The idea of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seemingly never ceases to surprise and even entertain. It used to be official PLO policy, before the PNC adopted the two-state solution over 20 years ago. In recent years, with the two-state solution going nowhere, there has been a revival of interest in the one-state idea in Palestinian intellectual circles and even among some Palestinian citizens of Israel. Most surprisingly, a number of prominent right-wing Israeli politicians have gone on record in the past few months supporting a one-state solution in which the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and East Jerusalem ostensibly become equal Israeli citizens.
The two-state solution is still far and away the conventional wisdom. From an option endorsed only by the Israeli communist party in 1967, it is today accepted by the Likud and all parties to its left in Israel, as well as by the PLO and, conceivably, through some form of default or innuendo, even by Hamas on the Palestinian side. The two-state solution is of course the agreed topic of discussion in Washington at the September 2 summit.
If the two-state solution is increasingly so consensual, why the growing discourse about a one-state solution? One explanation is the looming gap between the international consensus regarding two states and the actual feasibility of this approach. After all, we are nowhere near an agreed formula regarding core issues like refugees/right of return and "ownership" of the Holy Basin, and neither PM Binyamin Netanyahu nor President Mahmoud Abbas seems a likely candidate to make and enforce the necessary ideological and political concessions regarding these and additional issues.
Thus for some, honest despair over a two-state solution drives them to "think outside the box" and toy with one-state and related ideas. I recently encountered a serious project that investigates the feasibility of creating two "parallel" or "overlapping" states, Israeli and Palestinian, on the very same territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. This looks like a formula for living in hell and is enough to make both Palestinians and Israelis prefer the current depressing status quo.
Undoubtedly, there are Palestinian advocates of a one-state solution who believe, not without reason, that if it could only be imposed upon Israel it would lay the demographic and political foundations for an Arab-dominated state. They draw encouragement from, and in turn contribute to, the growing international campaign to delegitimize Israel as a necessary precursor to their version of a one-state solution.
It is precisely this Palestinian advocacy of one state that may explain why the Israeli right-wing one-state solution camp appears to have had so little impact on Israeli public opinion. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former minister of defense and foreign affairs Moshe Arens both suggest that Israel can somehow swallow up the West Bank and award citizenship rights to the Palestinian population there and in East Jerusalem, yet remain a Jewish state. This does not sell easily to skeptical Israelis.
How do Rivlin and Arens rationalize their solution? First, both engage in willful self-delusion by reducing the West Bank/East Jerusalem Arab population from around 2.5 million to 1.5 million, then assuming it will not grow any faster than the united country's Jewish population, thereby leaving the Jews in the majority forever. In so doing, they buy into totally unprofessional and politicized demographic estimates emanating from the Israeli and American Jewish far right.
Second, they assert in a roundabout way that Palestinians, if just given a chance, would like nothing more than to be productive citizens of Israel as currently constituted--a Jewish and democratic state. Rivlin allows that this may take a generation or that perhaps the West Bank Palestinians will suffice with a condominium setup inside Israel; Arens wants first to "tame" Israel's own Palestinian Arab population of 1.2 million and make them good citizens in order to "prove" the same can be done with the West Bankers. Likud Member of Knesset Tzipi Hotobely also wants to wait a generation and anchor the country's Jewish status constitutionally so that Arabs can't challenge it. But to be on the safe side, she refuses to recognize Palestinian national rights--only individual rights.
All, in short, fall back on patronizing, colonialist thinking that characterized Moshe Dayan's and Menachem Begin's ill-fated experiments in autonomy several decades ago. All these "solutions" smell of condescension, ignorance about Palestinian national aspirations and a refusal to recognize that demography would sooner or later bring about the Palestinization of Israel. Nor, under present circumstances, would even the most egalitarian offer of Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians persuade the international community and Arab world to acquiesce in Israel ignoring Gaza's 1.5 million.
