John Mearsheimer is one of the leading opponents of Israel in America. He contends that a two state solution is not a viable option. Instead, Mearsheimer contends that Israel seeks a single state solution in which it will continue to rule Gaza and the West Bank indefinitely while denying the Arab residents of those territories the rights of citizenship. This situation he compares with Apartheid South Africa in which residents of the nation who should have received the full rights of citizenship were denied them. His basic argument is that this is untenable for long and that what will eventually occur in the territory now controlled by Israel will be a Democratic bi-national state, dominated by Palestinians, and ceasing to be a Jewish state.
Mearsheimer believes in this inevitability because he contends that Israel lacks the will to concede everything to the Palestinians that it must concede in order to achieve a two state solution and that it simply cannot maintain for long a single Jewish dominated state, “Greater Israel,” that denies the Arab residents of Gaza rights as citizens.
If Israel indeed were to incorporate the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza into “Greater Israel” then Mearsheimer is mostly correct here. Israel cannot permanently control the territory while denying its inhabitants rights as citizens without rightly being accused of mistreatment of those inhabitants and justifying questions about whether or not they should be granted rights as citizens. Those who would argue that the Palestinians do not wish to achieve peace and that therefore Israel can simply continue to expand settlements in their midst without worrying about the needs of the Palestinian population are extremely and dangerously wrong. While a two state solution is Israel’s goal, the US and others will treat Israel as a democratic friend. If that solution were to be abandoned by Israel, support from Western powers would almost certainly follow.
One place where Mearsheimer is wrong is that Israel has options to create two states if negotiations fail. It COULD if it wished, for example, abandon much of the West Bank and abandon the Eastern border (which would be a security nightmare) in Palestinian hands. This is a BAD option for everyone involved, but it is a better option than absorbing the entire population of the West Bank and Gaza into Israel’s and creating a bi-national state. Hence, Mearsheimer is wrong in his conclusion that the primary or only option that will be available if a two state neogiated solution is not found is “Greater Israel.” If Israel abandoned Gaza and most of the West Bank, sealing its borders with those territories, it would leave them as enormous problems for Egypt and Jordan as well as itself. Likely in that scenario both Egypt and Jordan will seal their own borders with the Palestinians because of the volatility and danger that open borders with them would create and the Palestinians will be in a far worse situation than they find themselves in today. The Palestinians, not just Israel, have incentive to negotiate.
A two state solution would involve a Palestinian state controlling well over 90 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza as well as territorial swaps that would add to that territory in exchange for territory in the West Bank that would become part of Israel. Likely, some portion of Eastern Jerusalem, possibly Northeastern and Southeastern, would be turned over in the deal to the Palestinians and become the capital of the new Palestinian state. There would be restrictions on Palestinian military capabilities and possibly border access. Earlier discussions would have given the Palestinians control over the borders, but since 2005, with the Hamas takeover of Gaza, it makes less sense to argue that Palestinians could guarantee Israel’s security if it opened the Jordanian border. This situation will almost certainly now require some sort of security agreement with Israel in which Israel continues to maintain Eastern border control so as to prevent the importation of massive amounts of dangerous armaments.
Mearsheimer suggests that a bi-national democratic state is the best solution that is available, something that Palestinian supporters want to hear because it would result in the elimination of the Jewish state and would be a Palestinian dominated one. What he doesn’t understand is that this is itself not a viable option.
In essence, a single “bi-national” state is the reversal of the outcome of the 1948 war, eliminating Israel and creating an Arab dominated state in what was British Mandatory Palestine. The assumption that there would not be war between the parties immediately upon the creation of a bi-national state, which would almost certainly need to be forced upon Israel by the UN, is ludicrous. Those who support this option are dangerously idealistic and unrealistic. This attempted solution would result in a new war between Jews and Arabs. In that war, the losing population would almost certain be forced to flee in large numbers.
