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Palestine & Israel: One state and binational state 'solutions' are frauds


Lately it has become the fashion to threaten that if Israel does not agree to Palestinian peace terms, a one-state solution or a binational state will be the only solutions, or to put these solutions forward as the best solutions.

Ahmed Qurei made this threat not long ago:

The Palestinian leadership has been working on establishing a Palestinian state within the '67 borders," Qureia said.

"If Israel continues to oppose making this a reality, then the Palestinian demand for the Palestinian people and its leadership [would be] one state, a binational state," he added at the meeting held in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Sari Nusseibeh noted with much less enthusiasm that such a "solution" would have to be considered. He told Akiva Eldar in a Haaretz interview:

"I still favor a two-state solution and will continue to do so, but to the extent that you discover it's not practical anymore or that it's not going to happen, you start to think about what the alternatives are...

Nusseibeh says the struggle for a one-state solution could take a form similar to some of the nonviolent struggles waged by oppressed ethnic groups in other places.

"We can fight for equal rights, rights of existence, return and equality, and we could take it slowly over the years and there could be a peaceful movement - like in South Africa," he notes. "I think one should maybe begin on the Palestinian side, to begin a debate, to reengage in the idea of one state."

Nusseibeh, who apparently disregards Israeli rights in Jerusalem entirely, also bases his thesis on the assumption that Palestinians have given up on the demand for return of refugees as he has proposed. From that point of view, the Palestinian proposals appear to be a reasonable choice for Israel, and the alternative one state solution would be a less desirable one. An alternative for Israel to fear in fact. But the Palestinian Authority insists that they have not given up the demand for refugee "rights" and Israel is not going to abrogate all national rights in East Jerusalem, and Israel may have in mind quite a different "one state solution."

Ha'aretz has chimed in with another "one state solution" alternative to the peace process, but it gives a more realistic assessment of what a binational or one state solution would look like, or at least, what the Israeli right may be aiming for. After reviewing the recent history of settlement and of attempts to remove the Migron and other outposts, the editors conclude:

Circumstances in the West Bank are conspiring to create one state with greater rights for Jews. Partition is becoming impossible to implement.

The point that Ha'aretz and pro-Palestinian one-state advocates miss, is that there is no way to force Israel to annex all of the West Bank or to annex any of Gaza. The Palestinian idea that they can fight for "rights" -- essentially a take over -- in the framework of a bi-national or one state solution, rests on the assumption that they will be a majority of the population in a few years. That will not happen in this scenario, because most of the Arab population would be outside the area of the "one state." Of course, as the Gaza disengagement demonstrates, there are real risks for Israel in this "one state solution," but to the Israeli government, this alternative may be preferable to giving up Jerusalem and accepting large numbers, perhaps millions of refugees as the Palestinians insist they must do to obtain peace.

If peace talks fail, Israel could unilaterally disengage from most of the West Bank, this time leaving a token occupation force, and annex, either formally or more likely de-facto, a few percent of the West Bank. The 80,000 or so settlers beyond the new border, which would be approximately the security fence, would be gradually evacuated. Palestinian Arabs within the de facto annexed area might or might not be given full citizenship rights or autonomy, or a binational status, or the current situation could continue as it is indefinitely. The big threat to Israel posed by the one state solutions - the demographic threat, would not materialize for a very long time if ever, because most of the Arab Palestinian population is outside the security fence area. The Palestinians living in the remainder of the West Bank would perhaps be free to join in a binational state with Jordan, which is a more natural Arab partner than Jewish Israel, or they might declare their own state, perhaps in combination with Gaza. In this one state solution, there would be one state, Israel, with the remainder of the Palestinians perhaps living in limbo, or returning to pre-1967 status. Therefore, a Palestinian who calls for a one-state solution is a bit like a lamb who insists on a shishlik dinner.

Tony Klug has examined the one-state and binational solutions. He points out some practical defects of these solutions, but he fails to recognize the real problem. One state or binational "solutions" offered by nationalists engaged in a nationalist conflict are inherently inequitable. They are necessarily intended to rob the opponent of their right to self-determination, because a nationalist would never be ready to give up their own right to self-determination.

Any consideration of the essence of the Zionist vs Arab struggle in the land of Israel must conclude that there is something very strange about calls for a one state solution. The point of the conflict has always been that there are two peoples who claim national sovereignty over the same land. It is not just about living in the land. If that were the case, the Palestinian Arabs could become Jews or the Jews of Israel could become Arabs. They would certainly have equal rights and nobody would disturb them. In South Africa, Sari Nusseibeh's example, there was a racial problem. Both groups see themselves as South Africans, but one group was disenfranchised. That is not the case in Israel. Jews don't see themselves as Arabs, and Arab Palestinians don't want to be Israelis. They want to turn Israel into a different country with a different purpose.

