The One-State Dissolution

Haim Watzman

“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?

23 thoughts on “The One-State Dissolution”

  1. Sari Nusseibeh largely agrees with you:
    although he seems to be more pessimistic about the prospect of Israel leaving the settlements. After all, that would take to get the message not just out but through that almost every brick that’s been laid in 40 years, every cubic metre of concrete that’s being poured as we speak, has been in vain.

  2. Let’s quit calling them settlements, which is a politicized pejorative at this point, and call them Jewish towns — then draw the borders. Then every Arab who wishes to continue to live in Israel as an Israeli will be Israeli (Arab-Israeli) and every Jew who wants to live in West Bank Jewish towns will become a Palestinian Jew, and pay taxes and vote accordingly.

    If you don’t want to be a Palestinian Jew, you can voluntarily be “re-absorbed” into Israel proper. Likewise, Israeli Arabs who would rather be Palestinian can arrange to move to Palestine.

    No one gets “transferred” against their will; both states will be states which realize the national aspirations of the majority population and respect the rights of the minority population.

    Why not?

  3. You know, I never really understood what “Jews having their own state” meant. What exactly is that a euphemism for? Really, nobody but dictators like Kim Jong Il “have” their own states: North Korea is basically his own private resort with the whole population as his surfs.

    Moreover, what exactly is it that, for example, American’s have? Even though I’m American I never thought of myself has “having” a state, but rather just living in a country. I know Israel is mostly Jewish, but so is Manhattan. Do Jews “have” that as well?

    At this point I think Zionism, along with all other forms of nationalism, are anachronisms. It’s an antiquated idea that has outlived it’s purpose of justifying the overthrow of imperial rule in Europe during the 19th century, just as Communism had also done in much of the 20th century. What matters now in the world are people, not countries.

  4. Well, Joe, we Jews have had the “priviledge”
    of being a cosmopolitan, stateless people for centuries, the “dream” situation you describe. As a results we suffered pogroms, holocausts, had our rights abused, our religion (which is a major source of our identity) suppressed if eradicated. We trusted the “good will” of “liberal” people like yourself to see to it that these things wouldn’t happened. Well, humanity failed, particularly the “liberal, cosmopolitan” part of it, and we learned the lesson. If we don’t look after ourselves, no one else will. During the Holocaust, the worst death toll was in “liberal” countries like Holland and Norway which handed their Jews over to the Nazis with no fuss and no muss. The French police commander who rounded up the Jews in Paris was a “socialist” before the war, not a “reactionary”, perish the thought.

  5. And the Cambodians under Pol Pot also “had” their own state, and look how well they did.

    But really YBD, your post doesn’t even attempt to answer or expand upon the question I raised. Sorry.

  6. To Haim and Shaya: if the settlements were dismantled and such a state was created, what of the Israeli Arabs? I’m positive a great majority of them would choose to remain where they are, similarly to those who have littered the West Bank. While it is sincerely hopeful that such a scenario would occur, what can we make of Israelis who want no part of Palestinian life falling under a Palestinian state as proposed by aliyah06?

    I know there are no easy answers, as yes, the two-states do provide less slaughtered Jews and Arabs, but it does leave out a great number of Diaspora Palestinians and Israeli Arabs out of the equation here. Can Israel really assimilate their Arab population if a Palestinian state is erected next door?

  7. Joe — “having our own state” means having the right to self-determination in a country of our own, as opposed to being a disenfranchised minority within a hostile majority population of Other People’s States. Jews had NO civil rights in Europe and were not recognized as citizens in most European and Moslem countries for the last 2000 years. Napoleon Bonapart was the first to tear down ghettos walls and make Jews citizens, and once he was deposed, the Ancien Regimes returned to the old anti-Semitic strictures he had undone. We were at best a tolerated though dispised minority and the butt of every mob’s rage. At worse were pogroms, murders and ultimately the Holocaust. In 1939 at the Evian Conference, the Nazis offered to ‘release’ any German Jews to any country willing to accept them. That offer was declined by every major power, and accepted by only a few minor nations — we had no refuge from the coming storm.

    Hence, although Jews have been living here as part of the many minority groups under Turkish rule for centuries, when the British promised us a country of our own and independence for helping defeat the Turks, we helped the Brits.

    Of course, they lied and turned it into their own colony called The British Mandate of Palestine (note that the Turks didn’t call this region Palestine–the Brits reached into Roman history to name it that–to the Turks, the area was a group of sanjaks named for the major city of each sanjak) and then slammed shut the gates of immigration just as Hitler was expanding.

