Let’s start with a matter of life and death. If there are not two states, there will be one. If there is one, it will be Arab. If Arab it is, there is no telling the fate of our children and theirs.
One Arab state from Jordan to the Mediterranean. Not a binational state. For to expect Palestinians and Israelis, having inflicted so much pain on each other for so long, to suddenly turn a page onto harmonious, co-equal cohabitation in one state seems delusional.
Thus, absent two states, and as equality in binationalism is a fantasy, the prospects of one Arab state undoing our Zionist dream looms large.
In an attempt to delay it, the land from the river to the sea might be governed by a zealot Jewish dictatorship, characterized by racial fanaticism, forcing its will on both an Arab majority and Jewish opponents. It would face international boycott, internal bloodbath or both, until it was forced to give way to the inevitable: one Arab state.
So what about a two-state solution? Many argue that it cannot happen on this side of the horizon. To them Yasser Arafat was too strong and mean for such a solution, and his reasonable and thoughtful successor, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, is too weak. Hence, they preach keeping the two-state option alive via “conflict management.”
Alas, last summer we experienced the meaning of “conflict management.” It sentences us to the next Lebanon war, and the one to follow; to the next Gaza war, and the many to follow; as well as to a third, fourth and fifth Intifada in Jerusalem and the West Bank, all spilling over to our streets. The resulting collapse of the Palestinian Authority would mean the emergence of Hamas or a more extreme successor, with untold casualties on both sides. That is what “conflict management” is all about.
Instead, conflict resolution deserves a closer look. In the last 100 years there has been no more promising moment for ending the conflict than today’s.
It is not that our neighbors have converted to Zionism. Nor have they suddenly endorsed our right to this land. But the major regional players — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, others in the region as well as in North Africa — face a destructive threat that is commonly recognized as far more ominous than Israel. Both Iran and Islamic State are responsible for sleepless nights in the capitals of these states. Against this backdrop Israel is now perceived as part of the solution, if cooperation with us can be legitimized by ending the occupation and addressing Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
Twelve years ago we were presented with the Saudi Peace Initiative, later endorsed (with some modifications) by the Arab League. I do not suggest embracing it as is. But engaging the Saudis and others in a discussion of our reservations with this historic reversal of the old rejectionist Arab position is long overdue. It would open the door to two states and regional security.
An inescapable truth — however controversial — is that the 1967 Six Day War was our last decisive victory. For in war the victor is not necessarily he who inflicts greater destruction but he who obtains his objectives. Having set no political objectives for recent wars we could neither expect nor claim victory, and the absence of objectives reflects a reality in which none of our national objectives are attainable by force.
This is not to say that military force is useless. Quite the contrary: It is essential for our survival. Indeed, all too often it has shielded us from destruction. But let us not confuse legitimate self defense — where there can be no compromises — with the illusion of forcefully imposing our political will on others.
And yet our policy is still designed to impose our will by force. By the 100th anniversary of this failed notion, it is time to recognize its arrogance and futility.
Settlers and their supporters at home and abroad tell us that this land is ours by right. What is that right when much of the world — most of the Arab world included — recognizes our right to the State of Israel within the “green line” but uniformly rejects our right to the rest? When it recognizes the right of Palestinians to a state next to ours but dismisses demands for more?
The settlers and their extreme counterparts among Palestinians fail to recognize that rights — however divine — that muster no international legitimacy, belong in the prayer book, not on the national agenda.
Now there is an effort to dictate policy to the United States, regardless of consequences to our most important strategic alliance.
Yet David Ben-Gurion drew the correct conclusion when he taught us that the state of Israel should never find itself without a strong global ally. Today, solid though our alliance with the U.S. is, its durability is not unconditional. It requires nurturing. It certainly must not be subjected to repeated malicious challenges.
In this context we must distinguish the permanent from the transitory. Our alliance with America is transitory. It is incumbent upon us to constantly invest in perpetuating it. On the other hand, our presence next to the Palestinians and in the midst of the Arab world are permanent features of our reality and should inform our choices.
Likewise, the potency of hostile forces — from terrorists to nuclear powers — will change. Thus the superiority of our defense capacity must be permanent. And nothing is more destructive to our security than going it alone, uniting the international community against us and undermining our alliance with the U.S.
Conversely, leading a dynamic peace effort with our Palestinian neighbors under the wing of the Arab Peace Initiative could go a long way in forging a supportive international and regional coalition and in defusing tension in the territories, all contributing to national security.
I am not naive. Peace is no toy resting on a shelf for us just to reach out to have. It is not simply the reluctance of Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert to pay the price that thus far has deprived us of it. Our Palestinian counterparts contributed plenty to past failures. Indeed, there is enough blame to be shared by all involved, third parties and sponsors included.
Consequently, I promise no quick fix, no easy implementation. I empathize with the legitimate fears of millions of Israelis who recognize the need for parting but do not trust the Palestinians for providing security. But I anticipate grave consequences if we don’t part with the Palestinians. For I cannot reiterate enough: It is either two states by choice or one — Arab — state by default.
My premise is simple and straightforward: We are not alone on this land. To my Palestinian friends I say the same: You are not alone here either. This little house of ours must be partitioned to two smaller apartments. And let there be a good fence between them, contributing to good neighborliness.
Once divorced, let us experience coexistence and leave notions of possible cohabitation to future generations. Ours is not a Hollywood western of good vs. evil. It is a real life tragedy of two just causes. We can continue to clash, inflicting further pain. Or we can be reconciled via separation and compromise.
In the land of the Bible one is deterred from competing with the legendary prophets of old. Still, one may state that in the Middle East the life span of “never” or “forever” is between three months and 30 years. My days in uniform during the Six Day War gave way to the Egyptian and Jordanian visas in my passport.
Those who argued vehemently against yielding territory “three times the size of Israel” for peace with Egypt never envisioned that peace standing decades later. Their arguments then and now against peace with the Palestinians reflect the same fear of the unknown, the same reluctance to take risks for the prospects of a better future despite the certainty that the status quo is an illusion, to be replaced with the unacceptable.
As with Egypt and Jordan, our dispute with the Palestinians shall not be resolved overnight. Yet with quality leadership, here, too, the “impossible” can have a short shelf life.
Israeli writer Amos Oz is the co-author of Jews and Words and the author of many other works of fiction and nonfiction. This piece was edited and translated to English by Nimrod Novik.