Norton Mezvinsky: The One State Solution
I want to begin my presentation with a brief, current, factual and, I believe, realistic appraisal of the Palestinian-Israel conflict. For more than 43 years from the end of the June, 1967 war to date Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza have constituted one state. This is a fact. It is unfortunately also a fact that, as I am sure you know, Palestinians in this state have continuously, to different extents, been oppressed and discriminated against by Israel. The Palestinians in the West Bank and most especially in Gaza recently, now numbering almost four million, have not been given the opportunity to become Israeli citizens and are far more oppressed than are the 1.3 million Palestinians in the Israel of pre-June, 1967 borders who are citizens but who are also discriminated against. On the other hand, many Israeli Jews have been physically attacked and threatened by some Palestinians. (I am not equating the oppression of Israeli Jews with the oppression of Palestinians; I am merely stating a fact.)
There is, of course, a background to this depressing story. The solidifying factor here is the Zionist character of the state of Israel. Because of this Zionist character, Israel as a state has given and continues to grant legally, rights and privileges to Jews not granted to non-Jews. The secular rationale for this is that Jews must be and must remain the majority of the state’s citizens, if not residents, and must control and maintain authority of the state structure. Otherwise, according to Zionist theory, anti-Semitism will result, and Jews will be threatened, discriminated against and oppressed by non-Jews.
For most, although not all, traditionally religious Jews there is an additional rationale. Although existent before the Holocaust and expressed by a minority of religious Jewish Zionists from the early to mid-twentieth century, this rationale has been accepted and advocated by a majority of traditionally religious Jews-both inside and outside of Israel-from the time of the Holocaust until today. Had we more time for discussion, we could analyze in some depth, the historical development of this fascinating, important (and from my perspective extremely dangerous) rationale.
Simply – but also correctly put – this rationale is that God gave the Jews an eternal deed to the Holy Land over 3,500 years ago in His promise to the patriarch Abraham, as allegedly documented in Chapter 12 of the Bible’s Book of Genesis, titled Lech-Lecha (go out). God’s promise of land to the Jews, i.e. eternal deed, is reiterated in later chapters and books of the Bible. The promised or Holy Land, designated in the Bible as the Land of Canaan, is clearly historic Palestine, which includes the present state of Israel.
Traditionally religious Jews believed in this God-given eternal deed before the Holocaust, but the then prevailing idea was that the Holy Land would be restored to the Jews only after the coming of the messiah. That was the major reason why most traditionally religious Jews and their rabbis were then anti-Zionist. After the Holocaust and after the state of Israel came into existence, the great majority of traditionally religious Jews adopted the position of the minority of religious Zionists. This position was that we had entered the Messianic age and the acquiring the Jewish state, even in conjunction with secular Zionists, in the Promised Land was a goal to be achieved. After acquiring the Jewish state, these religious Jews have consistently opposed Israel’s giving any part of the state to non-Jews, especially to those non-Jews regarded as enemies of the Jews. Hence, they objected to Israel’s giving the Sinai to Egypt in 1979 as part of the Camp David Agreement and peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
Most traditionally religious Jews today (there are some exceptions) regard the West Bank, or as they call the area “Judea and Samaria,” as more of an integral part of the Promised Land and Jewish state than is the Sinai. Believing that they are following God’s word, they oppose relinquishing any part of this area. The two part pamphlet, Eyes Upon the Land, published in 1997 by the Lubovitch Chassidic group and based upon statements made by their revered leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson who died in 1994, presents a lengthy explanation and advocacy of this view, which is representative of the position generally of the Jewish Religious Right. (Eyes Upon the Land can be found on the internet: Lubovitch.org.) Many of the actual Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who hold this position and exert far more influence in Israel than their numbers might indicate, have stated publicly that they would even fight against Israeli soldiers, if need be, in order to keep this land under Jewish control. These are no indications whatsoever that these religious settlers will be faced with such a situation in the foreseeable future. President Shimon Peres, when asked recently about these statements from Jewish religious settlers, answered candidly that there would be no civil war, indeed no such fighting, between Jews in Israel. He clearly meant that the Israeli government had no intention of trying to dislodge Jewish settlers or uproot settlements from the West Bank.
