Is a Two State Solution Possible in Israel/Palestine? Considering the Paradigms of the Conflict with Ian Lustick

In our latest episode, Ian Lustick joins us to talk about the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Listen in as we dive into how we might think about the paradigm of a two-state solution in historical perspective, and the ways in which history matters when we look at issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and beyond.

Ian Lustick is the author of an important book, Paradigm Lost: From Two State Solution to One State Reality, which is the focus of our conversation today. He holds the Bess W. Heyman Chair in the Political Science Department of the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches Middle Eastern politics, comparative politics, and computer modeling.

Paradigm Lost is an important book, and a profoundly challenging one. It presents an argument that not everyone will agree with. The idea that a two state resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is no longer possible is not really a new one: it’s been a quarter-century since the Oslo agreements, and pessimism seems to reign.

But Lustick offers two powerful but potentially controversial ideas about the failure of the two state solution.

First, he insists that it is not just about the inability to implement a good idea since the ‘90s. Instead, he places the blame directly on Israel’s settlement project and its “territorial maximalism,” which has its roots in the history of the entire twentieth-century conflict. He points to Zev Jabotinsky’s notion of the “Iron Wall,” the idea that Arabs would only negotiate with Jews after they had been defeated – which had the paradoxical outcome that repeated Israeli victories emboldened the Israeli leadership so they were less likely to come to the negotiating table. He also emphasizes the collective memory of the Holocaust as a profound factor in Israeli society, and the pro-Israel lobby in the United states, both of which embolden Israel’s hawkish parties and make the Israelis less likely to come to negotiate a two state solution.

Secondly, Lustick — who once was a proponent of the two state solution, now says that it is a distraction from reality. He argues that there is, and has long been, just one state between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. The pursuit a of a two state solution, he posits, is an unrealizable dream when the real need is to push for equal rights and citizenship for all people living in this territory which is effectively one state.

It is, as he puts it, a paradigm shift: borrowing the language of the history of science and Thomas Kuhn in particular, he talks about the fundamental structures of how we look at the world. If we replace the paradigm of a two-state solution with a new paradigm, a one-state reality, it totally changes the way that we look at the conflict, the questions we ask, and the kinds of resolutions we might strive towards.

Again, not everyone will agree with Ian’s analysis, but we hope the book, and our conversation today on the podcast, will help generate conversations about Israel, the Palestinians, and the way we look at the future of the region.

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