By Samuel Hyde
Proposals of single-state arrangements have been presented to leaders from as early as the 19th century and consistently rejected by both the Jews and Arabs of the land. Therefore the notion that the conflict stems from attempts to partition the land is nothing short of ahistorical, and presenting the one-state idea as new, is nothing short of deceptive.
Over recent years, versions of single-state arrangements have been promoted in dozens of books and hundreds, perhaps thousands of articles and opinion pieces. These one-state arguments are often presented with an aura of sophistication and unconventionality, making them sound appealing. Yet, in truth, one-statism is more an expression of an ideological pursuit or political desperation than a well-reasoned proposal.
Those bursting at the seams of the one-state idea as if it is hot off the press are frequently disingenuous about the motivations that drive their intentions. The people puppeting this idea tend to drift within fringe elements of Western intellectual circles with an already unfavorable attitude toward the Jewish state or in the ideologically driven messianic Israeli right who seek sovereignty over the entire land due to religious dogma.
Both groups claim to despise the other, yet for differing but predaceous reasons, they have reached a consensus – the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot succeed, shouldn’t succeed, and that there should be no further attempts because the idea of partition itself is unjust. This is simply a lazy conclusion. Failure to deliver a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only count as evidence of the infeasibility of the two-state solution if the process itself were not flawed. The peace process, however, has been so flagrantly flawed that finding fault in the proposed two-state solution amounts to the de-facto exoneration of Palestinian rejection and diplomatic mismanagement.
In theory, the one-state idea is utopian. In actuality, it is disastrous. It has no support among the vast majority of Jewish-Israelis or Israeli-Arab leaders. In terms of the Palestinians, a study conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research found that only 6% support a single state with equal rights for all.
Young activists, favorable to the preaching of the Israeli messianic right, dress up their talk of the one-state paradigm as the only authentic way for both peoples to achieve justice and reach peace. Oddly, they have concluded that the maximalist vision of the Palestinians – a Palestinian state “from the River to the Sea” could find harmony alongside the Jewish maximalist vision of a Jewish state “from the River to the Sea”. But one could only reach this conclusion if they were to negate the core principle as to why these two maximalist visions exist.
From the Jewish-Israeli perspective, this vision is unique because it is held solely by a fractional minority of the population – Yesha, the settler movement, and their supporters. In this view, there is no acceptable Jewish sovereignty without the wholeness of the land and no acceptable sovereignty in the land unless it is Jewish. From the Palestinian perspective, this maximalist vision is the driving force behind what has always been the Palestinian cause – no Jewish state within any borders – “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.
There is no synchronous element to the attitudes behind these two visions. Both movements are negative in nature, preferring to deny the other’s rights and sovereignty above advancing their own.
On the one hand, you have a movement of Israelis who want to settle the land to spur on the messianic dream. On the other, the Palestinians, who believe their claim to the land is exclusive and supreme over that of the Israelis. In both of these visions, neither side dreams of, nor is willing to concede political independence, power, and state-governance to the other.
This optimism surrounding the potential coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis in one state is particularly unwarranted as binational and multinational arrangements show strain elsewhere. If aspirations for self-determination are strong enough to currently challenge the cohesion of developed countries such as Belgium, Spain, and Canada, even without a backdrop of conflict, why try it between two belligerent parties who are actively engaged in conflict? The two peoples in Belgium have very few cultural, historical, and social distinctions between them. Jews and Arabs, on the other hand, do not share a religion, language, institutions, a common historical experience, model figures, or social structures. The failure of the binational model in Belgium is thus all the more damning to any reasoning for implementing this idea between Israelis and Palestinians. Given the profound animosity and distrust due to religious, political, and social divisions between Palestinians and Israelis, the internal ethnic violence that tore apart Yugoslavia and has caused perpetual strife in Lebanon and Iraq is more probable than this fantastical presentation.
On the opposite side of the fence, one encounters people such as Peter Beinart and his comrades who seek to mobilize a one-state movement on the Western left.
Why should Beinart be entertained with the technicalities of his unoriginal proposal when Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi presented the same plan in a 2009 New York Times essay. Nonetheless, it is critical to grasp what this idea might cause if it were to receive the desired mass backing under the prying prelude of ‘human rights’.
Beinart’s arrival at the one-state solution rests on the idea that Israeli settlements have extended too far into the West Bank for prospects of a peaceful two-state solution. Yet, this is nothing more than a deceptive ploy.
The Jewish settlement system included 451,257 Israeli residents as of 2020. In recent years, the nominal growth of the Jewish population in the West Bank has stabilized at around 13,000 people. The yearly growth rate peaked at 16 percent in 1991 and has since declined, hitting 2.24 percent in 2021. According to three recent surveys, extrapolated from Shaul Arieli’s report “Deceptive Appearances” – the majority of settlers are pragmatic. Even if they disagree with the evacuation of settlements, they will accept the decision if it is sanctioned by a government decision and/or referendum as part of a peace accord. The Israeli NGO Blue White Future’s 2021 Voluntary Evacuation Survey gives solid evidence that 30 percent of the settlers east of the barrier would be willing to leave if sanctioned by the government even without a peace agreement. Less than one-third of the settlers subscribe to the maximalist vision of Yesha’s Greater Israel ideology, of that one-third, only a fractional minority claim they would resist with violence. And yet, the same threats were shouted from the mountain tops by this radical minority regarding the Sinai exchange and the Gaza disengagement; decades later, everyone in Israel is still awaiting the proclaimed violent resistance.