In his statement Shimon Peres underlined the position of the Israeli government in regard to the Jewish settlements and settlers in the West Bank. Not only will the government not hinder settlement expansion, it will almost certainly promote and help such expansion. The position of Israeli governments, since the settlement policy was instituted after the 1967 war, has remained consistent and constant. Even with some growing opposition among increasing numbers of a minority, every Israeli government since the end of 1967 has worked to increase the number of Jewish settlers and to expand settlements. Consider the current situation: On October 21, 2010 the Israeli press reported that settlers were building at four times the pace than they were before the recent and short-lived construction freeze was first instituted and then ended. Construction of 600 new homes is underway, and these homes are being built in areas that had been allegedly designated by some Israeli Jewish politicos as parts of a future Palestinian state or – better put- as parts of a dream of a future Palestinian state. A new report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), released in October, 2010 has revealed an unfolding crisis in East Jerusalem, where Israeli Jewish settlers continue to displace Palestinians from their neighborhoods. The settlers are receiving legal and political backing from the government. In other places, Palestinians are being evicted from their homes in order to make room for Jewish settlers. The Israeli press often contains reports of such evictions. Palestinian neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem, moreover, continue to be neglected by the Israeli government: There is a shortage of medical and other supplies in many places. Services are not good. In other parts of the West Bank, even with an economic up-turn in some places, Palestinians suffer from continued land confiscation, a series of house demolitions, the construction of the security wall, imposed residence requirements, limited travel, harsh actions by Israeli soldiers and attacks from Jewish settlers. In Gaza the oppression is greater and conditions are worse, even acknowledging some recently increased supplies of food, allowed into the area by the Israeli government. The Israeli acts of oppression are deliberate undertakings to make a viable Palestinian state a political impossibility. There is here a cruel deception that somehow there is presently a sincere search for a just settlement of the conflict and that the contours of such a just settlement involve the establishment of two separate states in this area of the historic Palestinian Mandate. And all the while, Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of any country.
Put simply, the current Israeli government is not seriously interested in working for, or moving towards, a reasonably fair Palestinian state in a two state set-up anymore than it is presently interested in creating a better one state situation.
There is more to consider in-depth in attempting to appraise the possibility in the foreseeable future of either a viable and fair two state or a better one state situation for Palestinians. I shall briefly list a few of the relevant points:
1) No Israeli government to date, including the current government, has given any indication that it would consider any return of Palestinians to land that Palestinians lost when Israel came into existence in 1948 and thereafter.
2) So long as a state with a Zionist character remains, non-Jews, i.e. Palestinians, will to some extent be discriminated against within that state. The rationale for this is evident and clearly stated in Zionist theory, and the actual precedent has been evident and operative during the 62 years of the state of Israel’s existence. A corollary to this point is the possibility that the creation of any kind of a Palestinian state entity in the west Bank and Gaza could open the door to more advocacy and implementation of transferring Palestinian citizens in the Zionist state to the newly established Palestinian state entity.
3) Since the Camp David Agreement in 1979, subsequent Israeli governments have in varying ways toyed with the concept of Palestinian autonomous rule in the territories, occupied since 1967. Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin introduced and advocated the concept of autonomous rule in 1978 and 1979. The definition of autonomous rule has been and is that in certain parts of the occupied areas, chosen by the state of Israel, Palestinians can have their own local rule, but anytime the government of Israel does not like what is happening in the autonomous areas, it can decide unilaterally to come in and do whatever it wishes in order to stop or hamper certain development. Thus, Israel would actually retain sovereignty. Those Palestinians and others who have argued, and do still argue, for a Palestinian state have in mind a sovereign Palestinian state. The concepts of autonomous rule and sovereign state are distinct, separate and on balance opposite from one another.
4) Until the mid to late 1990’s Israeli governments asked Arab state governments and Palestinians to recognize merely the existence of the state of Israel. More recently Israeli governments have asked that Arab governments and Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israeli’s existence. Prime Minister Natanyahu has now gone even further and has stated that Arab governments and the Palestinians, i.e. the Palestinian political leadership, must recognize and accept Israel as a Jewish state. Natanyahu has made this request a condition for the Israeli government to negotiate with the Palestinians and /or with Arab governments about possible resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For Arab governments-and especially for Palestinians-to do this would be tantamount to forfeiting the right of Palestinians to achieve equal rights in the state of Israel. Neither Arab state governments nor Palestinians will do this. (As an aside, I cannot help but make a comment here about Natanyahu’s request. I take my two word comment from an American sports expression about an absurd play in any game: “C’mon man.”) Natanyahu must know that Arabs and Palestinians will not publicly accept Israel as a Jewish state.
