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Issue No. 106 (April 2007) -- Mark Satin, Editor
The one-state solution is the most visionary AND the most sensible
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made her latest “peace trip” to the Middle East last month (four decades & counting after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War), so little progress was made that even mainstream reporters waxed cynical. On March 25 the New York Times’s Helene Cooper described diplomats’ efforts as a “crawl,” and on March 27 Shmuel Rosner -- chief U.S. correspondent for the respected Israeli daily Ha’aretz -- titled his article “Disagreement is convenient.”
Behind the headlines
Publicly, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and every major Western government all support the two-state solution. Vociferously and unbendingly. But behind the headlines, the one-state solution is gaining traction. Here’s what Hobart College political scientist and democracy activist Virginia Tilley recently discovered (n.b.: ALL sources are cited and linked-to in the “Re:Sources” section at the end of this article):
Tilley’s observations are confirmed by a wide variety of thinkers and activists. For example, Ha’aretz Online editor Peter Hirschberg notes that “a growing number of Palestinian intellectuals” are taking up the one-state model. And Palestinian-American writer and Internet activist Ali Abunimah contends that ordinary Palestinians are significantly more supportive of the one-state solution than are Palestinian intellectuals!
In Israel, syndicated global affairs columnist Helena Cobban detects “increasing numbers of intellectuals” moving to the one-state solution. And one-state supporter Miko Peled -- son of famed Israeli General Matityahu Peled -- happily reports that “a tremendous amount of change [is] in the air.”
In the U.S., you can detect that people from every political camp may be ready for one-state:
The great fear
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and many other good people are concerned that advocacy of the one-state solution is anti-Semitic, since it questions Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
In preparing this article, I came upon several texts that had anti-Semitic overtones, and I shunned them.
But the vast majority of texts I surveyed -- all from the last five years -- as well as the vast majority of thinkers and activists I’ve spoken with on this subject, do not question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Rather, they question the wisdom of its existing as a specifically Jewish state when Jewish life and culture could be equally well (and arguably more securely and benignly) preserved in that same region in a secular, democratic state that was constitutionally sensitive to the needs of all its peoples.
And lately, those thinkers and activists have gone beyond mere questioning.
Put the ideas of the most responsible advocates of the one-state solution together, as I’ve done here, and you’ll not only discern the outlines of a holistic solution that could make peace possible.
You’ll discern the outlines of a solution that could make daily political, economic, and cultural life more attractive -- for all concerned -- than would be possible if Israel and Palestine resolved themselves as two solitudes . . . two separate states.
Why one state? -- fait accompli
Today’s one-state advocates stress positive reasons for their advocacy, rather than negative or “inescapable” reasons. But the inescapables are there.
Abunimah emphasizes that no partition is ever going to be acceptable to a majority of Israelis and Palestinians (e.g., few Palestinians in the occupied territories would accept Israeli annexation of even the largest Israeli settlement villages).
In addition, long-time Israeli journalist Daniel Gavron, Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Khalidi, Tel Aviv University research director Gary Sussman, and Boulder CO-born Michael Tarazi (legal advisor to Palestinians) all stress that -- because of the Israeli settlements, the "security wall" built on Palestinian land, the Israeli-only highways and adjacent security zones, etc. -- there’s no longer a viable connection between territory and ethnicity.
You can find a silver lining in that, though.
Peled does exactly that when he notes that by, in effect, “ruling over two nations Israel is already a bi-national state.”
So does Tarazi when he says that Israel and the occupied territories “already function” as a single state, with the same aquifers, electricity grid, etc.
And human relations in Israel-Palestine are just as interconnected as the aquifers! Clemson University philosophy professor Todd May notes that there are “numerous acts particularly of economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israeli Jews.” Abunimah quotes an Israeli enthusing that “the two people[s] are completely interrelated and intertwined on every possible level. . . . In reality, Palestine is Israel today and Israel is Palestine.”
The former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, nicely sums up this line of thinking when he says, “The question is no longer whether [Israel-Palestine] will be binational, but which [one-state] model to choose.”
