Two-state obfuscation

Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality by Ian S. Lustick, University of Pennsylvania Press (2019)

Any American who has asked their representative or senator a question related to Palestinian rights knows that it only seems to auto-generate the following response: “I support the two-state solution.”

The words spill right out of the box like a mantra, or a Pavlovian reaction, or perhaps, even like a Manchurian Candidate triggered by a post-hypnotic suggestion. The response invariably is also evasive of the actual question asked.

Like any paradigm, Ian S. Lustick observes in Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, the two-state solution has become so ingrained and enshrined that it represents a barrier to critical thinking.

Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and a specialist on Israeli politics, abandoned the two-state solution in the early 2010s after nearly 50 years of advocacy. He achieved public attention with a 2013 opinion column in The New York Times titled “Two-State Illusion.”

Three obstacles

In this slim new book, Lustick cites three obstacles that inadvertently helped guarantee the demise of the two-state solution, devoting a chapter to each. His concluding chapter, titled “One-State Reality and Its Future,” outlines strategies for a rights-based approach to secure equality and freedom for all – Israeli Jews, non-Jewish immigrants and Palestinians.

The author identifies the first obstacle as a “flaw” in the notorious Iron Wall strategy outlined by the revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky in 1923 and later adopted by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.

The strategy advocated for the complete military defeat of the Palestinians and their Arab allies until Zionist settlement in the “Land of Israel” emerged triumphant and unassailable. Then, and only then, Jabotinsky envisioned, could Israel proceed to a peace arrangement with “moderate” Arabs willing to “compromise.”

The “flaw” in this strategy, Lustick maintains, is that the resulting military strength only encouraged Israel to remain implacable. Lustick blames the demise of the two-state solution entirely on Israeli leaders who, he argues, failed to recognize the willingness of the Palestine Liberation Organization to compromise when it officially accepted a two-state solution in 1988.

Lustick identifies the second obstacle as a distortion of the collective memory of the Holocaust. Zionist leaders categorized Palestinians as “Nazis” as part of a crude propaganda campaign to unite Ashkenazi and Arab Jews and to reinforce the Zionist idea of “an unbridgeable abyss that separates Jews and gentiles.”

That device has been used to rally Israelis around military adventures, such as when prime minister Menachem Begin invoked the World War II extermination camp at Treblinka to win public approval for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Or more recently, when Israel’s current head of state, Benjamin Netanyahu, proclaimed that “It’s 1938” and “Iran is Germany.”

For Lustick, this distortion of Holocaust memory fails to account for Nazi “crimes against humanity,” which included extermination not just of Jews but also of Roma, Slavs, homosexuals and disabled people.

The constant invocations of the Holocaust also worked against the Zionist leadership and its separatist goal of an exclusively Jewish state, the author observes.

Many Israelis began to understand “the universalism” of the Holocaust, Lustick contends, especially following the publication of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963 and the 2008 release of the animated film Waltz with Bashir that invokes the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982.

Universalism enabled Israelis to appreciate “the common humanity of Jews and Palestinian Arabs.” In doing so, it helped undermine the effort to cast Palestinians as Nazis, although the propaganda nevertheless remained a strong enough factor to prevent a two-state solution.

Finally, Lustick indicts the Israel lobby and its “disproportionate influence” in US Congress as the third obstacle and final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. By successfully pushing year after year for military aid to Israel, the lobby created a “cocoon of unconditional American support” that undermined Israeli moderates and made Israeli hawks more hawkish.

As the Israeli electorate shifted increasingly to the right, Israeli leaders saw no need to negotiate for a two-state solution. An attitude of “intransigent maximalism” emerged in the Israeli polity, Lustick writes, and this triumphalist version of Zionism “destroyed possibilities” for a historical compromise.

Winning rights for all

The result is a one-state reality without democracy. Lustick embraces the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as the way forward.

He argues that the two-state paradigm is “solution based” whereas BDS relates to a “process.”

The former focuses on the result – two independent states – whereas BDS deals with the process of winning rights for all, regardless of whether there are two states or one.

Under the two-state solution, Israel could continue to discriminate against its Palestinian citizens and Palestinian refugees. BDS, however, asserts the rights of all.

Proposals for a two-state solution, Lustick argues, had always put their “emphasis on the sovereign independence of those states, with almost no consideration of the rights and statuses of the populations they will govern.”

Moreover, proponents of the two-state solution had often resorted to chauvinistic arguments heralding separation and instilling fear of an Arab demographic problem, in effect “exploiting and even fanning Jewish hatred and fear of Arabs.”

The BDS movement, by contrast, focuses on “realizing Palestinian rights to equality and nondiscrimination under international law and the laws of the state that governs them,” Lustick writes.

