The two-state solution is an excellent solution. Two nations share one land — what would be more correct and just than to divide that land between them?
Ever since the Partition Plan was proposed by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) and was accepted by a majority in the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, that logic has guided most of the states of the world, most Palestinians and most Israelis. There are very few political positions that have gained such an absolute majority in the world. From the United States to Russia, from China to Australia, via the African and Asian continents, it is unanimous.
For many years this was also a possible and practical solution. In the territories that were occupied in 1967, there were only a few thousand settlers, who would not pose a genuine obstacle to that solution. Within the two nations there evolved a majority in support of that solution. The world recognized it, and everyone appeared to be ready to apply it. Even the most right-wing nationalistic prime minister in the history of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, declared that he supported the solution. This was also reflected in most of the public opinion polls within the two nations.
But as the years passed, not a single Israeli prime minister worked seriously to realize the solution — not a single one, due either to fears and hesitations or to an intention to gain time in order to reinforce the occupation and to make it permanent. Everyone was waiting for Godot. And Godot never arrived. And he will not come anymore. Meanwhile the diplomatic and political systems were gaining time and carrying out a series of unproductive and worthless negotiations, proposing repetitious peace plans which were buried in dust-filled drawers. Even the 1993 Oslo Accords, the greatest promise in the history of the conflict, turned out to be an empty promise. All the while, there were those who wasted no time and acted energetically and with determination to prevent any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state. The settlers did not waste one minute: They knew that they had to act very quickly in order to achieve their goal.
The Settlers Have Won
Fifty-two years after the occupation of 1967, they have realized their goal in its entirety. Their victory is complete. The settlers have won. The time has arrived to admit it. With the aid of all of the Israeli governments who gave in to the craziness and arm-twisting of the settlers, and with the aid of the unbelievable indifference of Israeli public opinion, together with the weakness of the left and the collapse of the peace camp after the second intifada, combined with the lack of action on the part of the international community, the settler movement grew and gained strength. The settler population has tripled since the Oslo Accords were signed. It has now reached a critical mass, its declared goal, after which there is no turning back. There is no need to have a million settlers; the 800,000 we have today including East Jerusalem are enough to change the reality on the ground and make it irreversible.
The next step must be to recognize the new reality that’s been created, understand that it is irreversible and draw the necessary political conclusions from that. This process has already begun, even though it is only at the very beginning. Very few in Israel and the world will admit it, but quite a few are beginning to understand that something has happened. But they refuse to admit that this necessitates change, because the repercussions are not simple and are even fateful. However, the one-state solution is no longer taboo in Israel. It has become permissible to refer to it. In addition, a recent opinion poll published in Haaretz showed that 19% of Israelis support it. That’s a dramatic development. It’s not easy to abandon a dream that one has had for dozens of years. It is difficult and painful for many to give up on the idea of a Jewish state. It is not easy to admit failure. Nor is it easy to recognize that the solution you have supported has become a futile solution lacking any possibility of being realized. Also, for the Palestinian Authority (PA) it will be very hard to acknowledge this change. But the change has already occurred. Clinging to yesterday’s solution, which has become irrelevant, will only waste precious time, particularly the time of those living under the occupation. The sooner the world understands there is no point in talking about two states, the better it will be. It will then be possible to focus on the alternative.
The Time Has Come to Recognize a One-State Solution
The alternative to the two-state solution is, naturally, a one-state solution. This state has already existed for 52 years, since the 1967 war. The time has come to recognize that as well. The occupation is here to stay, as are the settlements. And the Green Line has been erased a long time ago, whether we like it or not. We are no longer talking about a temporary situation, and it is doubtful if it ever was or was ever intended to be. Whoever speaks of the occupation as a passing phenomenon does not know the reality and facts on the ground. Go out to the West Bank, see the Jewish settlements on every hill, and then say if that is what a temporary reality looks like. Pay attention to the traffic on the roads, the construction, the infrastructure of bypass roads that have been specially constructed to make the occupation permanent and to enable the settlements to thrive undisturbed. Look at the Separation Wall and the reality that it has created, and understand what is
left of the Green Line. Those were not 52 years of occupation. Those were the first 52 years.
That’s what one state looks like, not the infrastructure for two states. That’s what one state looks like with two regimes, a liberal democratic one in Israel, which includes a discriminatory regime toward the Palestinian citizens of the state and a South African-style apartheid regime in the West Bank. Even the Gaza Strip is part of this one state; it is a gigantic cage in the backyard, the biggest prison in the world with a so-called separate and independent leadership of prisoners with wardens located outside the walls. The one state has been here for quite a while. The fate of all the human beings living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is determined in the government buildings in Jerusalem and the security buildings in Tel Aviv. That’s what one state with one government looks like, period.
