Over at the Daily Beast, Khaled Elgindy gets right at the central question today in Israeli-Palestinian relations:
When does the clock run out on two-state solution and how will we know when it does?
The question raises a debate about how such change does or does not happen more generally. On the one hand, should we study the physical manifestations of the Israeli occupation and settlement project? Maybe when Israel has enough roads, water pipelines, electricity towers, houses, schools, and the like built in the West Bank, the game will be over as it will be impossible to extricate Israel from the West Bank.
On the other hand, maybe this is a perceptual, not physical, battle. As long as Israelis and Palestinians believe the settlements are reversible, they will be so. There is no real building threshold. There is a perceptual one. I think, for example, of Ian Lustick’s book on hegemonic ideas and the collapse of colonialism. That also suggests that skepticism today about a two-state solution might not be permanent if enough minds could be changed.
The possibility that the latter vision is correct, that the future of a two-state solution rests on a battle of perceptions, makes answering the first question – about the possibility that the two-state solution is no longer feasible physically – almost impossible. Whether on my recent trip to Israel or on twitter or elsewhere, I find myself constantly wondering whether someone truly believes a given position on the viability of the two-state solution OR whether they believe it is perceptual battle so they are taking a position to spin the issue. In short, I fear all the evidence we would use to address the first approach (the material/physical one) is cooked if the second, perceptual approach is what really matters.
To put it another way, I would expect in the face of a perceptual battle that advocates on all sides will spin, with some owning up to pessimism in private while publicly touting the optimistic vibrancy of their position.
Israel has removed all of its settlements in two of the four territories it captured in 1967, Sinai and Gaza. It has even removed a few in the West Bank. But the settlement project in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is so so much larger and the ideological commitment is so much deeper that I hesitate to make a straight-up comparison.
And that leaves me with little conclusive to say. For only a test – an attempt to implement an agreement on establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel – will yield conclusive proof one way or the other.