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Parallel Lives: Imagining a Different Future for Israel and Palestine

An excerpt from a new political analysis lays out reasons for hope in the idea of ‘parallel states’

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Abu Dis, 2003. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
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It’s not merely that Israeli society has become so anti-Palestinian; at least there are reasons for this. It’s the prejudice against everything that is not Jewish. We’ve become more closed and hostile, moving in a direction that’s impossible to support—calling for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock or the expulsion of Palestinians, declaring that there will never be a Palestinian state under any conditions, and so on. People pretend to be optimistic—they say, “Look, we’re not as radical as we thought” after the election because of Lapid’s strong showing—but this is an illusion: if Lapid says things like the quote at the start of this essay, then we’re not in the center anymore.

Those words, combined with the deeds that have accompanied them for decades, are cause for despair. At least with Dayan and the other leaders of the 1948 generation, they knew to whom the bill was due, even if they weren’t prepared to pay it. We don’t even know that the bill is due anymore, never mind to whom it’s owed; or perhaps more accurately, we don’t care to know. Today we lack the ability to identify with the other. The impact of this disability on Israeli society is immense, the lack of ability to have pity on others, to sympathize. It’s harder to imagine that maybe Israel could once again become what it used to be because I now doubt whether it ever was what we thought.

It is in this context that today we find ourselves in the midst of another chapter in this struggle. By now, everyone knows that when one launches a military operation, there is no way to predict what its aftermath will be. From the Punic Wars to the Napoleonic conquests and the two world wars, the first moves by one of the parties began with a triumphant fanfare, often followed by impressive achievements on the ground; then they continued with disappointments, and ended in bitter chagrin. On the very first day of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, we were informed of tremendous achievements by the air force in destroying the enemy’s missile stockpiles, just as in previous operations. But amazingly, as the war went on attacks did not lessen, much less stop; on the contrary, they intensified, as though nothing had been destroyed. Moreover, one errant Israeli bomb wiped out a family, instantly turning the war heroes into war criminals.

“So, what do you suggest?”


Hidden motives, a new agenda?

As a first step, I begin by wondering about the hidden motives that impel our government—which we are supposed to trust implicitly—first in going to war, and second, in feeding the public falsehoods. Too often have we gone through the ritual in which extraneous considerations encourage public attention to focus on a cycle of violence that suppresses thought and fans passions. As in narrative plots, psychological motives are at work here that do not manifest themselves either in headlines or in what underlies them. Here, precisely, lies the position that should be occupied by the irresponsible eccentric known as the “intellectual,” who, in contrast to commentators and politicians, eventually gets bored with thinking the same thoughts all the time.

The problem is that the practical, ostensibly acceptable ideas are appallingly limited. Time and again we chew the same conceptual cud; time and again we hear the same moldy, despair-creating solutions, which are unable to break the vicious cycle of stimulus and response— the solutions we have witnessed all our lives. As someone who is considered an “involved writer,” I am frequently asked, after I voice comments of one kind or another, the question of questions: “So, what do you suggest?” I prefer to say what I dream about. I dream about a leader who embarks on peace talks more easily than he or she embarks on a military operation. Someone who is not entirely certain that the only language Arabs understand—in contradistinction to us—is the language of force. I dream of someone who is capable of fresh thinking.

This is where the Parallel States Project comes into the picture. I have been involved in the group of scholars, activists, and diplomats represented in the book One Land, Two States since its inception more than half a decade ago. At first—and perhaps second—glance, the idea seemed fantastical (and indeed, it still does): two parallel states covering the entire territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. How can we share something even more intimately when we can’t manage to divide it so disproportionately? And yet there is something powerful about the idea that each state will have the right to say, “it’s all mine,” for it means that for the first time citizens of the two states will truly realize their sovereignty “bodily”; they will bear that sovereignty wherever they go within the borders of Israel-Palestine.

Sovereignty based on the citizen, not on the territory: the meaning of this transformation is as profound as it is still difficult for me to comprehend. This is something we have barely yet talked about among the participants in this project. It is like creating a European citizen on top of and alongside one’s older “national” identity; like the Pole who carries his national identity wherever he travels but now today has a European identity that is equally important. For me, such a notion of sovereignty allows for the retention of an Israeli Jewish identity while also becoming fully “Middle Eastern.” I would rather have a new Middle Eastern identity than a merely Jewish Israeli identity. This is the real “New Middle East,” a very different one from the version originally dreamed up and sold by Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin, and the other architects of Oslo.

I think about the practical ramifications: all citizens of the two states would be able to live wherever they chose between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and yet remain citizens of one or another of the two states exclusively. They would be able to vote for the governing bodies of their state and be brought to trial according to the laws of that state, and yet would share the land, completely, with the other whom for a century their people had been in a life-and-death struggle to evict. Having state-exclusivity but sharing land completely—this is the trick that makes a Parallel States plan seem simultaneously fantastical and perhaps unrealistic and yet profoundly realistic. It can help heal, or at least displace and yet heal, all the anger that swims around inside every inhabitant of this land, regardless of which side he or she lives on.

In short, a Parallel States plan helps us heal by allowing and encouraging us to share. Seven years ago, I wrote, “Coveting the same land, like coveting the same woman, creates a complex relationship. You can’t help feeling close to someone who is attracted to the same things you are. Loving the same woman means that you have something in common deep down inside. On the one hand you feel close to this man, on the other you yearn for his destruction. Whatever the case, the bond created between you and he cannot be denied.”

Of course, in this scenario the one who is always denied choice is the woman, here the land (which in both Hebrew [adamah] and Arabic [ard] is gendered feminine). She becomes passive, without the ability to make the choice. She becomes perhaps the primary victim of the abuse, the violence, and the anger. If today we don’t care about two-thousand-year-old olive trees—how can you care about the olive trees and destroy them by the thousands, as we’ve done?—or the landscape, which we’ve destroyed with giant roads and monstrous walls, how can we say we love the land? We’re not talking about the same kind of love, or love of any sort anymore. The land is merely used and abused.

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Parallel Lives: Imagining a Different Future for Israel and Palestine

An excerpt from a new political analysis lays out reasons for hope in the idea of ‘parallel states’