FOR years the tragic conflict between those who want Israel to be replaced by an Arab state from the Jordan to the sea; those who want a greater Israel to include the ancient sites of Judea and Samaria; those who demand that Israel retreat to the 1967 borders (which could mean giving up Jerusalem); and those who believe in the possibility of a binational solution in which all Israeli’s whether Jewish or Arab, Muslim or Christian, can live side by side, has raged on, and on and on.
The sheer complexity of the many issues surrounding the 1000-year-old conflict surrounding competing monotheisms has meant honest, open debate, has been near impossible.
Now, as Israel faces an election — with the real possibility that Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu will be replaced by Isaac Herzog, whose center left block “Zionist Union” party along with co-leader Tzipi Livni, has emerged as a primary rival — a number of articles have appeared in the international press. Each one tackling the unthinkable: Could a binational state, or one state solution be on the cards?
For celebrated author Amos Oz, writing in Haaretz, the one-state solution presents too many difficulties. He says: “If there will be one state here, it will be an Arab state, from the sea to the Jordan River. If there will be an Arab state here, I don’t envy my children and my grandchildren.” Oz goes on to discuss binationalism.
“With the exception of Switzerland, all the existing binational and multinational states are creaking badly (Belgium, Spain) or have already collapsed into a bloodbath (Lebanon, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union).”
Surprisingly, Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlen, quoted in the New Yorker by David Remnick in a provocative article entitled “The one-state reality”, and who has long been an ardent advocate of a greater Israel that includes Jerusalem, is not adverse to a federalised “binational state plan”, since as many critics point out, “there is too much history and not enough land.”
“The map of Ireland is a veritable continent compared with Israel and the Palestinian territories,” says Rivlen “…the West Bank, as Israelis are quick to point out, is seven miles from Ben Gurion Airport. Any two-state solution with a chance of working would have to include federal arrangements not only about security but also about water, cell-phone coverage, sewage, and countless other details of a common infrastructure. Talk of a one-state solution, limited as it is, will never be serious if it is an attempt to mask annexation, expulsion, or population transfer, on one side, or the eradication of an existing nation, on the other. Israel exists; the Palestinian people exist. Neither is provisional. Within these territorial confines, two nationally distinct groups, who are divided by language, culture, and history, cannot live wholly apart or wholly together.”
For Oz, the only persons who thus agree on the need for a binational state are the far left and the far right.
The rather convoluted New Yorker article by Remnick, carries informative background to the origin of the concept of a binational state, which is also favoured by persons such as Noam Chomsky, and Peter Hain.
Martin Buber, the eponymous Jewish philosopher, he says “warned of excessive nationalism in Zionist thought and counselled against the creation of a “tiny state of Jews, completely militarized and unsustainable.”
“The idea of two states for two peoples came together in official form in 1936, when Lord Peel was charged by the British Mandate with investigating unrest between Arabs and Jews. His commission set out the initial boundaries of partition. By the time the United Nations voted in support of partition, in 1947, the binational idea, and its array of supporting factions … had dissolved. The surrounding Arab states rejected partition and invaded the new state of Israel, which emerged victorious.”
“The reappearance of a one-state discussion in Israel came out of frustration over the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank following the Six-Day War and the failures to gain an agreement with the Palestinians. Meron Benvenisti, who was the deputy mayor of Jerusalem from 1971 to 1978, years when Israel kept expanding the city, spoke out against the occupation of lands won in the 1967 war and what he saw as Israel’s broader intentions. By the early eighties, he concluded that the leaders of both Labor and Likud were complicit in the ever-widening construction of settlements throughout the territories and were making it impossible to lay any groundwork for Palestinian independence. “
With the possibility of the overthrow of the Likud party, all solutions are now on the cards, bringing fresh ideas.
Is a two-state solution in itself racist, as implied by Remnick and other critics? Is the possibility of several satellite Arab states existing inside Israel going to result in a dictatorship by far-right Jews according to Oz?
Is all of this merely the politics of “divide and rule” or a real step in the right direction?
Questions such as these are inevitable as some of the political notions that have dogged the 20th Century seem no longer to hold water in the 21st century and its version of the Middle East.
UPDATE: Response from the Jerusalem Post.