Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, Ian S. Lustick

Reviewed by Dov Waxman


Ian S. Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has written some seminal books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, notably, Arabs in the Jewish State: Israels Control of a National Minority (1980); For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (1988); and Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza (1993). His latest book, Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, is another provocative and pathbreaking study of the conflict. Short and succinct—just 149 pages (plus copious endnotes)—the book is clearly written, tightly argued, and very timely. Although not everyone will be convinced by its arguments, the book is likely to generate debate and stimulate new thinking and research about Israel and its long-running conflict with the Palestinians.

To be sure, the book’s central claim—that a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict is no longer viable—is hardly groundbreaking. Pessimism about the prospects for a two-state solution (TSS, as he abbreviates it) has become widespread over the past decade. Most Israelis and Palestinians have given up hope for it, and most experts have come to accept, however reluctantly, that the chances of resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that would successfully result in the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel are practically zero. Lustick, once an outspoken advocate for the TSS, has, like many others, become a skeptic. “Two states for two peoples was a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he writes, “but it is not a solution today” (p. 121; emphasis in original).

Rather than simply catalog the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of a TSS, Lustick provides a penetrating analysis of what he describes as Israel’s decades-long refusal, since its victory in the 1967 war, to withdraw from the Occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip and allow for Palestinian self-determination there. Glossing over the fact that some Israeli leaders—Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert—have actually been willing to accept Palestinian statehood (albeit on terms that were not acceptable to Palestinian leaders or their public), Lustick claims that Israel has never really been willing to accept the creation of a Palestinian state, despite paying lip service to the idea in recent decades.

This unwillingness, Lustick argues, is deeply rooted in Israeli politics and culture. He claims that Israel’s “territorial maximalism”—exemplified by its settlement project in the West Bank—is the product of three factors, each of which he discusses at length in different chapters.

The first factor is a flaw in the “Iron Wall” strategy initially proposed by the revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky in 1923 and later adopted by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and his successors. This strategy correctly predicted that Arabs would only be willing to make peace and accept Israel’s existence after they had endured crushing military defeats. It failed, however, to anticipate that repeated warfare and successive victories “would push Jewish psychology and politics toward more extreme demands for the satisfaction of Zionist objectives” (p. 23).

The second factor is the dominant role that the collective memory of the Holocaust has come to play in Israeli public life and political culture—what Lustick calls “Holocaustia”—and the “lesson” that many Israeli Jews have drawn from it, that “the essence of Jewish life in the contemporary world is that all Jews are threatened equally by Nazi-style genocide” (p. 27). This instills in them a pessimistic worldview that exaggerates threats and discounts opportunities for cooperation and peacemaking.

The third factor is the power of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, which Lustick claims has a “hammerlock on U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict” (p. 55). Because the pro-Israel lobby has been so successful at ensuring decades of U.S. diplomatic, military, and financial support for Israel, the unintended result of this has been to politically weaken Israeli “doves” and empower “hawks.”

By focusing his attention on Israeli politics and largely ignoring Palestinian politics and violence, Lustick’s account of the demise of the TSS places the blame solely upon Israel and its American enablers. Neglecting the ways in which Palestinians have also undermined the potential for a TSS results in a somewhat skewed and incomplete explanation for the death of the TSS. But whether or not one accepts Lustick’s contention that Israel is primarily responsible for killing the TSS (albeit not always deliberately), the book offers some insightful, if not entirely original, explanations for Israel’s behavior.

The book’s most novel and compelling arguments concern the “one-state reality” (OSR) that now exists in Israel/Palestine. “There is today one and only one state ruling the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and its name is Israel,” Lustick writes (p. 2). This fact is, or should be, indisputable, and yet many people continue to think of Israel in its pre-1967 boundaries and refuse to recognize that it still effectively controls the West Bank and Gaza and the lives of the Palestinians living there. Lustick makes a powerful case for why both analysis and activism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be grounded in the recognition that, like it or not, Israel ultimately rules all the people and territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

This has profound implications for how we think about Israel, its future, and its relations with Palestinians. Analytically, it means that Israel can no longer be considered a democracy because nearly half its population is disenfranchised (that is, approximately 4.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza). And, Lustick argues, politically, it means that democratizing Israel, rather than creating a Palestinian state alongside it, is the only viable strategy for gradually ameliorating, if not resolving, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lustick admits that “expanding citizenship and suffrage for all will take decades of struggle” (p. 148), but he optimistically claims that it will eventually succeed, as it has elsewhere. Hence, he urges demoralized (and delusional) supporters of a TSS to abandon their fantasy and instead support this nascent struggle for citizenship and equality for all Palestinians living under Israeli rule.

Some readers may not agree with the book’s critique of Israel—though it is more measured and nuanced than many other books—and others may reject its political recommendations as naive or misguided, but at the very least, Paradigm Lost will challenge anyone who reads it to revisit their assumptions, revise their expectations, and wrestle with the grim reality that now prevails in Israel/Palestine. The book should be read by anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anyone who cares about Israel and/or the Palestinians.

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