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Why Albert Einstein can’t help the orphans of Gaza

Over at MondoWeiss, Adam Horowitz gives us a “Zeitgeist Alert” and proclaims that “The two-state solution is dead.”

He quotes a piece by Sandy Tolan in the Christian Science Monitor that presents all-too-familiar arguments for why it is too late, there is no hope, the Palestinians have been deprived of a state of their own, give up, give up, all you two-state idealists, the settlement enterprise is irrevocable, nothing can get the Jews out of Ariel…

That might be true, of course. The odds are more daunting than ever. But these warnings are hardly new. What is new is the turned-up volume of the one-staters, who have decided that, somehow, magically, out of the torn limbs and mangled homes of Gaza, at a moment when the utter hatred between Israelis and Palestinians has never been more raw, the answer comes from…Albert Einstein.

Here is Horowitz, quoting Tolan:

Yet it was no less a man than Albert Einstein who believed in “sympathetic cooperation” between “the two great Semitic peoples” and who insisted that “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” A relative handful of Israelis and Palestinians are beginning to survey the proverbial new ground, considering what Einstein’s theories would mean in practice. They might take heart from Einstein’s friend Martin Buber, the great philosopher who advocated a binational state of “joint sovereignty,” with “complete equality of rights between the two partners,” based on “the love of their homeland that the two peoples share.”

Even though Tolan uses examples from the past, it’s clear the discourse is moving forward.

Those who agree with Einstein and Buber today have not come up with a practical political path to get from here to there. They just content themselves with keeping the “discourse” alive, preferring to reside in a kind of rarified, ideological never-never-land where simply advocating a dream is sufficient. There is a reason why only a “relative handful” of Israelis and Palestinians are surveying “proverbial ground.” The reason is that the rest of them must live on real ground, in the actual world. As former Palestinian negotiator Ghaith al-Omari once told me, “It is easy to live in Chicago and believe in a one-state solution. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza understand that the most immediate priority is to end the occupation, as soon as possible…That means two states.” They cannot afford to wait until Esperanto becomes a universal language, nuclear weapons are dismantled everywhere, and Israeli Jews decide to renounce their state and become a minority group, like Jews everywhere else.

I would like to believe that, had I been a contemporary of Buber and Judah Magnes and the other Israeli idealists who strived for a binational state, I would have agreed with them. But I am not their contemporary. Check out this screed from Realistic Dove, from April, 2007, for a few reasons (mostly from Uri Avnery) why the one-state solution is simply unworkable. This is not the place for yet another rendition of that tired argument.

It is worth pointing out, though, that those who are perpetuating the one-state idea now are inadvertently hurting Palestinians in the ravaged Gaza Strip.

A fascinating JTA op-ed last week by Americans for Peace Now’s Ori Nir has not gotten the attention it deserves. It offers compelling reasons why, right now, “the only real viable hope for Gaza is a link to the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank. Only a strong relationship with the West Bank, reinforced by unhindered safe passage between the two Palestinian territories, can provide the remedy for Gaza. In other words, the only real hope for Gaza lies in the two-state solution.”

Here it is, in full:

Two states the only hope for Gaza normalcy
By Ori Nir · January 25, 2009

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Last week I dug up an old, yellowing Israeli intelligence report from April 1987 headlined “The Gaza Strip toward the year 2000.” It was authored by the “Civil Administration,” Israel’s military government, only several months before the eruption in Gaza of the first intifada.

The secret document, distributed to Israel’s top security leadership, provides both a high-resolution snapshot (more than 200 pages) of Gaza and a careful forecast. Amazingly, it predicted a process of multifaceted integration of the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Reading the report, written less than 22 years ago, is like a voyage to ancient history. What the report clearly shows, however, is that policy mistakes and misunderstandings about Gaza are as old as Israel’s 41-year-old occupation of the strip.

The population of Gaza in 1987 was 633,600. Today it has climbed to more than 1.5 million. The report predicted that by the year 2000, the strip’s population would reach 1 million — a “maximal forecast” depicted as “unreasonable,” meaning unreasonably high. In fact, by 2000, the strip’s population had mushroomed to 1.132 million. The fertility rate for 2000 was predicted to drop from 6.60 to 5.80, but it remained at 6.55 and was estimated at 5.19 in 2008.

The report did talk, casually , about the “increase in the strength” of the fundamentalist Islamist political stream, but noted that although the Islamists support Israel’s destruction, they believe that their first focus ought to be “preparing the hearts and minds” within their community.

Around that time, as a reporter covering Palestinian affairs, I met with the Israeli governor of Gaza, who told me that Israel had “no problem” with the Islamists because they were not engaged in any subversive or violent activity. To the contrary: Israel’s military government in Gaza, dividing and ruling as it always did, gently nurtured the Islamists as a counterweight to the Palestinian Liberation Organization during the 1980s.

The most fascinating — and today fantastical — chapter in the report is the one examining the social trends in the strip. It predicted the accelerated socio-political integration of the Gaza Strip into Israel, as well as “an increase in reciprocal dependency between the Gaza Strip and Israel.” It predicted the “penetration of the Strip’s employees into high-level professions in Israel,” and even Gazans’ “imitation of the Israeli life style.”

So much for that. The Palestinians of Gaza rebelled against Israel’s occupation months after the report was issued and have been fighting for independence for more than two decades.

The Palestinians of Gaza, just like their brethren in the West Bank, need and deserve political independence. But the Gaza Strip simply cannot live in political or economic isolation. The 22-year-old Israeli report is clear about that. Its message is that the Gaza Strip has no viability, no future, as an isolated, detached entity.

At the time there was no fence between Israel and Gaza, not even a roadblock or a checkpoint at the entrance to the strip. Today it is impossible to imagine open borders between Israel and Gaza.

Israel will not become again an economic lifeline for Gaza in the foreseeable future. Neither will Egypt, its southern neighbor. Both Israel and Egypt see Gaza as nothing but trouble.

The only real viable hope for Gaza is a link to the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank. Only a strong relationship with the West Bank, reinforced by unhindered safe passage between the two Palestinian territories, can provide the remedy for Gaza. In other words, the only real hope for Gaza lies in the two-state solution.

Israelis and Palestinians must keep in mind that a cease-fire is not an alternative to peace. Israelis and Palestinians, and the international third parties that help them advance toward peace, must remember that just as a two-state solution is the only way in which Israel can secure its long-term character as a Jewish and democratic state, so does the two-state solution provide the only hope for Gaza to reach a reasonable level of normalcy and sustainability in the long run. Only a two-state solution can provide the uninterrupted, robust lifeline to the West Bank that the Gaza Strip needs.

The war and the cease-fire that followed show yet again that only a two-state solution provides a horizon of hope for Israelis and Palestinians to reach the peace and long-term security that they so much deserve.

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