Will Democrats stay stuck in a two-state time warp?

Two men talk together at conference with people in background

Martin Indyk has hosted the far-right Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman in Washington. 

Shahar Azran Polaris

Palestine activists reading this week’s letter from 32 former US diplomats and national security officials urging Democratic Party leaders to push for the party’s platform to express “support for the security and rights of both Israelis and Palestinians” may be inclined to run headlong into the nearest wall.

These officials’ effort to salvage the two-state solution is too little, too late.

They had their chances to stand up to Israeli racism and expansionism and failed. Miserably.

Now, in the midst of a pandemic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump are poised to move forward with Israel’s summer annexation of a huge piece of the West Bank.

Credible talk should address the apartheid faced by Palestinians and efforts to secure equal rights for Palestinians in a one-state reality.

Instead, the letter to the Democratic National Committee notes that Trump’s “Deal of the Century” provides Israel’s government with “a green light to annex all West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley and maintain its occupation in perpetuity, making a sovereign, independent and contiguous Palestinian state impossible.”

This is true as far as it goes. But why is it happening?

It’s transpiring because officials such as the letter’s signers didn’t insist on real pushback and sanctions for Israel’s illegal settlement policies and anti-Palestinian discrimination. Surely, they must have held some awareness that this was Netanyahu’s end game all along, notwithstanding all his obvious lies to the Obama administration about his good-faith pursuit of two states.

Acknowledging now that prior Democratic platforms have been “nearly silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution, and on the need for security for both peoples” is like publicly recognizing the horse has left the barn without putting forward a plan of action for how to address the situation. This horse isn’t going back in the barn.

No sanctions are recommended to head off Israel’s proposed action with the backing of the Trump administration. There’s no insistence that apartheid and Bantustans are morally wrong.

The signers speak of “equal rights” but couch it within the two-state framework of a “Jewish and democratic state” rather than as a demand Democrats will make about one state in the face of Israel’s entrenchment of the apartheid reality.

The writers argue that the Democratic platform “should include clear opposition to ongoing occupation, settlement expansion and any form of unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank as well as clear opposition to violence, terrorism and incitement from all sides.”


But such language may well be altogether antiquated by the time of the Democratic convention currently scheduled for mid-August. Netanyahu could proceed with annexation as early as 1 July according to the arrangement he struck with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

Platform wording that is behind the times would be fitting for a Democratic Party that has long lagged in its willingness to extend equal rights to Palestinians. The party that eventually supported sanctions and equal rights for Black South Africans in one state (rather than inherently unequal Bantustans), somehow finds the same principle problematic in 2020 for Palestinians enduring Israeli apartheid and the prospect of its July entrenchment.

Even Dennis Ross, who probably did more than any other American negotiator to advance Israel’s interests to the detriment of Palestinians, understands which way the wind is blowing and what these signers appear unprepared to recognize: One state for two peoples is on the way.

Unsurprisingly, the letter says not a word about the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to stolen homes and lands. Nor does it mention Palestinians battered by siege in Gaza and facing a potentially devastating pandemic should COVID-19 enter refugee camps there.

Long-time American diplomats such as Martin Indyk, who signed the letter, spent too much time paving the way in Washington for proto-fascists or outright fascists such as Avigdor Lieberman.

Indyk had help. I was told years ago by an editor at the International Herald Tribune that no word with fascism in it would ever appear in that newspaper to describe Lieberman.

This week’s letter is an unintended reminder that US officials and US journalists for years failed to convey and confront the racism driving Israel’s anti-Palestinian actions. The signers have much to answer for from past years, but continue to raise questions today about their judgment.

Why are they pressing ahead in proposing two-state language to the Democratic National Committee for its platform at a time when Netanyahu and Trump are giving every indication that by July the real discussion will have to be focused on Israeli apartheid or one state with equal rights for all?

Presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden is stuck in a similar two-state time warp. Yesterday, he stated, “A priority now for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace should be resuming our dialogue with the Palestinians and pressing Israel not to take actions that make a two-state solution impossible.”

Like Biden, the officials seeking to advise the Democratic Party are too slow to recognize the reality on the ground and the enormity of the Israeli government’s crimes which today pass as business as usual. Offering analysis rooted in 1990s thinking fails a party that must contend with the apartheid Palestinians face in 2020.

The Democratic Party is out of date and so are its advisers.

They may yet win November’s election. But a Biden presidency offers little hope of rectifying the mess these officials made even prior to the Trump administration’s gleeful upheaving of the wreckage left behind in January 2017.




Annexation will be the death knell for Israel. Not only does it raise the demographic problem and make Israel look all the more like the apartheid state it is, but the economic cost to Israel will be enormous, unless Palestinians are permitted to lapse into atrocious poverty within the Israeli State. It has always been the case that Israel has been trapped. There is only one way out and that is a single democratic State, but that defies Zionist exceptionalism and the inherent racism of the Israeli State. Israel will commit slow suicide if it doesn't accept a one-State solution, though it views such an outcome as the end of a Jewish State. Such is the cleft stick. There is no Jewish State consonant with democracy and justice for all. Democrats who shilly-shally are dooming themselves as well as Israel. John Kerry had the courage, at least, to point out that Israel cannot be both a Jewish and a democratic State. Toying with the chimera of a two-States outcome is suicide for all who propose it. There may yet be a slip twixt cup and lip and the annexation may not take place, but with the ignorance of Trump and the arrogance of Netanyahu, it may well. If so, the kiltering down to disaster will speed up. Notice that even sensible Tory opinion is opposed to annexation (Chris Patten for example) for the obvious reason of the precedent it sets (just wait and see what the Russians do). It is a desperate policy conceived by desperate people who have lost touch with reality. It is the Middle-East equivalent of drinking bleach to cure Covid. No leader of a major nation is calling for a one-State solution. A measure of how stupidly we are governed. The stupidity may bring even more suffering to the Palestinians but it will also ensure the demise of Israel. They have painted themselves into a corner and the door is the one way out they refuse to take. Such are the disasters brought about by a refusal to adjust to reality.


The only recourse now is for the UN to act in the General Assembly to either rescind Israel's membership of the UN since it has never complied with a single Resolution even since 1947, declaring it, by it's own actions, an illegitimate entity. This, as was done with Apartheid South Africa, would automatically generate worldwide sanctions against it. It would lose its status as a state, underlining its decades of war crimes which would still make its leaders and military liable.
This would also trigger the right for the UN to enter territory and take charge and create a one nation government of the whole country from the river to the sea, and create a one democratic state for all its citizens, the removal of all the elements of siege control, enclosure, and apartheid. Free and fair elections would be held, all stolen land and property returned to their rightful owners, the right of return of the Palestinian refugees administered on the basis of UN resolutions.
Once this is put into action, the rest will fall into place.

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.