    Gotta run–hope this starts to answer your question.

  8. Joshua — Yes, nearly all Arab citizens of Israel would choose to retain that status, and they would be a national minority within the Jewish state. My hope and expectation is that if Israel were to achieve peaceful coexistence with its Arab neighbors, including Palestine, then Israeli society would feel more secure and thus more aware of the need to offer equal opportunity and rights to the country’s Arab citizens. However, you are correct that in a nation-state framework a minority population, especially one ethnically affiliated to a neighboring state, will always remain to a certain extent “outside” the normal society of the nation-state. This is not a perfect situation; the question is whether it is more or less imperfect than the other alternatives. It seems to me that a two-state solution, in which both Jews and Palestinian Arabs are secure in and able to pursue and develop their national cultures separately offers a better potential for the evolution of peace, democracy, and understanding then does a one-state solution in which the two peoples would inevitably be vying constantly for supremacy.

  9. If I have been wronged and have suffered a thousand times, am I right to wrong another and cause another suffering?

    If I have been wronged and have suffered a thousand times, do I any longer have free will or am I determined by the past with my thoughts cast in steel?

    If I have been wronged and have suffered a thousand times, is it not the ones who have caused that suffering who determine my thinking rather than myself?

    If I have been wronged and have suffered a thousand times is it possible for me to conceive of the future in any other way than to strike before I am struck and to hold the other down lest I be held down?

    What limits freedom far more than physical restraint? It is what is bred in the bone. What I am filled with as I grow up I will be unless I can break from it. The story I am told I will tell. My beliefs, crafted from those who have taught me will enslave my mind so that I see only one way and I will see to it that my own children follow me.

    “Never Again” is a sentence. It is the permanent clenched fist, it means “The future is closed because it can only be more of History”, a terrible sentence for the living who perceive it as a promise to, and respect for the dead but that is really tyranny of that which is no longer to that which is.

    Be it the Battle of the Boyne, the Battle of Basra, the Battle of Karbala or the Holocaust, history is a cruel tyrant that neither lives nor breathes but that imprisons minds and causes suffering to those that do.

  10. I’m always baffled by anyone who claims that a single state would be “suicide.” This is exactly the same sort of claim that Afrikaners made in 1993 before majority rule in South Africa.

    Furthermore, I don’t really understand the idea of “Jewish self-determination.” Since Black Americans don’t have a state of their own, does that mean that they lack self-determination? So long as Palestine/Israel is a democratic country that accords equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of race, creed or ethnicity, then Jews would have self-determination just like Muslim or Druze or Circassian or Christian or Armenian citizens would. After all, we mustn’t confuse the self-determination that real democracy necessarily entails and national self-determination.

    At any rate, any two-state “solution” (which would really be a state-and-a-half, because who believes that Israel would let a Palestinian state control its borders and sea and airspace?) could only be a temporary solution. Because unless there is a dramatic influx of Jewish immigrants or a change in birth rates, the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian will eventually grow until they make up 51% of the population in Israel. And then what?

    Isn’t it better to choose democracy and equal rights over the notion of an ethno-religious state now rather than 30 years from now? Isn’t it better to be South Africa than Zimbabwe?

  11. ““having our own state” means having the right to self-determination in a country of our own”

    Circular reasoning much, Ali?

    I agree though that Jews in the United States have waited far too long for the right to vote.

  12. Sean, the analogy of the South Africa model is very romanticised. While yes, in technicality it is one state, the Blacks gaining a vote and equal rights, things remain largely unchanged in South Africa. In fact, the Zimbabwe comparison highlights the apparent ignorance of details in your answer: Mugabe, while a despot and a powermonger, has reformed more for the blacks than Mbeki ever did in South Africa. Mugabe has done more for the suffering poor than the leaders of South Africa as the “land reform” has not been implemented. There are even reports that not one piece of land has switched to the blacks in South Africa, startingly different to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (which sees him being criticised by the right and libertarians everywhere for violation of private property).

    Haim is correct: this solution is not perfect. By looking at all the “solutions”, all of them leave out a major party to the conflict. We have Israelis and their Diaspora, we have the Palestinians and their Diaspora, and then we have a large contingent of the other in each of the territories (Israel proper and the occupied). This complexity is unprecendented, especially in South Africa.

