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Norman Finkelstein on the viability of a 2 state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis

February 16, 2012

Illegal Israeli Settlements in the Palestinian West Bank

(Note, originally written in 2012, now seven years later, at the end of 2019, I have revised it. The message is the same… just updated with a few additional thoughts).


During World War II, the small (population wise) nation of Finland – seeing the writing on the wall after the Soviet victories of Stalingrad and Kursk – switches alliances, literally, from being an allied to the Nazis to becoming a partner with the Allies (USSR, US, UK, France). That dramatic turn about saved Finland as a nation – and very much saved it from a postwar Soviet Occupation.

Israel should learn from Finland.


The link here is to an interview that Norman Finkelstein gave in early February 2012 in Great Britain. It runs about a half hour. In it Finkelstein lays out, concretely and I believe as effectively as anyone, why a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict remains not only viable, but quite frankly the only possible viable solution to ending the conflict. He has not, to my knowledge, abandoned this position, but has come to the conclusion that the possibility of getting to a two state solution is “dead” – killed by the explosion of illegal settlement growth, by U.S. support of Israelis proposed annexation of portions of the West Bank.

With the possibility of an overall political settlement fading, now the challenge is oppose the strangulation of Gaza, the increasingly heavy and unremitting oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank.

In a recent interview, Finkelstein commented:

Asked about the prospect of a settlement of the Israel/Palestine question in the near future, Finkelstein was not optimistic. He said that, for the moment, solidarity activists should focus on pressuring for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza. He stressed: There’s no political prospect of two state, one state, no state, ten states. It’s not on the drawing board now… There’s a horrific, illegal, immoral, inhumane blockade of Gaza. We have to focus on what’s possible. I think lifting the blockade of Gaza is a possibility.

For Finkelstein, there are now a series of impediments to reaching a two-state solution: The game-changers have been: the open Saudi alliance now with Israel; the fact that there’s been a succession of humanitarian crises in the Middle East which have overshadowed the Palestinian question; the fact that there’s a completely corrupt, collaborationist leadership among the Palestinians, which is incapable of inspiring any sacrifice by Palestinians or inspiring people abroad; and there has been the fact that the struggle has died in the West Bank. There has not even been any political mobilization in the West Bank in support of Gaza. It’s nothing. There is no resistance anymore. And as a result of all of those factors, the two-state solution is dead.

This is a harsh, but not unrealistic take on the state of affairs coming from someone who has shown such integrity.

Finkelstein – after being popular – almost an icon –  in left circles – is today shunned in many of these same circles because of what has been over the past decade – his current pessimism aside – his clear cut position in support of a two state solution. I believe that the quality of his intellectual work will endure and regret that the movement for Middle East peace is so politically immature and factional that it would treat him so cavalierly (or worse).

I remain – after forty years of working on this issue – committed to that solution, and simply want to publicly reiterate that position, as unlikely as it is to be realized. Yes, the two-state solution IS dead. There is nothing – in terms of an overall solution – to replaced it, ie, that is on the international drawing board although it remains the stated position of the International Community, the United Nations – both the General Assembly and the Security Council.

In the end ideologically challenging Zionism has two aspects to it – the first is the de-construction of the Zionist narrative, making the desert bloom, “the only democracy in the Middle East” and simply poppy cock. The on-going Israeli mistreatment and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the increased restrictions on citizenship of Palestinians living within Israel by themselves have done much to undermine the Zionist narrative. Don’t need complex historical analyses – just watch the news of Israel’s murderous Gaza policies. But there IS plenty of solid research to substantiate the claims that Israel is little more than a settler state with a record on non-stop brutality against the Palestinian people.

The Zionist narrative – the “Leon Uris – Exodus” version of events – stands torn and tattered. It will not recover, regardless of how much Zionists in the USA (and elsewhere) try to punish Israel’s critics. History has shown that its harshest critics were spot on as the British say.

But the deconstructing of a narrative is never enough to build a social movement – at least from my experience. What is needed is a vision, a vision which takes into consideration what one friend refers to as “the music” and “the math”. “The music essentially refers to the ethical component of what is going on. “The math” refers to what is concretely possible given the geo-political situation at a certain moment in time, or put another way what are the objective conditions for moving forwards and how far can a movement go? 

It is within this context that I continue to support a two state solution as detailed by both the United Nations General Assembly and its Security Council. “The math” for a single democratic secular state simply isn’t there. Transferring the mounting moral outrage – global in nature – is legitimate. So much of what Zionism claims to be is little more than well constructed mythology, to put it politely.

But as those growing critics of the origins of “Thanksgiving” have come to understand, the fact that a nation’s origin is fundamentally, a lie – and a rather gruesome one at that –  does not mean that the body politic as a nation will collapse. It hasn’t. Everything I know, have studied and experienced suggest to me that Israel as a state will be around long for decades if not longer. The real question then is not will Israel continue to exist bur rather what kind of Israel will it be/can it be?

If any two nations deserve on ethical grounds to be dissolved forever on moral grounds they are Germany and Japan at the end of WW2. Actually if France and the USSR had their way, Germany would have been – and maybe should have been – dismantled as a modern state. Didn’t happen, did it? Nor has South Africa – along with Israel – the most blatant example of racism in our era – been dissolved. It continues, granted with many problems to solve. There are other examples closer to home that could be cited.

Of course “objective conditions” do change and one cannot always get them right. For example at the current moment the situation in the Middle East – and for Israel – is quite fluid. My own take is that despite the publicity and rhetoric that Israel’s geo-political situation has deteriorated some – and will continue to do so. Its hands are tied in a number of ways, especially where it concerns making war on Lebanon or Syria 

This creates certain diplomatic openings for the Palestinians that did not previously exist – some would argue that they don’t exist now either, but I disagree. Sometime in the next decade, if the geopolitical realities continue it is, for the first time, Israel and not the Palestinians that will have to make concessions.

That said, such concessions do not include the dissolution of the Israeli state into some kind of one state solution (for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews). Unless I’m missing something – always possible, and these days increasingly probable – Israel as a state is here to stay for some time. “The math” – the geo-political realities do not suggest it will collapse anytime soon. If you read Edward Said carefully – he who supported a secular democratic state with all his energies, intellect and humanity – understood this.

What can be said, is that Israel’s reliance on “the military option” to defend its interests has run into a political wall. In the end, to survive – as has been the case from the beginning – it will necessitate making peace with its neighbors and it cannot do so until it resolves the Palestinian issue. That means ending the Occupation.

It is no secret that Israel has been – even before the state of Israel was created and certainly since – an outpost for one kind of imperialism or another – be it Ottoman, British or U.S. and has served the interests of all three faithfully, as such it is – despite the spurious claims of 2000 years legitimacy – a foreign body in the Levant’s politics. It has depended on the support of powerful nations outside of the region– and if you think about it obscene levels of foreign aid – to maintain its position. Its “existential challenge” to use an overwrought term – is to transform itself into a regional economic, regional partner.

Guns simply won’t accomplish such a transition. Can Israel even accomplish this? Doubtful – for every Uri Avnery, Gideon Levy, Israel Shakak Israel has produced, twenty or more Ariel Sharons and Benjamin Netanyahus have “bloomed”, but then Avnery who seemed to be able to pull out hope of a settlement for even the darkest days would remind us that where there is life there is hope. Agreed.

Israel might not be “a paper tiger” but it is a country whose ruling class – one of the politically sophisticated of modern times – is in deep crisis, its options narrowing. It can continue along the path of what can be referred to as “the wounded beast syndrome” – ie striking out at the Palestinians and its neighbors, or it can come to its senses and understand its long term options for its survival will never be based on the number of atom bombs it is creating at Dimona nor the number F-35s it can buy (or be gifted) from Washington.

During World War II, the small (population wise) nation of Finland – seeing the writing on the wall after the Soviet victories of Stalingrad and Kursk – switches alliances, literally from being an allied to the Nazis to becoming a partner with the Allies (USSR, US, UK, France). That dramatic turn about saved Finland as a nation – and very much saved it from a postwar Soviet Occupation.

Israel should learn from Finland.

For decades the main framework of such a solution has included:

a. a withdrawal of Israel from all the territories it occupied by force in the June 1967 war.

b. the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capitol in E. Jerusalem

c. a dismantling of all illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and the rejection of the Jewish colonial project in the West Bank; an end to the siege of Gaza.

d. the right of Israel to live in peace as a nation within its pre-June 1967 borders.

Despite the difficulties ahead, my goal remains to work for such a solution, to work to get the U.S. government to be serious about such a solution and to work with others who support such a framework.

As 2019 comes to a close, Israel has arrested 750 children under the age of 18. They have been incarcerated, many tortured and traumatized for life.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2019 12:48 pm

    Reblogged this on View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince's Blog and commented:

    This is an old post – from 2012, updated this morning. I noticed that despite its age that many people continue to click on it and read it to my surprise – more than 700 of them – mostly in the past two months of all things.

    I am always a bit squeamish reading stuff I’ve written in the past – or listening to my interviews on the radio – oftentimes we are our own worst critics.

    Anyhow I rather appreciated what I wrote seven years ago – still remained moved by Norman Finkelstein’s serious scholarship and unflinching political courage, early on from Zionists who can not deal with his unsparing analysis of Israeli practices and then later on by those to his left who have attacked him for political vision – a two state solution. which he stands by and defends…

    And so do I.

    It’s funny…for thirty years I was attacked from the right (Zionists, Hillary-type liberals) for supporting a two state solution that included ending the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and for the creation of a viable Palestinians state – with a land bridge – in those territories.

    More recently I’ve been attacked from the left – something relatively new to me for maintaining the same position – which I do. In fact, my position on ending the Occupation and for a negotiated solution has remained essentially unchanged for half a century.

    So have at me. I couldn’t care less.

  2. William Conklin permalink
    December 1, 2019 5:43 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I would love it if Palestine could become an independent country. Then I could visit Gaza and I could visit the rest of Palestine without dealing with those Israeli Thugs.

  3. December 3, 2019 9:25 am

    Thanks. I still agree with Tony Judy’s analysis way back. Your hope for Israeli partnership with others in the region is a beautiful vision but I think the leaders and so much of the population has grown so hard hearted, to cite Jeremiah, that it’s unlikely. And there remains the matter of population growth and decline. I hope you are right. John

    • December 3, 2019 9:42 am

      Judt was among the early liberal-left Jewish types who came to grips with the reality of Zionism and the Occupation. He showed genuine courage in his critique of the Occupation and sympathy – also genuine – for the situation of the Palestinians. And for that he paid a price but he never wavered on his commitment for justice for Palestine. An ardent two-stater – his vision of the two state solution was clear as a bell – end of the Occupation, dismantling of settlements – he understood settlement building for the colonial-fascist procedure it was, a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. He was a kind of left-liberal Jewish pioneer and many, like Peter Beinart, have followed in his footsteps

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