Both Ian Lustick and Bernard Avishai are fashionably pessimistic, and both of them are knowledgeable and lucid, but, like many of the recent contributors to Open Zion, they over-complicate the admittedly complex Israeli-Palestinian question.
Lustick is right that the two-state solution has become a “blindfold” that prevents constructive thinking about the real problems, but he is wrong to indulge in such profound pessimism, even if he manages to disguise it as realism. Bernard Avishai is right to describe the problems that Canada, a single state with two preeminent communities, has faced in the past, and to point out the dangers that would face an Israeli-Palestinian state in the future, but he should remove his blindfold.
During most of history, human beings have existed without federations and confederations. For that matter, how long has the nation-state been around? And we haven’t even mentioned democracy. A little ingenuity should enable us to come up with a new version of sovereignty that would enable Jews and Arabs—and Druze, Circassians, Christians, Samaritans and others—to live side by side in peace and harmony in the small territory between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan.
Before we get to that though, it should be noted that a two-state solution is a perfectly reasonable possibility—and it wouldn’t need nine months of negotiations: nine hours should be more than enough. The outline is available from the multitude of documents and protocols that already exist. It will involve an amended version of the 1967 borders, according to the “Clinton parameters,” with “settlement blocks” and “land swaps” to leave a majority of the Jewish West Bank settlers in Israel, Jerusalem would be a “shared capital,” with an “international” administration for the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary. Up to 100,000 Palestinian refugees would return to the Palestinian state; a “symbolic” number would return to Israel; the remainder would be compensated and re-settled.
The above outline is admittedly complicated to implement on the ground, but it is a solution with which all the parties could live. It is fair—or at least not too unfair—logical, pragmatic, and sensible. It would be a marvelous outcome for Israel, consolidating its position in the region, based on eventual agreements with all the Arab states and acceptance by the non-Arab Muslim states. True, it would be less satisfactory for the Palestinians, but a great deal better than what they have at present or can realistically expect in the near future.
There is just one problem: it isn’t going to happen.
It isn’t going to happen because there is no conceivable Israeli government that will accept it—let alone implement it—and no conceivable Palestinian leadership could possibly accept less. One can only admire the patience and tenacity of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, but unless he is backed by an administration and congress ready to exert the necessary pressure on Israel, he cannot succeed.
Can anyone honestly predict that, even if President Barack Obama or his successor were prepared to exert such pressure, he or she would have the requisite backing of the Senate and the House of Representatives?
So, bearing in mind that the two-state solution is not going to come about, why is there this compulsion to rubbish a one-state solution?
The dedicated two-state advocates (including Avishai it appears) propose Israel and Palestine living side-by-side, cooperating on security, the environment, water, tourism, finance, economics, and labor. The more daring among them even talk about federation or confederation, possibly including the Kingdom of Jordan.
Is their model really so different from one state with religious, cultural, and educational autonomy for its various communities?
Many two-state advocates are afraid that the idea of a single state will weaken the resolve to establish two states. In fact there are strong indications that putting it on the table serves as a scare tactic that encourages progress toward that end.
Sadly, though, it is unlikely that even the fear of a single state will do the trick. So maybe, instead of making these enormous efforts to prove that the one-state solution is impossible, we should continue to develop it as an option for the morning after the almost inevitable failure of the current negotiations.
Constructive optimism is unfashionable in these cynical times, but it is not a crime. A single Israeli-Palestinian entity is at least as possible as two states existing side-by-side in peace. In point of fact there already is one state, as Israel is in complete control of the entire territory. All that is required is legislation to give the Palestinians full citizenship and equal rights with their Israeli neighbors. This would certainly be complicated, but actually simpler than establishing two separate states.
To most people a single Israeli-Palestinian state certainly appears as a remote and unrealistic dream, but it is no more remote and unrealistic than was the prospect of a Jewish state when modern political Zionism was conceived.