Whenever Israel felt reasonably confident that negotiators grasped the security threat and believed in the moral necessity of a Jewish state, it has been most willing to make territorial concessions. This was evident in the peace offerings by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2008 which would have birthed a sovereign Palestinian state thereby ending the occupation, with no settlements, and a capital in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians rejected these offers.
Similarly, George W. Bush‘s administration achieved more territory withdrawals by keeping Israel near and appreciating the risks it faced than Barack Obama‘s government did by deliberately attempting to keep distance between his administration and Jerusalem.
Israel illustrated its willingness once again in the negotiations of the Abraham Accords. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came close to or at least threatened to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. The stipulations made by the UAE for normalization with the Jewish state were clear from the start – all attempts at annexation must be ended. Almost instantaneously, Netanyahu, whose support base tends to be more favorable to the settlement movement, flushed annexation down the toilet simply to open flight paths between Dubai and Tel Aviv. That’s all it took.
The rupture of the settler dream has always been the two-state solution, so by sinking their teeth into the one-state idea, Beinart and friends have unwittingly become concubines to the goals of the Israeli messianic right they purport to despise.
Continuing to drive the one-state idea also has a detrimental effect on the Palestinians. Over a hundred Palestinians were killed in clashes on the Gaza border in 2018 and 2019 as they demanded their “right of return” to pre-1967 Israel – an action indicative of the Palestinian maximalist vision. Unlike the surrender of settlements, which Israel has proved willing to forgo for peace, as in the cases of Sinai and Gaza, “return” is the one demand that no Israeli government can accept if the Jewish fabric of the country is to be safeguarded. It should be noted that there is no legal “right” for Palestinians, by any international standards, to settle within Israel’s sovereign territory. Anyone who demands that Israel withdraw from parts or all of the West Bank must therefore equally demand the Palestinians relinquish the so-called right of return. These one-state advocates achieve the exact opposite.
There is no precedent under international law to force Israel and Palestine into a single state framework without the consent of both parties. Seeming both have consistently rejected the idea for well over a century, any attempt to do so at a political level effectively violates international law itself.
Yet, if Israelis and Palestinians are to consent to a joint political venture, both would need absolute certainty that their rights as individuals and as a collective would be protected. If either of the peoples believe that the other is not their equal, they will merely use the state’s system as a means to oppress or push the other people out of the territory.
According to a recent study, the most significant component for Israelis to uphold and maintain is democracy. When Western intellectuals advocate for a one-state solution while demanding that Israel maintain its democratic fiber, despite Arabs quickly becoming the majority and Jews a minority in a combined Israel-Palestine, due to immigration and growth rates, the onus of responsibility lies solely with the Arabs.
Since Jews have never been recognized as equal to the Arabs in any country where they have resided as a minority, Jews have every right to wonder if they will be treated fairly and equally under a single Arab majority state. After all, the Jews would be relinquishing their universal right to self-determination in a nation state of their own to live in one-state with the Arabs.
Unfortunately, there is little in today’s Arab-Palestinian society which inspires confidence that they are yielding a path to progress that includes protecting minority rights.
Are one-staters capable of providing proof without a shadow of a doubt that Jews will not be treated as dhimmis (a non-Muslim “protected person” in the Ottoman Empire) or ethnically cleansed as they were for centuries under an Arab majority? No.
In the same study, democracy ranked as the least important element of the settler movement, with Jewish sovereignty over the entire land taking precedence above all. As a result, the Arabs have every reason to wonder how they, as the majority population, will be protected in the settler vision of Jewish control over the entire land. What would it mean for the majority Arab population if this vision came true? To retain Jewish political control, would they be denied the ability to vote? In practice, what does a minority population reigning over a majority population with an anti-democratic attitude sound like? – Apartheid
An additional argument made by the Palestinians are concerns that in a single state where Jews effectively hold all political and economic power, there will be zero incentive to improve the lives of the Arabs, as is the current case in Jerusalem.
Are the settler activists able to prove without a shadow of a doubt that in their vision this will not be the ultimate fate of the Arabs? No.
To this argument, one-staters choose to deflect and deny, either missing the boat entirely or aiming at the wrong target altogether. They make the case that no one can determine such outcomes while no actual political moves have been made towards the one state paradigm. Yet, that is precisely the point, no political moves have been made towards this “solution” despite endless proposals for well over a century, because Israel is not suicidal.
The advocates of the one-state “solution” are blinded by ideology, lack an articulate resolution program, geopolitical strategies, and any robust policy proposals. Because of that the one-state paradigm would merely act as a spring-board from which a mirror of the Balkan war would erupt and serve to change the name from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Jewish-Arab civil war. Despite its branding campaign, the one state paradigm is neither new nor a solution. It is simply fit to be dubbed the old and never ending delusion.
About the writer:
Samuel Hyde is a writer/research fellow at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. He is a contributing writer/editor of the book “We Should All Be Zionists” with former Israeli Knesset member Dr Einat Wilf.
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