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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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Perhaps in the first stage of the post-1967 settlement enterprise the settlers had this love-relationship with the land. They were really idealists and in a way—at least from our side—innocent, naively thinking that the “natives” would recognize their claims or passion to come back to the land of their forefathers. They really thought so. And it took them a long time to change. And when they did they became mere colonizers.

This brings us back to Hanin Zuabi, with whom Yair Lapid declared he’d never join in coalition to block a right-wing government. In a Haaretz interview, she said, “Jews don’t know how to love their country.” And today I can understand what she means and can agree with her. We are home; but how can we call home what we treat the way we treat this land?


Returning to our roots

Here it’s important to know whence the Parallel States idea emerged. Basically, the program sprang from the clear recognition that it is impossible to divide the land of Israel and impossible to divide Palestine, either physically or mentally. Perhaps, as Solomon would have admonished us, true love would rather share than mortally divide. Disengagement from the Palestinians carries with it no salvation, but rather the reverse, as we have seen with our own eyes since the “magic solution” concocted by Ariel Sharon for Gaza with the 2005 “disengagement.” (Never mind the “divorce” that Oslo was always supposed to be.) That is why I opposed the unilateral pullout from Gaza with all my might, despite the high price I paid for crossing the political lines.

From an Israeli perspective, the Parallel States idea stems also from the desire to break the dogmatism of the “peace camp”—or should we say “peace religion”—which presupposes, in a mistake that conflicts with reality time and again, that the return of the territory conquered in 1967 will constitute suitable atonement for the sin (with or without quotation marks) that we committed in 1948. The sin has changed over time. Today it is at its heart the sin of forgetting, or of erasing what members of the previous generation saw with their own eyes before partition. And so atonement, then, is bringing back forgotten or repressed memories and confronting them. The Parallel States plan allows this to happen; indeed, it encourages and demands it. If the sin was wiping out the Palestinian reality—not only on the ground but in the memory, history, everything—then atonement is reestablishing and reimplanting that memory, as much within ourselves as allowing them to do so on their ancestral land.

Those participating in this project began from a position of hope, however fantastical: in an era in which, to evoke Marx’s axiom, consciousness is no longer necessarily determined by one’s being, in the virtual and simulative time in which we live—the time of computers, Facebook, Google, and the rest of the Internet, where fewer and fewer connections are material, are real—it is possible, we believe, to apply full sovereignty without territorial attachment. Our political and national identities can be realized without our possessing exclusivity over the territory.

And yet the Parallel States plan is not merely a drastic innovation; it is also a compromise between the prevailing notion of two states for two nations and a binational state. We are talking explicitly about two sovereign nation-states, each of which realizes within its own framework its aspiration for a distinctive, separate identity. Obviously, numberless questions arise, of a legal, economic, and above all security character. The book One Land, Two States represents a preliminary—however hopefully thorough and well-executed—attempt to answer some of the myriad questions arising out of this idea.

Despite all our work and attempts to compromise, despite endless arguments and compromises and pleadings and defiance and “Eureka!” moments, many of our suggestions, never mind their details—for example, in the security realm—will inevitably shatter our illusions about the possible futures before us. That is, there really is no long-term alternative to just continuing to muddle through, to just “managing the Palestinians” while life goes on as normal and the occupation continues indefinitely. Either apartheid or a unitary state is on the horizon, likely both together, if we don’t change soon.

More prosaically, it is clear that however much the Parallel States plan is based on Palestinians and Israelis living together, for the foreseeable future there will be no choice but to allot exclusive areas to each state in which military forces will deploy for every emergency (special forces, secret military assets like the Dimona nuclear reactor, and special combat units). Lions and lambs—or rather, lions and cougars—don’t simply lie down together and forget their past antagonism and competition.


A role for Europe

There is reason to believe that the European community would be obliged to assist in the building of this model by bringing our peculiar animal into its herd, which of course would be a crucial incentive for both sides. This is not a subject of strong agreement among the participants in the project; and indeed, there are some who find it either not so important or even irrelevant (especially considering the difficulties currently being experienced by the European Union). But I believe that offering and encouraging the two states to join the European Union would be the cement that glued the whole process together in the long term, just as the European Union has served as the glue to keep its members together despite all the problems it has failed to address and perhaps even encouraged. Indeed, while leftists suspect that the plan is a right-wing conspiracy to prevent the partition of the country, and the right (as laid out by Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party) plans ultimately to annex all the territory of “Area C” and grant the roughly 150,000 Palestinians living there full citizenship rights within Israel as its preferred solution, a Parallel States solution would ensure in a pragmatic way that all the inhabitants of the country enjoyed the fullest rights possible without having to dilute their core identities or put their basic security and future at risk.

