A Two-State Solution?

No Trumpets, No Drums: A Two-State Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

by Mark A. Heller and Sari Nusseibeh
Hill and Wang, 183 pp., $19.95

After the first day of the Middle East peace conference in Madrid, Secretary of State James A. Baker remarked: “We have to crawl before we walk, and we have to walk before we run. Today I think we all began to crawl.” The secretary’s statement recognizes that the peace conference got off to a slow and rocky start. The best that can be said about it is that the parties met face to face in direct talks, and that the process continues.

That, in itself, is a singular achievement, but the opening round in Madrid in most respects was a depressing display of polemics and histrionics. The parties spelled out maximalist positions, lost an opportunity to reach out to their opponents’ publics or to change attitudes, and talked past each other in an effort to convince the world of their claims. They did not try to grapple with the substance of the problems, and gave only scant evidence of a willingness to compromise. Negotiations, of course, never start with concessions, but the opening round of the Madrid conference inspired little confidence in the ability of the parties to make quick progress in future bilateral talks.

The contrast between the opening Madrid conference and the book No Trumpets, No Drums by Mark Heller and Sari Nusseibeh could not be greater. Two scholars—one Israeli and one Palestinian—have engaged in a nonpolemical and serious effort to spell out the details of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Their book isthe product of intense and often uneasy discussions over a period of months. Despite early setbacks, the authors saw their project through to completion. They were helped in part by two Americans on the staff of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who had first brought them together.

The authors’ proposed settlement is a compromise that represents their best judgment of the minimal requirements of each side for a durable peace. They outline a two-state solution—the state of Israel living eventually alongside a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—with constraints on the Palestinians’ exercise of sovereignty within their state. Through their agreement and ensuing friendship, the authors provide an example of what is possible through dialogue.

Heller and Nusseibeh have broken many taboos in the Middle East with this joint effort. They did not come to their conclusions easily. Both see risks in the course they advocate, and the opposition of many on both sides. They recognize that for themselves, as well as for political leaders, the preferred choice is not to accommodate—it is to hold out for longstanding aims in the hope that they might yet someday be realized. Yet they see only one alternative to a compromise involving a two-state solution: a continued stalemate which, they both believe, has greater risks than their proposal for a negotiated peace. Their project was a success because they both agreed that the status quo is unsatisfactory, that a better future is possible, that polemics are unhelpful, and that a settlement can be achieved if…

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