Why one state? -- beyond just sensible
The one-state solution is more than just a sensible adjustment to the facts, though. As presented by its post-Arafat, post-Zionism-as-religious-statehood advocates, it is both sensible and visionary. It is, in the terms of this newsletter, radical middle.
Both Israel and Palestine, as currently conceived, look backward to the 19th century, when states focused on ethnic or religious traits were the norm or at least the ideal. As New York University historian Tony Judt has suggested, the one-state solution is right for the 21st century, “a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law” -- a world of self-chosen identities where cross-cultural interaction and learning is the ideal.
A one-state solution would foster better discourse among the peoples, says Tilley. It would recast popular disputes “as ethnic arguments within a democratic polity rather than between polarized and mutually demonized Others.” In addition, having everyone in one state might make it easier for different interests (economic, cultural, professional, age-based, etc.) to “cross-cut the merely ethnic.”
Most important of all, a one-state solution might make all the peoples in the region more secure. Judt argues that “a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can expect to appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border.”
Similarly, Gavron contends that “a combined military force, wherein the various Palestinian security organizations are integrated with the Israeli Defense Force, the Israeli police and [other Israeli] security services will surely have a much better chance of controlling terror and violence than one side acting on its own.”
Jeff Halper, an Israeli anthropologist, expects that the one state -- seamlessly combining the talents and energies of Israeli Jews and Palestinians -- would become one of the “leading forces for democratization and development” in the world. Gavron couldn’t agree more, claiming that “the integration of all the different peoples . . . into one pluralistic entity will release enormous forces of inventiveness [and] creativity.”
Cobban goes so far as to say that a binational Israel-Palestine “could be the start of a hopeful new chapter in human history.” The least you can say is that Iran or any other bad actor in the region might not feel compelled to bomb Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, etc., if those were centers of a Middle-East-committed, development-assistance-dispensing, multi-ethnic and multi-religious civilization.
Precedents! -- Jewish side
Although certain militants want you to believe that Jews and Arabs have always been at odds, a bit of digging reveals otherwise, as Gavron recently showed:
Probably my favorite book about Jews is Lucy Dawidowicz’s anthology The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe (orig. 1967). It consists of over 50 snippets of memoirs of Jewish thinkers and activists from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, and what’s striking is how few of them are Zionists. The vast majority are assimilationists, “privately” religious, or socialists of one stripe or another.
Even among the early Zionists, many appear to have shared the conviction of the influential Zionist thinker Ahad Ha’am (1856-1927) that the Jewish community in Palestine needed to serve as a “spiritual center” nourishing global Judaism. It did not need to become a Jewish nation-state. University of Montreal history professor Yakov Rabkin doesn’t overstate the case when he claims that Zionism-as-Jewish-statehood “was a minority movement shunned by most Jews.”
And even after Hitler’s rise to power, many prominent Zionists (including political philosopher Hannah Arendt, theologian Martin Buber, and Hebrew University President Judah Magnes) were calling either for one secular, democratic state from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, or for some sort of Arab-Jewish confederation. “Underlying their Zionism,” U. Mass. political science professor Leila Farsakh recently explained, “was a quest for a Jewish renaissance . . . with a determination to avoid injustice in its achievement.”
Here’s what Buber had to say to what he called “contemporary [Jewish] Samsons” in Palestine in 1939:
Precedents! -- Arab side
Many Palestinians remember their past in the same inclusive way as Gavron, Rabkin, and Buber. Historically, Palestine “was multicultural, multireligious,” Abunimah recently told an audience at the Palestine Center in Washington DC. And here’s Tilley in a 2006 article in a British political journal: “‘Palestinian’ has always been a multi-sectarian and multi-ethnic identity, as it is based on indigeneity to a territory whose population has always included Christians, Jews, Druze and others.”
Aron Trauring -- whose mother was a refugee from the Nazis -- praises al-Andalus, “the Islamic civilization in Spain that lasted for over 700 years. [It was] a Muslim Arab culture, where Arab rulers let Jewish and Christian culture flourish. It [was] a jewel in human history.” And Rabkin praises “elements of Ottoman rule, which had managed diversity and preserved peace in the region far better than most of its successor states.”
Abunimah harks back to the pre-1948 past, to many Palestinian Arabs’ “ordinary friendships with Palestinian Jews.”
