In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

The Two-State Solution: An Autopsy Henry Siegman

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Vol. 40 No. 10 · 24 May 2018

The Two-State Solution: An Autopsy

Henry Siegman

During​ the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza, Israeli security forces, using high-powered rifles and live ammunition, have killed forty Palestinians (and counting), and wounded more than five thousand. B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have all accused Israel’s government and its minister of defence, Avigdor Lieberman, of targeting reporters and mostly unarmed civilians. Lieberman replied that there are ‘no innocent people’ in Hamas-run Gaza. The new US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reassured Israelis that ‘the United States is with Israel in this fight. And we strongly support Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself.’ That this support applies not only to its confrontations with Iran but also to Israel’s turkey shoot of Palestinians in Gaza was established when President Trump’s envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have investigated the Gaza killings. This was justified on the same grounds: Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself. The invocation of Israel’s ‘sovereign right’ is the big lie at the heart of America’s responsibility for the collapse of the peace process. In Gaza, as in the West Bank beyond the pre-1967 armistice line, Israel is acting not in accordance with its sovereign right to protect itself, but to protect its occupation. What Israel’s military restores when it quells Palestinian protests is not law and order, but illegality and repression, reinforcing its theft of Palestinian territory in order to preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state, a goal it has achieved.

Lieberman’s opinion of the value of the lives of Palestinians mirrors the view expressed by Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s minister of justice. A year before her appointment in 2015, Shaked posted on her Facebook page an article by Uri Elitzur, a settler leader, in which he said that Israel should target not only militants but the ‘mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which the snakes were raised. Otherwise more little snakes will be raised there.’

Shaked is a member of the settlers’ political party, Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home), whose leader, Naftali Bennett, is Netanyahu’s minister of education. In 2013 Bennett said during a cabinet debate: ‘If you catch terrorists, you simply have to kill them.’ When Israel’s national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, pointed out that this would be illegal, Bennett retorted: ‘I have killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is no problem with that.’ Israeli Jews, who overwhelmingly support the IDF sharp-shooters picking off unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza, presumably agree with Bennett that there’s ‘no problem’ with these extra-judicial killings. (I am not aware of any case in which an IDF soldier has aimed his weapon, much less fired it, at an unarmed right-wing Jewish protestor.)

Pompeo, Haley and the Israel lobby – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and allied organisations – are probably unaware of, or simply refuse to know about, the extent to which terrorism and war crimes marked the creation of Israel. Those who are told about this history dismiss it as a fabrication. What they deny or ignore is that these charges have been fully documented not only by historians, including Israeli ones, but by Israel’s own military. The point of recognising this history is not to justify terrorism by either Israelis or Palestinians, but to acknowledge the outrageous double standard that has been applied to the two parties and has undermined the possibility of a peace accord. Without knowing that history, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the extent to which Israeli propaganda has succeeded in shaping a narrative about the creation of Israel that presents the Palestinians who were brutally expelled from their homes as the aggressors and the Jews as their victims. Without that history, it is impossible to understand the outrage Palestinians feel over having been portrayed as the bad guys for so long.

Palestinians opposed the UN partition plan and started the 1948 war, but they did so not because of their hatred of Jews or their unhappiness with the partition plans, but because they didn’t want to accept exile, homelessness and disenfranchisement. What other people would have reacted differently? What other people would have agreed to go into exile to accommodate a group that came from outside its borders, claiming a homeland lost two thousand years ago, a principle of ownership that has no parallel in international law? Acceptance of the Zionist claims necessarily meant exile for the Palestinians: the Jews of Palestine in 1948 were a minority and if the Jewish state was to be a democracy, it would need a Jewish majority, meaning that the 750,000 Palestinians who lived there would have been expelled even if they hadn’t rejected the partition plan or declared war on the new Jewish state. As Benny Morris and other historians have written, the war crimes ordered by Ben-Gurion and executed by his generals were not intended for any purpose other than ensuring the departure of a panicked Arab population.

Nothing more profoundly expresses the dishonesty of the dominant Israeli narrative and its perverseness than the statement directed at the Palestinians by Israel’s former prime minister Golda Meir: ‘We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we cannot forgive you for making us kill yours.’ Even if Israelis don’t know about what happened during the 1948 War of Independence, they can be in no doubt about the malicious blockade imposed on Gaza, which, according to the UN, will make it uninhabitable for its two million residents within two years. Almost half of that number are children.

