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Ian Lustick’s “Paradigm Lost”: The End of a Zionist Dream

Posted by:
Donna Hicks
January 1, 2020

EPF PIN member Steve France reports on a book talk.

A large, excited crowd came to political scientist  Ian Lustick’s December book talk at the Middle East Institute in Washington. His new book, “Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality” gave an autopsy of the Two-State Solution (TSS) steeped in his 50-year experience of calling for Israel and the U.S. to make it happen (he assumed the Palestinians would accept a decent offer). Most PIN members might ask, “Where’s the news in that?” But he was addressing mainly other liberal Zionists.

For those who gave up on TSS a long time ago the news was about the growing disillusionment of liberal Zionists and many pragmatic backers of TSS, a prominent example being, Ambassador Philip Wilcox, who interviewed Lustick at the MEI event. Wilcox praised the book as“groundbreaking,” and “blowing up the solution we’ve clung to for years.”

The interesting question was whether Lustick’s emphatic death notice for TSS will open more minds to the One-State Reality (OSR). Lustick said reviews hadn’t yet begun flowing, but his email is burning hot with reactions. He condemned with the force of a man who has sworn off drinking all attempts to save TSS or to chart a sure path to a new paradigm for a viable One-State Solution. Such visions are “just pretty pictures,” he said repeatedly. People who cling to TSS “are being played for suckers by those who want to slide into endless Apartheid,” he said. But he warned that it will take decades of struggle to move from the current reality to a stable democratic reality for all the people living between the Jordan and the Sea.

Recounting his own evolution, Lustick said he “finally got so bored” with his TSS truth never progressing that he entertained “unwelcome ideas and views, trading boredom for anxiety.” He concluded that “the core problem is what Israel has become,” which he termed a “deeply red state.” He cited three forces that brought Israel to this point: 

  1. the partial success of what early-Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky called the “Iron Wall” strategy to “keep on crushing” inevitable and understandable Arab resistance to dispossession until it cracked and “moderate” Arab voices would emerge to make a deal. The problem has been that great successes in the brutal first phase made Israel forget about the crucial need to make a deal.
  2. Israeli Holocaust consciousness became “Holocaustia,” meaning the obsessive fear of a new Holocaust. At first, the Israeli attitude toward Holocaust victims tended to be that they were non-Zionist losers who had been too trusting of non-Jews; the lesson was Jews must never again be so naïve. Others believed the Holocaust was a crime against all of humanity and reflected universal risks of genocidal psychosis. After Ben Gurion accepted reparations from Germany, based on worries that Holocaust guilt might begin to fade, he felt the need to counter ferocious criticism by Begin, Shamir et al. and launched the Eichmann trial. But the trial traumatized Israeli Jews, who came to feel like they were all survivors, a belief that has grown ever more dominant.
  3. The power of the Israel Lobby turned U.S. policymakers into yes men and women for Israeli policies toward Palestinians, no matter how harsh and extreme. Lustick said the framers accepted the necessity of lobbying in the political arena, but George Washington warned that “lobbying on behalf of a foreign interest is different because it faces no domestic counter lobby.”  Hence the old saying that U.S. politicians don’t view the Israeli-Arab conflict as a foreign policy issue but as a domestic political issue. 

“Now we have a gestalt switch,” Lustick said. “The new problem is inequality or the lack of democracy.” The practical question, he said, is similar to dealing with Apartheid South Africa, which also was only a partial democracy. “Do you favor ‘constructive engagement’ to foster change or boycott?.” (After the talk he agreed with a questioner that the democratic goals of BDS, as laid out by Omar Barghouti, are compatible with his views.) 

Despite his pessimism concerning the Israeli electorate soon accepting his views, Lustick offered some hope that the political system in Israel could begin to open up. For example, he said, Jerusalem currently has a far-right mayor, but that’s in part a result of the fact that almost no Arab residents vote in the elections. If they voted the mayor would be more moderate and looking to work out some deals. The problem is that leaders of the Palestinian Authority insist on an electoral boycott, arguing that voting would be a de facto acceptance of the Occupation. But the Palestinian Authority has vested interests in maintaining the two-state delusion because it underpins the PA’s status and pays its bills. He also saw some hope in the possibility that the centrist Blue and White Alliance in Israel, headed by Benny Gantz, might reluctantly accept to partner with the Arab-Israeli Joint List to break the seemingly insoluble stalemate preventing selection of a prime minister. That kind of pragmatic, if grudging, coalition seems the only way toward actual progress, he suggested.


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