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The Endurance of Farce and Folly: The Two State Solution as Sensible Policy Consensus

Delusion or cynicism pervade the Democratic Party's support for a two state solution

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

In May of 2018, before an audience including John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and Robert Jeffress, Senior Minister of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, the government of the United States broke with precedent so to officially set a new course in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Cementing Trump’s personal stewardship over the Republican party as well as his party’s final disavowal of George W. Bush’s roadmap to peace, the relocation of the American Embassy announced that day was to inaugurate a new era in Israeli chauvinism, one freed of even the brittle shackles which had previously restrained “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Greenlighting and gaslighting in equal measure, subsequent months and years would see the American state refashioned as an open participant in Israeli apartheid like never before. Endorsing and legitimating Israel’s Judaization of its state and its legalization of territorial annexation; declaring her settlement project “not, per se, inconsistent with international law”; weaponizing Jewishness as a national identity here at home; and quietly though purposefully strangling both the United Nations Relief Works Agency and the Palestinian Authority, what pretense remained of America as impartial mediator was openly and proudly discarded.

Whether Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and Israel more generally follow from a crass and domestically-oriented calculus—from considerations of the favors that might be won through throwing either Sheldon Adelson or Christian Zionist friends like Hagee and Jeffress a bone—or imperial conceits cannot be determined with any kind of finality. As the presence of the two men of God that day in Jerusalem attests, however, and as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s well-documented affinities with the millenarianism espoused by Hagee et al corroborate, it is indisputable that many of those responsible for authoring and driving contemporary Republican strategy in the Middle East do so while at least partially under the influence of apocalyptic biblical teachings. Patently absurd as the idea surely strikes, it is empirically irrefutable, after all, that (a) Hagee’s CUFI, with whom both Pence and Pompeo maintain healthy and regular contact, constitutes one of the most active and influential lobbying outfits mobilizing behind the Likud-aligned, pro-Israel coalition in the United States and (b) that CUFI’s motivations for doing so are informed by the belief that a Jewish reclamation of their entire ancestral homeland will bring on the return of the Messiah (and, later on, the rapture).

If these dynamics lay bare the inanity and death drive that have increasingly animated American conservatism since the end of history—if they establish that there are, in fact, no wise, principled, or even sane people steering the metropole at the moment—they ought not be taken to convey that the other side of the aisle in any more principled or prudent in their policy approach to Palestine/Israel. An honest reckoning with the Democratic party’s position on the two state solution, in fact, evinces not only a similar mix of cynicism and delusion but a functional complicity in Israel’s pursuit of its manifest destiny as well.

The Actually Existing Two State Solution

The actually existing two state solution, as it is has been conceived and materially advanced by the senior power brokers of the Democratic Party, seems to operate according to two presuppositions.

The first invests inevitability in the solution itself and indelible goodness in the Israeli parties to it. Together, this dictates that American support to Israel, inclusive of the $3.3 billion in foreign military financing that was allocated to it this past year, be wholly unconditional. It also informs why American diplomats and elected officials, typically eager to call in sanctions and other mechanisms of collective punishment on out-of-line foreign actors, restrict themselves to sorrowful lamentations or a whispered complaint near a hot mic as Israel wantonly demolishes Palestinian homes, expands its settlements, locks up Palestinian children, or indulges in war crimes. Reflecting this same faith in Israeli goodness, where American actors remain hyper literate in parsing each and every stanza of Hamas’ founding charter—and in deconstructing the factual and normative claims put forth in Palestinian textbooks—they are seen to be none too bothered when it comes to looking into the public-facing discourse of the Likud, the Blue and White Party, Shas, Yamina, or Yisrael Beitenu. Though a brief gander at the policy positions disseminated by these parties alone would be sufficient to establish that more than 60% of today's Knesset endorses either the unilateral annexation of the West Bank, unchecked settlement expansion, or the non-realization of a Palestinian state, those data points are rendered immaterial within the larger historical progression that is assumed.