There is only one persuasive explanation for the timing of these bizarre proposals. As they confront the cumulative weight of both Israeli and international opinion regarding a two-state solution, Israeli right-wing circles are also beginning to confront the inevitability of "losing" the West Bank, and consequently to panic. Hence some are dressing up old and discredited autonomy schemes as one-state ideas. In stark contrast, a few prominent West Bank settlers are beginning seriously to contemplate the possibility of remaining in a Palestinian state. While none of this necessarily makes a two-state solution any easier, it should put wind in the sails of those who continue to strive toward that end.- Published 30/8/2010 © bitterlemons.org
The idea of the one-state solution keeps popping up, particularly when the two-state solution is undergoing difficulties. Maybe this is because people in the region are unable to imagine anything other than one- or two-state solutions.
Recently, and in view of the serious difficulties facing the peace process as well as the evident drift toward radicalization and the political right in both Israel and Palestine, we have again begun hearing the idea of a one-state solution.
In Ramallah and other main cities of the West Bank, slogans on billboards have recently sprung up in many places calling for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the equality of all people between the river and the sea: one secular, democratic state on the basis of one-man, one-vote.
Public opinion polls on the Palestinian side show that those supporting a one-state solution are still a minority. However, the number of supporters of the idea has been growing slowly but steadily.
During the same period there has been a faint echo of this line on the Israeli side. This has not come, surprisingly, from the Israeli left as one might have expected, but rather from the far right, including settlers. Those proposals should not be confused with the equal-rights-for-all-people that Palestinians suggest, but are rather an apparent attempt at ensuring a Jewish presence in all historic Palestine.
The rightists behind these proposals are opposed to a two-state solution, which will deny them the ability to live in the part of historic Palestine that constitute a Palestinian state.
The problem with the one-state solution is that it appears less plausible than the two-state solution. This is, first, because the vast majority of Israelis, and certainly Israeli officialdom, is unwilling to even consider the option. Most Israelis seek a "purely Jewish state". A one-state solution will leave that state even less "pure" than what Israel would be under a two-state solution.
Second, most Palestinians are not willing to invest in the one-state solution for practical reasons. They don't see a chance for this option and are more confident in chances of a two-state solution. Some Palestinians even go further and argue that to even raise the idea of a one-state solution is harmful, because it might undermine the possibility of a two-state solution.
Third, there is an accumulated body of international resolutions and international consensus that supports the two-state solution.
Having said that, it is conceivable to imagine that the more time passes without a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, the more likely we are to see the emergence of a single entity between river and sea, comprising one state, Israel, alongside an apartheid reality in the rest of historical Palestine, where two peoples sharing the same land live under two completely different sets of laws.
The changes Israel is undertaking in occupied East Jerusalem, including settlement expansion and infrastructure construction, are eliminating the practical possibility of turning occupied East Jerusalem into the capital of a Palestinian state. This will certainly undermine chances of an independent Palestinian state on the borders of 1967 and, consequently, eliminate the two-state solution.
This will leave us with the reality of the one-state-plus-apartheid entity, which will eventually lead to one state. The problem here is that the time this takes will be neither short nor quiet. Rather it will spark renewed tension and violence, more extremism and hatred, and the conflict will continue to be a cause of instability in the region at large.
The international community, which adopted the two-state solution and convinced the Palestinians that this option is, for pragmatic reasons, the only possible one, now has to take a more active role to realize this vision.
That has to happen soon, before it is too late. Leaving the future of the conflict up to bilateral relations between the Israelis and Palestinians has proven futile because of the vast imbalance of power between the two.
The combination of the upcoming American-led direct talks and the impressive performance of the Palestinian government on the ground in preparing Palestinians for statehood is an historic opportunity that needs to be used seriously by the international community. - Published 30/8/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
One-state solution, Israel-style
by Amnon Lord
Two strategies regarding the Palestinian issue have evolved in Israel in recent years. The first conditions Israel's future on establishing peace with the Palestinians, or, if this proves impossible, unilaterally creating a situation of clear-cut partition leading to a two-state solution. The assumption is that, demographically and morally, the current situation is unsustainable and will result in a non-Jewish state. The belief is that Israel's future will be secured and its horizons dramatically broadened only if it can secure a two-state solution.
The second strategy demands that Israel stay on course, developing the economy, society and infrastructure without conditioning this dynamic on a final-status solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu leads according to this strategy. Nearly a decade ago, as minister of finance, he demonstrated that the Israeli economy does not need peace in order to grow and thrive. Netanyahu's view gained credence because it proved feasible and because the strategy of unilateral withdrawal proved dangerous.
