By Raafat Dajani
Thursday, December 07, 2006
As progress toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
stalls, an old idea has gained increased currency in some circles, that of one
binational state for both Israelis and Palestinians. There are a number of
variations on this argument, but proponents essentially call for foregoing the
concept of two distinct national entities. Instead, they advocate that
Israelis and Palestinians share the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the
The idea of a binational state is not a new one. Several prominent Jewish
intellectuals in mandatory Palestine between the two world wars advocated such
an arrangement, though they had little political influence. Originally, the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) advocated the establishment of a
democratic Palestinian Arab state in all of mandatory Palestine, with Jews as
citizens of this state. In 1987, the PLO and the Palestinian National Council
formally embraced the two-state solution, calling for the establishment of a
Palestinian state in all of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. This
continues to be the position of the PLO and Palestinian President Mahmoud
The recent resurgence in discussion about the binational concept is
essentially due to the lack of movement toward a negotiated two-state
solution, coupled with what are deemed irrevocable Israeli facts on the ground
in the Occupied Territories, making the possibility of a viable and
independent Palestinian state remote.
What makes the one-state argument seductive is that it sounds theoretically
reasonable. Israeli facts on the ground, primarily settlements, control of
vital resources, and the appropriation of critical parts of a future
Palestinian state, including East Jerusalem, through the separation barrier,
are serious challenges to the two-state concept. The idea of "one man, one
vote" is fundamentally democratic. The land in question is small and the two
societies are intertwined to some extent.
But however well intentioned proponents of a binational state are, their
argument suffers from fatal flaws. The first is that international support for
the idea barely exists. By and large the international community, including
the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League,
support a two-state solution. More importantly, most Palestinians continue to
desire to express their national aspirations in an independent state of their
own where they will not be second-class citizens.
On the Israeli side, the binational idea, predictably, has no support. To
assume that Israeli Jews would willingly give up on the idea of a Jewish state
is to show lack of understanding of the existential need of Jews for a state
of their own after centuries of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. To
Israelis and Jews, a binational state means a state where they will be a
minority, equating in their eyes calls for their destruction.
For Palestinians, the danger of talking now about a one-state solution is that
it diverts critically needed energies from the still-achievable goal of two
states. It also seeks to destroy decades of work toward achieving
international recognition for a Palestinian state, returning Palestinians to
square one. Since it is unrealistic to assume that Israelis will willingly
give up on the idea of a Jewish state, the one-state proposal condemns the two
peoples to decades of conflict in the pursuit of an unachievable goal.
Even if such a state were to miraculously come into being, Palestinians would
very likely form an underclass in it. Worse, with such a bitter history of
violence between Arabs and Jews, it is easy to foresee a degeneration of their
relations into inter-communal conflict.
What is required at present is a refocusing of efforts toward surmounting the
challenges facing a two-state solution, the parameters of which are well known
and have been accepted by all parties: a Palestinian state based on the 1967
borders with its capital in East Jerusalem, and a negotiated settlement of the
refugee issue. In terms of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian
territory, though these are all illegal under international law, it is also
recognized that some Israeli settlement blocs, accounting for 4-5 percent of
the West Bank, could be incorporated into Israel as part of a negotiated and
equitable land swap. The rest of the settlers would return to Israel proper.
Negotiations and the application of political power can separate settlers from
the settlements and bring down walls. This is achievable because a majority of
Israelis realizes that the settlement enterprise has been an obstacle to
Time is running out on a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That's why Israelis, Palestinians and the US need to shoulder their
responsibilities to create a viable and contiguous Palestinian state living
alongside Israel in peace. Such a state is the only way to fulfill Palestinian
national aspirations and address Israel's security and integration into the
Achieving a two-state solution is admittedly difficult, but replacing it with
something far less achievable is not the answer. The alternative to two states
is continued and expanding conflict with the real danger of degeneration into
a holy war between Muslims and Jews. At the end of that fight, there will be
neither one nor two states.
Raafat Dajani is executive director of the Washington-based American Task
Force on Palestine. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR
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