One Land, Two States

That is the plan, in a nutshell. Surprisingly, in discussing the Parallel States solution with a range of people from the extremes of left and right in both communities, hardly anyone suggested sending us for psychiatric observation. All listened attentively. Sometimes their eyes lit up. Astonishingly, people from the right wing in Israel are more receptive to the idea than those from the left, precisely because it satisfies perhaps the most important core goal: to remain rooted as sovereign citizens in the biblical heartland of Eretz Yisrael, in a way that no other plan does.

Our Palestinian partners would, I hope, testify that they have rarely if ever reached the same level of understanding with Israelis as they have in the forum we’ve created and shared, usually intimately, sometimes publicly, for a good part of the past decade. What is important here is the lack of duplicity. Unlike our Oslo compatriots, the Israeli participants have not said one thing and meant another. There was no agenda of drawing out talks while creating facts on the ground. At any rate, we are not the creators of facts. We are trying, rather, to create a viable future.

I believe from my experience that rarely, if ever, have Palestinians been shown the same openness by Israelis, leftists or rightists, as in our meetings. There has developed an understanding between us that, above all, a separation into two states does not satisfy their true longings—an understanding that, they have said, the Palestinians do not have with most of the Israeli peace activists. The half (or really, rump) country supposedly waiting around the corner is not what they are dreaming of. The Palestinians with whom we collaborated declined to let go of their national childhood; of the good childhood and the bad childhood, of the memory of its ordeals and of the pain caused by their expulsion from it.


Peace as a mirror image

Let’s face it, no one really wants two half-states if there is a way we can both have it all. Neither of us will be whole with half the country—and such important halves! Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa, Haifa—permanently removed from our bodies.

The emphasis here is on a mirror image, and this is something many among us tend to repress. Not until we face squarely the joint trauma of the two nations can the deep scars be healed. I believe that the Parallel States plan copes precisely with this repression through the solutions it proposes. That is what makes it revolutionary in the deepest sense of the word.

I have no choice but to believe that if a leader arises who thinks in such terms, he or she will also be able to find a path to the bitterest of our enemies, including, from “our” side, the leaders of Hamas, whom at present we see largely through gun sights or rocket launchers. I have no choice but to believe, because if I do not have faith my life here will be unbearable. Masada is not the place I want to live, not even in a villa. It seems to me that this is also not the wish of the majority of the nation that is emerging here, for whom pampering and self-indulgence are the usual mantras. The leader I would like to see in my lifetime will be able to say to the Palestinians and Arabs more broadly without fear, “Let us live together here (Bo’u nihiye kaan beyahad).” Not only does it have a nice rhythm to it; we simply have no other choice.

The other day I joined a tour of villages in the Nablus area, arranged by a group called “Combatants for Peace” (young veterans from combat units in the Israeli army who have their counterparts, former Palestinian fighters, in the West Bank) and I was amazed to realize how close the situation is there to the Parallel States vision.

There were the Palestinian villages, pastoral, at one with the natural ancient landscape, and there were the Israeli settlements, bringing with them the Zionist landscape from inside the pre-1967 parts of Israel, with the artificial pine “forests” that surround them. Two cultures in all respects—architecture, way of life, aesthetic values—that exist side by side, sometimes entangled with each other, with no mutual recognition whatever. Without mutual recognition. Astonishing, really. But this state of affairs is made possible not only by the force of the stronger, not only by the IDF, but also thanks to the goodwill and cooperation of the Palestinian security forces.

This impossible-possible situation in the heart of Samaria, in the heart of Palestine, is a cause for hope, in spite of the numerous complaints and the everyday injustice. It is a proof that the mutual will of two different cultures to live together, side by side, can achieve the impossible, the unimaginable. The wrong can be made into right if only you believe and let go of superstitions, if only you show respect for the other’s right to live as you yourself wish to live. Parallel lives in parallel states doesn’t mean endless bloodshed. It could mean the opposite: endless vital forces making a dream come true.

Excerpted from One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States, edited by Mark Levine and Mathias Mossberg, published by the University of California Press. © 2014 by Mark Levine and Mathias Mossberg. This essay is adapted from a column originally published in Haaretz on November 24, 2012, in Hebrew and on November 29, 2012, in English.


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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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