The one-state solution: An option that should be taken off the table

“Right there, beyond those trees, is the Green Line,” our tour guide said, as he pointed to a valley on our right. I was a junior-high student in Haifa, and we were on a field trip on the way to Jerusalem. As our old bus slowly crawled up one of the roads winding through the foothills of Judea, I looked outside the window to where our guide directed us.I was looking exactly where he pointed, and I indeed saw trees – but nothing else. There was no border, no fence. I remember being very puzzled by this. Even back then as a young teenager I read the newspapers, and of course I saw the terror attacks on TV. I knew about the Six-Day War, and I saw the Green Line on the maps. So, how could it be there was no border separating “us” from our “enemies”? No physical boundary? Nothing!? It was hard to grasp.

As I grew up, I later understood the political reasons for the absence of such a barrier. And I also understood the security reasons for the separation wall which was later to be built – albeit only partially. And, I more than understood – and despised – the malicious reasons for that wall carving deep into Palestinian territory, veering away from the Green Line in too many cases to count.

But as we all know, the wall is not (yet) a border  – and in its current route, it never should be – and Israel is still a state where millions of people live without equal rights. Sometimes that’s also hard for me to grasp: I actually live in a country where millions of people have not had equal rights for over 40 years. Millions of people are second class, without citizenship.

Two main solutions have been discussed over the years to change this status quo: The two-state solution and the one-state solution, with the former apparently turning into an impossible mission. Since the Olso accords were signed the settler population has tripled, and the chances for a viable Palestinian state are getting slimmer by the minute.

The latter option has been sitting on the back burner for a long time until just recently, when it began to get more and more media attention in Israel. Unfortunately, this talk – now labeled almost in every op-ed or essay as ‘thinking out of the box” or “constructive debate”  – is doing nothing but harm to the national aspirations of Palestinians and will further delay the implementation of an agreement between the sides.

The media starts to chew the bone

The media frenzy started in January with Meron Benvenisti’s essay in Haaretz on the death of the two-state solution. In February, sociologist Yehouda Shenhav published his book “The Time of the Green Line,” also claiming that a one-state solution is by far more feasible. Both Benvinisti and Shenhav claim that one of the reasons the left has long promoted the two-state solution is its yearning for that “golden era” before 1967. As Dimi Reider wrote in Foreign Policy, Shenhav believes the Israeli left is “bogged down in nostalgia for a mythically pure pre-1967 Israel”.

Both Noam Sheizaf and Reider later wrote this summer (here, and here) about how the one-state solution is gaining momentum – of all places – on the right wing of Israel’s political map. The most vocal of these have been Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Likud hawk Tzipi Hotobely and former Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

And just recently, George Bisharat’s op-ed in the Washington Post also received a lot of attention. Bisharat is for “one man, one vote”, and claims that the only obstacle to one state is “the belief that Israel must be a Jewish state”.

Just a slight problem

I must say, if that’s the only obstacle – Bisharat’s got me on the boat. Heck, we can surely figure out how to get around the Jewish state issue, right? Actually, it’s a tad more complicated than that – but just a tad.

First of all, a slight problem might arise from the right wingers’ plan to exclude Gaza from the equation. Gazans simply don’t exist for them. Furthermore, the motives behind their support for the plan is also something to look into a bit deeper. As Yossi Alpher, former Mossad executive, says:

“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.”

And why, according to Alpher, are we seeing this momentum in the right?

“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.”

So, in a way – the right wingers see that the two-state solution is indeed closing in on them. And how to stop it? With a delay of a generation or two by using strange “solutions” to fool not only the international community, but the Palestinians themselves. Sorry, but if you’re one of those who are charmed by Arens and Rivlin who suddenly after 43 years of occupation are suddenly showing concern for Palestinian rights – you’re about as naive as they come.

But we should also look at why the left wingers are supporting this. In my opinion, it’s the exact opposite of the right winger’s motives. If on the right there seems to be panic from the closing in of the two-state solution, on the left there is despair. There is frustration. There is a feeling that they’ve gotten so close after decades of efforts, only to see the settlers win again and again and ruin the chances for a viable Palestinian state. Their spirits are broken.

As part of the left wing camp, my problem with this is as follows: Frustration is no reason to switch solutions with such ease; it’s not like returning an entree and choosing another off the menu. Second, I would think that my fellow peace activists should have more respect for the national aspirations of Palestinians and not have the audacity to decide for them which solution suits them best.

A what democracy?

But enough about right and left. Let’s get back to feasibility. Can the one-state solution really work? And if so, what kind? In fact, there are so many different types to chose from, the first problem could indeed be deciding which one is best for Israelis and Palestinians. Furthermore, this decision making process could probably take longer than the decision to remove this settlement or that one.

Bisharat, as mentioned before, claims the “one man, one vote” system is the way to go. But he might not find a hopeful partner in Yehouda Shenhav, as Reider points out:

“Curiously for a decidedly left-wing manifesto, Shenhav rejects out of hand the “one man, one vote,” “state of all its citizens” model as an alternative to a two-state solution.

