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Issues of the Day Not Giving Up on Two States

Two recent articles published in the daily Haaretz have brought into a the public eye a simmering debate among Israeli progressives concerning the future of a two-state solution to the Palestinian imbroglio. The opinion pieces written by leading figures long identified with the peace camp, former Knesset Speaker and Jewish Agency head Avraham Burg, and the renown author A.B. Yehoshua, passionately address the issue, yet offer divergent conclusions.

While Burg believes that “we have crossed all the red lines and all the points of no return” and that a binational solution looms ahead, Yehoshua asserts, that while we may be at the eleventh hour, a two-state solution is both imperative and a viable option.

The anti- and post-Zionist minorities in the Israeli peace camp have long embraced the notion that a single, democratic binational state is the only just solution to the conflict. Their position, however, is at least as much ideological as it is an appraisal of realities on the ground. In “Now it's your turn,” published in the Israeli daily on Dec. 23, 2011, Avraham Burg maintains that facts, not ideology, in the field have made a binational state inevitable.

His comments constitute both a jeremiad and a j ‘accuse against the Israeli right, which has controlled the government “for the better part of the past 30 years.” He rails that during this time “we the seekers of peace, wandered through the world, spreading the hope that there would soon be solutions, while they were busy creating disheartening facts on the ground…Their acts won the day and are already killing all of us.” For him, the durability of Israel’s right-wing regimes has created a reality that has effectively walled-off any hope for the continuation of a Israel as a Jewish and democratic national home alongside a Palestinian state.

Burg avers, “[T]here is a very reasonable chance that there will be only one state between the Jordan and the sea - neither ours nor theirs but a mutual one. It is likely to be a country with nationalist, racist and religious discrimination and one that is patently not democratic.…”

There is both lamentation and resignation in Burg’s prognostication, and some equivocal hope, “a democratic state that belongs to all of its citizens...This is an opportunity worth taking, despite our grand experience of missing every opportunity and accusing everyone else except ourselves.”


A.B. Yehoshua, in his piece “An unwelcome intro to the binational state” published in Haaretz a week later, on January 2, 2011, describes a reality that is no less forbidding than the one Burg portrays. However, “apart from the religious …the camp of the secular extremist right…and the post-Zionist left…all other political and ideological camps in Israel grasp and articulate the fact that a binational state in Eretz Israel is a dangerous and unfavorable possibility, both in the short term and (more particularly) in the long term.”


Yehoshua declares that “for those who believed in and dreamed of an independent Jewish-Israeli identity which, for better or for worse, stands up to the test of dealing with a national-territorial reality entirely its own, a binational state represents a broken dream, a surefire source of demoralizing conflicts in the future, as was proven by the failure of binational experiments around the world.”


One of Israel’s leading authors, Yehoshua does not dismiss the prospect that a single state is in the offing, stating that there is “an obligation to prepare for it, both intellectually and emotionally, just as we prepare for other states of emergency.” However, Yehoshua maintains “many of us believe that it is possible to prevent the creation of such a state through forceful political steps.”

At the end of his article, Yehoshua places the challenge of saving the two-state solution before his fellow progressives: “How will it be possible to deal with it [binationalism] in a fashion that does not destroy independent Israeli secular national identity, and does not crush us somewhere between the exclusion of Jewish women and the exclusion of Muslim women? These are serious, new questions to which even the peace camp must furnish answers.”

In the debate concerning whether all is lost, it is Yehoshua’s piece that rumbles with a call for activism against the tide, a struggle  in the service of both Israel as a Jewish national home and justice for the Palestinians through the creation of a state of their own. For those for whom the alternative is fearsome and unworkable, Yehoshua’s brief essay is a summons to the barricades. 

Avraham Burg, Now it's your turn, Haaretz, Dec. 23, 2011

A.B. Yehoshua, An unwelcome intro to the binational state, Haaretz, January 2, 2012, 

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