The point is not that Israelis have no right to defend themselves against Palestinian terrorism, but that the Israeli argument that there is no moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli preventive and retaliatory violence is deeply flawed. The relevant comparison is between the way the Jews acted during their struggle for statehood – not after they achieved it – and the way Palestinians, still very much in the midst of their hopeless struggle for statehood, are acting now. It is also flawed because you cannot condemn terrorism if you do not offer people under occupation a credible route towards achieving viable statehood through non-violent means. That is something Israel has never offered the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s declaration last year – ‘We’re here to stay, for ever’ – could have been made by Israel’s Labour Party in the aftermath of the 1967 war. When asked in 1968 about Israel’s plans for the Occupied Territories, Moshe Dayan, the defence minister, replied: ‘The plan is being implemented in actual fact. What exists today must remain a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.’ When asked the same question ten years later, he said: ‘The question is not “What is the solution?” but “How do we live without a solution?”’

The violence to which Palestinians have resorted in their struggle for statehood is not any different from the measures to which Zionists resorted before and during the 1948 war. According to Morris, ‘the upsurge of Arab terrorism in October 1937 triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict.’ While in the past, Arabs ‘had sniped at cars and pedestrians and occasionally lobbed a grenade, often killing or injuring a few bystanders or passengers’, now, ‘for the first time, massive bombs were placed [by Irgun] in crowded Arab centres, and dozens of people were indiscriminately murdered and maimed.’ Morris notes that ‘this “innovation” soon found Arab imitators.’

During Israel’s War of Independence, Jewish defence forces acted in similar ways to Irgun and Palestinian terrorist groups. As Morris explained in an interview in Haaretz, documentation declassified by the IDF shows that ‘in the months of April and May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages.’ The Haganah, which became the IDF, was responsible for at least 24 deliberate massacres of unarmed civilians; the number of victims in each operation ranged from single figures to several hundred. ‘What the new material shows,’ according to Morris, ‘is that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought, [including] an unusually high concentration of executions of people against a wall or next to a well in an orderly fashion.’

The orders for these crimes were not given by a lone officer but were issued in writing by senior Haganah commanders following meetings with Ben-Gurion. And Morris goes on to justify them: ‘without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.’ The only fault he finds with Ben-Gurion’s actions is that they did not go far enough to prevent the demographic problems facing Israelis today. All the Palestinians should have been expelled, he argues, and some day probably will be.

The hypocrisy of Israel and the international community’s demonisation of the Palestinians are also evident in the writings of Ari Shavit, a long-time star columnist of Haaretz, who conducted the interview with Morris. In his own book, in which he unflinchingly describes the atrocities committed by Israel’s military against the Palestinian civilian population of Lydda in 1948, Shavit declares that he shares the anger felt by the Israeli brigade commander and the military governor in charge of the operation at ‘the bleeding-heart Israeli liberals of later years who condemn what they did in Lydda but enjoy the fruits of their deed’. Why? ‘Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the state of Israel would not have been born.’ This knowledge has never prevented Shavit’s condemnations of Hamas’s terrorism, though Palestinians have far better reason than the Jews had to believe they will never gain their state unless they make the cost of continued occupation too high for their adversaries.

According to this double standard, my people’s terrorism is sacred, but my neighbour’s terrorism is criminal. When my neighbour renames a street after his terrorist hero it proves he will continue his terrorism even after he achieves statehood, whereas when my country elects former terrorists as prime ministers (Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir) it proves we are the greatest democracy in the Middle East. When my terrorists are killed or imprisoned, a grateful people take care of their families. When my neighbours do the same, it proves they reward terrorism, and must be denied statehood. The point is not that states behave hypocritically – of course they do. The point is that when hypocrisy is the starting point of diplomacy, you will not get peace but only more hypocrisy and violence.

American diplomats have always known this. The members of the US diplomatic corps who served in the Middle East during the more than half a century that I worked professionally on this subject were outstanding. They understood that, given the vast disparity of power between Israel and the Palestinians, without determined American intervention the outcome of the conflict would be entirely on Israel’s terms. But US politicians consistently undercut its diplomats by assuring Israel’s governments that even though the US objected to policies that violated previous agreements, international law and democratic norms, they would always have Israel’s back.

