The Buzz

Suspension of Disbelief and the Two-State Solution

This weekend an op-ed by Dennis Ross in the New York Times encouraged Israelis and Palestinians to "suspend [their] disbelief" in the two-state solution in order to achieve peace in the Middle East. For Ross, the fact that neither side actually believes in the attainability of the two-state solution anymore is the root of the problem.

In his view while some factors, "make Israelis and Palestinians reluctant to take risks for peace, they do not represent the biggest hurdle for ending the conflict. The most fundamental problem between Israelis and Palestinians is the problem of disbelief. Most Israelis and Palestinians today simply don’t believe that peace is possible."

He then provides an infographic worthy of a quarterly presentation that outlines fourteen points of action to ensure all live happily ever after.

It is worth taking a moment to recall what a suspension of belief actually entails. The term was coined by Romantic poet Samuel T. Coleridge (of "Kubla Khan" fame) to suggest that if a poet could meld "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a tale then perhaps a reader might conveniently forget the implausibility of the narrative. In modern times, it's essentially come to mean that one can push aside the real limitations or complications of a situation to work/believe the impossible. One might enjoy a TV show where the hero leaps tall buildings in a single bound without having to worry about the fact that such things can't be done.

The problem here rears its ugly head when Ross applies the literary device to a policy prescription. He seems to present the Mideast peace equivalent of: the only reason we can't leap tall buildings in a single bound is because we believe we can't.

Reach for the stars, dear sir, but realize that you cannot literally touch them while standing on earth.

Ross implores, "Put simply, neither side believes that the other is committed to a two-state outcome. . . . Given this context of mutual disbelief, the idea that the two sides now will seize an initiative to end the conflict is an illusion. But that cannot be an argument for doing nothing." Sure, but it is also not an argument for pretending that if we just have a positive attitude and follow the diagram, all's well that ends well.

Theoretical solutions to Mideast peace are easy to conjure because they do not address the complications of the present quagmire. Losing faith may be unpleasant, but it may also be a reality that needs to be addressed. Instead, Ross threatens, "If the two-state solution is discredited as an outcome, something and someone will surely fill the void." Always possible, but this seems like a poor reason to blindly pursue an outcome both sides have abandoned.

While in a literary vein, perhaps we can remember H.L. Mencken who said, "For every complex problem there is a solution that is concise, clear, simple and wrong." Unfortunately, if you can sum up your strategy in sheer belief and an infographic then you may not have a formula for peace in the Middle East.

If an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be brought about by desire aloneno doubtAmerica already would have pulled that rabbit from its hat.