Still, in the face of the blood tide, we moderates sing the same old song of the two states. But increasingly there are voices raised against it. From one side — broadly the right — comes the argument that the prospect of any deal with the Palestinians and involving Palestinian statehood is so remote that to invoke it is in effect to believe in a fairy tale and to seek — if only rhetorically — to impose that fairy tale on real people in Israel. It is described as a “luxury belief” (a term of art famously used by Suella Braverman last October to castigate those not supporting her plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda or drastically reduce immigration).
Usually attached to this is is a version of recent history in which the Palestinians, from the corrupt PA to the terrorists of Hamas, bear the entire responsibility for the failure of the Oslo Accords and the lack of any progress towards a settlement. There is and never will be a partner for peace so give it up.
As it happens this is also the belief of many on the pro-Palestinian left and even of what you might call the despairing centre. For the far-left it is Israel that is entirely to blame for the failure of Oslo (which they predicted) and the only solution that remains is a single-state one where Arabs and Jews live happily together, the Jews having given up the right to their own state. For them too the two-state solution is a fairy tale.
Twenty years ago the distinctly anti-leftist, anti-rightist Jewish historian Tony Judt controversially ditched the two-state solution, predicting that “in today’s ‘clash of cultures’ between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp”. I found his conclusion implausible.
Well. now look. The Israeli government contains a man who had a picture of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein up in his living room and another whose close associate arranges for money to be given to the relief of the zealot who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Together with Netanyahu, these fascists have attempted and may still succeed in subverting Israel’s justice system. The worst kind of religious fanatics were allowed to run riot on the West Bank. This week I heard the Saudi ambassador to the UK (the Saudi ambassador, for heaven’s sake) give an interview that was so much more sensible than those given by Israel’s ambassador that it made me want to weep.
It isn’t true that the two-state solution is a luxury belief. These days it’s actually far more insidious. It’s become an incantation — a piety — guarding against having to recognise that Israeli leadership had, for the most part, become something almost intolerable. I should know: it’s my piety, too. We have nothing else.
If it’s a fairy tale it’s also been turned into one by the Israeli right, which has never supported it and always acted to subvert it, whatever their formal diplomatic position has been. In reality their strategy was to slowly enact a Greater Israel within borders that no one other than Donald Trump could ever recognise.
A weak Palestinian Authority and a Gaza run by a Hamas, (which, though ineffably hostile, was both feeble and disliked enough internationally to further weaken the Palestinian position) apparently suited this perspective perfectly. Until it didn’t.
Meanwhile, ordinary Israelis (and Jews in diaspora), save for horrid episodes, silently felt they could ignore the Palestinian question and get on with their lives. Until they couldn’t.
There was your true (and often secretly held) luxury belief: the one that squandered both time and capital imagining that the Palestinian problem had somehow gone away, held behind walls, checkpoints and bought off by Qatari subsidies while Israel made side deals with Arab states.
It should be obvious now that when this phase of the war of October 7 finishes, there must be a parting of the ways between those in Israel and in the diaspora who believe that both justice and reality require a proper accommodation to be attempted with the Palestinians, and those who, in effect, believe that Israel can and should rule over another people in perpetuity. They must be defeated.
Eight days after Chanukah and two days before Christmas, the Daily Telegraph carried a piece by the editor of the JC (and labelled as such) whose first sentence ran: “Who still has the luxury of believing in the two-state solution? Not the people whose families were slaughtered on October 7, nor parents with sons on the front lines.”
I think the question needs reframing: who still has the luxury of believing in the security state and the steady erosion of Palestinian rights? Not the people whose families were slaughtered on October 7, nor parents with sons on the front lines.