In January of this year, Major General (res.) Giora Eyland published a paper at the BESA Center of Bar Ilan University in which he asserted that the current concept of the two-state solution is obsolete. He mentioned two other formulas: Jordanian-Palestinian confederation and a regional three-way land swap. Both the Eyland concept and the new current of a one-state solution emanating from the Israeli political right reflect Israeli despair over the inability to reach final status accords with the PLO.
The one-state concept of the Israeli right basically stems from the world view informing the first Israeli strategy, namely that Israel's future is in doubt unless we find a way to break the deadlock. It is tempting because of its simplistic formula that all you need to do is act unilaterally and, with the Gaza Palestinians out of the equation, award full citizenship rights to the Palestinians in the West Bank. According to this view, Israel is on a course of demographic momentum and if it asserts its sovereignty over the entire land all the way to the Jordan River all the core problems will somehow evaporate.
This might have been the case had Israel initiated such a move of full annexation right after the Six-Day War. But nowadays, it's bound to prove just as illusory as the two-state solution. Ideologues from the Israeli right see an opportunity to fulfill the generations-old yearning for Greater Israel using a platform of double frustration: there is no peaceful solution in sight; and unilateral disengagement offers neither security nor political gain. Hence the road is open for a new kind of Israeli unilateralism.
To be sure, some very serious people have begun to think along these lines: Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Makor Rishon Deputy Editor Uri Elitzur, Likud Member of Knesset Tzipi Hotobely and others. Yet these Israelis clearly have not internalized the real lesson of the past 17 years. The Palestinians have proved that they know how to keep the flame of political struggle against Israel alive and even gain international legitimacy for it after the signing of international accords. Therefore, an Israel-style one-state solution runs the risk of having to continue the struggle--only with many more Arab citizens inside the country.
One does not need much imagination to envision how events will unfold as soon as Israel announces its new sovereignty-assertion policy over the West Bank: Palestinian leaders and spokespersons will welcome the initiative, but not so fast--not unilaterally. The Israelis have no legitimacy for this policy; again this word, legitimacy. The Palestinians will say: we have our own legitimate representatives, our leadership. The Israelis are welcome to negotiate with them the terms of reunification.
Meanwhile, the armed struggle will resume, perhaps by means of fierce rocket terrorism. The Palestinians will demand to know how the core issues will be resolved. After all, giving them citizenship may answer questions concerning their civil rights and perhaps the border issue but it won't resolve the refugees and Jerusalem questions. And then there's the problem of Gaza.
Thus will this Israeli one-state solution quickly evolve into negotiations over a bi-national state. Nor will this be an easy course to follow. The psychological motive for this noble right-wing idea stems from drawing the wrong lesson from the South African experience. When there is apartheid, all you need to do is abolish it and give everybody voting rights. But when you have two national entities, you cannot abolish one by granting its members blue ID cards and voting rights.
There is, then, no bypass surgery for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet this time around, the Palestinians should take into consideration that the Israelis have found a strategy that works for them historically: their future is no longer conditioned on Palestinian consent.- Published 30/8/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Amnon Lord is a senior editor and columnist with Makor Rishon newspaper.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A state of equality
by Diana Buttu
With the push for "direct talks" between the PLO and Israel now coming to a head, talk of the two-state solution--with a "Palestinian state" that is beginning to sound more like a medical condition than a political entity--is in full swing.
But while the political negotiations process may have been stalled for nearly a decade, the facts on the ground have certainly not. Over the past ten years, as Europeans and Americans were devising "roadmaps" and "Quartet statements" and focused on "reform", Israel and the Israeli settler movement not-so-quietly continued what they have done best for the past 43 years: building and expanding settlements. Over the past decade alone, more than 120,000 new settlers have illegally set up camp in the West Bank, with the total number of settlers reaching more than half a million.
With renewed attention on the fate of these settlements, and perhaps fearing that their "wild West Bank" days may soon be over, a group of Israeli settlers put forward an interesting proposition last month: rather than try to divide the land of Palestine into two "states", why not simply have Palestinians and Israelis live together in one state? Some proposals have called for a phased approach granting citizenship over a generation to 300,000 Palestinians while others have set the limit at 1.5 million Palestinians.