And the US has had Israel’s back, and not only when Israel’s security was threatened; it has also scuttled Security Council resolutions that might have changed Israeli calculations about the costs of its permanent subjugation of the Palestinian people. America’s assurances convinced successive governments that they could safely turn their country into an apartheid state, a transformation that far-right governments headed by Netanyahu have now made a reality. US administrations have allowed this situation in part because of the unique vulnerability of American domestic politics to the pro-Israel lobby – unique because of America’s large and influential Jewish community and its even larger influential Christian evangelical community. More recently, alt-right and neo-Nazi elements that form the most loyal members of Trump’s base have joined this circle of supporters: they now see Israel’s embrace of a religiously defined national Jewish identity (replacing its previous status as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’) as a validation of their own Christian, racist, fascist and white supremacist ideology. White supremacists can now join with Netanyahu in castigating Jewish critics of Israel’s xenophobic and far-right nationalistic policies as self-hating Jews.

I believe​ I am more aware than most of the profound Jewish religious attachment to the Land of Israel. I was raised in a deeply Zionist and religiously observant home. Moreover, I am old enough to have experienced personally what it meant to live under the Nazis. On the last ship to bring a small, fortunate number of Jewish refugees to the US in 1942, this 11-year-old was writing poems on deck about ‘the beautiful blue skies of Palestine’. Yet before the rise of the Zionist movement, this attachment was understood universally in eschatological terms. Zionism was rejected by the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jewry as a heresy, just as completely as the Zionist movement rejected Orthodoxy as an anachronism that held back the political and cultural modernisation of Jewish life. No one could have imagined at the start of the 20th century how completely Zionism would be taken over by Orthodox Jewry in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The possibility that the government of this new Zionist state might someday fund an organisation that seeks to restore the ancient priesthood and the sacrificial cult it presided over, as this and previous Israeli governments have actually done, would have sent the founders fleeing to the exits. But neither the secular nationalism of Zionism nor the eschatology of the Orthodox translates in an obvious way into a right to uproot the people who lived in Palestine. Indeed, at the opening session of the World Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, a group of particularly distinguished Zionist leaders opposed the idea of a Jewish state and instead pressed for an internationally recognised Jewish home.

Anyone who has followed the recent flood of new legislation by Netanyahu’s government aimed at protecting the Jewish identity of the state from encroachment by democratic norms, will agree that these early Zionist advocates grossly underestimated the threat to Israel’s democracy posed by the current defenders of ‘fundamental Jewish values’. Legislation that allows Israeli Jews to bar Israeli Arab citizens from Jewish neighbourhoods – which in Israel means virtually everywhere other than Palestinian neighbourhoods – is one result of this new dedication to fundamental Jewish values. Another example is the appalling treatment by the government of migrants from African countries who have sought asylum in Israel. Not entirely unrelated is a recent statement by Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi, a government official, on the kinship of black people to monkeys.

Israel’s response to its critics has been the familiar falsehood at the heart of its international propaganda: a two-state solution would have been reached long ago if Hamas hadn’t ruled out any possibility of peace with Israel and refused to recognise the Jewish state. That this claim is disingenuous should be obvious from the fact that on the only occasion Israel withdrew from its settlements and turned them over to Palestinian control, it returned them to Hamas, and not to the Palestinian Authority. The PA, which governs the West Bank, formally recognises Israel’s legitimacy, co-operates closely with Israeli security forces to prevent Hamas infiltration into the West Bank and never fires missiles into Israel or digs tunnels under its borders. But the West Bank is where Israel has chosen to expand its settlements.

To this day, the official position of Likud, Israel’s ruling party for much of the past half-century, is that it will never allow the establishment of a Palestinian state anywhere in Palestine. The largest caucus in the Knesset is the one devoted to assuring the establishment of a Greater Israel in all of Palestine, and, until that goal is reached, preventing Palestinian statehood on even a square foot of Eretz Yisrael. Likud’s official dismissal of Palestinian statehood never led the US to challenge Israel’s qualification as a peace partner, although Likud’s rejection of Palestinian statehood has been as uncompromising as Hamas’s opposition to Israel’s statehood. Unlike Likud, however, Hamas has stated repeatedly that despite its own refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy, it would join a Palestinian government that recognises Israel, because state recognition is a government responsibility and not in the remit of individual political parties.

