Two-State Lessons From Sudan

Jewish Light Editorial

While the search continues for the right formula to implement a two-state solution for Israel, valuable lessons and caveats can be found in the situation in Sudan, to the south of the Jewish State.

As noted last week in a Wall Street Journal article by Matina Stevis-Gridneff headlined “South Sudan Peril Puts U.S. in Bind,” the two-state solution there that was backed by the United States has devolved into violence. That development is hardly what anyone had in mind when parties worked to end Sudan’s bloody civil war.   

Stevis-Gridneff writes that the United States originally backed independence for South Sudan as a means of ending the strife that was tearing the nation apart. But, she adds, “Recent years have seen the revival of civil war, sparking a famine that put 100,000 on the verge of dying of starvation.”

A power-sharing agreement reached at the outset of independence broke down with rival factions opposing each other. Vice President Riek Machar left the government and became a rebel leader against President Salva Kiir.  About 12 million people — nearly a third of South Sudan’s population — have been displaced in the years since the well-intentioned independence deal was approved.

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That kind of scenario sounds all too familiar in war-torn nations with long-held hatreds. Ideally, Israel will be an exception, though finding a framework under which Israelis and Palestinians can peacefully co-exist, leaving behind the violence that has marked the region for generations, has proved elusive so far.

Still, negotiators press on, clinging to hope that beckons particularly strongly at this season. The month of November is significant to the State of Israel in terms of its independence.  

For centuries, Jews longed to return to their biblical homeland, to set up a truly independent state that could be a light unto the nations as well as a safe refuge from the scourge of anti-Semitism.  On Nov. 2, 1917, the government of Great Britain issued the famous Balfour Declaration stating officially that its government “looks with favor” on the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, with the proviso that the rights of non-Jews would be assured. 

On Nov. 29, 1947, a narrow majority of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a partition plan to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. While the Zionist leadership, under leaders such as David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, had hoped for a larger portion of Palestine, it accepted the plan and issued its proclamation of independence.  

Sadly, the Arab leadership in Palestine rejected the partition plan and joined with five neighboring Arab states in a coordinated invasion to destroy the tiny new state. But Israel, with a Jewish population of just 625,000 versus the combined force of 100 million Arabs, not only survived the war but actually increased its territory. By 1949, Israel was admitted as a full member of the United Nations.

From the start, the State of Israel possessed the traits needed for a truly viable independent state: a democratically elected parliament, the Knesset; an executive branch divided between a prime minister and a president; and extensive rights given to non-Jewish residents of the new Jewish State. Whether the Palestinian Authority can demonstrate the same characteristics is another question. 

Currently, the Fatah group is in control of the West Bank. Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip, is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union. Are they truly ready to be part of an independent state?

The Jewish Light has long supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine situation: creation of an independent Arab State of Palestine that would recognize Israel and live side-by-side with the Jewish State in peace and security.

But there is no cookie-cutter consistency among groups around the globe that are seeking independence.  Some, like the Zionists of Israel, are successful almost from the beginning; others, like South Sudan, are clearly unprepared for independent statehood.

We continue to support a two-state solution. But a State of Palestine, divided between Fatah and Hamas, cannot be a duplicate of South Sudan.

The premature creation and recognition of the ill-fated South Sudan, which must be considered a failed state, is a lesson to study closely and apply to other independence movements, especially Palestine.