Aviva Cantor argues against one-state solution

Aviva Cantor argues against one-state solution

Journalist and author Aviva Cantor has been an advocate of the two-state solution ever since becoming a socialist Zionist and feminist in 1968.

The One-State Solution is attractive to many people motivated by ethical issues and about ending the Occupation, and/or an abhorrence of nationalism and religious intolerance/coercion, and/or who champion democratic (“one person, one vote”) values. It must be rejected both because it denies the legitimacy of the State of Israel and because its implementation would be bad for Israelis and Palestinians and any possibility of peace between them.

I shall not address the legitimacy issue because the existence of the State of Israel is indisputable and its continued existence non-negotiable. Those who deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state will not be convinced by ideological or ethical polemic. I shall focus on two implementational reasons why the One-State Solution is not viable: 1) it does not address the psychological and socio-cultural needs of either Israeli Jews* or Palestinians; and 2) it is impractical and even dangerous.

1. Psychological and socio-cultural needs

History, especially the disastrous events of the 20th century, has clearly demonstrated that Jews all over the world are still in need of an inalienable right of asylum that can never be denied or restricted as it was before and during the Holocaust. They also need one place on earth where it is possible to organize successful self-defense should this prove necessary as it was during the Holocaust. Living as a minority made such self-defense impossible at that time and for millennia before.

The Jews who live in Israel* have decided that they wish to continue to live in their own country, and have the opportunity for developing and expressing their own values, traditions, customs, political and artistic cultures and zeitgeist and shaping a society in accordance with these, and in response to their concerns, and their perceived interests. They have done so in the framework of a state since 1948. Israel meets Jews’ both needs of shelter/refuge and of cultural expression.

The Palestinians also require one place on earth where they are not denied shelter and citizenship – which have been denied them in various places and times. They also need a place where they can develop their culture, politics, art, and ways of life in accordance with their values, traditions, customs and viewpoints, without outside interference and without the need to constantly look over their shoulder and respond to others’ wishes, demands and values.

In our nationalism-driven age, it is not possible to do this as a minority under a majority government whose values and operational strategies are not necessarily in the minority’s interests and require constant monitoring and struggle. To be able to determine their destiny and their future by themselves they require the framework of a state.

2. Practical Considerations

Twentieth-century events have shown that even nations whose different ethnic groups have not experienced active enmity often endure hostility between them because of differences in language and culture. Examples are Belgium, where the Francophone and Flemish-speaking groups are at odds, and Canada, where French residents of Quebec feel alienated by/from the Anglophone culture and political system.

In many countries where hostility and feelings of vengeance have simmered for years and were suppressed by the government, unscrupulous politicians have raised these feelings to fever pitch and launched genocidal atrocities. Ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda easily come to mind.

Israelis and Palestinians have long endured great tensions, which often flared into violence. Such tensions and violence antedated the establishment of the State of Israel. Even under the domination of the British Mandate (1920’s-1948), Arab mobs massacred innocent civilians (pious Jews) in Jerusalem and Hebron. After the establishment of Israel, its Arab citizens were relegated to second-class citizenship. As a result of the Six-Day War, and the subsequent short-sighted – and later, imperialist — policies of Israeli governments, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has been and continues to be oppressive. Vigilante actions by settlers have exacerbated the Palestinians’ feelings of persecution. Terrorist action by Palestinians under the Occupation and/or by those who claim to support them and by Gazans have generated feelings of hostility and hopelessness on the part of Jewish Israelis. The fact that the unilateral evacuation of Gaza led to attacks by Hamas (not to speak of their vindictive and malicious destruction of greenhouses left them) has exacerbated their mistrust. Operation Cast Lead increased the hatred.

Under such conditions, to believe that Israelis and Palestinians could forge a state in which they could relinquish their feelings of enmity and distrust in favor of instant convivencia (living together in peace, a term from medieval Islamic Spain) — when nationalities that have not experienced mutual violence have not been able to attain this enviable condition — is a naïve and dangerous fantasy.

Mistrust, enmity and hatred do not disappear automatically just because authorities and outside parties want them to. Overcoming these feelings requires a willingness to work very hard at doing this without needing to worry about possible bad consequences that could ensue if a group lets its guard down.. A prerequisite to overcoming the negative feelings, therefore, is the consciousness that a group’s members need no longer worry about being endangered, either physically or culturally, and the recognition that they are in control of their destiny as much as is possible in our era. That is not possible if they are still a minority, even one with “guaranteed rights” (we all remember what happened with the “guaranteed rights” given Jews in post-World War I Eastern Europe under/by the League of Nations).

Only when warring groups have recovered psychologically from the century-long war can they venture forth to deal with difficult relationships with former enemies. And this recovery can only be done under conditions of separation because it is impossible to deal honestly and openly with overcoming feelings of negativity when the recent enemy is listening in and considering consequences.

In other words, what is required now is not a shotgun marriage between Israelis and Palestinians but a dignified divorce, i.e., separation.

Forcing Israeli and Palestinians to live together “happily ever after” in one country before each has recovered from the war between them is not going to work. Moreover, it could prove dangerous. The extremists in both camps, fearful of their group’s being or becoming a minority, might reignite the war and carry it to genocidal proportions. Slaughter, rape, mutilations, pogroms are evils which are hard to bring to an end and usually accelerate once they get started, as the horrific situations in Congo and Darfur demonstrate.

Genocide, then, is a possible outcome of forcing two nations who have not recovered from their mutual enmity to merge into one nation. Such a disaster is a distinct realistic possibility in the case of Israelis and Palestinians. So is foreign invasion and an international conflagration which could ensue.

A one-state solution is unrealistic. And various polls have recorded that the majority of Israelis and West Bank Palestinians** still favor the Two-State Solution. Considering the dangerous One-State Solution is also unnecessary when the Two-State Solution could, albeit with a great amount of willingness and work, be successful. It is not too late to strive to bring it about.
* The attitudes of Israeli Arabs, of course, is very different and cannot be dealt with here except to point out that their second-class citizenship must be brought to an end. In this article, we are considering the attitudes of the Jews in Israel, the dominant majority, who established the Jewish State and sustain it.
** The situation in Gaza, which is under the rule of a rejectionist movement, is a separate case that, of course, complicates the situation.

By | 2010-05-05T13:56:00-04:00 May 5th, 2010|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Shimon Gottschalk May 9, 2010 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Ralph, Your arguments against a one-sate solution are, to my mind, helpful, but not totally convincing. Your fail to address the issues of the obsolesce of 19th century idea of nation-state, the liberal’s hopes for multiculturalism, and the need to overcome both the Jewish and the Arab persistent sense of victimization. We must look forward, not primarily backward to the Shoah* and the Nakhbah. Your article does not, to my mind, sufficiently emphasize the major efforts we all must make to overcome fear, seek mutual understinding, reconciliation and most importantly, actively seek peace between our peoples.

    * This comment comes to you from a Holocaust survivor.

  2. Ralph Seliger May 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    Dear Mr. Gottschalk:
    First of all, this is Aviva Cantor’s article, not mine. I don’t see anything in it that argues against the need for seeking mutual understanding, reconciliation and peace. The thrust of her article is that peace will be advanced in a two-state solution and not within one state.

    As for the nation-state being an obsolete 19th century idea, I am sure that Ms. Cantor would not argue against regional cooperation and the possibility of building a supra-national confederation or other such loose structure one day, but forcing two historically warring parties together in a shut-gun marriage is not a promising formula. I suspect that you’ve heard of Yugoslavia?

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