5) Successive United States governments have consistently supported all the Israeli positions I have mentioned. For the past ten years there has been a Bush-Obama continuum, despite Obama’s words and speeches at certain times, which have raised Palestine and Arab hopes only thereafter to turn into hypocrisy. Witness, for example, the Obama emphasis upon Israel’s freezing settlement expansion and then the Obama administration’s doing nothing in a practical way in any attempt to force Natanyahu and company to cease from building and expanding Jewish settlements. Obama, Hillary Clinton, other administration officials and the congress (overall) have continued to support and to advocate support for Israeli positions and actions that prove to be oppressive to Palestinians. The United States government has provided some funding and assistance to the Palestinian authority in the West Bank to help move the economy there forward in some ways and has, in a limited sense, recently helped increase food supplies to Gaza. These efforts pale in comparison to the United States’ support and backing for Israeli oppressive policies. The Israel and Christian Zionist lobbies in the United States are to a large extent responsible. Perhaps, the commentator, Mark Perry, was not too far off the point, when in a recent speech he delivered at the National Defense College in Washington to invited Arab military officers from the Middle East, he began by sarcastically stating: “Welcome to Israeli-occupied America.”
6) There is a divided Palestinian political leadership, backed up by a politically weak and at least partially corrupt Arab nation-state government coalition that is – no match at the present time for Israel and its United States back-up colleague. In mid-October, 2010 in Damascus Khaled Mishal, the head of the Hamas political bureau and the top Hamas political leader emphasized this point in a conversation with me. I asked Mishal whether Hamas, if invited – which is unlikely in the near future – would engage in negotiations with no pre-conditions with the Israeli government. He answered that Hamas would do so only after a unified Palestinian leadership had appeared with stronger Arab nation-state backing than was presently the case and only after there was more Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinians. By resistance Mishal certainly meant not only non-violent but also violent resistance to Israeli occupation. It matters not that I and others believe violent resistance is a wrong approach – morally and practically – for Palestinians. Unfortunately, but understandably, Israeli violence against Palestinians has brought, and will almost certainly continue in the future beget, Palestinian violence against Israel.
So, in my relatively short presentation, there it is: a realistic (I believe) and sad appraisal of a present situation that makes any serious thought of a two state solution that would or could be fair in the slightest way for Palestinians under occupation a mockery. One state exists in Israel-Palestine; it is not a democratic or good state for Palestinians. The government of the state of Israel, backed fully or at least to a great extent by a majority of Israeli Jews in a country where the trend is clearly to the Right of the Israeli political spectrum, does not want either a two state, or for the matter, a one state situation that is democratic, fair and just on balance for Palestinians. The current and perhaps the next Israeli government might be willing to extend autonomous rule for Palestinians a bit more in certain, carefully selected areas of the West Bank and in Gaza (comprising about twenty percent of historic Palestine at the most) but will not give up sovereignty or actual control- unless forced to do so by the United States government, which is unlikely without a shift or change in public and official political opinion in this country.
The present situation is a recipe for disaster. This means more and continued oppression of Palestinians followed at some point with increased human resistance, including violence, from Palestinians, resulting in more killing and wounding of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. I suggest finally that in this situation and atmosphere those who are concerned with this severe human problem should, to the extent that they can, do the following: Realize that in reality there is and will likely continue to be one state of Palestine-Israel or Israel-Palestine, containing with but a few exceptions, two people: Palestinians and Jews. Define and specify the many human rights violations that affect both people and advocate that these violations, in addition to their being morally condemned, should be prohibited legally with enforcement to follow.
