The idea of a “two-state solution” for Israel and Palestine has become almost sacrosanct, so much so that it is invoked with the regularity and solemnity of a ritual. That makes it all the more surprising that a few Israeli politicians have come forward in support of the unthinkable: a single state for Jews and Palestinians.
The conventional wisdom in Israel sees a one-state solution as a demographic time-bomb, with Palestinians soon outnumbering the Jews and the state losing its Jewish character. From the Palestinian side the one-state idea has sometimes been advanced with the proviso that the new state be avowedly secular, eliminating its Jewish identity by law rather than through population trends.
The new move for a bi-national state would change the rules of the game by excluding Gaza from the mix. In one stroke 1,500,000 Gazans would be taken out of the demographic calculation, and Hamas would be removed from the bargaining process. That makes it plausible for Israel to consider a power-sharing arrangement with Palestinians that extends some sort of citizenship to the residents of the West Bank while keeping the country Jewish.
This plan is supported, perhaps surprisingly, by the Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likkud party. “It’s preferable for the Palestinians to become citizens of the state than for us to divide the country,” he declared this spring. Fellow Likkudnik Moshe Arens, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, asked last month in his column in Haaretz, “What would happen if Israeli sovereignty were to be applied to Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian population there being offered Israeli citizenship?”
A weekend article in Haaretz two weeks ago portrays this new idea as coming mostly from the far right wing, and quotes Uri Elitzur of Gush Emunim (the “Bloc of the Faithful”) at great length in favor of it. But as the writer of the Haaretz article, Noam Sheizaf, observes, “there is another side, too: the impression that the Israeli center, in its addiction to the separation idea, has sloughed off the question of relations with the Arab population, on both sides of the Green Line.” As an alternative to the increasing separation of Jews and Palestinians, a one-state solution would actively promote the integration of the two populations.
There are also strategic considerations. Prof. Yehuda Shenhav, author of The Time of the Green Line, told Haaretz, “in their political diagnosis the settlers are right. I wrote exactly what the right is saying today: the war in Gaza is the model that will be repeated in the future if there is separation.” In other words, the status quo is untenable because separation will lead to great isolation and hostility on the West Bank.
Speaker Rivlin, in an interview with Haaretz, suggested “One could establish a system in one state in which Judea and Samaria are jointly held. The Jews would vote for a Jewish parliament and the Palestinians for an Arab parliament, and we would create a system in which life is shared. But these are things that will take time.” Rivlin speaks with particular authority since his family has been in the Land since the early 19th century (a street in downtown Jerusalem is named for one of his forebears).
Whatever the enthusiasm for this notion among Israelis—and so far it seems very limited—there is the unavoidable fact that Palestinians are very unlikely to give up their deeply felt national aspirations any time soon. Nor is it probable that world opinion will acquiesce to permanent Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. So this proposal may be useful largely as a thought experiment. Still, there is a lot to be said for shaking up the status quo with a new idea instead of repeating the old ones again and again.
Bob Goldfarb, the president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, lives in Jerusalem. He also blogs for eJewishPhilanthropy.com¸ and Tweets about Jews, the arts, and Jewish culture at twitter.com/bobgoldfarb.
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