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Cooperation Instead of Separation: The One-State Solution to Promote Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Almost 15 years after the Oslo agreements and seven years after the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, the idea of separation between Israel and Palestine and the partition of the country into two independent states is looking impossible. Such a solution is unlikely to lead to a just and comprehensive end to the century-old conflict. Any line drawn to divide the country would be artificial and would leave militant elements on both sides dissatisfied - and therefore willing to continue the struggle and jeopardize signed agreements. Partition would also leave over 1 million Palestinians under Israeli sovereignty and citizenship, and hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in Palestinian territory.
Security restrictions, Israeli settlements and widespread opposition from both sides would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. The result would be a non-viable state divided into "cantons" with no geographical link between them. Dealing with issues such as water, ecology, the environment, the economy, transportation, communication and many others requires centralization and coordination. Two separate states and administrations would not be able to cope with these essential matters in an efficient and effective way.
On the emotional level it is important to note that the vast majority of both peoples regard the whole country as their sole respective homeland. Both believe in their natural right to rule over the entire territory of Eretz Israel/Filastin. A just and lasting solution to the conflict, then, would have to alleviate the hostility and deep alienation and mistrust between the two nations, satisfy the greatest percentage of the populations and bring stability and prosperity to all the residents of the land.
The past decade has seen various peace plans fail due to a variety of reasons, but mainly because they were predicated on the assumption that the ideal solution would be a partition of the territory of Mandatory Palestine into two separate states. It is an assumption with many flaws that has led to a stalemate and despair for both peoples. Hence, it has become vital to broaden the scope of the discussion, to raise new and innovative ideas and to investigate their feasibility and present them to the public - even if they are not popular yet.

The Relevance of the Current Israeli and Palestinian Internal Crises

Both political systems - in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) - have been passing through a deep crisis during the past few years. This crisis has intensified in recent months and has become a deeply rooted and crucial element in blocking any serious progress on either the internal or external levels.
The behavior of Israelis indicates that their political system is not as stable as it is touted to be. It is subject to wild oscillations, without ever stabilizing on a middle course. It is an indication of a deep division among Israeli society, so that group identities and interests tend to dictate patterns of political behavior and the course of the political system. In practice the various groups in Israel have developed behavioral patterns that are motivated by a power struggle between them and by mutual alienation. The political instability has domestic significance within Israeli society with regard to internal solidarity, the goals of Zionism and the achievement of a constructive politics for the future.
Clearly, in my view, the main project of Zionism - the creation of a Jewish Israeli nation in the country - has failed. Instead, we are witnessing the emergence of groups that pursue their own interests while damaging those of others. This instability has profound significance for Israel's relations with the Palestinian people. The essence of this lies in the fact that, under the threat of the interest groups and their representatives in the Knesset, it has become impossible to achieve the stability that would allow for far-reaching decisions concerning the future of the conflict and an arrangement acceptable to the Palestinians. Only an accord that is viewed by the major groups in Israeli society as not endangering the interests of the Israelis and the Jews, including groups such as the Russians, the settlers and the religious, will be welcomed by these groups. This means that a peace settlement that coincides with the Palestinian parameters for an agreement is impossible in the context of Israeli politics.
On the Palestinian side, the latest developments indicate, in my opinion, that more than 80 years after the revival of the Palestinian national movement in the mid-1920s, this movement peaked in the 1970s and 1980s and is now disintegrating. It has become a failed national movement, because it has been unable to achieve the objectives it set for itself. This is reflected in the absence of a political platform accepted by all factions and of a broad internal mobilization around defined national goals. Fateh and Hamas, and the other smaller organizations affiliated with one or the other, have reached a fateful juncture of deep disagreement. The Palestinian national movement's ability to change Israel is limited and may even be negative. The argument that the Israelis have adopted a solution in recent years that is close to the Palestinians' demands is only superficially true. The vast majority of Israelis envision a solution that is far from what the Palestinians demand, even within a two-state compromise.
There has also been a significant deterioration in the status accorded the Palestinian national movement by societies and states that have traditionally been supportive of the Palestinian cause; namely, the Arab states, Europe and the former Communist bloc. In addition, the Palestinian national movement has not recorded any substantial achievement in terms of issues it pursued during the second half of the 20th century. The establishment of a Palestinian state, even on part of Mandatory Palestine, the return of the refugees and the rallying of all Palestinians around defined goals have not materialized, and today seem even more elusive than a few decades ago.
This situation is the result of a variety of factors, including the internal state of the Palestinian national movement, the conflict among the various factions, Arafat's leadership style, the antagonism displayed by some Arab states and regimes and, above all, Israeli policy, which has sought to torpedo the Palestinians' ability to function as a national group. The change that took place in Israel in the early 1990s through its recognition of the PLO did not bring about a practical willingness on the part of Israeli officials to resolve the Palestinian problem in accordance with international resolutions. The fact that Israel itself is split between two different approaches to the Palestinian problem renders progress toward its solution difficult.
At the same time, the Israeli right, which has been intermittently in power for most of the past decade, gained control of the process, or at least the capacity to threaten the stability of the Israeli government, thereby blocking any Israeli commitment to an acceptable resolution of the issues associated with the Palestinian problem, such as the return of refugees, the partition of Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and a return to the June 1967 borders.
In the post-Arafat era, the Palestinians and their national movement are facing a serious crisis, evidenced by a deep internal schism and an inability to function as a national group with national aspirations and a consensual vision of self-expression. This crisis has been exacerbated by the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which gave Hamas more than two-thirds of the seats and produced a new government under Ismail Haniyeh in place of the former Fateh-led government. Since then, the rivalry and tension between the two organizations have degenerated into street battles between their militias, the burning down of party headquarters and government ministries, and the use of live fire to disperse Fateh demonstrators. Waves of anarchy have taken the form of mutual recriminations and violent confrontations between Hamas and Fateh members.
This absence of stability on the Israeli and Palestinian internal political scenes is one of the main factors preventing the two sides from reaching and implementing an agreement. Under the current situation, any "two-states" agreement will depend on the leaders who will sign it - who enjoy the support of a minority of their peoples - and not as a result of the commitment of the political systems on both sides for peace and reconciliation.