As he probes what the BDS “process” might look like, however, he raises sensitive questions regarding Palestinian national rights. These include whether Palestinians should boycott municipal elections in Israeli-controlled Jerusalem instead of using them to improve conditions there.

Similarly, he suggests “not opposing annexation per se but rather shaping it.” Lustick seems to imply that since BDS is a process and since the two-state solution is dead, it may not make sense to oppose all annexation plans.

He also seems to reduce Palestinian civil society demands to one: equal rights. In doing so, Lustick neglects that Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS also demands ending the occupation and allowing Palestinian refugees to exercise their right to return.

Perhaps because the author is a specialist in Israeli politics, he focuses unduly on what the Israeli left can accomplish within the country and neglects the role of the global BDS movement, particularly in the US and Europe.

That movement can influence directly the governments or blocs that play crucial roles in upholding Israeli apartheid, especially the US, UK and the EU. The challenge then is to pressure legislators to recognize that espousing support for a two-state solution is not an answer to the question of Palestinian rights, it’s an obfuscation.

Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and is active with the Occupation-Free Portland campaign.




Given Israeli power and ambitions, unstinting political, military and economic support from Europe and the United States, and foundational precepts of racism dating from the earliest days of the project, I see no reason to assume there was ever an actual possibility for two states. Such an outcome was absolutely antithetical to the purpose and meaning of Israel and was never in the cards. And I say this as someone who once believed differently. The nature of the Israeli state dictates that no Palestinian state be allowed to come into being in what they regard as the Land of Israel. To permit otherwise would be to negate all that they've done and hold sacred. The only way that Israel could have been compelled to even temporarily tolerate something like a true Palestinian state on its "borders" would have been as a consequence of a crippling defeat in war. And in that remote event, it would have been only a matter of time before they'd have rebuilt their military capacity and launched a war of pitiless retaliation.
Nevertheless, the review here of Ian Lustick's book suggests a viewpoint that deserves a hearing. I hope this study receives wide circulation because there's still much work to be done in disabusing the public of that mendacious fiction- whose title reminds one of a Sherlock Holmes entertainment- "The Case of the Two-State Solution".


I had not been aware until now of the publication of Ian Lustick's new book. This made me sit up, because Lustick is indeed a specialist in Israeli politics and particularly of the condition of Israelis of Palestinian origin. His book "Arabs in the Jewish State: Israel's Control of a National Minority", which was published back in 1980 testifies to that. Apart from Palestinian scholars and specialists like Sabri Jiryis and Elia Zureik, two non-Palestinian writers and researchers with particular expertise of the condition of Israel's Palestinian minority are Jonathan Cook and Ian Lustick.
I am looking forward to reading Lustick's perspective.
Roch Such makes a good point: the struggle for equal rights in a one-state reality doesn't mean we should give up resisting the occupation with its relentless spread of colony building, its interminable violations of international law and outrageous war crimes.
I understand why the Palestinians have rightly refused to recognise Israel's illegal annexation of Arab East-Jerusalem. It is a matter or principle. But on the other hand I can see how it deprives the Palestinian population of East-Jerusalem of its voting power which has contributed to the systematic neglect of its interests in East-Jerusalem. Is it better to acknowledge the reality of the annexation and attempt to shape it through the big influence Palestinian voting power can exert? What will the demography-obsessed Israeli state do to counter and dissipate this "demographic threat"? These are the big dilemmas under consideration.
I cannot see how the current de facto one-state reality can be turned back and we therefore need to think and discuss how in this reality we can best help the Palestinians.
There are some interesting trends in Israel. The Joint List did well in the last elections and has in fact now become the only party of true opposition. Gantz's Kahol Lavan is more and more resembling a "Likud Light" version of Netanyahu's Likud party.
Jews are voting for the Joint List in increasing numbers and the Joint List is trying to make inroads in the Haredi community as well. The Joint List is increasingly becoming the party, where a Jewish-Arab partnership is taking shape, based on mutual respect and equality.
I hope that Lustick's book will help people to think beyond the discredited paradigm of the "two state solution", which even at the best of times only provided a partial solution.


At last, a challenge to the simplistic and responsibility-evasive mantra of two states. Thank you, Ian Lustick, for articulating the ideas behind both this avoidance and any intermediary way forward.


Curious here about how Ian Lustick thinks annexation can be "shaped" & by whoem & into what shape?


I remember reading Lustick's earlier book that was published around 2000 where he predicted that a 2 state solution is inevitable. Now, he is writing the exact opposite. Even his current 1 state description is problematic because Israelis cannot cross into the Gaza Strip while Gazans cannot cross into Israel. It seems to me that Lustick's ideas are quite blurry, shifting and open to perpetual re-interpretations.


Rod Such and the Electronic Intifada are head and shoulders above everything else that is presented as "left" or "progressive" in the U.S. today.