Mahmoud Abbas deserved the worldwide condemnation he received after his anti-Semitic diatribe at the recent meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah. But his comments aren’t the only reason it is high time for him to be replaced as head of the Palestinian national movement. He has failed miserably in providing a clear strategic path to Palestinian statehood. It would be dishonest to credit Netanyahu’s claim that Abbas’s anti-Semitism is responsible for the death of the two-state solution. The blatant anti-Semitism of Hungary’s Victor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski has not diminished Netanyahu’s admiration and friendship for these authoritarian enemies of democratic governance. The two-state solution died because Netanyahu and successive Israeli governments were determined to kill it, and those who could have prevented its demise lacked the resolve and moral courage to do so. America failed in the mission it thought itself uniquely qualified to accomplish because it failed to understand that the diplomatic objective of a great power, and particularly the world’s greatest power, should not be peace, a goal that Netanyahu dishonestly embraced, but justice – or at least the avoidance of injustice so egregious as to discredit the values and institutions on which the future of humanity depends.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.


Vol. 40 No. 12 · 21 June 2018

Henry Siegman exposes the hypocrisy of blaming Palestinians for (largely symbolic) violence triggered by life under a violent regime, highlighting Israel’s increasingly repulsive attempts to excuse their wanton killing of non-violent protesters by citing the threat of ‘terrorism’ (LRB, 24 May). Yet I don’t believe Siegman himself believes what his essay suggests: that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing compatriots somehow ‘killed’ the two-state solution. In fact, a two-state solution has never existed in Palestine and can never exist there. Its futile quest only furthers the mass human suffering and crimes against humanity playing out so bloodily in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

As Siegman would probably agree, the ‘failure’ of the two-state solution can be attributed to a fatal interplay of geography with ideology. The geographic factor was always obvious: the British Mandate for Palestine, as delineated in 1922 by the League of Nations, was always too small, too densely inhabited and too thoroughly integrated as a social system to allow any partition to succeed without complete economic union. Seeking a solution to rising violence on both sides, in 1936 the British Peel Commission spent a week in the country and became the sole significant authority to recommend the partition of Palestine into two states. But the follow-up Royal Woodhead Commission, charged with establishing how partition could be implemented, reported after a three-month countrywide survey that it couldn’t succeed for the Arab sector unless the borders between the two states created no barriers whatever to the movement of people and goods. The United Nations General Assembly ‘partition resolution’ accepted this analysis in recommending not simply two states but ‘two states in economic union’.

Yet economic union was always precluded by the ideology of political Zionism and its vision of a ‘Jewish and democratic state’. By definition, the formation of such a state requires confining any non-Jewish population to a politically debilitated minority. This essential precondition drove the Zionist policy to ethnically cleanse Palestine in 1948, bequeathing to the world the thorniest of ‘final status’ issues, the Palestinian refugee problem. Israel must also prevent those Arabs who remained within Israel from ever gaining sufficient electoral clout to challenge Israel’s Jewish ‘character’: hence laws banning Palestinian immigration, limiting Palestinian residence and prohibiting any political party from challenging Jewish statehood. Israel must also preclude open borders with the Palestinian territories, because the free interplay of Arab and Jewish populations would threaten Jewish-Arab miscegenation and ultimately break down all social logics of segregation. Israelis brazenly refer to this as the ‘demographic threat’.

Israel’s approach to a two-state solution therefore remains guided by this conundrum: no truly sovereign Palestinian state can flourish without open borders with Israel, yet open borders would pose an existential threat to Jewish statehood. Hence Israel cannot allow such a state to form. What Israel has agreed to accept is a Palestinian Bantustan: something called a ‘state’ but lacking true sovereignty, geographically fragmented into cantons, subject to Israel’s plenary power, its popular politics turned inward to seek rights from a leadership that rules only on condition that it serve Israel’s security interests. Israeli policies denying the vote to 300,000-plus Palestinian ‘residents’ of Jerusalem and rejecting the return of some six million Palestinian refugees are components of a grand strategy to preclude any electoral threat to Jewish statehood.

Taken as a whole this system matches the international legal definition of apartheid with sobering precision: maintaining racial ‘reserves and ghettos’; denying Palestinians their right to nationality; restricting Palestinian movement, education, work, residence, and the right to leave and return to their country – even banning mixed marriages. Most crucial to a finding of apartheid, these ‘inhuman acts’ are the result not of decisions by Netanyahu or any Israel leadership, but of the doctrine of Jewish statehood and the associated domination and oppression of Palestinians required to secure it.

Apartheid is not ended by partition. As in South Africa, this conflict will not be solved by carving a densely populated land into two states, but by confronting and ending the racist doctrine that comprises the only justification for them. This prospect is anathema to those who still see Jewish statehood through the romantic lens of national liberation or the biblical lens of the Millennium. But dancing around it can only leave diplomacy foundering in perplexity that a sovereign Palestinian state never appears, while the Palestinian death count continues to climb.

Virginia Tilley
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.