This will be a difficult process. Unfortunately, human rights violations, some of which I have already mentioned, have consistently occurred during the sixty-two plus years of the state of Israel’s existence and even prior to 1948. People have been killed and injured; the right of return has been limited to Jews. Land has been confiscated, other land by law has been designated as Jewish National Fund Land, which includes 92.5 percent of the Arab farm land in Israel of pre-June, 1967 borders and as such can only be sold, rented or leased to Jews. Certain living areas have been designated for Jews only. Palestinians for the most part cannot get many professional and scientific jobs in Israel even if they are citizens, since such jobs are reserved for those individuals who have served in the armed forces (IDF) and with but few exceptions Palestinians are not allowed to serve in the armed forces. These are merely some of the long-standing human rights violations.
To make matters worse, the Israeli government is currently proposing additional laws that are clear human rights violations: The cabinet by a vote of 22 to 8 passed an amendment to Israel’s citizenship law that would require newly naturalized citizens to declare loyalty to the Jewish character of the state. This amendment will most likely be adopted by the Knesset or parliament. Both Foreign Minister Lieberman and Prime Minister Natanyahu have stated that they want such a loyalty oath required of all citizens. Another proposed amendment to the existing anti-incitement bill stipulates that people who deny Israeli Jewish character will be arrested. Another bill lays the groundwork for turning down candidates for membership in communal settlements, built on public lands, if they do not concur with the settlement committee’s political views or are adherents of a different religion. Still another bill on the verge of being passed stipulates that any institutions’ commemorating the Nakba or Palestinian catastrophe in 1948 will be denied public funds. The Association for Civil rights in Israel has categorized such bills as underpinnings for the proposition that advocacy of Israel’s being or becoming a democratic state for non-Jews should be considered a crime.
Pessimism abut the current and near-term situation not withstanding, there nevertheless is still hope that increased public opposition to these human rights violations, and appeals emanating from such opposition, could affect and influence public opinion in Israel, the United States and elsewhere. This in turn could produce pressure even from the United States government upon the Israeli government to begin to institute reforms and to cease human rights violations. Human rights advocacy often has appeal. It could limit human damage. It could also conceivably lead to a reformation of the Zionist character of the state of Israel that by its very nature has created and maintained an exclusivist state for Jews that has been and is discriminatory and oppressive to Palestinians.
Achieving their long-range goal of a de-Zionized state of Israel and its replacement by a democratic, secular state in Israel-Palestine will not be easy and will take some time. There, of course, is no assurance that the goal can be achieved. But this is the path to follow and the end-result to pursue. It is the humanitarian and rational way to go. Even some success in moving towards this goal will leave problems of state to be resolved. Compensation for past losses of land, return of displaced people or compensation, protection of minority rights and fair distribution of water and other resources in a new and different kind of state are but a few of these problems.
Whether the one state would be unitary or would be a type of federation or confederation will have to be decided and worked out How some other states with similar problems have been established can be studied and utilized as at least partial precedents. A few thoughtful and creative individual, for example Virginia Tilley, Ghada Karmi, Ali Abuminah and Constance Hilliard, have already written books, suggesting possible state structures that could deal adequately with the problems. Other experts in various fields will certainly provide in depth studies and further suggestions. Within the past three years numerous conferences, e.g. in Haifa, Boston and Dallas, have been held at which experts in various fields advocated a one state solution and dealt with the problems involved.
To conclude and to reiterate, the two state approach is not well-defined nor is it viable. The notion of separating people by their ethnic and religious identities in any kind of state is a regressive idea. Various attempts to create two states have failed. Future attempts to achieve anything approaching a fair two state solution with the Zionist state of Israel’s being one of those two states is doomed to fail. The extreme religious idea that God gave the Jews an eternal deed to this land will continue to be rejected by Palestinians and other Arabs in the Middle East; it, moreover, is not necessarily accepted by a majority of Israeli Jews and, if allowed to persist as a major influencing factor, will almost certainly guarantee continued conflict and disaster.
We need to progress on a journey to a better one state. At this critical juncture, when more human damage could be imminent in the area of the world, considered by many to be the Holy Land, we need to start by emphasizing human rights for all people. Doing so could limit, decrease and hopefully bring an end to most of the harm and destruction that has occurred, and is occurring, in this area. The ill-will and distrust of the other, caused by many years of conflict can be overcome, I believe, by emphasizing equal human rights for Palestinians and Jews and by advocating one state that provides such a guarantee in its laws and public policy. This seems to me to be the only path that has any promise at all of bringing an eventual just solution to the conflict.