The Palestinian Statehood Idea Begins to Crumble

Why even leftists are giving up on the cause.

A sea change began within hours of the Israeli election returns.

Thomas L. Friedman, who has devoted much of his life to promoting Palestinian statehood, declared in his New York Times column that the idea of a Palestinian state is "not possible anymore." That was followed by his Times colleague David K. Shipler, another longtime advocate of a Palestinian state, announcing that the "the two-state solution looks dead."

Just a couple of elite, pro-Palestinian journalists venting their frustration?

Don't bet on it. The American public is losing faith in “Palestine” too. Friedman and Shipler’s declarations merely echo the latest poll numbers on the American public's view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found that Americans' support for the idea of creating a Palestinian state has reached its lowest point in twenty years. Just 39% of Americans support it; 36% are opposed.

That 39% is down from the 58% who backed Palestinian statehood in 2003. And the three-percentage point gap between supporters and opponents is the smallest such gap in at least twenty years.

One can understand why Friedman and Shipler would be disillusioned by such trends in American and Israeli public opinion. For eight years, Shipler and Friedman used the news columns of the world's most important newspaper to turn American public opinion against Israel and promote the need to establish a Palestinian state. They might have imagined they were making inroads.

Shipler was the New York Times' bureau chief in Jerusalem from 1979 to 1984. His news articles were slanted to stoke hatred of Israel and sympathy for the Palestinians. Then he shed all pretense of objectivity and wrote a book, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, which made it clear that his previous reporting had been agenda-driven. Nonetheless, the book won a Pulitzer Prize.

Friedman picked up where Shipler left off. In 1988, Friedman succeeded Shipler as the new bureau chief in Jerusalem. His reporting was just as biased against Israel as Shipler's had been. And when Friedman finished his four years there, he wrote From Beirut to Jerusalem, a book filled with vitriol against Israel. Nonetheless, the book won a National Book Award.

In the years to follow, it must have seemed to Shipler and Friedman that their goal was within reach. Israel signed the Oslo accords and pulled out of all the Palestinian-populated areas in the territories. Two Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, reportedly offered to create a Palestinian state. Even Benjamin Netanyahu eventually said he could accept a demilitarized Palestinian state under certain conditions.

So why did the push for a Palestinian state fail?

It failed because of reality--and the Israeli election results reflect that.

"It is hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won," Friedman wrote after the election results arrived last month. The public's strong support for Netanyahu was a response to the reality of Palestinian violence and extremism, Friedman conceded. "The insane, worthless Gaza war that Hamas initiated last summer that brought rockets to the edge of Israel's main international airport and the Palestinians' spurning of two-state offers of previous Israeli prime ministers built Netanyahu's base as much as he did."

In other words, Israeli voters, instead of paying attention to Friedman's years of writings, paid attention to the reality around them--and voted accordingly.

Shipler, writing in his online newsletter, The Shipler Report, has reached essentially the same conclusion. "A bet on statehood for the Palestinians is about as good as money in a Ukrainian bond," Shipler wrote on the eve of the Israeli vote. "Conditions can always change, of course, but for the foreseeable future, a two-state solution looks dead."

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