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  • Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality by Ian S. Lustick
  • Nathan Brown (bio)
Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, by Ian S. Lustick. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. 232 pages. $27.50.

Paradigm Lost is an extended essay on what Israel has become. It does touch on other topics: American politics; Palestinian politics; how policy-makers talk (and how they can delude themselves); how scholars should understand the situation; and what activists can and should do. But at the heart of the book is Israel in its current incarnation: "There is today one and only one state ruling the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and its name is Israel" (p. 2).

Recognition of this reality was slow in coming in some circles, but it has spread quite far. Published in 2019, Paradigm Lost declares what most observers have come to recognize is the case. But if the conclusion is unexceptional, the book has some fresh and unusual elements.

First, while most of those who spoke of a "one-state reality" have in the past been those skeptical of the prospects for—or opposed to—a two-state solution, this book comes from one of its former advocates. "Two states for two peoples was a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is not a solution today" (p. 121; emphasis original). Second, Lustick grounds his analysis in Israeli politics. He does not do so to assess blame: while he does lay responsibility at the feet of some leaders and political agents, there is much more talk about "unintended consequences" in the book than there are accusations and denunciations. Third, the book is accessible, forceful, and concise. Its tone will rub some readers the wrong way but strike others as admirably frank.

If the book is short, its argument is not simple. Lustick attributes the death of a two-state solution and the emergence of the reality of a single state to three trends in Israeli politics.

First, a dominant "iron wall" strategy assumed "Arabs would respond rationally to defeats but did not consider how Jews would respond to victories" (p. 22). In cre ating an imbalance of power designed to deter, intimidate, and force acceptance, Israeli leaders grew less willing to make the concessions necessary to negotiate a peace with their adversaries.

Second, insinuating the Holocaust into Israeli national identity—a process that Lustick describes as gradual and deliberate but undertaken for a variety of goals—had the result that polices are "based on extremely pessimistic assessments of the intentions of potential adversaries and the possibilities of productive cooperation" (p. 49).

And finally, American support has allowed Israel to become what it is without confronting any cost. Again, Lustick makes the point not to criticize specific policymakers: "If blame is to be assigned" than it is the American "founding fathers" (p. 49) who should be singled out since Israel's supporters have used the American constitutional system. But even here, Lustick is not interested in the power of the "Israel lobby" in the United States for its own sake; his focus is on Israel and the "almost entirely overlooked corollary of that power—the drastic and fateful deflection of Israeli democracy from compromise and peace toward maximalism and belligerence" (p. 69).

The clear focus of the book on what Israel has become does have costs. Among other things, it distracts attention away from Palestinian politics. The desiccation of Palestinian national institutions and leadership, very much a part of the death of a two-state solution, gets very little mention; indeed, Palestinians speak in Lustick's book mostly through stray remarks by individual leaders or public opinion polls.

Paradigm Lost insists that analyses of Israel should base themselves less on wishful thinking that, as is frequently argued, "the solution is known" or that "there is no alternative" to a two-state solution. Instead, analysis and activism should ground themselves in what Israel has become. The paradigm in the title of the book refers to the "two-state solution," which Lustick argues prevailed for some time. Here he exaggerates, though a more nuanced understanding hardly undermines his...


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pp. 137-138
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