    You can still opt for a unitary state because of your ideals in true democracy: I believe all of us who support that solution is thrusting this perspective to the forefront. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here; it’s an occupation. Let’s stop that first and then see where we can go from there. Let’s stop the suffering of both peoples, Palestinian and Israeli, Arab and Jew. And let’s not alienate those who abhor Israeli crimes as well as Palestinian crimes. We can be on the same side here and fight the oppression. When that stops, then we can move towards the ideal goal.

    Realism would lean towards two states. That is not perfect, but it couldn’t be worse than what we have now.

  13. Aliyah, you’re nicely optimistic, but how many occupants of “Jewish towns” do you know who would be content to be Palestinian? Let’s not forget that their reasons for being in these locations stem from serious religious convictions that have everything to do with their personal construct of what “Israel” should be.

  14. Joshua-what planet are you living in? Mugabe has “improved the lot of the poor in Zimbabwe? There has been famine there, in a country that was once the bread-basket of Africa. It is also wracked with AIDS and other diseases. There is something like (IIRC) 1000% per month inflation in what once once a model state that did keep blacks out of key decision making position but which DID benefit materaially all sectors of society, including the black majority.
    Mugabe took the land he expropriated from the whites and gave it to cronies. Mugabe is very good for a narrow clique of pals of his, but he destroyed what was once a prosperous country. He is hated by the majority of the population of his countrymen. As long as a ‘progressive’ leaders uses ‘third-world liberation’ rhetoric, he is okay in your book, no matter how much suffering he actually causes, right?

  15. Jews were persecuted in the past. True. but so were protestants in Europe. So were south african blacks. So were armenians anywhere the turks were. So were countless others. yet catholics eventually got over their issues with [most] protestants and blacks managed to overthrow an apartheid regime without the much-anticipated – and feared violence. One can go on about the many examples of successful integration among groups previously deemed irreconcilable.

    Lesson: emphasizing toppressions of the past serve to instill unhealthy paranoia about the future. The line of argument that seeks to enshrine ‘self determination” as the one and only remedy to forestall potential future persecution only serves to close the door on the potential of accommodation while openning another door to parochial self-implosion (yado be’kol ve yad kol bo?)

    If one were to point to the most successful model for secure jewish existence and thriving of its unique culture, it would have to be in the US. There are, in fact, excellent indications that jews do best when they are not a majority. On the other hand, one of the least successful models of jewish life (if success means harmony with the community at large and maximization of personal happiness) then this must be israel. On the face of it, a thriving country. But underneath that so-called “jewish” cover, there is a poisonous worm eating away at the national fabric and the soul of each individual.

    Just like it was in biblical times. Isn’t that strange?

    Perhaps to have a real Jewish existence and self-determination in an actual sense – not just as a superlative – it is, in fact, necessary for israel to become part and parcel of a greater entity – in this case together with the palestinians. It would, after all, require practicing (not just worshipping) the very best of jewish values. In other words, the very opposite of “suicide”.

    All this would take are a few revisions (not elimination) of the concepts of jewish exceptionalism. jews were perfectly capable of wrestling with far more grievous and challenging concepts over the centuries. Why not think a bit outside the box? or have all the great rabbis gone to never return (ie, turned into MBA’s?)

  16. geseli–I don’t know how many–let’s find out. The caricature of people-over-the-Green-Line as 100% gun-toting, religiously fanatic Far Right settlers is largely a myth. There ARE settlements like this, but a whole lot of Jews living over the Green Line are living there because the housing is cheaper. If Abu Gosh can prosper as an Israeli Arab town, why can’t Maale Adumim prosper as a Jewish-Palestinian town?

    If anything drives out would-be Jewish citizens of Palestine, it will be Arab corruption, dictatorship and violence–the things that are driving people out of the West Bank right now.

    sean–your analogy doesn’t work because African-Americans have only one national identity, and that is American. Ethnically they are of African descent and seek an end to discrimination based on race.

    Jews and Arabs aren’t races, nor do we have a joint national identity.

    Arabs identify with Arab history and culture and believe that Arab history and culture should be dominant in Arab lands—and that no minority culture should be able to ‘secede’ into its own state. Add the extremist Islamic influence, and you get the Arab argument that any land once conquered (Wakf land) is always Islamic land and must be Sharia-ruled, and you have another element for conflict.

