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One state for Israelis and Palestinians is 'utopian'


Some South Africans are obsessed with the idea of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No doubt this stems from South Africa's own recent experience: throughout the apartheid era, remember, the Afrikaner Nationalists sought to impose separate development, dividing and ruling through a series of tribal mini-states while retaining the bulk of the land for whites; however, the majority desire for a single, undivided country triumphed and the new South Africa came into being.

If it worked in South Africa then it will work for Israelis and Palestinians, so the argument goes. Blame the Jews who will not let it happen.

If only reality was as simple as that. Unfortunately, a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians looks more attractive the further away you are from the Middle East and the less you know and understand the history, the fears and the passions.

Logically, of course, a one-state solution is desirable. In this tiny part of the world, with two Semitic peoples living in close proximity, they stand to gain by being together. The problem, however, is that on the ground, most people don't want it. Among the Jewish Israelis who form 80% of the population it's a non-starter, except among a marginal element.

The reasons are straightforward. The whole point of the existence of Israel is to provide a national home for Jews, a sanctuary after many centuries of anti-Semitic savage and deadly persecution. Within the bitter memory of many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who are alive today, the world's nations during the 1930s and 1940s refused to admit Europe's Jews - who eventually perished in Nazi gas chambers. The sanctuary was won in 1948 through a vote of the United Nations. There is not the remotest chance that the overwhelming bulk of Jews will yield on this. It underpins all attitudes and actions, both for good and for ill.

There was a time when some Zionists argued for a shared state between Jews and Arabs. That dream largely died in 1929 when an Arab uprising in Palestine led to mass killings of Jews. These days, for Jews, the only relevance of a one-state solution is that it is held up by the left as an awful warning of the demographic consequences of not quitting the West Bank.

Among Palestinians, the official policy enunciated by the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas, and confirmed as the majority view in public opinion surveys, is for a two-state future. They know that Israel is not going to vote itself out of existence so there is no point in pressing for one state. In any event, what attraction could one state offer to Palestinians? To enter into a society where, for the foreseeable future and for historical reasons, Jews would have a lock on the economy, on business, on the universities, medicine, law, education, the army and on art, music and literature?

The Palestinians who persist in demanding a one-state solution are those who want to destroy Israel because it is a Jewish state. That is their declared aim. It's in the Hamas Charter of 1988. It is equally so with Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and the rest.

One South African commentator refers to the recently published book "Seeking Mandela" by the Canadian academics, Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley. The book is full of detail in examining possible analogies and differences between South Africa and Israel/Palestine and requires careful reading. It cannot be enlisted to support a one-state solution. These are some of the book's key assessments:

"Although Israel and apartheid South Africa are often equated as 'colonial settler societies,' we argue that the differences outweigh the similarities. This analysis questions these popular analogies. We believe that when policy makers and political activists reach a more nuanced understanding of the two disparate situations, they are likely to turn away from simplistic emulations of anti-apartheid struggles against Israel and search for more realistic compromises ..." (page 19)

" ... the simplistic assumption that the South African model readily lends itself to export may actually retard necessary new solutions by clinging to visions or processes of negotiation that may not work in another context."(page 19)

In light of strong Jewish feelings against one state, "the idea is indeed unrealistic and utopian." (page 110).

Benjamin Pogrund, Jerusalem

This article was published by the University of Pretoria Centre for International Political Studies (CIPS) and is reproduced here by permission.

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Replies: 3 comments

Benjamin Pogrund’s article, "One state for Israelis and Palestinians is 'utopian'", has gotten the situation only half right.

I agree that whether it is one Jewish state with Palestinians, one no brand name state of Palestinians and Jews or one Jewish state without Palestinians however that is conceived of, it is utoptian at this stage.

What Pogrund fails to see is that a two state solution is also within or close to a utopian vision of the future.

Pogrund stated in his article.

"Among Palestinians, the official policy enunciated by the Palestinian
Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas, and confirmed as the majority view in
public opinion surveys, is for a two-state future."

Whatever poll Pogrund is referring to, does not accord with the reality that Hamas supports a one Palestinian state solution with no Israel at all and the majority of Palestinians that elected Hamas knew that and supported Hamas at the election. The election itself seems to me the best poll to take the measure of what Palestinian aspirations are.

Secondly, the Prisoner's Declaration that Abbas and Fatah recently signed onto along with Hamas, has moved even the liberal left media such as Britain's Guardian to acknowledge that in that joint declaration, there is no room for Israel to exist.

Pogrund goes on to state:

The Palestinians who persist in demanding a one-state solution are those who
want to destroy Israel because it is a Jewish state. That is their declared
aim. Its in the Hamas Charter of 1988. It is equally so with Islamic Jihad,
Hezbollah and the rest."

What Pogrund fails to point out or recognize the significance of, is that "the rest" he refers to includes the PA and Fatah which in their charter, they too have retained the call for Israel's destruction. In other words, the majority of Palestinians are in fact demanding a one state solution that calls for the destruction of Israel in the process.

The Prisoner's Declaration is further evidence that whatever differences still exist between the PA/Fatah and Hamas, they share the joint view of the future which view does not allow for Israel to exist.

There are those who might point to the Declarations saying that some form of right to exist will be recognized by Hamas/Fatah if Israel retreats to its 1948 borders and accepts the Palestinian claimed right of return, however these are such impossibilities that the Declaration can only stand for one Palestinian state over the entire region and that the Palestinians as a people claim the right to make that happen by whatever means they deem necessary.

For Israel's part, Israelis generally do seem to want a two state solution, but are much divided on how to achieve it and the extent to which Israel retains sovereignty over parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Most Israelis do want there to be a clear separation between Palestinians and Israelis and would support it appears, Olmert's efforts to draw those lines of separation, though support for the unilateralism of Olmert's plan to somehow disengage from the West Bank has now, with the Gazan invasion, considerably reduced to a minority.

The reason those who think they have a realistic handle on the situation and insist that only a two state solution is in the cards and the only outcome possible, is that both Israelis and Palestinians as well as those who have been involved in the Israel - Palestinian failed peace process, have invested themselves so heavily and for so long in the concept of a two state solution. It is not surprising therefore that a two state solution is all that can be seen as being the necessary outcome of a peace process, if that process can be restarted.

What one winds up with therefore is that given the Israeli and Palestinian fundamentally conflicting goals, aspirations, perceptions and definitions of essential terms and concepts of what a two state solution means to them, achieving a two state solution to the Israel - Palestinian conflict, seems about as utopian and remote as a one state solution.

Posted by Bill Narvey @ 07/05/2006 11:41 PM CST

And continuing the occupation and building settlements is not a utopian solution?

Posted by Micha @ 07/06/2006 02:10 PM CST

There is no way that there can be a one state solution. As each family retains its character in a household and will only accept an outsider for a visit, so a nation wants to express itself according to its basic principles and beliefs.
This is the reason that a one state solution will only cause Israel's "household" to disintegrate, which is exactly the reason why Israel should not even consider that solutiion. Besides which as said in the article, the Palestinians don't really want a one state solution, they want a Palestinian solution and "wipe Israel completely off the map" ( as is said in Iran.)

Posted by Angela WIne @ 08/05/2006 12:09 AM CST

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