Towards the Fulfillment of the "Fourth Option"

The future solution to the conflict is impossible to envision now, as we are almost as far from the two-state solution as we were before the Oslo Accords. However, as we distance ourselves from the two-state solution, the possibility of a solution based on a joint, or bi-national, entity should not be ruled out.
There is no doubt that both the Israeli public and the government are in agreement in their opposition to the bi-national state solution. The overwhelming majority of the Israeli public agrees with their political leaders, as well as with most writers, journalists and academics in rejecting any solution other than that of keeping Israel a Jewish state that is the embodiment of the Jewish right to self-determination. A sort of consensus emerged during the 17th Knesset elections, held on March 28, 2006, that the majority of Israeli leaders and public prefers to keep Israel an ethnic Jewish state, even at the cost of withdrawing from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Very few contemplate having a future bi-national state with the Palestinians.
That is not to say that there are no Israeli politicians or scholars who are prepared to consider, and even support, the eventuality of a bi-national state - although they may entertain an entirely different notion of the bi-national option. Such an option had attracted great attention among Jews before the birth of Israel and was put forward by Jewish leftists as a solution to the individual and collective existence of the Jews in the country. Today, some Jewish intellectuals are beginning to view it as a possibility for resolving the violent conflict with the Palestinians. Among the Palestinians, too, there has been increasing support for the idea that this could be the only option for their future collective existence in the country.
For six years now, the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis has been waged between two antithetical and belligerent options, with an Israeli apartheid on one side, and a Palestinian Islamic state on the other. The Israeli government hopes to cause the Palestinians to despair of the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state. It is working towards total victory in the conflict-ridden land and unilateral domination of the entire country, perhaps tempered by a willingness to permit the Palestinians to live with some sort of autonomy (quasi-state) under overall Israeli supervision and control.
On the other side, the radical Islamic movements, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, are pushing for the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel, perhaps with a willingness to allow Jews to live in that state as a vanquished minority. To advance towards the realization of the Islamic option, these movements employ ruthless methods against the Jews, the harshest manifestation of which are attacks on Israeli citizens in the hearts of Israeli cities.
The options already mentioned are neither realistic nor sustainable. Separation is not relevant, because Israel is now no longer willing to withdraw to the 1967 borders and implement United Nations Resolution 242. Even if the Israeli left were to return to power in the foreseeable future, it would be unwilling to risk a civil war. The option of Israeli control might be possible and, in fact, already exists on the ground, but it cannot endure for long. The Palestinians constitute 50% of the total population of the country; they are fighting against Israeli control and are willing to pay a very high price. Therefore the Israeli apartheid regime will never be stable and will endanger the Israelis as much as it harms the Palestinians. An Islamic state has no prospects, either due to the current balance of power in the country, or to its sure rejection by the Jews and a large segment of the Palestinian population. It would certainly encounter vigorous opposition on the part of the neighboring Arab countries. What this means, in effect, is that we must explore the possibility of the fourth option - a bi-national state.