It is a fact, he says, that many Jews were murdered by an Arab mob in Hebron in 1929 -- an incident that’s long been used to justify controversial Israeli policies. “But as the Jews of Hebron testified in 1929, most of the city’s Jewish community were saved because Muslim neighbors protected them in their own homes and tended to the wounded. How would history look today had that been the signal lesson of the event . . . ?”
Palestinian Arabs’ and Jews’ rich memories of peaceful coexistence before 1948, Abunimah contends, is “key to the new future.”
Vision -- governing
One sign that the one-state solution is becoming a popular cause -- a genuine movement -- is that advocates are not just arguing their case. They’re coming up with concrete visions of a one-state government and society.
Benvenisti says there are basically two ways you can govern a joint Israel-Palestine state. You can set up a classically “binational” structure with, e.g., separate voting lists for Arabs and Jews, or you can have one person-one vote.
Sussman agrees: “One [alternative] is a binational state, offering power-sharing to two separate peoples with distinct collective identities within one polity. . . . The [other] alternative proposes a single democratic polity, where there is no ethnic or national distinction between citizens.”
On the traditional left -- among commentators like Halper, Sussman, and U.S. journalist Daniel Lazare -- the choice is clear. As Halper puts it, “The most practical solution seems to be a unitary democratic state offering equal citizenship for all.”
Most one-state advocates are looking at governance structures that are a little more nuanced, though; a little more open to ethnic autonomy. You can’t spend much time with them or their writings without hearing references to the governance structures of Belgium, Switzerland, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and even Canada.
Abunimah waxes eloquent about Belgium:
Other one-state supporters, including Rabkin, the creators of the U.S. Green platform, and Mark LeVine, professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the University of California - Irvine, take Switzerland as their model. Rabkin says the new state “could consist of cantons sovereign in matters of culture, education, worship, internal security [? - ed.], and local law.” LeVine says,
One-state advocates may be eager students of other nations’ governance structures, but they don’t feel bound by them. “Novel structures can be created,” Gavron says enthusiastically.
Vision -- military
Several one-state advocates have taken up the thorny issue of civilian protection and military defense. We’ve already described Gavron’s idea for a combined Israeli-Palestinian military and police force. LeVine wants an additional layer of security, at least at first -- the presence of “at least 100,000” NATO troops.
He also wants the state of Israel-Palestine to become a member of NATO. Not only would it then be under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Its nuclear weapons could be transferred to NATO control, ideally as part of a “Nuclear-Free Middle East” initiative that would include the simultaneous dismantling of the nuclear weapons program of Iran.
Vision -- the return
Israel insists on the “Law of Return” (permitting all Jews to immigrate to the state of Israel). Palestinians insist on the “Right of Return” (permitting all Palestinian “exiles” and their progeny to return to their homeland). These entitlements are often seen as mutually exclusive.
But not by most one-state advocates.
Gavron wants Israel and the Palestinians to relinquish both entitlements (“Israel / Palestine is already overcrowded” and the new naturalization law could leave room for the original Palestinian refugees and Jews in actual danger). But Abunimah, Halper, Khalidi, LeVine, Rabkin, Tilley, and Trauring want to preserve both, at least in some form.
Abunimah makes the basic case when he says,
Many Law of Return / Right of Return advocates offer variations on that basic case. Tilley, for example, would convert the Law of Return into a Law of Asylum (e.g., for refugees from racism, including anti-Semitism), and would ensure that the Palestinian Right of Return rewarded “indigeneity" as opposed to mere “ethnicity.”
Rabkin would broaden the Law of Return to include “Palestinian Arabs who would be entitled to reclaim their homes or obtain compensation for lost property,” and he’d require the Jewish National Fund (possessor of over 90% of the territory of Israel) to sell its lands “without discrimination to Jews and Arabs. Compensation for lost property would constitute a major source of funds to help Arabs buy real estate and reduce the existing development gap between the two groups.”
