What is the Israeli Right’s one-state vision?

With the collapse of the peace talks and the Oslo process, prominent settlers and right-wing Israelis are once again mulling the idea of a one-state solution. What will it look like, and what are the chances of it being implemented?

Uri Elitzur, who was Netanyahu’s chief of staff during his first term as prime minister, wrote a nice article discussing the necessary steps Israel should take to end the occupation. Elitzur is an important figure – he has written a few speeches for the Prime Minister’s Office in recent years, and this week he was appointed editor-in-chief of Makor Rishon (which is now owned, along with the “NRG” news site, by Sheldon Adelson). Under the headline, “There is a solution: A Jewish State and Israeli citizenship for the Palestinians,” Elitzur writes:

“… we are left with two options: to continue the present state of affairs longer and longer, or to annex the entire [West Bank] and give its Arab residents full equal rights […] today already we control the lives of the Arab population while holding them as second-class citizens. True, they have their own authority and they vote for their own parliament, but this regime depends on the IDF and is not really the sovereign, not to mention that most of the territory designated for the future Palestinian state is held by us in its entirety and we do everything in our power to keep it that way

[…] I also don’t believe in various types of half-measures and ideas like a part-autonomous, part-Jordanian regime, or any other idea that means we get what we want but pay nothing in return. Nothing is free in this world, and the Palestinians and the Jordanians need to accept such solutions for them to work, which they won’t.

There is obviously something impressive in the straightforward manner Elitzur describes the situation in the West Bank. To his credit, he has been saying the same things for quite some time. In 2008 he published a piece in important settler magazine Nekuda calling on Israel to annex the West Bank and gradually give citizenship to the Palestinians. A couple of years later, MK Tzipi Hotoveli from the Likud, adopted his ideas and in return, became the target of a lot of mockery from the Left and Right alike.

In 2010 I wrote a cover piece on right-wing public figures who support the one-state solution for Haaretz’s weekend magazine. I sat for a long interview with Hotovely and with Rubi Rivlin, who was the Knesset speaker at the time. I also spoke with Elitzur, with journalist Emili Amerousi, former minister Moshe Arens and Hannan Porat, one of the most famous leaders of Gush Emunim.

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Elitzur was the most blunt of all of them. He was the only one who put reservations and smokescreens around his ideas, detailing all the “ifs” and “whens” that need to take place for the one-state solution to be implemented. Hannan Porat, who has since passed away, was at the other extreme – his much-conditioned support for giving the Palestinians their rights was phrased in theological and even racist terms.

I also spoke with right-wing figures who opposed Elitzur’s ideas, among them former heads of the Yesha Council Dani Dayan and Adi Mintz, and MK Danny Danon (Bennet was out of politics at the time). I was most impressed by Dayan. He was the only one who avoided clichés and red herrings, and simply said that there is no solution – that we need to upgrade the personal freedoms of the Palestinians but not give them political rights within Israel. This story got more comments than anything else I’ve ever published. It is available here.

Former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, the highest-ranking Israeli public official to endorse the one-state solution ( (Jstreet CC BY NC SA 2.0)
Former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, the highest-ranking Israeli public official to endorse the one-state solution ( (Jstreet CC BY NC SA 2.0)

The right-wing figures and settlers I spoke to have some different nuances among them, but generally, their one-state solution would look like this: gradually and unilaterally, Israel would annex the West Bank (different time frames were given for this process – from five to 25 years); beginning with Area C and then moving to B and A. Barring security clearances (and according to some – loyalty oaths), all Palestinians will end up having blue Israeli identity cards with full rights. The army will return to dealing mostly with national defense, and the police will take over civilian policing duties in the annexed territory.

Constitutional measures that will define Israel as a Jewish State would take place in advance (some mentioned passing a basic law defining Israel as a Jewish State, something Netanyahu is already promoting). Palestinian refugees will not be allowed back. Gaza will not be annexed, and will turn to a fully independent region, separated from the State of Israel. Except for Rivlin, who floated the idea of a dual parliament system (which actually makes his one state closer to a confederative model), none of the others mentioned major changes in the electoral system and they expected Palestinians to vote for the Israeli Knesset (which might have to become slightly bigger, but this is of little importance).

Separating Gaza from their model is necessary for right-wing one staters in order to maintain a Jewish majority in the unified state. For the same reason, they rely on the demographic calculations of Yoram Etinger, who puts the total number of Palestinians in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) at 1.5 million. The formal numbers are much higher.

Elitzur, Hotovely and Rivlin understood the criticism they might face. They predicted that the world will not accept a “solution” that leaves Gaza or the refugees out, and that Israel would be under considerable pressure during the implementation phase. They were aware of the faults in their plan, but they nevertheless thought that the two-state solution had bigger holes in it. They believe that if a Palestinian state is ever to be established, it will necessarily be hostile to Israel – if not immediately then with time – and that the inevitable security deterioration will force Israel to reoccupy it, leaving the country in a deeper hole and with basically the same problem.

This small land is simply un-dividable, they concluded. This, more than the fault of any side in negotiations, is the real reason that the process has failed.

Some of the people I talked to spoke in terms you rarely hear in Israel, and not just on the Right. Knesset Speaker Rivlin spoke of the real unified Jerusalem – the one that existed before 1948. Moshe Arens, a true democrat, brought up an interesting reservation to his plan: he was troubled by the fact that Israel treats its minority of Arab citizens so badly that it wouldn’t do right by the new millions it absorbs either. Hotovely’s criticism of the two-state solution was well argued, and I felt that her not-so-serious public image at the time was unjustified.

The worst responses to the piece came from the Center and the center-left. Not only were the speakers I quoted mocked – that was to be expected – Haaretz and I were attacked for providing them with a platform, for not making them face tougher questions, and so on. Palestinians I talked to were far less intimidated. “Talks of an Israeli ID don’t scare me,” said Saeb Erkat. “Give me Israeli citizenship and we’ll see what happens.” Erkat was pointing to something both advocates of the plan and their critics tended to miss – that once the Palestinians get their political participation, they will be able to achieve many of their goals regardless of what the Jews declare the character of the state to be. Leaving Gaza or the refugees out will not be part of any endgame.

The piece led to the creation of a short-lived forum, in which some prominent settlers sat with radical lefty intellectuals and even a couple of serious representatives of the Palestinian community in Israel, and discussed the one-state solution. All participants agreed to secrecy, so I will not reveal their names here.

* * *

Is the support for a one-state solution among settlers serious? Can it be translated to a political platform or program that would bring together the (Israeli) Right and Left, Jews and Arabs? These questions have been on my mind in recent years. Right now, I tend to think that the answer to both is “no.”

The reason is not the obvious holes in the plan. Every idea for a solution – two states, a single state, a confederacy – has lots of holes in it. There is no perfect solution and the real meaning of every plan is hidden in the fine print – where will the border lie, does it discuss the right of return, and so on. Under certain circumstances all plans could work, and in others, they might all fail. This is why I don’t call myself either a two-stater or a one-stater.

The problem is political. The status quo in the West Bank is the common denominator of the Israeli political system. This is what the public wants, and the politicians realize that. I advise readers not to allow themselves to be too impressed by the occasional poll stating most of the Jewish public still supports the two-state solution. This is the result of a choice between one state and two states. In the rare cases when respondents to a poll are faced with a third option – maintaining things as they are while avoiding international measures against Israel – the majority migrates to the status quo option. The consensus over the status quo is what allows Lapid, Bennet and Livni to maintain their coalition, and it is the reason Netanyahu – a man who has taken the idea of keeping things as they are and turned it into an art form – has been able to maintain power for so long.

Until Israel faces serious internal or external pressure – and by internal, I mean another Palestinian uprising – I don’t think that we will ever see a dramatic change in the preferences of the Jewish public or its elected officials. Most Israelis understand that the occupation is a bad choice, but simply prefer it to the alternatives. As I have argued before, on a pure cost/benefit level, it’s a reasonable decision.

As bringing an end to the occupation remains part of an intellectual debate and not something the state is actually planning to do, the Right can promote the one-state solution, just as the Left has been speaking for years about the two-state option but in practice taking part in maintaining and even deepening the occupation. But once there is enough pressure for change on Israel, I assume that most of the Jewish public will move quickly to adopt the two-state solution, because it would rather keep 100 percent of the assets on 78 percent of the land, as opposed to keeping 50 percent of power and assets on 100 percent of the land. At such a moment, the center – people who voted for Lapid, Livni, Liberman and even Likud – would rather confront the settlers than share a single state with the Palestinians.

The two-state solution looks dead because the Jewish public chose the status quo and because the diplomatic process has collapsed, but given the right pressure, Israel might still commit to it. I am not sure that there will be a willing partner on the other side (the Palestinians are also migrating from the two-state solution and they won’t have a reason to return to it), and I am pretty sure that Jerusalem won’t continue to enjoy the favors of negotiators like Secretary Kerry and special envoy Indyk, but that is a matter for a separate post.

* * *

I also think that unlike the two-state solution, which suffers from over-planning and lack of execution (there is something absurd in all those think tanks producing new maps every year, whose border lines will never exist on the ground), the one-state solution remains amorphous enough for anyone to attach to it whatever meaning he or she prefers. The Israeli Right thinks of it as a Jewish state with a large Arab minority, while many Palestinians envision a Palestinian state with a large Jewish minority, and intellectuals discuss models that have little support on the ground.

To the credit of all those advocating the one-state solution, I should say that they understand the unified, single-state reality on the ground better than anyone else. The attempt to present a solution that would divide the country – including a system of tunnels, bridges and winding borders – seem more desperate with every passing day. Other “solutions” the Israeli center mulls, like Bennett’s redeployment plan or the Jordanian option, are so disconnected from reality there is little point in discussing them seriously here. Looking back, Dani Dayan was right: as far as the Jewish public is concerned, the status quo is still the solution.

Originally posted on +972’s new Hebrew site, Local Call.

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Two state vs. one state debate is a waste of time, political energy