    That’s precisely the problem: there is a strong belief in Arab popular culture, political movements and state media that non-Arab, non-Moslem people are “inferior” and must surrender their cultural identities. We, Jews living in what is both our ancestral homeland and the land lawfully granted by the League of Nations, do not wish to “submit” to Arab rule.

  17. aliyah06 : Here’s the problem: you have absolutely no clue about “Arab popular culture.” How many Arabs do you know? Do you speak Arabic? How many Arab or Muslim countries have you been to?

    As it just so happens, I live in Lebanon, speak Arabic, and have been to all of the Levant, as well as to countries from Egypt to Yemen and Turkey to Uzbekistan. And I can safely say that your generalizations about Muslim and Arab cultures are a racist caricature that has little to no basis in actual fact.

    As for Black Americans having no other nationality instead of being American, that really depends on how you define nationality, which is not the same as citizenship, by the way. In Israel, for example, there is no such nationality as Israeli – if you look at your identification, it says either Arab or Jewish, for example. Likewise, Russian or Soviet concepts of nationality dictated that Jewish was a nationality as much as Russian, Tatar, Tajik or Armenian.

    There was definitely a black nationalist movement that began in the mid-20th century in America, particularly in radical groups like the Black Panthers.

    It seems like a navel gazing to state that a Jewish citizen of, say the Austro-Hungarian empire (Herzl), could found a nationalist movement, whereas Malcom X could not. Who are you to say how many “national identities” African Americans have or have had? After living a long time in predominately black areas of the US, I can say that being “black” is more than just an ethnic difference. There are cultural, and for certain people, national differences, but the US, as a theoretically inclusive democracy, has made space for these differences in a way that Israel, “the Jewish State,” has not. I’m not sure that you understand the complexities of “nationalism.” It seems like you’re mixing it up with citizenship, in which case, it would have been impossible for a Jewish nationalism to have been born, because David Ben-Gurion (né Green) was Polish, Herzl Austrian and Golda Ukranian (and/or Soviet).

    By the way, Israel is surprisingly more heterogeneous, religiously speaking, than the secular US, which has, for its part, a higher percentage of Christians than Israel has Jews. Such a state is an anachronism and cannot survive as a democracy in the 21st century.

  18. sean: “By the way, Israel is surprisingly more heterogeneous, religiously speaking, than the secular US, which has, for its part, a higher percentage of Christians than Israel has Jews. Such a state is an anachronism and cannot survive as a democracy in the 21st century.”

    Now I’m confused – which state is an anachronism? Isn’t religious heterogeneity generally a good thing in a democracy? Care to elaborate?

  19. It certainly seems otherwise. We’ve seen a 60 year civil war already, endless strife, and more frustration than a lifetime deserves. And why should a single state be viewed as bi-national? Why can’t a single state bring out the best with multiple ethnicities and religions? It can’t if its citizens demand exceptional rights by virtue of ethnicity or religion. But if they do, as seems to be the case today, and certainly that is what Zionism is all about, all you get is endless civil war, strife and frustration. Besides, Israel, for all its talk about being a last refuge for Jews, is not much without the umbilical cords to more heterogeneous states. In this regard Israel is the anachronism and will prove to be the big loser until it welcomes Palestinians in their homeland and makes them the best allies the Jewish people have. Lets not confuse Zionism’s good, reestablishing Jews in their homeland, with its bad, a “Jewish State” promoting ethno-religious superiority, separatism, and fostering belligerence against the indigenous population.

  20. Sean and The Other Alan–I’m puzzled by your unshakable faith in the liberal state. The U.S. is a wonderful example of coexistence (although let’s not forget that when it was Israel’s age women, blacks, and the propertyless were all disenfranchised and foreigners were being attacked by Know-Nothings). But it’s a success because of some very special circumstances. The counter-examples, including Sean’s current country of residence, Lebanon, are so numerable that I don’t see how anyone can assert with confidence, as Mr. Other Alan does, that a single state of Jews and Arabs here would be more peaceful, egalitarian, fair, and democratic than Israel is today. Without the protections of a nation-state, the Jews in Israel would be in mortal danger. As a local friend who’s considerably to my left and deeply involved in Jewish-Arab dialogue said, who wants to live today in a state with a Muslim majority? This is not to denigrate Islam–readers here have seen my defenses of that faith. It’s simply to state facts of life in the world we live in right now. The Jewish people cannot, given its historical experience and the current geopolitical climate, place its fate in anyone’s hands but its own.