The Democrats' second presupposition invests a singular viability in the two state solution.

On the basis of this claim, the preservation of the path to peace requires the invasive litigation, policing, and repression of all forms of Palestinian political expression articulated outside the parameters of (American-stewarded) bilateral negotiations. In practice, this means that Palestinian civil society activists—mobilizing a program of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions after seeing fifteen years of diplomatic action facilitate only the progressive erasure of their national and human rights—are to be treated as spoilers if not genocidal provocateurs while a nuclearly armed state running roughshod over the spirit and letter of the Oslo Accords is to be afforded a constancy of protection by American diplomats, the American Congress, and by various state legislatures, a protection most recently aimed at regulating the college campus.

That the illegalization of Palestinian non-violent political activism is enacted amongst endless liberal dirges about the lack of a Palestinian Gandhi or Mandela only heightens the perverse contrasts already projected by two state’s camera obscura.

The yield of the actually existing two state solution is by now well established—military law for the Palestinian residents of Areas A, B, and C in the West Bank in the final instance; 620,000 Israeli settlers, protected by the Israeli Defense Forces, living above, aside, and amongst them (often in state subsidized housing); nominally Palestinian territory carved up so comprehensively as to render future sovereignty a farce; the moral, social, and ecological failure that is the Gaza Strip; and a Palestinian economy in a state of (designed) terminal distress.

A man waiting by lines of cars going through a checkpoint from Ramallah, Palestine to enter Israel.
Photo by Cole Keister / Unsplash

In view of these outcomes, one of two conclusions can be drawn regarding the Democratic Party's sponsors of the two state solution in Israel-Palestine, Joe Biden included.

If one assumes good intentions, one can only deduce that these actors—self-styled as pragmatists and realists—are either shockingly incompetent or hopelessly (and selectively) delusional in actuality.

Alternatively, if one allows for bad intentions, it follows that these people may be engaged in the most contemptuous of laundering operations. Herein, their efforts to promote peace reduce to a sleight of hand, a scheme meant to deactivate resistance on the part of Palestinians and their allies so to facilitate Israel’s slow but certain expansion through the backdoor.

In either case, the differences separating the Democrats' two staters from Trump’s wild-eyed zealots may not be so great after all. Utopian rather than millenarian but idealist all the same; subtle and respectful of propriety rather than direct and clumsy but duplicitous all the same, they each propel history toward a single, tragic end.

In many ways, the two state solution has reduced to little more than a hollow ritual of the Democratic Party, one its standard bearers mouth to signal seriousness and piety while granting themselves absolution for whatever fate might befall the Palestinians in the end.

A Joe Biden Presidency will most certainly do everything that can be done to maintain the sanctity of these conventions . The man himself has, after all, only just intervened in the writing of the 2020 Democratic Party platform so to remove any reference to “the occupation.”

Now as ever, then, it is essential that those earnestly committed to a justice-based resolution in Palestine/Israel be discerning about the challenges before us. Israel’s is, empirically speaking, a rogue state presiding over an increasingly reactionary demos (these reactionary tendencies pervade public opinion on settlement annexation as well). Its one-time liberal hope, Benny Gantz, decided three times over that that the costs of forming a coalition with the Joint List (representative of Palestinian Israelis) outweighed the benefits of displacing Bibi Netanyahu. Its left, despite consistently demonstrating courage and integrity is, in electoral terms, a spent force. Any fair appraisal of Israel’s contemporary politics would therefore suggest that this is a polity incapable of generating progressive reform from within, recent protests not withstanding.

If we are ever to find a way out of this morass, it seems clear that Israeli state/society will need to be subjected to some combination of pressure, coercion, shaming, and material isolation. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their ilk will never allow such a reversal in policy. Work to change the character and composition of the Democratic Party therefore need continue, until a day might come where a caucus is finally ready to act with sense, decency, and forethought.

Issue One

Colin Powers

Colin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020. He is a two-time Fulbright Fellow.