Israel / Palestine: Time to endorse one state

Not only is the two-state solution no longer possible, but one bi-national state for all is desirable, equitable, and potentially easier to achieve

Sharif Nashashibi

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Israel’s daily violations of Palestinians’ basic rights, and its relentless colonization of their land, point to three realities that too many people have been unwilling to face. Firstly, continuing current negotiations is pointless. Secondly, the entire ‘peace process,’ now more than 20 years old, has proved to be utterly futile. Thirdly, it has made impossible the very thing it was supposed to achieve: a two-state solution.

As the deadline for current negotiations is only weeks away, there are increasing statements of alarm - from Europe, the United States and the Middle East - that this is the last chance for such a resolution to the conflict. However, it is high time that people wake from their delusion that achieving a viable Palestinian state is possible. We passed that point long ago.

So entrenched are Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine that it is impossible to envision a reversal of a process that is only accelerating. Israeli politicians who say they accept a Palestinian state are simply paying lip service to this idea. What they have in mind is a state by name only, a patchwork of territories that would be an affront to the very definition of sovereignty.

Not only is the two-state solution no longer possible, but one bi-national state for all is desirable, equitable, and potentially easier to achieve.

Sharif Nashashibi

Remember the national uproar in Israel when several thousand settlers were withdrawn from Gaza? There are several hundred thousand living all over the West Bank, controlling almost half the territory, and representing some 10% of the Israeli Jewish population. Their numbers have tripled since the 1993 Oslo Accords, and increase daily. Even if the will was there (and it is not), how would the removal of so many settlers be feasible?

“If Israel continues to occupy conquered territory for an extended period, say two to three years, it will find it increasingly difficult to relinquish control,” wrote a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. “Domestic pressures to establish paramilitary settlements in occupied areas would grow, and it would be harder to turn back to the Arabs land which contained such settlements.” This was written in 1968, almost half a century ago!

The idea of settlers remaining within a Palestinian state has not been endorsed by leaderships on either side. Furthermore, the colonies that Israel insists on keeping in any future agreement are strategically located on the West Bank’s most fertile land and major water aquifers - that is exactly why they were built there.

Then you have Israel’s insistence on keeping the Jordan Valley (a large part of the West Bank, and Palestine’s eastern border), its refusal to give back East Jerusalem (which it illegally annexed and expanded to constitute some 10% of the West Bank), and its condition that whatever is left for a Palestinian ‘state’ be demilitarized (in other words, defenceless).
Despite all this, many of those who cling to a two-state solution have the gall to deride those who believe in one state, in which Israelis and Palestinians live as equals. What they fail to realize is that today there is already only one state, albeit one based on ethnocracy and apartheid. However, the tide seems to be shifting.

Politicians speak out

“For two decades I’ve favoured a two-state solution... but I’m increasingly unsure about whether it’s still achievable, mainly because... the land earmarked for a viable Palestinian state has been remorselessly occupied by Israeli settlers,” Peter Hain, a former British minister for the Middle East, said in January. “The fundamental problem is this: sooner rather than later, the land available to constitute a future Palestinian state will have all but disappeared.”

In 2012, former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei wrote that a bi-national state “is one of the solutions that we should be contemplating through an internal dialogue.” In 2009, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that “with the continuation of settlement activities, the two-state solution is no longer an option.”

The alternative left for Palestinians is to “refocus their attention on the one-state solution where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live as equals,” Erekat added. Despite tens of thousands more settlers since then, he is still pursuing what he himself acknowledged years ago is dead.

Such sentiments, by two architects of the failed Oslo process, are echoed by the son of another such architect, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “If you don’t want to give me independence, at least give me civil rights,” Tareq Abbas said this month. Jodi Rudoren, Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, described Tareq as “part of a swelling cadre of prominent Palestinians” advocating a one-state solution.

Last year, some 30 prominent members of Fatah, of which the PA president is a part, signed a statement promoting this idea. Israeli politicians are also coming round, among them parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin, former defense minister Moshe Arens, and some MPs. “I’d rather Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up,” Rivlin said in 2010.

Ministers in Israel’s ruling coalition, and leaders of the prime minister’s Likud party, are “in revolt” over the two-state solution, the Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief William booth and correspondent Ruth Eglash wrote in November. “Opponents and skeptics of the two-state solution represent a formidable bloc in the Israeli government and parliament.”

Of course, they are vehemently opposed to giving Palestinians equal rights, but they nonetheless add to the growing disillusionment on both sides with the two-state solution. The focus, then, should be on what form a single state should take, and how it should be achieved.

To simply pretend that this is impossible or unacceptable is to ensure further conflict. It is also to deny that more and more people on both sides either want this, or acknowledge that two states is no longer viable.

Public opinion

Only a third of Israelis and Palestinians believe that two states is feasible, according to a poll by Zogby Research Services, the Christian Science Monitor reported in January. In a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, less than half of Palestinians aged 18 - 34 (47%) said they support such a solution.

A 2011 poll by Stanley Greenberg and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, and sponsored by the Israel Project, revealed that 61% of Palestinians reject two states, while 34% accepted the idea.

In a poll by Near East Consulting in 2007, 70% of Palestinians backed a bi-national state when given a straight choice between supporting or opposing “a one-state solution in historic Palestine where Muslims, Christians and Jews have equal rights and responsibilities.”

A 2010 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 15% of right-wing and 16% of left-wing Israeli Jews support a bi-national state solution - a minority, but one not as small as many would expect. These percentages would grow considerably if the survey included Israel’s Arab citizens, who comprise more than a fifth of the population.

What is arguably more surprising is the opinion of Americans, whose country is Israel’s staunchest ally. If a two-state solution collapses, two thirds would opt for one state with equal rights for Jews and Arabs, according to a survey by Shibley Telhami, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this month. Less than a quarter of Americans oppose this.

“Even among respondents who said they wanted American diplomacy to ‘lean toward Israel,’ 52 percent said they would support one state with equal citizenship,” Telhami wrote in Foreign Policy.

Benefits of one state

Not only is the two-state solution no longer possible, but one bi-national state for all is desirable, equitable, and potentially easier to achieve. It removes three of the core issues: borders, East Jerusalem and settlements.

Borders do not need to be demarcated, Jerusalem need not be split, and settlements could become open to all citizens and compensation provided to Palestinians whose land was confiscated for their construction. Natural resources need not be divided, and neither peoples would have to let go of lands to which they feel deeply attached.

This would focus minds on resolving the refugee issue, and carrying out a smooth transition to a bi-national state. It would not be easy, but it is a distinct possibility. After all, not long ago no one thought it could happen in South Africa.

It would be the long-overdue realization of Israel’s own declaration of independence, which refers to “the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants... based on freedom, justice and peace,” and “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Such a country does not yet exist - Israel’s own Arabs are second-class citizens - but it should. As such, the end of current negotiations should be seen not necessarily as a failure, but an opportunity to dump exhausted, dysfunctional formulae in favor of a totally new approach based on equal rights. What is controversial about that?

Much Israeli opposition to this comes from a desire to maintain one people’s supremacy over another. This cannot and must not continue. The deadline to these current talks should herald the invigoration of efforts towards a bi-national state.

This could go hand-in-hand with the increasingly effective Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and need not negate application to the International Criminal Court, as it could still deal with Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. BDS has gone from the fringe to the mainstream - it is high time that the one-state solution does the same. Whether one likes it or not, there is no realistic alternative - not anymore. Zionism has made sure of that.

Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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