Roger Cohen’s Op-Ed on Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Impossibility of Two-State Peace
Impossibility of One-State Peace
The Less Impossible Option
An Op-Ed by Roger Cohen expresses the two opposing sides regarding the type of peace that can be recommended to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The author is in support of the two-state peace, an option that has received criticism and opposition from figures such as Beinart, the editor of Jewish Currents who thinks a one-state peace is a better option. Drawing from theoretical lens of realism, constructivism, or liberalism, this essay explores three major arguments of the Op-Ed. The essay argues that Cohen is a liberalist who believes that rational decisions from sensible decision-makers should pursue what is best for the interests of the nation rather than working against them.
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Impossibility of Two-State Peace
The first argument in the Op-Ed is that a two-state peace is impossible because the author considers the 53-year old occupation of the West Bank by Israel has gone too far to be undone. Cohen (2020) states that the Israeli nationalism also makes it impossible for two-state peace as it claims all the land between Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The global recognition of Israeli occupation and the inability of the interim Palestinian government is undemocratic and too weak to pursue any plans for Palestinian statehood. It is important to highlight that the relations between the two states are based on conflicting interests that no party will be willing to concede.
The theoretical lens used by the author to make the argument is liberalism which denotes a form of government characterized by the rule of law, individual rights, political participation of the citizens, and private property (Jahn, 2018). The lens is based on the moral argument that the highest goal of the government is to ensure individual liberty, right to life and property (Meiser, 2019). From the argument, it can be seen that Cohen (2020) believes that both parties to the Israel-Palestinian conflict are not liberal with the absence of liberalism being the main reason why the two-state peace is impossible. Liberalism allows states to pursue own interests, in which case Israel and Palestine are deemed by Cohen (2020) as liberal in their own way. With such liberalism, conflicting interests means it is impossible for the two parties to agree without conceding interests. From a liberalist perspective, therefore, a two-state peace cannot be achieved when Israeli nationalism and Palestinian political ideology persist.
However, the fact that Cohen (2020) mentions “occupation” implies that there is one party guilty of the conflicts and that should be forced to concede. Half a century of occupation does not give any country a right to claim territory. From the liberal lens, an occupation is an act of denying people their individual rights, property and liberty (Meiser, 2019). The author seems to support a claim that results in the degradation of liberal democracy.
Cohen’s argument, however, remains feasible considering that the Jews would not easily concede the occupation after all the historical incidences suggesting that a unified Jewish State is the only option that guarantees their survival. The messianic nationalism mentioned by Cohen (2020) is not any different from many modern states that have been founded in conquered lands. Additionally, the recognition of the Israeli state by the international states hints to the fact that the Palestinians should get used to the idea and indeed start pursuing peace for the sake of the Palestinians. That, from a liberal perspective, would allow the Palestinians to enjoy the same rights as the Jews.
Impossibility of One-State Peace
The second argument is that the one-state peace is also impossible. Cohen (2020) cites the historical injustices that have happened to the Jews as the main reason why the Jews would not suddenly concede and lose their ‘new home.’ The author presents evidence that Jews used to have a ‘home’ in places such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands where their patriotism resulted in their annihilation. A home for them would not be adequate considering that Jews and Palestinians could not agree on matters as small as a school textbook. They remain insistent that having their own state is the best chance of their survival.
Arguably, the lens used in the second argument is constructivism. The main tenet of constructivism and its application in international relations is its focus on social elements of the world politics (Dormer, 2017). Intersubjectivity, beliefs, norms, agency, and identity/interest concepts describe constructivism as opposed to the rational actors in realism and the institutional constraints in liberalism. Constructivism deals with the social construction of political viewpoints. Symbolic interactionism is the concept in constructivism that best explains the situation. This idea has been used by theorists to support the argument that state interactions are a relation between the ‘ego’ and ‘alter’ of the two states (Adler-Nissen & Rebecca, 2016). Cohen (2020) is, therefore, using symbolic interactionism to argue that a one-state peace is a matter of changing these egos and alters to facilitate peace. Constructivism, as a social construction of politics, will mean the two societies will need to redefine their political relations.
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To counter the argument, it can be argued that it is one-sided and postulates that the only way a one-state peace can be obtained is if the Jews concede. The argument does not consider the possibility of Palestinians conceding and agreeing that it would perhaps be better to live with the Jews in a single state. From a constructivism perspective, such a move would mean the society believing in integration.
However, I would support the argument because it makes more sense for the Jews to concede as opposed to the Palestinians. Cohen (2020) is perhaps guided by historical events of the Jewish occupation to insinuate that the land occupied by the Jews is Palestinian (or formerly Palestinian) and that the only party that can concede is the Jews. From a constructivist perspective, the Palestinians can also be expected to socially construct the importance of the West Bank and would never consider conceding.
The Less Impossible Option
The third argument in the Op-Ed is that both alternatives are dreadful and the Israeli-Palestinian peace will require them to adopt the less impossible option. Cohen (2020) sticks to his idea of a two-state peace because he believes the only way for the two sides to form what would resemble a nation, or a federation, is if the two parties build two separate states. Some events in Israel’s history have been regarded as unmanageable and a two-state peace is one of them.
Since the author sticks to his idea of a two-state peace, the lens used in the argument liberal. Liberalism is founded on liberty, equality before the law, and the consent of the governed. The two-state peace offers limited government, individual rights and, most importantly, freedom of religion. The creation of two states is not a division of the two sides, but a formation of an institution that allows each group to pursue its interests and freedoms without having restrictions from the other. The two governments are currently acting as hindrances to rights and this should change if each side is left to run its affairs as it wishes as long as doing so will not pose threats to the other.
A question that needs to be asked from Cohen’s argument, however, is how one can create two states as a means to retain a single state. Cohen (2020) has cited the impossibility of Jews to concede and it can be expected that an act of forming two states is equivalent to conceding. Additionally, such an idea contradicts his notion that the Jews no longer want to accept a home. A two-state peace, from a liberal perspective, gives people a home where they have less control of the state as much of the control is with the government.
I would support the author, however, with the argument that the two-state peace is the less impossible of alternatives. From a constructivist point of view, however, Cohen (2020) should be more concerned about getting the two societies to accept each other for the sake of mutual progress, peace, and prosperity. A unified federal government where the Jews have more or as much control as the Palestinians should be enough to make sure the unfortunate events of the past will not happen again. The Jews can feel that they have a state of their own.
The Op-Ed by Roger Cohen makes a compelling case that neither two-state peace nor one-state peace is possible for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If there has to be peace, however, the lesser impossibility has to be adopted. The first argument is from a liberalist lens where the intuitional frameworks are seen as the way forward. The second argument is from a constructivist lens where the impossibility is constructed from a sociological significance. The third argument is founded on the first one regarding a two-state peace as the lesser impossibility. It is also a liberal perspective where a federal government and two state governments allow individuals to enjoy liberty, rights, and property.
Adler-Nissen, & Rebecca. (2016). The social self in international relations: Identity, power, and the symbolic interactions roots of constructivism. European Review of International Studies, 3(3), 27-39. Web.
Cohen, R. (2020). The LessImpossible Israeli-Palestinian Peace. New York Times: Web.
Dormer, R. (2017). The Impact of Constructivism on International Relations Theory: A History. [PDF document]. Web.
Jahn, B. (2018). Liberal internationalism: historical trajectory and current prospects. International Affairs, 94(1), 43-61. Web.
Meiser, J. (2019). Liberalism. In S. McGlinchey, R. Walters, & C. Scheipflug (Eds.), International Relations Theory (pp. 22-27). E-International Relations Publishing.