It could well be that the Palestinians gain enough strength to cause the Jews to flee with the backing of the Arab nations, but the result could easily be the mass flight of more Palestinians. In this scenario, a regional war would result and there would be tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Thus, in my view Mearsheimer’s single state alternative to a two state solution is far worse than the status quo and amounts to re-fighting the wars of 1948 and 1967 in the hope that the Jews lose. A peaceful solution it is not.
The status quo is not good by any means, although it should not be considered “Apartheid” as Mearsheimer does because the Palestinians are actively at war with Israel and not citizens of the state. Mearsheimer ignores the fact that the Palestinians have an alternative to extricate themselves from the status quo, namely a two state solution that Israel can accept. The Palestinians have an incentive to make peace and to make concessions to achieve it. It is simply Antisemitic to term the results of the Palestinians’ refusal to live at peace alongside Israel under the Camp David accords of 2000, namely Israeli defenses against and responses to harm done by Palestinians, as “Apartheid.”
The only viable solution in the long run is a two state solution and to achieve it any time soon, we need to stop talking about single state alternatives. They are far worse than the status quo. If they are the alternatives, the status quo will continue. Achieving peace will be difficult, for both sides. Are there settlers who would resist the abandonment of isolated settlements in the West Bank? Of course! Israel will need to address its radicals just as the PA will need to address its radicals for there to be peace. It will be painful, but so is eternal conflict.
Mearsheimer wants to see Israel as a malicious and power hungry entity that MIGHT actually go through with a policy of ethnic cleansing in order to maintain the territory of “Greater Israel” with a Jewish majority. Yet, Israel has controlled the West Bank for 43 years and has not done that. Why should there be any question that it would now?
The only real possibility of a major population shift occurring is with a regional war instigated by the Arabs against Israel, either in pursuit of its elimination outright, or for the creation of a Palestinian dominate bi-national state. Mearsheimer suggests that Israel might use a war as a pretext to oust Palestinians. BUT he neglects to consider the idea that the war might well be a civil war in which the Palestinians are enemy combatants!!! Mearsheimer assumes that the Palestinians would be non-violent innocent bystanders being expelled. What if they were in fact a defeated rebellious army or part of a regional Arab army? I could certainly see such a war happening in pursuit of a Palestinian dominated single state solution.
This is a scenario that the Palestinians need to avoid and Mearsheimer is advocating that they position themselves for it! If the Palestinians were to engage in a civil war with the Jews of course American Jews would have a problem with it and would defend the defensive actions of the Jews against the offensive actions of Palestinians and the Arab world. It is ridiculous to think otherwise, but Mearsheimer wishes to see such support for the security of Israel and Jews as somehow evil and that Israel and the “Israel lobby” would support ethnic cleansing under the “PRETEXT” of security.
Mearsheimer in fact delves into what is pure demonization. He wrote in his recent speech to the Palestine Center in Washington, D.C.:
We should not underestimate Israel's willingness to employ such a horrific strategy if the opportunity presents itself. It is apparent from public opinion surveys and everyday discourse that many Israelis hold racist views of Palestinians and the Gaza massacre makes clear that they have few qualms about killing Palestinian civilians. It is difficult to disagree with Jimmy Carter's comment earlier this year that "the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings." A century of conflict and four decades of occupation will do that to a people.
Mearsheimer is simply spewing Jew hatred here. He might as well have said, “Look at those evil Jews!!! They will certainly do this if we let them!!! The Israelis are going to ‘massacre’ the Palestinian civilians!!! Jimmy Carter said that the Israelis consider the Palestinians to be animals! Surely they are willing to slaughter them!”
If this is not Jew hatred, it is at a minimum shameful speech. In fact, U. of Chicago should fire Mearsheimer for using this language which is reminiscent of descriptions of Jews as war mongers who can only but be trusted to do evil when presented the opportunity.
We need to make it clear that what this man is promoting is not reasonable and not a peaceful solution, but instead advocating for the eradication of the Jewish state through war and demonizing, not only Israel, the Jewish state, but Jews as whole in the process.
The full text of Mearsheimer’s Palestine Center speech may be found at: