This past Monday, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Dr. Ian Lustick on his book, Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality. During this presentation, Dr. Lustick reflected on the history of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and presented his argument that, no matter what two-state system was established by the UN in 1974 and later strengthened by the Oslo Accords, today, the “reality” reflects governance under a single state. To support his claim, he repeatedly asked the audience to look between the river and the sea. 

Photo Courtesy of Eric Gaba, Wikimedia Commons user: Sting and Wikimedia Commons user: NordNordWest

What do we perceive? 

For Dr. Lustick, the answer was straightforward- an Israeli state that will never truly become two separate, sovereign states. I am inclined to think differently. In fact, I do not believe there is one right answer to such a question. I believe what one sees and predicts for the future is wholly dependent on how they view the international system as a whole.

Dr. Lustick seems to view the world from a realist approach, focusing on the amount of land the Israelis occupy in comparison to the Palestinians and other factors such as policing and property rights. Such things are undoubtedly important, but they are not the only elements that determine the future of a state, or in this case, two states.

Examined from a more liberal approach, one might highlight the temporary success of the Oslo Accords. If nothing else, the agreements and proceeding actions proved that diplomacy has the potential to effect change. It seems entirely possible that if the UN were to encourage and facilitate future discussions, repeated interactions could eventually yield a more favorable outcome, one that is mutually beneficial. Additionally, increased interdependence, if it were to be better established in the region, may facilitate a change in thinking toward absolute rather than relative gains, thus altering future bargaining. However one may view current circumstances, nothing is set in stone. State behavior can change, and from the liberal perspective, international organizations and their intervention may play a crucial role in the future.

In contrast to both Dr. Lustick and a liberal approach, those who view the system with a focus on identity may see yet another reality and likely future. From such an approach, one may say that, whatever the current balance of power, one state is an impossibility, as peoples with such different ideologies are unlikely to ever live successfully under one government. Contrasting values and norms can, over time, be shared and evolve into a common culture, but when one looks at the history of the conflict and recognizes its importance, it becomes clear such an outcome is unlikely. 

So, again, when you look between the river and the sea? What do you perceive? 

It is one state whose sovereignty will soon be unchallenged due to the balance of capabilities? Is it a land divided by peoples who, if they were to follow the patterns of reciprocity, will eventually develop mutually beneficial agreements?Maybe you see such interactions as impossible due to the distance between the ideology of the Israelis and that of the Palestinians. Whatever your answer, it seems clear that how one views the conflict and its future is wholly dependent on their view of the international system at large. Dr. Lustick presented his opinion thoughtfully, and it certainly made me challenge my own preconceived notions; however, I think it is important to identify where such arguments are coming from in order to gain a fuller understanding of the issue. 


Special thanks to the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and Dr. Ian Lustick for this informative event.