As editor of a truly independent Jewish magazine, I find myself traveling in many circles, listening to many different points of view. One of the topics that I regularly hear about is the two-state solution. I can't help but notice--it is so glaring--that when talk of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority arises among Jews, two diametrically opposing mantras are repeated ad nauseam with equal solemnity: "Time is running out (TIRO)"--its sister variation is "Time is not on Israel's side"--and "There is no partner (TINP)." Those who believe peace should and can be achieved through a two-state solution in the near future regularly invoke the first. Those who don't usually utter the second.
These mantras and other similar ones have become the ultimate conversation stoppers; they obstruct serious grappling with facts and impede real discussion. As one high-level Middle East peace negotiator told me recently: "They are emotional arguments not based on reality. But you have to break them down because there are elements of truth in each one." And elements of untruth as well.
How did TIRO and TINP become fixed in the constellation of two-state solution-speak? Let's start with TWO, which is almost always expressed with alarm, although it's been around for decades. Commonly employed by mediators to build a sense of urgency and to apply pressure, TWO has waxed and waned with shifting prospects of the two-state solution ever since the Peel Commission recommended partitioning Palestine in 1937.
But TIRO didn't make its debut in popular parlance until the mid-1990s, fueled by excitement generated by the Oslo Accords that a two-state solution might be imminent and fear that it might be the only way to maintain the Jewish character of Israel. It got plenty of official wear and tear, too. Two months after the spectacular failure of negotiations between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in July 2000, Barak told the UN: "Time is running out, and I don't believe that President Clinton or Israel will be able to negotiate, in the same terms, two months from now," referring to the fact that Clinton's second term would soon come to an end.
Use of TIRO declined in 2001 after inconclusive talks at Taba and during the second intifada, but by 2004 it was hot again. "Arafat says time running out on a plan for separate Palestine, Jewish states," reads one subhead in an Associated...