in fact he would.”
Ross pointed out Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations, in which he called for two states for two peoples and said that Israel will not become a binational state.
But in the new Middle East, the paradigm has changed, according to Ross.
“I think it requires the Arabs to play a role that they haven’t placed in peacemaking. I think they have to assume the responsibility for the concessions that the Palestinians make because the Palestinians are too weak to make them,” said Ross. “I think the Israelis need it as well because the Israeli body politic is not inclined to make concessions towards the Palestinians unless they get something from the Arabs because they don’t trust what they get from the Palestinians. I think you probably also need Egypt and Jordan to some extent.”
But before the Arab countries get involved on a larger peace deal, there are smaller gestures that can be implemented to build mutual trust and the belief that a two-state solution could work out. Ross said one of the mistakes the Obama administration made was to take an all-or-nothing approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For example, Israel could announce that it will not build settlements where a future Palestinian state would be located; the Palestinians could put Israel on a map, acknowledging that Tel Aviv and Haifa will not be a part of a future Palestinian state.
“When you can’t solve the whole thing, you can’t leave yourself doing nothing because then you leave a vacuum,” said Ross. “And we know who fills the vacuum in this part of the world.”