The only struggle that remains to be carried out now is the struggle over the nature of the regime in this one state, which today includes a military dictatorship over part of the area, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The struggle to find a solution to the Palestinian problem should be focused on changing the regime, on providing equal rights to all who live in this one state. “One Man One Vote” — that’s the understandable slogan, which is still considered unmentionable in Israel and throughout the world. Anyone who raises it is accused of being “anti-Semitic” and wanting “to destroy the state of Israel.” But that is what the struggle must focus on: equal rights for all.
The Choice Is between Apartheid and Democracy
This change in strategy will challenge, first and foremost, Israel. How will it respond to a demand for equal rights for all? How will it continue to present itself as part of the enlightened world, part of the West and the only democracy in the Middle East? What will it say in order to push back against this basic demand of every democracy? Israel will not be able to say “security,” because there is no connection between equal rights and security.
Nor will Israel be able to cry that this will bring an end to the Jewish majority in the state; that majority ended the day the occupation became permanent. Already the population that lives between the Jordan River and the sea, including Gaza, comprises half Jews and half Palestinians. In the near future this balance will tilt in the direction of a Palestinian majority. The reality will then become even more South Africa-like. Whoever believes in the importance of a Jewish state, even if it’s not exactly clear what that means, with a clear Jewish majority, that is both democratic and Jewish —
which is something most Israelis want — must choose: Be Jewish, without the OPT, or be democratic, with equal rights for all. It’s not possible to have both. This must be recognized.
Therefore, a change in the peace discourse — in Israel and even more so in the international discourse for justice — from a discourse against the occupation and the settlements to a discourse for equal rights for all is a fateful change. The Israeli occupier will have to confront a challenge which it has never faced before. It will have to choose; will it be democratic or Jewish? There is no third option. The world will also face a challenge: Should it continue to utter its past declamations about two states, a situation which will enable Israel to maintain the status quo, or will it challenge the status quo? Will the world agree to the existence of another apartheid state in the 21st century, or will it act as it acted toward the previous apartheid state? The world also bears responsibility. It cannot evade it.
The reservations among the majority of Israelis are understandable. This could mean the end of the Zionist project. The responsibility for this lies with the Israelis who thought the occupation could last forever without Israel having to pay a price. All those for whom Zionism is dear to their hearts, all those who want a Jewish state, should have long ago struggled against the occupation with all their might. Now it is apparently too late. Perhaps when Israel has its back against the wall, it will find a way somehow to withdraw, despite all of the above, from all the territories. This is the only
minimal compromise the Palestinians are able to accept. But it is highly doubtful that this is possible any longer.
The reservations among the Palestinian Authority are also understandable. Without the struggle for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the preparation of its infrastructure, there is no need for a PA. One wishes we hadn’t reached this point, but the die has apparently been cast. The PA’s continued support for a two-state solution plays into the hands of Israel and enables it to guarantee and continue the occupation. In a situation in which the world has grown weary of the conflict, Islamophobia has reared its ugly head around the world, the Arab world is worried about its own problems, and the Palestinians are divided as never before and are still bleeding from the second intifada — time plays into the hands of Israel and the occupation.
Equal Rights for All
This is the time to prepare for the next struggle: the struggle for equal rights for all, period. First, we have to neutralize the anxieties and fears about a solution that appears to be extremely threatening. It has to be explained that one state already exists and that it must become democratic. It must be explained that the current situation cannot continue forever. It must be taught that the current situation of the relations between the two nations, a combination of nationalism, racism, of hatred and anxieties, does not have to continue forever. Germans and Israelis became friends, as did the Germans and the French. The future does not have to be derived from the current situation. It is true that in recent years many bi-national states have been bloody failures. But what is the alternative in our situation? We should also recall that there are genuine mini-examples of genuine living together in near-equality. The mixed cities in Israel might serve as an example of what might be possible. Haifa might provide a model for the future — not perfect, but certainly possible.
The one-state state solution is also a comprehensive solution. The twostate solution leaves two fundamental questions unanswered: the Palestinian right of return and the fate of the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. A one-state framework makes it possible to gradually arrive at a solution for those two questions. And an agreed-upon immigration plan to the one state, together with answers on how to provide quality of life for the refugees in the Palestinian Diaspora in their current locations, could supply a solution to the refugee problem.
The choice is between apartheid and democracy. We must begin to talk about it. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, in Tel Aviv and New York, in Melbourne and Berlin. If the Israelis decide to choose apartheid, then they should be made to pay a price for that; they should be punished the way the world punished South Africa. If they prefer democracy, they should be supported in every way possible.
For the Palestinians the situation appears simpler, while the popular sentiment in Israel is in favor of separation: “They are there and we are here.” It appears that the popular Palestinian sentiment is for living together, for equality and respect. This won’t happen overnight. It may take one or two generations, but we must begin talking about it and stop muttering about what will never happen. This is the time to embark upon the project of, or at least to dream about, one state, democratic and equal. It still seems distant and incredible and unachievable, but we must begin sometime. This is the time to begin to believe in the unthinkable. What today appears to be unthinkable can become a reality. In any case there is no real alternative.