One State or Two for Israelis, Palestinians?
By Jeff Warner
I attended the Harvard conference, "Israel/Palestine and the One State Solution" sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge on March 3-4, 2012. Among the speakers were Ali Abunimah, Diana Buttu, Marc Ellis, Leila Farsakh, Elaine Hagopian, Itamar Mann, Ilan Pappé, Rabbi Brant Rosen, Nadim Rouhana, Sarah Schulman, Nimer Sultany and Stephen M. Walt (full list and bios here). I was encouraged to continue working to bring peace and prosperity to all the people who live between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Nevertheless, I left the conference unsettled by several issues.
Let's face it, any resolution of the present conflict will require regime change in Israel and the Palestinian administration in the West Bank. The reason that negotiations for a Palestinian state alongside Israel (the two-state solution, or "TSS") have failed is that the Israeli government does not want a just, political resolution of the conflict. This was demonstrated at the conference by Diana Buttu who worked six years with the Palestinian negotiating team. She described Israeli tactics to undercut any progress in the TSS talks: (1) all proposals put forth by the Israelis were designed to expand Israeli control over the West Bank, (2) the Israeli negotiators never mentioned Jerusalem, and (3) the Israeli team would walk out of meetings when the Palestinians attempted to discuss the right of return.
Buttu's comments are not newsthey confirm what we learned from the Palestine Papers released by Al Jazeera in January 2011.
Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, all Israeli governments talks have been opposed to allowing any meaningful Palestinian self-determination to emerge through Israeli-Palestinian talks. The result is that for the almost 20 years of negotiations, not only has there been no success, but Israeli government actions have actively and passively expanded settlements and deepened Palestinian dispossession.
This situation means that there must be regime change in Israel for any hope of ending the present reality, and establishing either a two-state solution (TSS) or a non-apartheid one-state solution (OSS). Simply changing the Israeli government will probably not be enough, some sort of more profound change is required; for shorthand I use the term "regime change."
There are several ways to effect this regime change: impose it militarily; a military coup; allow the existing government to collapse; or agree to a new regime through negotiations. Defeating Israel militarily, considering that Israel has one of the ten most powerful militaries in the world with bio-chemical and nuclear weapons, is not even worth considering. Any of the other options may be triggered by serious disruption in the existing political, economic, social order. In theory this could be possible if the United States were to make its ongoing military, financial and diplomatic support conditional on Israel and the Palestinians reaching a just agreement. A movement among some American foreign policy elites as well as among small political groups to make that happen is growing, but it is ineffective, small and easily countered by the Israel lobby. The lobby, consisting of establishment Jewish American groups, Christian Zionists, Israeli government operatives, and the American military-technology complex, works to assure the status quo in American-Israeli relations. Progress on this front seems distant unless the U.S. government suffers serious setbacks domestically or in the Middle East that trigger unanticipated desperate acts.
Ali Abunimah, author of One Country, a Bold Proposal to End the Israeli Palestinian Impasse, in his keynote address, suggested that an enlightened Israeli leader might emerge, someone like F. W. de Klerk who led South Africa to negotiate the end to apartheid. In recent years we have seen Israeli leaders like Ehud Olmert who recognized the unsustainability of the present situation, but they lacked a desperate situation and leadership skills needed to effect a change.
It is important to recognize that de Klerk worked in a South Africa that had become ungovernable, not by the world-wide boycott and sanctions movement, but by rebellion of the 90% of the population that was black. Strikes were crippling the economy; whites were in fear of physical violence, and the economic elite worried that major industries would be nationalized. Palestinians, who are 50% of the population in Israel-Palestine, even supported by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, are a long way from making Israel ungovernable or threatening the viability of the Israeli economy which is still expanding.
The best chance Palestinians have of making Israel-Palestine ungovernable is to stage massive, continuous, non-violent protests on the model of the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt that brought down Mubarak. Imagine 100,000 Palestinians from Ramallah showing up every Friday morning at the Qalandia checkpoint and demanding access to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.