Exactly how would lost property be returned and / or compensated? Abunimah takes a very sensible position when he says, “In [many] cases it may not be in the public interest to allow return to original properties [so Palestinians] will have to accept compensation. . . . Impartial bodies could be set up to adjudicate claims, and a commitment made by all that no one will be left destitute by the process. . . . Once there is a commitment to equality and a system for enforcing rights, it is possible to devise many solutions that do justice without creating new victims.”
Vision -- society
Some one-state advocates, such as traditional leftists and libertarians, foresee what Walker calls “one binational country with . . . separation of church and state.” But most one-state advocates add caveats.
Abunimah, for example, wants a state that’s “neutral among religious groups” and “does not interfere in the affairs of religious communities,” but does provide assistance to religious schools and other religious institutions. His main concern is making sure that all state aid is distributed in a “nondiscriminatory, transparent, and equitable manner.”
LeVine hopes that the new state “would commission a new school curriculum and other public education measures designed to educate all the people of the state about the most accurate understanding of the history of the country and its two peoples.”
A more colorful way of trumpeting the mutual respect of the peoples in the new state was recently suggested by Gavron -- introducing the three-day weekend!
“Ancient Israel gave the world the Sabbath,” he explains. “The [new state] could offer the world the three-day weekend, [derived from] Muslim-Jewish-Christian [practices]. A four-day working week . . . interspersed with constructive leisure.”
One of the diciest tasks of the new state’s Founding Mothers and Fathers will be coming up with an appropriate name. My own suggestion, “Palestein” (an ethnically enriched variant of “Palestine”), is dead on arrival, I’m sure. But Gavron’s suggestion, the “State of Jerusalem” -- “Yerushalayim” in Hebrew, “Ursalim al-Kuds” in Arabic -- has merit. So does Rabkin’s suggestion, Abrahamia (or Ibrahimia) -- as he explains, “it would recall an important common ancestor recognized by Muslims, Christians, and Jews.”
LeVine suggests the more prosaic “State of Israel-Palestine” (Eretz-Yisra’el-Palestina in Hebrew, Filastin-Isra’il in Arabic). Why in that order in English? “Because in both ancient and modern history, ‘Israel’ existed before ‘Palestine’ as a political and geographic category.”
Abunimah also prefers the joint name, at least for now. “Perhaps in time,” he says, “when a more common identity has developed, some other term will emerge.”
Over the last few years, a strategy to convince the residents of Israel-Palestine to move in the one-state direction has begun to emerge. It consists of at least 10 prongs:
Prospects -- the “chosen peoples”?
Polls measuring support for the one-state solution are notoriously changeable and unreliable, among Palestinians and Israelis both. (Recent polls are discussed at some length in Abunimah’s book and in Tilley’s 2006 article.) Probably the most you can say for such polls is that -- as Tilley puts it -- their “very fluidity” over the last 10 years suggests an intense sensitivity to the “political context.”
So our task, as one-state advocates, is to work on that political context. To make the kinds of arguments that do not demonize Israelis or Palestinians, but that encourage them to join together, face the future together, and realize that -- as the Olga Document puts it -- “we are brothers and sisters, not eternal enemies as the well-poisoners profess.”
In that sense, Israelis and Palestinians may be the “chosen peoples” of our time. For we all urgently need to learn that lesson.
For some fascinating responses to this article, see HERE (look under May 15 and May 1, 2007).