This model, he says, “presumes the existence of a homogenous population motivated by individual interests and ignores the fact that most people in the contested space are religious nationalists with tremendous differences within both the Israeli and Palestinian communities.” He opts instead for a consociational democracy: a system in which religious, cultural, national, and economic considerations will be balanced by mutual agreement, within a power-sharing government.

So, Shenhav doesn’t want a state of all its citizens. He claims the differences between us are too big, our societies are too different to mingle. I actually agree with him on that.

But then, if this is the case – what does Shenhav recommend? A consociationalist democracy, where there is proportionate representation in government. If Arabs in this future one-state will be 50%, they’ll get 50% representatives in government. They’ll also have to get 50% representation in the army. But then, what kind of army would it be? Are we talking a Jewish army to protect Jews? And that’s just one of the most difficult question that will have to be answered regarding security, government, symbols and more.

According to Wikipedia, a few of the conditions where consociationalism works best include “the presence of external threats common to all communities” and “overarching loyalties to the state.” I can’t see how that’s going to work in our case.

The only kind of consociationalism that might work in Israel and Palestine is confessionalism, which is “a system of government that distributes political and institutional power proportionally among religious communities” – such as in Lebanon. But the Lebanese example hasn’t been that great a success. And even though different religions were involved – they are all still Arab (and united by their hatred of their neighbour to the south). Let’s not forget, large portions of Israelis and Palestinians have racist opinions of each other. The hatred runs extremely deep.

So deep, that I honestly can’t understand how people would think that Israelis would give up the idea of a Jewish state, when Britain wouldn’t even give up the pound for the euro, for example. And there we’re talking currencies – not religion and land.

The only solution

The reasons not to go down a one-state solution are many: The numerous types of consociationalist democracies, their requirements and what would be needed from both sides to give up on, and so forth. But above all, the main issue is time. After 43 years of occupation, Palestinians need freedom now. They don’t need to wait another generation for all of us to make up our minds whether we’re going to be a Belgium, a Bosnia or a Lebanon.

Yes, the two-state solution has its problems, too. Is it unrealistic? No. Is it still more realistic than the one-state solution? Of course. Shenhav and Benvinisti may be right about the left being bogged down by nostalgia for days before 1967 – but they do not speak for me.

I was born after that war, in fact – I was born an occupier without anyone asking me. The same can be said for a majority of Palestinians who were born as occupied people. Speaking for myself, I have no nostalgia whatsoever for any period. I can not speak for the Palestinian youth, but I can only presume that their desire is to finally experience the taste of freedom. Nostalgia is not the issue.

Besides the difficult questions of Jerusalem, the right of refugee return and settlements, it seems today that most people complain about the disappearing viability of the future Palestinian state. Alpher has addressed this in the past:

Lack of territorial contiguity is indeed a potential impediment to Palestinian national viability. Even if the borders are eventually configured so as to provide reasonable contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank, the Gaza Strip will still be separated from the rest of Palestine by forty-some kilometers of Israeli territory. A lack of territorial contiguity proved disastrous for pre-1971 Pakistan/Bangladesh. Only the US, with distant detached states in Alaska and Hawaii, appears to be able to afford this luxury.

“Yet 40 kilometers is an easily bridgeable distance in the 21st century: by highway, railway, fuel and water pipes. Under conditions of peace and stability, Palestine’s dis-contiguity looks problematic but manageable.

“This means that the future state of Palestine can be viable if it wants to be; if it has the national will. This is the true challenge for Palestinian “viability”.

If the Palestinians have shown anything after over 40 years of occupation – it’s will.

Let me be clear – I’m not against one state. I’m not against “one man, one vote”. But not now. Now is not the time. You don’t abandon one plan just because it hits hard times. And you don’t force people to suddenly love each other, expect them to write a new constitution together and live in harmony after years of bloodshed.

What you do is find the solution to allow things to cool down. Just like a kindergarten teacher separates two boys who were fighting, so they can eventually return to play together after a calming down period. In diplomatic terms, this cooling down could take decades or a generation or more – just as it did in Europe, after WWII.

After the borders are set, and each makes decisions about its own fate, then – and only then – can both sides decide to tear the walls down and reunite as equals. Good fences make good neighbors, and when neighbors decide the fences are not needed – they are easily taken down. Then we can decide what kind one-state we want, when we’re not blinded by hate.

We cannot wait longer. We must all work for immediate separation, for Palestinian rights – now! No more delays, no more new “solutions”, no more disguises of gestures that are in fact nothing but clever ways to stall and steal more land. This talk of the one-state solution must be taken off the table, for it damages the chances to implement the real and only option.

We’re already so close. We can’t let frustration blind us. With a few brave decisions, it can happen sooner than we think.

The one-state solution is no,t as some of us call “thinking out of the box.” Now is not the time to think outside the box for a different solution. Now is the time to think outside the box in order to finally get the two-state solution back on track.