  21. A state based on exclusive ethno-religious nationalism is an anachronism. Being naturally homogeneous is fine for a nation-state, but that’s not the case with Israel. Its attempts at artificial homogeneity are directly in conflict with its democratic pretensions.

    Generally speaking, heterogeneity is also fine for democracies, so long as they are equipped with the necessary institutions to deal with it — a constitution stipulating equal rights for all citizens despite their religion, for example. Israel’s institutions, and its very raison d’etre, are not at all prepared to deal with such heterogeneity, so something has to give: either the idea of a Jewish state, or that of a democratic one.

  22. Haim: “The Jewish people cannot, given its historical experience and the current geopolitical climate, place its fate in anyone’s hands but its own.”

    This, I’m afraid, is where the conversation always ends. Jewish Israelis have an unshakable conviction that the world is out to get the Jews, and that despite how things are in America, France or the UK today, it’s inevitable that one day, the majority will decide that the Jews have to go. This, after all, is one of the principle tenets of Zionism and why Zionists see a Jewish state as necessary for Jewish survival.

    There’s nothing really to discuss on this subject. I think it’s wrong and paranoid, and Zionists think that it’s not only right but continually proven by history. I like to think that humanity is, overall, making progress, whereas the Zionist worldview believes that as far as the treatment of Jews goes, there will never be any progress. I don’t believe in Jewish exceptionalism, Zionists do. There’s not really much that I can say to affect such a fundamental disagreement in the way the world is.

    As for my faith in the liberal state, I believe in it, because so far, it’s the apex of human civilization. And for Lebanon, while I agree that we’ve got more than our fair share of problems here, I can honestly say that today, I’d much rather be Jewish in Beirut or Tyre than Arab in Beit Sahour or Gaza.

    As for stating with certainty that all will be well in a binational state, that’s obviously impossible. But int he long run, unless htere’s a dramatic influx of Jewish French, American and Argentinian immigrants Israel’s options are 1. becoming a binational state; 2. remaining Jewish but ceasing to be a democracy; and 3. ethnically cleansing Arab citizens of Israel. Given the other two options, I think that the first is well worth the risk, all the while keeping in mind that the longer you wait to implement it, the more the hatred simmers between Arabs and Jews.

  23. Haim, I think your examples regarding the US give more credence to my point.

    First, despite slavery and Know-Nothingism, the US at its core was based on principles that were blind to ethnic, religious, gender, and theoretically, racial preferences. While it took time to iron much of this out, and is still ongoing in many respects, it is a foundation from which to work.

    Second, Israel does rely to a great extent on its umbilical cord to the outside world, both for financial and military support. True, it fights on its own, but the support it gets has been indispensible.

    Third, Americans were not confident of what equality would mean. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing and hope for the best. But the likelihood of moving to the best outcome is greatly enhanced by doing the right thing. Certainly, maintaining the separatist and domination spirit of Zionism is not the right thing, no matter what excuses are thrown into the mix.

    Fourth, we should remember that Herzl himself wrote in “The Jewish State” that Europe (read the great powers of the West) would guarantee the state’s existence. “We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence.” So far it does seem this is Israel’s ideological MO. The more it screws the indigenous population the more guarantees it seems to get.

    I don’t think this is a solution that works to anyones advantage. It does lend credence to Ahad Ha’am’s warning, though: “The secret of our people’s persistence is…. that at a very early period the Prophets taught it to respect only spiritual power, and not to worship material power. For this reason the clash with enemies stronger than itself never brought the Jewish nation, as it did the other nations of antiquity, to the point of self-effacement. So long as we are faithful to this principle, our existence has a secure basis: for in spiritual power we are not inferior to other nations, and we have no reason to efface ourselves. But a political ideal which does not rest on the national culture is apt to seduce us from our loyalty to spiritual greatness, and to beget in us a tendency to find the path of glory in the attainment of material power and political dominion, thus breaking the thread that unites us with the past, and undermining our historical basis. Needless to say, if the political ideal is not attained, it will have disastrous consequences, because we shall have lost the old basis without finding a new one.” Try as Zionists have to mold the political ideal, the national culture over several thousand years, the “historical experience” as you say, cannot turn the once dispossessed into the dispossessor and succeed in the long term.

    What I can say in confidence is that, no matter the rituals performed and the holidays observed, the Jewish religion is rapidly giving way to Zionism the nationality. Israel is the personification of this slide to the lowest common denominator. As long as it remains wrapped in its ethno-religious shell it will do little to safeguard our future.

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