In recent years, it’s become all the rage to support —or accept, or give in to—the notion of a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s constant, voracious expansion of the settlements has rendered the establishment of a Palestinian state near-impossible, goes the argument, and anyway, strict nationalism has a tendency to lead to civil and human rights abuses, and we’re better off focusing on ending those in the name of a pure democracy. The two-state solution, one-staters maintain, is dead.
And the simple truth is that these are good points. Throw in the near parity in current Israeli and Palestinian population figures, and I can understand the impulse to leapfrog over an idea whose time appears to have come and gone, and move on to something else.
The problem with the one-state idea, however, is even simpler: The people who actually live in Israel and Palestine don’t want it.
When asked to choose between a two-state solution and a single, bi-national state, an absolute majority of Palestinians preferred the former, double the number of respondents who chose a bi-national state. Figures for Israeli opinion on a single, bi-national state are hard to come by, but when asked in a different study about the Clinton Parameters (which presuppose a two-state agreement), 58% of Israelis (and 50% of Palestinians) supported a permanent solution based on the Clinton model, and in a third study, 76% of Israelis said that maintaining Israel’s Jewish character was more important than continuing to hold on to the West Bank.
Moreover, at this point in blood-drenched history, the idea that Israelis and Palestinians would readily agree, en masse, to give up on their dreams of national statehood strikes me as utopian. At best. For any kind of peace to be genuine, just, and durable, both peoples will need some time to get used to being neighbors without being at each other’s throats.
I can’t provide links for this—it’s my gut sense, based in years of exposure to the story—but I just cannot believe that Palestinians and Israelis are ready to pay taxes together, develop an educational system, and choose a new anthem. They hate and fear each other too thoroughly, and (it’s crucial that we remember this) for too many good reasons. Both peoples need time to lick their wounds, get to know each other as something other than Evil, and build (yes) confidence.
The notion of a two-state agreement has become such boring conventional wisdom—and so frustratingly elusive—that people forget how revolutionary the idea really is. The real (perhaps only) achievement of the Oslo Process was that it made a once crazy notion commonplace.
Until the early 1990s, both sides roundly rejected the idea of sharing the land. In 1987, only 21% of Israeli Jews were willing to even consider it, and Palestinians could be arrested for flying their flag, just as Israelis could be arrested for meeting with members of the very organization with which their government now negotiates as a matter of course, the PLO.
As a result, an enormous amount of work has already gone into laying the groundwork for the establishment of a two-state resolution. From the Clinton Parameters (2000), to the non-official Ayalon-Nusseibeh Plan (2002) and Geneva Accord (2003), to the Arab Peace Initiative (2002 and 2007), the basic framework has never been more clear: Two states along the 1967 lines, with mutually agreeable land-swaps, a mutually agreeable resolution of the refugee question, and a shared Jerusalem.
Today, quite honestly, the only thing that stands between us and a two-state solution is a lack of courage and goodwill (well, and that seemingly endless Israeli building program on the West Bank—but that which is built by human hands can also be pulled down by human hands).
Nationalism isn’t perfect. No human system or idea is. Perhaps someday the people we know as “Israelis” and “Palestinians” will live in some sort of federation, which will in turn prove itself to be a stepping stone to–what? I don’t know. I can hardly imagine, actually. But that isn’t now. And we cannot yet get there from here.
Thus, I would submit that it is an unconscionable waste of our little remaining energy and too-few resources to try to organize people where we want them to be—like all people, Israelis and Palestinians can only be organized where they actually are. No matter how we might feel about where they are.
If we don’t create the context in which the folks actually living with this conflict can begin to heal and realize their very real, self-expressed dreams, I fear the sheer, unmitigated pain and misery they will wind up inflicting on each other. I fear flat-out catastrophe, yet another great disaster for both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.
And so, I’m sticking with (am stuck with) advocating for the imperfect idea of building two separate states. To my mind, it’s the only option that has any chance of both being realized, and doing more good than harm.