Catch 22: The end of the two-state solution

Satellite image of the old city of Jerusalem. (Space Imaging)

A majority of Israeli Jews - 63.7 percent - believes the Israeli government should encourage Palestinians to leave the country, according to a poll conducted by the Haifa University, which was released yesterday. This poll comes at a time when Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Prime Minister is working on his unilateral “disengagement plan”. While various governments are trying to influence the process, contribute to security, and debating their own role, they fail to see developments on the ground.

Last year, Tony Judt, the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University, known for his writings on European history, published a 2,900 essay in the October edition of The New York Review of Books, in which he argues that the “true alternative” facing the Middle East in coming years will be “between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.”

In an article by Nathaniel Popper in Forward magazine, Embattled Academic Tony Judt Defends Call for Bination State, Judt is quoted as saying “I went [to Israel] with this idealist fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country through work.” As time progressed he realized this view “was remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country and were suffering in refugee camps to make this fantasy possible.”

Born and raised in London, Judt became the national secretary of the Labour Zionist youth movement, and during his college years, he served as translator for international volunteers assisting the Israeli army. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1972. Judt believes international diplomacy and world order provide better protection for Jews than an independent state, and he has said that this fight over an independent state has led to a rise in anti-Semitism throughout the world.

In his essay, he wrote:

“The time has come to think the unthinkable. The two-state solution— the core of the Oslo process and the present “road map”—is probably already doomed. With every passing year we are postponing an inevitable, harder choice that only the far right and far left have so far acknowledged, each for its own reasons. The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.”

Source: Israel: The Alternative, Tony Judt, The New York Review of Books (23 October 2003)

Judt is not alone believing that the process already begun de facto. Already in the 1980s, Meron Benvenisti, deputy mayor of Jerusalem from 1971 to 1978, a columnist for Ha’aretz and author of Conflicts and Contradictions, Intimate Enemies, and Sacred Landscape maintained that partition was no longer a viable option, that the establishment of settlements and the seizing of land had created an irreversible situation. In an interview with Ha’aretz he said: “We are living in a binational reality, and it is a permanent given. What we have to do is adapt our thinking and our concepts to this reality”.

“The conclusion is that the seemingly rational solution of two states for two nations can’t work here. The model of a division into two nation-states is inapplicable. It doesn’t reflect the depth of the conflict and doesn’t sit with the scale of the entanglement that exists in large parts of the country. You can erect all the walls in the world here but you won’t be able to overcome the fact that there is only one aquifer here and the same air and that all the streams run into the same sea. You won’t be able to overcome the fact that this country will not tolerate a border in its midst.”

Source: Cry, the beloved two-state solution, Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz (6 August 2003)

In the same article, Haim Hanegbi, a journalist in Tel-Aviv for the Israeli daily Maariv, said that when he realized, one day, that the settlements had doubled themselves, he also realized that Israel had missed its “one hour of grace.” He then understood that Israel could not fee itself of its expansionist pattern.

“Our past forces us to believe in the project of a Jewish nation-state that is a hopeless cause. Our past prevents us from seeing that the whole story of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel is over. Because if you want Jewish sovereignty you must have a border, but as [Zionist thinker and activist Yitzhak] Tabenkin said, this country cannot tolerate a border in its midst. If you want Jewish sovereignty you need a fortified, separatist uni-national structure, but that is contrary to the spirit of the age. Even if Israel surrounds itself with a fence and a moat and a wall, it won’t help.”

Source: Cry, the beloved two-state solution, Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz (6 August 2003)

He argues that if Israel remains a colonialist state in its character, it will not survive. “In the end the region will be stronger than Israel, in the end the indigenous people will be stronger than Israel.” He feels that people have to shift to a binational mode of thinking. “Maybe in the end we have to create a new, binational Israel, just as a new, multiracial South Africa was created.”

The editor of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, David Landau, seems to agree when he wrote in January 2004: “[The] lesson of the Bantustans of South Africa, in the deepest sense, is not just that a people cannot be imprisoned behind a fence, but that it is impossible to halt a demographic trend by geographic arrangements that one side imposes on the other. Demography cannot be suppressed in this way. It continues to effervesce until it spills over.”

In December 2003, deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert said that one day the presence of too many Arabs west of the Jordan river will endanger the State of Israel. He concluded that Israel must immediately and unilaterally withdraw from much of the area presently under IDF control and remove the Jewish settlements. During that same month, finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the demographic danger lies within the state itself - meaning Israeli Arab citizens. These remarks hint at the extent to which demography has come to underpin Sharon’s “disengagement” plan. Olmert supports a sweeping unilateral disengagement from parts of the West Bank and all of Gaza, in order to retain a Jewish democracy.

University of Haifa demographer Arnon Sofer has said that there is already a non-Jewish majority in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The Palestinian birth rate is almost twice as high as the Jewish birth rate. Sofer forecast that, within 17 years, an additional six million people would be added to the estimated current population of 10 million Jews and Palestinians in the country.

Tony Judt realized that the process from a Jewish state to a binational state will not be easy. “In any case, no one I know of has a better idea: anyone who genuinely supposes that the controversial electronic fence now being built will resolve matters has missed the last fifty years of history.”

Daniel Gavron, an author and journalist who first came to Israel in 1954 as a member of the Habonim youth movement, and who shortly after immigrating to Israel with his wife and young son joined the initial wave of settlers who colonized Arad in the Naqab, recently published a book entitled The Other Side of Despair: Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land. In the first chapter of his book he describes the historical background of the conflict, with the next six chapters providing an attempt to understand the conflict through 16 portraits of Israelis and Palestinians. These include Israeli and Palestinian writers, journalists, lawyers, as well as militants, settlers, bereaved parents, and Israeli soldiers. In the final chapter of his book Gavron concludes: “Having reached the conclusion that the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River must be shared, but cannot be sensibly partitioned, we are left with only one alternative: Israeli-Palestinian coexistence in one nation.” As Tony Judt puts it: The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.”

Although there are only a few Israeli voices with this tone, developments on the ground form the real catch-22. Landconfiscations, settlement expansion, expropriation, house demolitions, the construction of the apartheid wall, the siege on Palestinian towns and villages all render a two-state solution, including an economically viable Palestinian state impossible. This month, the Israeli government announced that it would soon begin building of the wall around the settlement of Ariel, extending the steel and concrete Separation Barrier about 12 miles into the occupied territories at a point where it is 33 miles wide. The Israeli defence ministry has now sent land seizure orders to nearby Palestinian villages in recent days and officials say work is expected to begin within weeks. Also this month, the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv reported that Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s defence minister, had ordered faster building of the Etzion block of settlements. This includes 5,300 houses and another 7,500 for expansion of the settlement boundaries. Mofaz had reportedly told settler leaders that building permits would be issued soon for the other two main settlement blocks in the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumim, near Jerusalem, and Ariel.

Whether it is 5 to 12 or 5 past twelve depends on the perspective. The longer it takes the international community to realize the facts on the ground and the sense of urgency, the more Palestinians will lose their faith in a two-state solution. The longer it takes to intervene to stop continuing colonisation and expropriation of land and the longer it takes for Israel to discover the mess it has worked itself in, the sooner will the day come that a majority of Palestinians will start calling for “one-man-one-vote”.

Arjan El Fassed is a founder of The Electronic Intifada.