This article was based on the following texts. I confined myself to texts from the last five years that address difficult issues with a minimum of animus. All but the Abunimah book are freely accessible online:
Ali Abunimah (American Web activist & children’s services researcher), “One Country,” speech at the Palestine Center, Washington DC, 28 November 2006
Ali Abunimah (bio above), One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt, 2006
Meron Benvenisti (Israeli political scientist & former deputy mayor of Jerusalem), “Which Kind of Binational State,” Ha’aretz, 20 November 2003
Martin Buber (theologian & philosopher, 1878-1965), “Our Pseudo-Samsons” [n.b.: you’ll have to scroll two-thirds of the way down], orig. Davar newspaper, 5 June 1939; reprinted in Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, eds., Wrestling with Zion, Grove Press, 2003
Helena Cobban (British-born author & syndicated columnist on global affairs), “A Binational Israel-Palestine,” Christian Science Monitor, 9 October 2003
Leila Farsakh (assistant professor of political science at University of Massachusetts), “Time for a Bi-national State,” Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2007
Daniel Gavron (Israeli author & journalist), “The Real Fault Line,” Ha’aretz, 19 August 2005
Daniel Gavron (bio above), “The State of Jerusalem,” HopeWays.org, c. 2005
Green Party of the U.S., “A Real Road to Peace in the Middle East,” pp. 13-14 of Green Party Platform 2004, June 2004
Jeff Halper (Israeli anthropologist), “One State,” speech at the UN International Conference on Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, New York NY, 5 September 2003
Peter Hirschberg (editor of Ha’aretz Online), “One-State Awakening,” Ha’aretz, 16 December 2003
Tony Judt (British-born historian & director of the Remarque Institute at New York University), “Israel: The Alternative,” New York Review of Books, 23 October 2003
Ahmad Khalidi (Palestinian writer & former negotiator), “A One-State Solution,” The Guardian (Britain), 29 September 2003
Daniel Lazare (New York author & journalist), “The One-State Solution,” The Nation, 3 November 2003
Mark LeVine (professor of modern Middle Eastern history at University of California-Irvine), “The State of Israel-Palestine,” History News Network, 29 July 2006
Todd May (professor of philosophy at Clemson University), “Toward a True Democratic State in the Middle East,” CounterPunch, 9 September 2004
Olga Document (Prof. Anat Biletzki et al.), statement issued at Giv’at Olga, Israel, June 2004, and signed by over 100 Israeli Jewish academics and activists
Miko Peled (Israeli living in U.S. & son of Israeli General Matityahu Peled), “The Answers Have Changed,” Znet, 10 January 2007
Yakov Rabkin (professor of history at University of Montreal), “A Glimmer of Hope, a State of All Its Citizens,” Tikkun Magazine, July / August 2002
Gary Sussman (director of research and program development, Hartog School of Government and Policy, Tel Aviv University), “The Challenge to the Two-State Solution,” Middle East Report, Summer 2004
Michael Tarazi (Colorado-born legal advisor to the PLO), “Two Peoples, One State,” New York Times, 4 October 2004
Virginia Tilley (associate professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges [one entity in upstate New York] & chief research specialist in democracy and governance at South Africa’s statutory research agency), “The One-State Solution,” London Review of Books, 6 November 2003
Virginia Tilley (bio above), “The Secular Solution,” New Left Review, March-April 2006
Aron Trauring (U.S.-born Israeli software developer now returned to the U.S., one of whose sons was an Israeli military “refusenik”), “Al-Andalus: The Promised Land,” Aron’s Israel Peace Weblog, 6 January 2003
Jesse Walker (managing editor of Reason Magazine, “the libertarian monthly”), “Burying Yasser Arafat: Let’s Bury More than His Body,” Reason, 16 November 2004
Besides the Abunimah book above, at least two other books favoring the one-state solution have been written by the authors above over the last five years: Daniel Gavron, The Other Side of Despair: Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), and Virginia Tilley, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2005).
For brief pieces by Ahad Ha’am, Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, I.F. Stone, and other early supporters of what I’m calling a one-state solution, see Section 1 of Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, eds., Wrestling with Zion (Grove, 2003). Section 1 is partially online HERE.
For rebuttals to the one-state solution, see Alan Dershowitz, “Peace in an Unpeaceful World,” American Jewish Life Magazine (September / October 2006) (also available as chap. 2 of Dershowitz, The Case for Peace, Wiley, 2005), and Leon Wieseltier, “What is Not to be Done,” The New Republic (27 October 2003). Note the many debater’s tricks in both of these.
For the standard Israeli “narrative,” see Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel (Wiley, 2003). For the standard Palestinian “narrative,” see Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Beacon, 2006).
Although Israeli futurist Tsvi Bisk supports disengagement from the occupied territories (as distinct from the one-state solution), his exciting, positive vision for the future of his land -- high-tech and humane -- is shared by many one-state advocates. See the reviews of his $75 book Futurizing the Jews by Lane Jennings in The Futurist (January-February 2005) and Natalie Dian on the Jewish Futures Network Web site (31 May 2004). He runs the Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking in Kfar Saba, Israel.
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