MARMOREK: The sun is setting on the two-state solution November 27, 2009

suns sets on Palestine

by Peter Marmorek  -  Tikkun -  24 November 2009

Perhaps recent leaders of Israel might made better choices had they spent more time reading Sherlock Holmes. Of particular use to them might have been The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet in which Holmes says, “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Then they might have realized that the result of making a two-state solution impossible was to make a one-state solution inevitable. Having worked to weaken Palestine, to undermine all Palestinian leaders, to create – in Sharon’s memorable phrase for the settlements – facts on the ground they are now like a go player who having focused exclusively on a specific battle over territory suddenly looks at the bigger picture and realizes he’s lost the game.

We are now at that point of realization. Almost 10% of Israeli Jews now live in the Territories or in East Jerusalem . It would be impossible for any Israeli government to make a peace offer to Palestinians that would give up those homes and settlements: in Israeli politics, their coalition would instantly disappear. (And it’s unlikely they could do it militarily:the BBC reports that , “An increasing number of Israeli soldiers are publicly objecting, on religious and political grounds, to their role in the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank .”) Similarly, it would not be possible for any Palestinian leader to accept the kind of offer any Israeli leader might realistically make: his support would also disappear. The handful of bantustans offered as a Palestinian country at Oslo might have been the closest to a joint solution ever reached. And if a two-state solution is impossible,as seems increasingly clear, then the only alternative, however improbable, is a one-state solution.

A one state solution means a country open to both Jews and Muslims. This is also called a binational solution, and its supporters “advocate a single state in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with citizenship and equal rights in the combined entity for all inhabitants of all three territories, without regard to ethnicity or religion.” Edward Said called for this, saying “the question is not how to devise means for persisting in trying to separate,” Israelis and Palestinians, “but to see whether it is possible for them to live together as fairly and peacefully as possible. But while this once sounded like an impossible dream, it is increasingly being seen on both sides as inevitable.

Stephen Walt’s recent piece A New Era in the Middle East? Uh-Oh nails it:

Be careful what you wish for. Israel is going to get what it has long sought: permanent control of the West Bank (along with de facto control over Gaza ). The Palestinian Authority is increasingly irrelevant and may soon collapse, General Keith Dayton’s mission to train reliable and professional Palestinian security forces will end, and Israel will once again have full responsibility for some 5.2 million Palestinian Arabs under its control. And the issue will gradually shift from the creation of a viable Palestinian state — which was the central idea behind the Oslo process and the subsequent “Road Map” — to a struggle for civil and political rights within an Israel that controls all of mandate Palestine .

Jimmy Carter sees it coming too:

“Many Palestinian leaders are seriously considering acceptance of one state, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea ,” Carter wrote.”By renouncing the dream of an independent Palestine , they would become fellow citizens with their Jewish neighbors and then demand equal rights within a democracy,” he added.

The “demographic time bomb”, the higher birth rate of Palestinians than Israelis, and the inexorable rise in the percentage of non-Jewish population in such a state has terrified Israelis. Ehud Olmert played to that fear in an interview in Haaretz, in which he was quoted as saying, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” And if you look at the polls, Israelis are overwhelmingly opposed to such a solution. So how can one assert its inevitability?

That question led me to the Electronic Intifada, and a long and fascinating exploration of that very question by Ali Abunimah, a long-time commentator on the Middle East , and proponent of he one-state solution. He compares Israel to South Africa , looking in detail at the attitudes of the white South Africans who were unalterably opposed to giving equal rights to blacks and coloureds, until their government recognized that there was no other possible solution. Abunimah says:

What did change for South Africa , and what all the weapons in the world were not able to prevent, was the complete loss of legitimacy of the apartheid regime and its practices. Once this legitimacy was gone, whites lost the will to maintain a system that relied on repression and violence and rendered them international pariahs; they negotiated a way out and lived to tell the tale. It all happened much more quickly and with considerably less violence than even the most optimistic predictions of the time. But this outcome could not have been predicted based on what whites said they were willing to accept, and it would not have occurred had the ANC been guided by opinion polls rather than the democratic principles of the Freedom Charter.

Zionism — as many Israelis openly worry — is suffering a similar, terminal loss of legitimacy as Israel is ever more isolated as a result of its actions. Israel ’s self-image as a liberal “Jewish and democratic state” is proving impossible to maintain against the reality of a militarized, ultra-nationalist Jewish sectarian settler-colony that must carry out frequent and escalating massacres of “enemy” civilians ( Lebanon and Gaza 2006, Gaza 2009) in a losing effort to check the resistance of the region’s indigenous people. Zionism cannot bomb, kidnap, assassinate, expel, demolish, settle and lie its way to legitimacy and acceptance.

The same conclusion is explored on “Informed Comment”, Juan Cole’s award winning blog. Cole starts by quoting Saeb Erekat, who heads the PLO steering committee, who recently asked “that Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas should be frank with the Palestinian people and admit to them that there is no possibility of a two-state solution given continued Israeli colonization of the West Bank .” Cole goes on to say:

It is morally and ethically unconscionable to leave millions of Palestinians in a condition of statelessness, in which they have no rights … Therefore, if there isn’t going to be a 2-state solution, there will have to be a one-state solution, in which Israel gives citizenship to the Palestinians.

The implications of Erekat’s statement gets a fine exegesis on CounterPunch, where John Whitbeck observes that, “This statement just might signal a turning point in the long, frustrating search for peace with some measure of justice in Israel/Palestine.”

So is that the end of Israel ? Not necessarily. Over at Radical Middle, there’s a fine exploration both of the reasons why a one-state solution is coming and the extent – in the blending of economies, electric grids, aquifers – it’s already here. Here’s a fine quote from that piece:

The former deputy mayor of Jerusalem , Meron Benvenisti, nicely sums up this line of thinking when he says, “The question is no longer whether [Israel-Palestine] will be binational, but which [one-state] model to choose.” The one-state solution is more than just a sensible adjustment to the facts, though. As presented by its post-Arafat, post-Zionism-as-religious-statehood advocates, it is both sensible and visionary.

So if, gallingly, there is to be a single state in partes tres ( Israel , Palestine , and Gaza ) how could Jewish culture, language and religion ever survive? Where is there a model for a minority holding on to such a separate identity? In a recent post on Mondoweiss, Bernard Avishai suggests a possible route:

The reason why I would like to live in a democratic state with a Jewish character is my attachment to the Hebrew language, the challenges of Jewish history, the grandeur of the Torah, the excitement of modern Israel poetry and popular culture – in other words, the same reasons why French Quebecers want a democratic province with a Québeçois character….Could I be happy if Israel were in some larger federation, like Quebecers, or French citizens, for that matter. Yes.

As an anglophone in Québec, I grew up always surrounded by two cultures, and the cultural, linguistic, and spiritual richness of that experience was a great gift, not a hardship. Canada certainly has political challenges, (that’s a different piece!) and there are valid reasons why people of good faith support separatism, but the country has survived by being, in the classic phrase, as Canadian as possible, under the circumstances. At its best that means honouring the different founding cultures, races, and religions. It means there is no one way to be Canadian, so different cultures aren’t expected to melt down into a mythical homogeneous whole, (which is why there’ll never be a House of UnCanadian Activities). Compared to the horrors of an endless war in pursuit of an impossible two-state solution that is somehow acceptable to both sides, a Québec solution doesn’t look so bad.

Tikkun is a bi-monthly English-language magazine, published in the United States, that analyzes American and Israeli culture, politics, religion and history from a progressive Jewish viewpoint, and provides commentary about Israeli politics and Jewish life in North America.


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