It is not just about civil rights either. An Israeli Arab or even a Palestinian Arab living in the West Bank under the occupation has more rights than an Arab living in Syria, but there is no big rights struggle in Syria. An Israeli Arab has more civil rights than an Arab in Gaza, and Gaza would probably be the model for the Palestinian state.

A binational state is a misnomer. The binational states that work fairly well, like Switzerland or Canada, are bi-ethnic states. Schweitzerdeutsch (German-speaking Swiss) and French Canadians do not really feel themselves to be members of separate nations within nations. They both gave up national self-determination of their ethnic group for participation in a larger nation, where their collective self-determination is expressed as Canadians or Swiss. When ethnic groups have strong national bonds and allegiances, the binational state ceases to exist. In the 1920s, when the binationalist Zionist Brith Shalom movement was formed, this was not so well understood. Czechoslovakia was newly formed and intact. Yugoslavia existed as the kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes until 1929, when it became Yugoslavia. The example of the multinational Austro-Hungarian empire was still fresh, and of course, there was the "wonderful" multinational experiment of the USSR, where Ukrainians and Russians and Tatars and Chechens all lived in peace and harmony, enjoying the benefits of Stalin's nationalities policy. Until the Arab violence of 1929, it was possible to believe that Jews and Arabs could live together in one state, and some even believed it until 1948. Today it is clear that it is not possible.

The Arab Palestinian and Jewish nationalists (AKA Zionists) have been fighting over the right to self-determination for about 90 years. Having expended all that effort, sacrifice of lives and loss of property it is bizarre and absurd for a nationalist of one or the other side to say, "If you do not meet my terms precisely, I demand a one state solution." Within a single nation state, only one nationality or ethnic group can really have national rights. What they are implying is either that they will give up their own national rights, or that they expect that both sides will give up their national rights, or that they expect the other side to give up their national rights. What sort of nationalist demands to give up their national rights? No sort of nationalist. So either these people are not interested in national self-determination at all, and they are not really nationalists, or else they are demanding all of the land for their own people, and all of the rights for themselves.

Ahmed Qurei and Dr. Sari Nusseibeh don't want to be Israeli, to speak Hebrew and serve in the Israeli army. I don't want to be a Palestinian Arab and speak Arabic, follow Sha'aria law as specified by Palestinian Basic Law and serve in the Palestinian Arab army. Israeli laws reflect what we want as a nation, and Palestinian law reflects what they want as a nation. Sari Nusseibeh and Dr Qurei don't want Tzippy Livni or Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak or Jumes (Haim Oron) as their Prime minister, and they don't want an Israeli Jew speaking for them at the UN. I don't want Ahmed Qurei or Mahmoud Abbas or Ismail Hanniyeh as my prime minister and I don't want Dr. Nusseibeh or Qurei representing me at the UN. That's what the whole conflict has always been about: national self determination. If I only wanted equal civil rights, I could have stayed in the United States, and if that is what Dr. Nusseibeh wanted he could move to Jordan or emigrate to the United States.

Either these one state advocates are fooling themselves, or they are trying to fool the other side or else there is a third possibility. People have been known to leave university just before graduation, or to abandon brides at the altar, after a long courtship. Perhaps, as sometimes happens near the end of a long arduous struggle, with the end goal in sight, a person or a group suddenly come to the realization that that is not what they wanted at all. If that is the case, then the conflict will come to an end, with one group essentially announcing that they have given up their national rights. I don't think that is the case as yet. Nonetheless, it is possible that the experience of the Palestinians with self-government in Gaza, which has produced a nightmare Islamist gangster entity, and with self-rule in the West Bank, which was riddled with corruption and incompetence, may indeed have soured them on the idea of independence.

However, as long as there is a conflict to solve, it is a national conflict, and as long as it is a national conflict, the only solution for it is two independent nations in two independent states. The nationalists of both sides are not going to propose any solutions that they think will involve loss of their own national rights. Any one-state or binational state proposals therefore must be frauds - either the Israelis are trying to subjugate Palestinians, or Palestinians plan to subjugate Israelis. Those who are concerned about progress in the peace process need to consider an alternative that Dr. Nusseibeh didn't consider - finding a compromise solution like the Geneva Accord that could be acceptable to both sides. Until that happens, the Israeli right can use Palestinian intransigence as the basis for continued expansion of settlements.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 1 Comment

Hi Ami,

I think your article is brilliant. The premise is very interesting and solid: a nationalist would not normally give away his/her own people's national rights. And still you also consider the potential attrition effect, i.e. abandoning the national struggle.

I also like the idea that the natural partner for a binational state should be Jordan rather than Israel.

My own opinion: with different premises and in a completely different situation a binational state might not be such a bad idea. But given the circumstances and following your arguments I think it is a fraud, as you say.

Thank you very much for your stimulating and interesting reflections on the sad and complex problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

May G-d bring about peace soon.

Posted by Gaston Isaias @ 08/20/2008 02:05 AM CST

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