This op-ed by Matt Nosanchuk was published in the New York Jewish Week. It was written in response to Peter Beinart’s essay in the New York Times and Jewish Currents, which argued that Liberal Zionists should abandon the two-state solution.
To support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict throughout the past 25 years has required doing so through a seemingly unending cycle of diminishing hope and rising despair. As the interim status created by Oslo Accords has become a permanent purgatory, we are plagued with the question: Is the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dead? In two recent essays, in Jewish Currents and the New York Times, Peter Beinart argues, yes.
For liberal Zionists, pessimism grows as we see a prominent voice kick what feels the last vestiges of a two-state solution to the curb. But while we despair, many of us understand. Beinart’s argument is compelling to those American Jews who have seen Israel expand settlements and move toward annexation of the West Bank, consigning Palestinians to second class citizenship.
I co-founded the New York Jewish Agenda out of a necessity to speak on these issues from the perspective of the state’s liberal Jewish mainstream, who support Israel, oppose the policies of the Netanyahu government, and favor a just, negotiated two-state solution. As the Israeli right continues to move the Overton window on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pushing far beyond what was ever deemed acceptable, I understand the temptation to throw in the towel. It is nothing short of maddening to see the Israeli government continue to create new barriers—physical and otherwise—to a two-state solution. I nonetheless still believe that it is a temptation we must reject.
Beinart envisions a progressive one-state solution. He argues for abandoning the idea of a Jewish state altogether in favor of a binational state that provides Israelis with a “Jewish home.” This Jewish home, he argues, does not necessitate a Jewish state.
This position fails to wrestle with the indispensability of statehood to Jewish identity and safety, a concern rightfully central to Jews in Israel, America, and throughout the world. The desire for a Jewish state emanates from the experience of discrimination and bloodshed Jews have faced in nearly every society we have called home. A one-state reality, which would almost certainly turn the world’s only Jewish majority state into yet another nation in which they are a minority, ignores this history. This idea of a Jewish home also downplays entirely the emergence of an Israeli identity. I cannot imagine Israelis (or, for that matter, Palestinians) agreeing to a solution that would strip them of their national identity.
It is also important to examine Beinart’s argument in terms of pure feasibility. The Netanyahu government has made it abundantly clear that they effectively want a one-state solution. The one state that many Israelis, especially on the right, want, the one that in essence exists today, looks nothing like the one Beinart imagines. I firmly believe that abandonment of a two-state solution plays right into Netanyahu’s hands. It is a one-state solution in which Palestinians are and remain second-class citizens and are denied basic human and civil rights.
This is not to say that a two-state solution is likely to come to fruition anytime in the near future. But it remains more achievable than the one state Beinart envisions. Any viable peace must be agreed upon by both the Israelis and Palestinians and resolve outstanding, competing claims.
Whatever solution that we, as progressive American Jews, advocate for, it must be one that is in fact feasible. If there is no political will to negotiate a peace that preserves and secures Israel’s Jewish identity, there is certainly no will for one that dissolves it.
To be sure, advocating for a two-state solution requires us to speak against the current path the Netanyahu government has taken. As the Israeli government moves towards annexation, the latest step in a series of provocations that make peace less likely, it alienates a generation of young American Jews, whose progressive politics are at odds with those driving policies and actions in Israel.
This alienation compounds when leaders of the establishment decry and stifle any dissent of Israel’s government or its actions as antisemitic. One can disagree with Beinart on the substance, but calling him or his argument anti-Semitic is a transparent attempt to smear and defame him, which is particularly troubling coming from those who are supposedly focused on calling out the defamation of Israel. Beinart makes his argument in good faith. The same cannot be said of those who accuse him of playing into the hands of antisemites or aligning with Hamas, as well as those who belittle the plight of the Palestinian people.
I defend the two-state solution from the same place that Beinart abandons it. I share his commitment to the security of the Jewish people and the human rights of the Palestinian people, but his vision cannot be realized through a binational state. While a two-state solution remains elusive, it is something we must continue to fight for. The shared dignity, peaceful existence, and liberation of both Jews and Palestinians depend on it.
Matt Nosanchuk is co-founder and President of the New York Jewish Agenda. He served in senior positions in the Obama Administration, including as the liaison to the American Jewish community and on the National Security Council.