Moment of Truth for Liberal Zionism

For the last ten plus years, advocates of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine have been warning that the “window of opportunity” for a two-state solution is closing fast.

Here’s Jordan’s King Abdullah II using the image in a 2005 speech:

Israelis and Palestinians must take advantage of a “small window of opportunity” for peacemaking, he warned. “If we don’t do it, I think the Middle East will be doomed, unfortunately, to many more decades of violence.”

From a 2007 Boston Globe report:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that a “two-state solution” in the Middle East is in jeopardy and described a narrow window of opportunity to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami, writing in a 2008 Forward op-ed:

The window is closing on a two-state solution, and Israel’s prospects for a second, safer 60 years grow are growing ever dimmer.

And as recently as two weeks ago, Ben-Ami used a different metaphor to underscore the urgency of the latest “moment:”

If this round of talks breaks down yet again – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single observer who’ll argue that they won’t – then Israel, like the boater on the river, can briefly revel in having avoided the risk of heading to shore.

But bear in mind that “sitting this one out” isn’t an option. The waterfall is still dead ahead.

As someone who’s invoked the “closing window” more than once myself over the years, I’m quite familiar with this pedagogy. Time is running out for a viable negotiated two-state agreement between Israelis and Palestinians – and thus the future of a Jewish and democratic state. The status quo – namely unrestricted Israeli settlement of the West Bank, coupled with an ever-increasing Palestinian birth rate – simply cannot be sustained.

At a certain point, however, I think it’s fair to pose the challenge: how many times can you repeatedly warn of a last chance before the notion is rendered devoid of all meaning? How long can advocates of a two-state solution invoke the urgency of a fleeting opportunity before admitting that this solution is simply no longer a realistic option any more?

To be sure, with each passing day, the warning of a last chance opportunity appears increasingly toothless. The latest “window of opportunity” occurred earlier this month when it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was “mulling gestures to Palestinians to keep the peace talks going.” Barely a week later, we learned that Israeli officials had formally informed the PA of its position that West Bank settlements “must be a part of the Israeli State.”

Such a position, of course, makes a complete mockery of any suggestion of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. It lays bare the truth that Israel is not really interested in two actual states, but merely the formalization of an inherently inequitable status quo.

The political realities here are stark and undeniable. Israel’s settlement of the West Bank continues with impunity and the US continues to provide its “closest ally” with all the diplomatic cover it needs to do so. Politically speaking, it is no longer possible to invoke windows of opportunity with a straight face. Perhaps the real question before us is not “how many times have we missed these opportunities?” but rather, “did they ever really exist at all?”

So what happens now? It’s reasonable to assume that this paralyzed, inequitable status quo will continue apace into the indeterminate future. Israel will continue to create facts on the West Bank with the tacit permission of the US, creating a conditions that no Palestinian leader could possibly be expected to accept.

Under such circumstances, it is equally reasonable to expect the reality for Palestinians on the ground to grow increasingly oppressive and dire. As this occurs, their plight and their cause will be more difficult for the world to ignore. Governments, individuals and institutions will increasingly rally to Palestinian requests for support, most prominently the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

In turn, Israel’s actions will be increasingly more difficult for its supporters to defend. As the status quo is allowed to languish, the state of Israel will become further and further isolated from the rest of the world community and more pressure will be brought to bear upon the political elites to fundamentally change their approach to ending this conflict.

While these are certainly sobering and painful prospects, I don’t think they are exaggerated or far-fetched. On the contrary, I believe the burden of proof is on those who believe the same tired approach to the “peace process” will somehow yield results in the future when it has failed repeatedly in the past.

Once we accept that a division into two states is no longer realistically possible, the calculus is sobering, to put it mildly: we will be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic apartheid Jewish state, in which a minority rules over a majority or a civil democracy in which all citizens have equal rights under the law.

For many liberal Zionists, this unbearably painful decision will represent a profound moment of truth. If forced to choose, which will it be? A Jewish state that parcels out its citizens’ rights according to their ethnicity – or a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens?

I truly believe this is more than an academic question. Perhaps it’s time to stop talking about mythic “windows of opportunity” and open a new discussion: what will it take for us to admit that it is finally closed? And what will our options be then?