Description of the Option

The population of Eretz Israel/Filastin is estimated today at approximately 5 million Jews and 5 million Palestinian Arabs. The bi-national state set up on this territory would be based on this ethnic split, which would contribute to the distribution of power and governmental control. The arrangement would be predicated on five main elements of consociation:
* A broad coalition between the Jewish and Palestinian political representatives;
* Mutual veto rights to the representatives of the two groups on questions vital to them;
* Proportional distribution of power in political and public institutions, and of resources for social good;
* A high level of autonomy for each group in the management of its internal affairs and collective rights to each group; and
* Mutual agreement on matters of immigration and repatriation of both Palestinian refugees and Jewish immigrants.

The idea could be implemented through various configurations, with varying levels of cooperation and autonomy. Generally, this could entail shared rule/self-rule arrangements through the establishment of joint institutions such as a parliament, a government, security services and a judicial system, with equal representation for the two groups. The state could form a single, decentralized administrative entity, or control of the territory could be divided into federal units, managing their internal affairs autonomously. A central government, whose seat would be in Jerusalem, could have different designs and relevancies, while every national group would be recognized as autonomous in dealing with its specific concerns.
During the advanced stages of implementation and the potential development of a bi-national regime similar to that in Belgium, for example, it would be necessary to concentrate on achieving stability by setting up a strong coalition between large sectors of the elites and leading groups of both communities. This could be accomplished by agreements on rotation or the doubling of prominent functions such as those of president, prime minister and ministers. Both groups would agree on the type and scope of the internal autonomy each would have, and on whether it would be territorial, personal or combined.
Those on either side who consider this option are willing to accept the other, the Jew or the Palestinian, as a partner in a shared state in which the rights of individuals to equality and a life of dignity are recognized, as are the collective rights of both the Palestinians and the Jews to express their national aspirations and desires in a shared state. Only in this way can there be true concord between the two national movements, the Palestinian and the Zionist. In my opinion, international and Arab parties that wish to be relevant to resolving the conflict must examine this option, too, and adapt their positions in the direction of its implementation. Otherwise, they will continue to be irrelevant, and the conflict will continue to take its toll in terms of human lives and material and other resources, without any realistic solution on the horizon.
The implementation of this solution calls for a fundamental change in the relationship between the two nations and in the nature of both national movements, including their relationship with their diaspora. The Jewish group should give up its dominant position and the resources would be re-divided in a proportional and equitable way. While the Palestinians should internalize their distance from the Arab world and develop unique elements as part of their nationalism that meet the need to live in a bi-national state, rather than an Arab one. In order to reach these goals, both communities would need to undergo fundamental changes in their educational, social and political approach.








View of Anata village from the Pisgat Ze'ev settlement. (Photo by Nir Landau/ www.activestills.org)

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