One State

12.10.12

If You Will It, It Is No Nightmare

Jeffery Goldberg is clearly irked by the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend Zionism in mainstream American discourse today. He seems to take it personally, as if that’s his job or something.

In a post he takes a shot at Saree Makdisi who wrote an important Op-Ed for the New York Times last week calling for a one-state solution due to Israel’s persistent settlement expansion. Goldberg writes as if a) One peoples conceived historic ties to a territory somehow affords them the right to establish a majoritarian state in that space at the expense of a majority of indigenous people already living there; b) one-state advocates don’t have legitimate reasons to reject the fundamentally unjust 1947 plan along with other partitions; and c) one-state advocates are naïve utopians.

What we have today is a one-state problem, not a two-state problem. There is one-state between the river and the sea. That state is Israel. That state of Israel rules over 10 million people, half of which are non-Jewish Palestinians who are unequal to their Jewish neighbors, the vast majority of whom have no right to vote for in the state that rules them.

I don’t recall ever reading an argument for a one-state solution that makes the case that such a state would be perfectly just or tension and conflict free. Rather such an assertion by Goldberg is merely an attempt to discredit one-state advocates and suggests he hasn’t bothered to grapple with the actual literature on the matter.

The reality is that in a one-state outcome, economic disparity between the two peoples will likely lead to a continued form of economic apartheid where Jews would be privileged for the foreseeable future as is still the case in post-Apartheid South Africa where Whites are 9 percent of the population. That being said, the two-state outcome, even in the best case scenario, is far from utopian (even though geographic realities have made the achievement of just partition a utopian prospect). Whatever “state” emerges in some fraction of the West Bank and Gaza will continue to be subject to the whims and desires of Israel. Its territorial contiguity—between the north and south West Bank and the West Bank and Gaza, due to by-pass roads in Israeli controlled territory—would be wholly dependent on the benevolence of its former occupier. Israel has also insisted any Palestinian state be demilitarized while reserving the right to enter Palestinian territory and airspace. In other words, Israel would only accept the creation of a Palestinian “state” it could perpetually dominate. Such a state could never be considered independent. Even in the best case, a Palestinian “state” in the West Bank and Gaza would likely just be under glorified occupation. If there is any naiveté here, it is only in the assertion that a “two-state solution” would yield two equal and independent states.

Then Goldberg reminds us that an empowered political group, Israeli Jews, is unlikely to relinquish power voluntarily as if the only outcomes that are possible, or should even be worked for, are those that acquiesce to the desires of empowered majorities. You may note that history has shown this approach to be a tragic failure. Thankfully Goldberg wasn’t advising Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass or Nelson Mandela, though if Theodor Herzl heeded his advice, this piece wouldn’t have to be written. If you will it, it doesn't have to be a dream, or a nightmare.

The idea that Israelis and Palestinians are fundamentally incapable of ethno-religious coexistence under an agreed upon system of rules in a single statebecause of who they are—even though countless ethnic and religious groups coexist peacefully in democracies—is unimaginative at the least, if not offensive.

Goldberg typifies everything that is wrong with arguments against the one-state outcome when he writes “one state is an impossibility.” In doing so, he forecloses on what could be a productive discussion before one can even start. The discussion about a one-state outcome should not be about whether it is possible or not—all things are possible if the right effort is behind it—but rather the discussion should be about what elements must be included in a one-state outcome that would increase the prospects of sustainable peaceful coexistence. We’ve had endless discussions, debate, policy papers and studies about where to draw lines, swap land and populations, split cities and divide resources in a two-state framework. It’s high time the same focus and effort is put toward discussions on power-sharing mechanisms, constitutionalism, equitable resource distribution and mutual security and dignity in a single state framework. There is no shortage of ideas to borrow from, as there a rich literature on constitutionalism and ethnicity.

In both a one-state outcome and a two-state outcome, Israelis and Palestinians would have to make sacrifices. Which outcome has the greatest potential to be “conflict ending” and provide a lasting solution will be the one that incorporates the interests of the vast majority of stakeholders on each side. As geographic and demographic shifts increasingly make partition impossible it has become clearer and clearer that a two-state outcome will not happen and since its framework disregarded the interests of most Palestinian stakeholders to begin with, its success was doomed from the start.

In a one-state outcome, both sides would have to forego dreams of exclusivist nationalism. When it comes to power sharing, Goldberg is right to suggest the Israelis would have to give more. But remember, it is that very power imbalance which Israel dominates and has exploited to exclusively reap the benefits of occupation for decades that it has used to make a two-state outcome impossible through its unilateral colonization of the West Bank.