Staunch liberal Zionists immediately decried the idea, announcing that it would undermine the notion of a "Jewish state" (which similarly sounds like a medical condition) because granting citizenship to all would eventually prevent Israel's indefinite discrimination against non-Jews, unlike under the undefined concept of a "Jewish state". In other words, these Zionists wondered why, as Israel asks itself how many non-Jews it can tolerate in its Jewish state while maintaining a Jewish majority, settlers--the very symbol of expansionist Zionism--now call for more rather than fewer non-Jews to be incorporated into Israel. The answer, of course, can be found by examining who is calling for the "one state" and what their idea of "one state" actually entails.
Read thoroughly, these proposals mirror exactly the "dilemma" that Israel faced in 1967 when it annexed East Jerusalem: how to steal as much Palestinian land with as few Palestinians as possible. In East Jerusalem, the problem, from Israel's standpoint, was easily resolved by confiscating the undeveloped parts of the area surrounding East Jerusalem and building illegal settlements (absurdly referred to as "neighborhoods") that now hold 200,000 Jewish settlers. The indigenous Palestinians were then granted limited rights, if they can even be classified as such. Israel has since ensured that these Palestinians remain subservient and subject to a whole host of discriminatory laws including absurd "residency tests" designed to strip them of their legal status.
The new settler proposals seek to do the same: steal as much Palestinian land as possible; allow Israeli settlers to build more colonies on the land; keep Palestinians (as few of them as possible, of course) subservient to the state of Israel by demanding loyalty tests and residency tests; and maintaining an apartheid regime if in a different form. For settlers and other right-wing Israelis espousing the "one-state" concept, the issue is about how to expand Israel. Period. Among settlers, the ideology of superiority still pervades. Palestinians will not automatically be granted rights but afforded rights on the basis of their behavior toward a racist state that has dispossessed and occupied them. What settlers are not talking about is the very essence of a single state: equality.
While it is largely academic acrobatics to be discussing the idea of "states" (inviting distraction from focusing on day-to-day human rights abuses in favor of ivory tower "solutions"), the concept of equality is something that seems to have evaporated from the lexicon, whether in discussing two states or one.
The two-state "solution" focuses solely on land and, worse, land swaps without any reference to whether any future Palestinian "state" will be equal to Israel politically and militarily. In other words, the "internationally-accepted" notion of a Palestinian state is not a state that exists on the 1967 borders but one that will be based on the 1967 borders, thereby rewarding Israel for 43 years of universally-condemned colonialism.
Ignored, of course, in the "Palestinian state" concept are the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees who, voiceless and oppressed, outnumber those living in Palestine today. Anyone who believes that they can simply will away the rights and aspirations of millions is delusional; generations of Palestinians have shown that they will continue to stubbornly resist in order to attain their rights.
A Ramallah-based "one-state" movement is also now popping up that seems to be capitalizing on the eventual failure of the two-state solution. Under the banner, "two states are impossible", this group espouses the one-state solution, but only because its preferred outcome, a two-state solution, is no longer "practical" owing to the presence of over 500,000 settlers.
Support for the "one-state" concept must not simply be a default outcome resulting from failure of the two-state approach, but rather an outcome that strives for equality. Equality, while not a foolproof guarantee of bliss, is certainly a good start. Advocates are cognizant that it may involve an uneasy Israeli integration into Palestinian lives and Palestinian integration into Israeli lives--from education to culture to lifestyle--and that equality will not necessarily recreate pre-1948 Palestine.
But it does require abolishing the laws, system and bureaucracy that make up the discriminatory apartheid regime that Palestinians live under today and from which Israelis benefit. And as the "direct talks" eventually lead to direct failure--for Israel seeks a subjugation agreement, not one based on equality--the imperative is to challenge the ideology of superiority that grows with each new settlement constructed and with the new Israeli demand of Palestinian recognition of a "Jewish state". The only honest way forward is to work toward true equality for all.- Published 30/8/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Diana Buttu is a human rights lawyer and a former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.