Almost seventy bloodstained years have passed since Israel’s independence, but peace remains elusive in the Holy Land. Infuriated by the continuous stream of casualties, some members of each camp have resolved to blame the other side without concern for nuance.
These blamers frame the conflict in absolute, moralistic terms; a zero-sum game in which there can be no middle ground. Some claim that the Israelis, armed with American missiles and warplanes, oppress the Palestinians with nothing but contempt in their calloused hearts. The Palestinians, others submit, use a façade of justice buttressed with rocks and rockets with the aim of bringing Israel to its knees, ‘from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.’
However, among those who believe lasting peace is possible, there seems to be a striking consensus: A two-state solution — a compromise that grants two states for two peoples — is the least-bad hope for peace in the region.
From American negotiators to Israeli and Arab leaders, the two-state solution is the norm in the international community. Nations as liberal as Denmark and as conservative as Saudi Arabia agree that it is the only plausible path forward, and the United Nations has reflected this consensus many times.
But at Stanford, discussions surrounding divestment from Israel and the plight of the Palestinians nearly always omit serious discussion to the notion of a two-state solution. This absence raises a troubling question: Why don’t Stanford groups that favor divestment come out in favor of two states for two peoples?
SOOP and the Two-State Solution
Students Out of Occupied Palestine (SOOP) — the coalition of Stanford groups that support divesting from companies allegedly supporting the occupation of Palestinian territories — makes no mention of the two-state solution in its resolution for divestment.
The closest treatment of a two-state solution the resolution provides is that “selective divestment … does not seek to determine a political solution nor target a particular ethnic or religious community.”
Not only does the group’s resolution make no mention of a two-state solution, but in a series of letters and supporting documents submitted to the Stanford ASSU Undergraduate Senate, SOOP explicitly declined to affirm or negate the notion.
“We do not endorse a one-state or a two-state solution to the conflict as it is not our position to infringe upon Palestinian self-determination,” the letter reads. “The call for divestment was issued directly from Palestinian civil society and as such, it is our duty to support the Palestinian people … through the means they themselves have asked us to adopt.”
The specific “call” SOOP references is ostensibly that of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).
Released in July 2005, the BNC statement explicitly calls on the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel, until Israel ends its occupation “of all Arab Lands.” Among other demands, BNC calls for boycotts and divestment from Israel until Israel promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to “return to their homes,” presumably in the current state of Israel.
To the supporters of a two-state solution, the demand for a full and unabridged right of return for Palestinians to Israel is perturbing at best. An absolute right of return, if implemented without exception, is incompatible with the principles and implementation of a two-state solution.
Such a population influx would deny the Israeli people of their right to self-determination as guaranteed by the United Nations, and strip Israel of its very raison d’être as the only homeland for Jews and their sole guaranteed refuge from global anti-Semitism.
The man who perhaps put it best was then-Senator Barack Obama, who argued that, “the Palestinians are going to have to recognize … that the Right of Return, as they have understood it historically, would extinguish Israel as a Jewish state. That is not an option.”
Supporting documents submitted in SOOP’s package to the ASSU specifically address the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), affirming BDS’s commitment to the complete Right of Return for Palestinians. On page 64 of the package, SOOP explicitly references BDS and divestment jointly and claims that BDS calls for the “right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes …”
The key and missing word, of course, is “all.” BDS officially seeks the return of all Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel. Stanford’s divestment movement has yet to explicitly affirm or reject this claim, yet uses direct references to BDS and its stated goals nonetheless. The Co-President of Stanford’s Students for Justice in Palestine, a prominent organization within the SOOP coalition, further hinted at this alleged link between Divestment and BDS when he wrote an article on the divestment movement’s progress, entitled “Preparing for BDS at Stanford.”
While the content of Stanford’s divestment movement is not identical to that of the BNC, SOOP’s frequent citation of BDS and the BNC’s 2005 manifesto leads supporters of the two-state solution to question the long-term goals that underpin SOOP and its sister movements at other college campuses.
As Stanford argues over the largely-symbolic question of divestment, majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians, despite it all, support a two-state solution. Likewise, the current leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority agree that, if there is a mutually agreeable path toward peace, it will be through a two-state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu of the conservative Likud party has said as much, as has his counterpart President Mahmoud Abbas.
None of the advocates suggest that a two-state solution will be easy. They acknowledge the difficulties in negotiations, the lack of trust between the two peoples, and the domestic political pressures that have obstructed the peace process for decades.
Some of these difficulties have been further compounded by Hamas, a democratically elected terrorist organization in Gaza whose mandate is derived from its opposition to Israel’s existence and imposition of harsh military rule.
Similarly, the conservative Netanyahu government has done little to further the goals of peace and reduce Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Netanyahu’s opposition to Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 reflects his hawkish posture toward the Palestinians and his skepticism of land-for-peace agreements.
But these challenges do not damn the prospect of peace. The determining factor in the two-state solution is mutual trust and a shared vision of a mutually bearable future. Surely, there are avenues for building that trust and a shared vision for Israel and Palestine on the Stanford campus, independent of movements for divestment.
Regardless of whether divestment passes at Stanford, those of us who care about peace and the livelihood of Palestinians and Israelis have a unique opportunity to work together to dismantle the relational barriers that separate the two peoples.
Calling for divestment from Israel without acknowledging the two-state solution, or any solution to the underlying conflict, alienates many who are receptive to Palestinian human rights advocacy. We have yet to witness a clear and convincing articulation as to how Stanford’s divestment would facilitate a two-state solution, much less whether a two-state solution is aligned with the ambiguous, long-term goals of the divestment movement.
Aaron Zelinger, a junior studying symbolic systems, is the international editor of Stanford Political Journal.