“Suicide,” said Shaya. He meant the one-state “solution” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. More and more Palestinian intellectuals are now advocating a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, this after years in which short-sighted Israeli governments pursued policies aimed at making it impossible to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Suicide? But isn’t a unitary state in which Israelis and Palestinians live peacefully and equally under the law the epitome of Western liberal values?
Let me tell you a little bit about Shaya. Like me, he’s a transplanted American. He’s got a long record of left-wing Zionist activism. He works to promote understanding between Jews and Arabs, democratic values in Israeli society, and equality and social justice. On the political scale, he’s to my left—in fact, on occasion in the past he’s gone so far as to vote in national elections for the non-Zionist Communists on the grounds that they are the Knesset’s most vociferous and effective advocates of peace and social justice (I thought he was crazy).
But a few months ago he joined the Kadima Party so that he could vote for Tzipi Livni. Shaya thinks Livni sincerely understands that holding on to the Palestinian territories is a mortal danger to Israel. He thinks she may be the best last hope for an Israeli leader who will cut a deal with the Palestinians.
What if Livni doesn’t get elected, or fails to lead Israel into a two-state arrangement, I asked him? What with Israel still building and expanding its settlements in the West Bank, aren’t we soon going to reach a point where separation is impossible?
And if that happens, won’t our democratic values require us to discard the vision of side-by-side Jewish and Palestinian states and advocate a single, democratic, non-ethnic state?
“But that would be suicide,” said Shaya, and he’s almost certainly right. Some advocates of a single state sincerely mean well. (although many use the slogan as a euphemism for denying the Jews any right to live in their land). But their liberal values blind them to the realities on the ground. A single state means civil war, endless strife, and frustration for two nations that each justly demand the right to self-determination. We need only look at bi-ethnic and multi-ethnic states from Belgium to Lebanon to see what the future would hold.
See, despite his left-wing values, Shaya is a Zionist. He thinks that the Jews are a nation and that as such they deserve and need a state of their own. For all his concern for the plight of the Palestinians, he knows his Jewish history and accepts the central Zionist thesis that, to survive, we Jews must have the power of state so that our fate lies in our own hands.
If the day comes when we must choose between survival and democratic values, how will Shaya and I choose? Frankly, the prospect is so awful that neither one of us wants to think about it. Who wants to contemplate suicide, as principled as it might be, when life is still possible?