It should be recognized that if Israel produced an enlightened leader, (s)he will likely push for a Palestinian state alongside Israelthe TSS, rather than a single democratic statethe OSS. After all, the TSS is the international consensus and may be easier to "sell" to the Israeli people. Furthermore, even if a Palestinian state is sovereign, and not a "Bantustan," it would be economically subordinate to Israel with its economic elite still cavorting with their Israeli counterparts.
A major problem with the TSS is that it does not account for the Palestinian Diaspora and the right of return. But that problem can be transcended if the right of return is allowed to the Palestinians state, combined with a suggestion by Jeff Halper that an Israel-Palestine confederation is established as part of the TSS. This confederation must be similar to the EU in allowing any citizen to remain a citizen of his state, but to live and work anywhere within the confederation boundaries.
Nature of one-state
Most speakers at the conference supported an OSS remedy to the current dispossession of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. But hardly any speaker fleshed out what one democratic state would look like or addressed economic issues which are the major failure of the one-state solution to South African apartheid. In the case of South Africa, government transformation allowed the existing class structure and government bureaucracy to stand. Although many blacks were able to significantly improve their economic situation and become solidly middle class, corruption and inequality increased under African National Party political control.
Obviously no one at the conference supported the type of one state that some on the Israeli right favor, where Palestinians would hold second-class status and might even be expelled. But on the liberal left there are a range of possible democratic states. They can be grouped into two types: civic egalitarian and civic bi-national. A civic egalitarian one-state is characterized by one-person, one-vote and a bi-national state is also characterized one-person, one-vote and in addition, certain regions or groups, have defined rights and/or autonomy. Examples of bi-national democratic states include Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, China, and even the United States.
Most speakers at the conference tacitly seemed to assume a civic egalitarian one democratic state, although Nimer Sultany, a Jewish Israeli, proposed a non-territorial, civic bi-national state, but did not flesh out his idea. And again, no speaker spoke to building economic equality between Israelis and Palestinians and among Palestinians.
I would love to see a civic and economically egalitarian democratic state in Israel-Palestine, but I find it hard to have confidence such a state would be stable after 45 or 64 years of Jewish-Arab conflict and taught hatred. It is not the pent-up anger and fear of the other - that can be overcome as it was in South Africa. Rather I worry that the economic and infrastructure differences between and among the Jewish and Arab communities are so extreme that special arrangement would be required to undo those inequalities, and those arrangements would weaken the egalitarian nature of the state, the way affirmative action programs do in the United States.
A bi-national state would take into account differences among the population, and set-up political structures to account for these differences. The idea is to turn differences into positive aspects of the state, rather than leaving them unaddressed as bombs that might explode at a later date. A bi-national state might have a better chance of long-term stability than an egalitarian state with equal civil rights because it will directly and constitutionally address inequality in human rights.
A Path from Here to There
Many speakers emphasized that change to a one state solution must come from the bottom-up, and that change from the top-down is an empty dream. To that end, a movement for a OSS must attract massive popular support from ordinary people. It was the active participation of masses of people that propelled the American civil rights struggle in the 1960s. That will be hard to garner for a OSS unless the people see achievable goals. And that means a realistic path from here to there. Unfortunately, the only mention of a path to a one state solution at the conference was questions directed to two speakers, and neither got a substantial response.
There is a path that has been proposed by Palestinians as well as Americans in several forms. Among its proponents are Dr. Sari Nuseibeh, President, Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. It was predicted as inevitable future by John Mearsheimer in a 2010 lecture at the Palestine center, and was hinted at by Stephen Walt during his talk at the One State Conference. The idea is that the West Bank will be incorporated into a "Greater Israel," which will be an apartheid state. But the apartheid state will not be politically viable over the long term. Palestinians would initially have second-class citizenship. They would initiate a civil rights struggle for full voting rights, a struggle they surely will win because it will be supported by most Americans, including Jewish Americans, Europeans, and most of the world. In the end the Greater Israel will become a democratic state whose policies will be dominated by a Palestinian majoritythat is, it will be the OSS.
The problem with this path is that it does not include either Gazans or the Palestinian Diaspora, at least initially. But that will be remedied after the Palestinians win their civil rights struggle. A bigger problem is that it means Palestinians will have to accept an interval of second-class citizenship for their civil rights struggle to have meaning. Another problem is that this path will likely not remedy the existing economic inequality.