The School of Psychological Sciences


This debate is based on a number of discussions I had with very intelligent right wing opponents about the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My position is that this solution is reasonable and better for both sides, compared with the attempt to maintain the Status-Quo, which is unsustainable and is likely to deteriorate rapidly. I briefly articulate the opponent’s view below, before I try to defend my view.

Against a two-state solution

The favourite argument of the 2-state solution opponent usually starts from the Unilateral Gaza Disengagement. The argument recalls the fact that after receiving all the assets of the dismantled settlements (houses, farms, greenhouses), the Palestinians did not make use of those for improving the life of the population and to coexist with Israel, which, if successful, could have been a model for the West-Bank. Instead, the Hamas,  which took control of the area after the Israeli withdrawal, has devoted its energies and resources to the deployment of rockets and used them against civilian Israeli population. The argument than maintains that the same scenario is likely to happen, following of a West-Bank withdrawal. This will put in danger the centre of Israel including its Airport. Furthermore, one may ask whether an agreement with the Palestinian authority in Ramallah has any value, given that the authority does not control Gaza.  Hamas — the Gaza rulers, who never accepted the Oslo-framework of coexistence with Israel — might take over the West-Bank and cancel any previous agreement. An interesting twist here in the opponent’s argument is that an Israeli withdrawal from the West-Bank will bad for the Palestinians too. The reason being that such a withdrawal, will result in an increase in violence, leading to a strong and painful Israeli reaction that will make life for the Palestinian population worse than it is now.


With the exception of the opponent’s supposed Palestinian interest at heart (as we shall see below), the rest of the argument raises a serious challenge. While it is difficult to conclusively prove  it wrong, I do not accept it. Unfortunately, the complexity of the situation and the extreme uncertainty we face makes any proof (for or against such scenarios) quite unlikely. Next parenthesis for readers familiar with advanced statistics [Ideally, one may attempt some formal Bayesian model, which starts from belief-priors, takes into account the various dynamics, including that of self-fulfilling prophecies, and attempts to maximize the utility. Unfortunately, there is too much uncertainty to even start this (we could not even decide on the priors).] So we need to rely on common sense and human intuitive judgement, when evaluating such arguments. I will try to share my thoughts below.

It is easy to dismiss the assertion that the West-Back withdrawal is detrimental to the Palestinians. The point is that even if the utilitarian assumptions and calculus were correct (which I do not think to be the case), Utilitarianism is secondary to the principles of self-determination and autonomy (assuming Free-Will): if someone prefers to take a risk towards improving of his/her life and s/he understands the risks involved, it is not for us to impose on him/her our utilitarian notions, especially when these are uncertain. Now back to the more serious argument.

One premise of the argument is that a Unilateral disengagement (Gaza) has the same prospect as a mutual agreement (two-state negotiated solution). This is not obvious to me, but lets leave it aside. The real issue with the two-state opponent argument is that it does not consider the alternative we are facing. One can make a good case that the present Status-Quo is unsustainable, and that in the absence of any horizon, the situation is likely to deteriorate fast; unfortunately, we see this quite clearly in the last year or so. Not only that the Israeli deterrence has deteriorated, but Israel is also getting increasingly isolated on the International arena: much credit for this is due to Netanyahu and his government. Even worse is the fact that, unlike in the past, a half of the Israelis are not convinced they are fighting a justified war or cause. Fighting to protect the 1967-Israel from destruction obviously felt different from fighting today to defend the settlement project and its  Apartheid-like policies towards the Palestinians living in the occupied West-Bank. Furthermore, our present experience indicates that each time we tried to eliminate one dangerous opponent, we ended up with a more extreme and dangerous one instead (Hamas, when we tried to destroy the Fatah, and we may get Isis when trying to destroy Hamas). I would now maintain that one of the important factors which explains the Israeli vigour and “miracle” in its first 30 years of existence was the genuine belief that we were fighting for a right cause, and that this was a fight for survival (an obvious assumption after the holocaust). As the memory of the holocaust is fading and the Western world has made much progress against racism, many Israelis are taking dual citizenship and do not regard the conflict with the Palestinians as a survival struggle anymore.

I tend to believe, therefore, that our best prospect is to take the chance with a two-state solution. Obviously, this will require an important Intl. umbrella (US, Europe, Russia, and more importantly the moderate Arab states, which can put pressure on the Palestinians to stick to the agreements). In addition, one may hope that the commencement of an agreement would change the dynamics: Hamas could loose its popularity in face of a prosperous Palestine. Thus I believe that if played well, the chance for a just, fair and peaceful future is significant. However, I must admit that I cannot give a good estimate of this likelihood. However, I would argue that even if the agreement will collapse, as it happened after the Gaza disengagement, which was unilateral, Israel will be better off than the present Status-Quo. Should the agreement collapse because of Palestinian aggression, we will fight for a just cause with renewed internal vigour and International support. If we were able to do this at the inception of the state, when our situation was much more precarious, we ought to be able to do this at present, when we are much stronger. Furthermore, as Ari Shavit eloquently explains in his new book, living in Israel requires a great deal of sacrifice. I believe that many of us are willing to make such sacrifices for a just Jewish-Democratic state that will be a model to the world, as per Herzel’s vision in AltNeuland, whereas  fewer of us are willing to fight and sacrifice for the sake of an Ultra-nationalistic, religious and xenophobic state.

Is this a conclusive argument? Probably not. No-one can estimate the probability that the two-state agreement will collapse, or the probability that in this case Israel will recover its vigour and prevail. Neither can we predict the likelihood that the status-Quo will lead to an even worse situation, such as, daily victims on both sides, international isolation and eventually a loss of the economic power driven by the high costs of the confrontation, the international isolation and the leak of the high tech and other creative sectors of the economy to less troubled and more liberal places. But perhaps all this utilitarian exercise is futile. I suggest that instead of living by Utilitarian principles we should live by what we judge to be right, fair and justified. The Zionist project could not have even started if Herzl was a Utilitarian (the odds appeared too much against). The way that Herzl conceived it, Zionism was an ideal which was worth fighting and sacrificing for. Maintaining the West-Bank Palestinian population under perpetual occupation is unjust and inhumane. And, at least for people who hold of liberal and humanistic values, rather than religious messianic ones, this is both wrong and not worth the sacrifice. I suggest that the best we can do is to take aim to a right cause (something that is worth to struggle for), using our imagination to go beyond the immediate reality (dare to dream) and our intellect to consider and reconsider evidence, and then do our best to make this come true. I will end with a quote from a song by Ehud Banai (from “Frontiers”):

יש גבול ליאוש, אין גבול לתקוה; יש גבול לשינאה, אין גבול לאהבה;
יש גבול למציאות, אין גבול לחלום; יש גבול למלחמות, אין גבול לשלום