Dr. Philip Mendes is a senior lecturer in the department of social work at Monash University near Melbourne, Australia. This article by him is featured in the Spring 2008 issue of ISRAEL HORIZONS:
Today almost the entire international community claims to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority have signed up to two states. So have most of their respective supporters in the USA, Australia and elsewhere.
I have supported two states for over 25 years as the only solution that would potentially meet both the minimum security needs of Israel and the minimum national aspirations of the Palestinians. For me two states has always meant simply the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign Jewish state within roughly the pre-1967 Green Line borders, and equally the right of the Palestinians to an independent state within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This means no coerced Jewish settlements within Palestinian territory, and equally no coerced return of Palestinian refugees within Green Line Israel.
However, there remains a number of serious practical barriers to any successful implementation of a two-state solution. These include:
1) The continuing presence of 121 Israeli settlements and 260,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank (not counting East Jerusalem) including the large city of Ariel which has a population of more than 20,000 people (Peace Now 2008).
2) The growing influence and potential domination of Palestinian politics by Hamas, a racist religious fundamentalist group which is committed to the violent destruction of the State of Israel.
3) The reluctance of any Israeli Government – whatever its political color – to take active steps to dismantle the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, or even to prevent the growth and expansion of existing settlements and settler numbers.
4) The continuing demand by all Palestinian political factions for a literal rather than symbolic Right of Return of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel, rather than to the Palestinian Territories.
5) The ongoing violence by both sides including Israeli pre-emptive attacks on Palestinian militants which also impact on civilians within the Palestinian Territories, and Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks which specifically target civilians within Green Line Israel.
Given the above concerns, there has been some conjecture as to whether or not the two-state project is still viable. I personally believe that the five barriers cited can be overcome, but a detailed analysis of that complex debate necessarily belongs elsewhere. What follows here is a specific consideration of the alternative proposal for a one-state or bi-national solution.
It should be noted that bi-national proposals have some history. A number of Zionist groups in the 1930s and ‘40s – including Brit Shalom, Ichud and Hashomer Hatzair – advocated a bi-national solution, but their proposals enjoyed only limited support from the Jewish community in Palestine and virtually no support from the Arabs. A similar suggestion was put forward without success as the minority report of the Special United Nations Commission on Palestine in August 1947 (Cohen 1976: 95-97, 133-134, 138-39, 142-43, 208-09, 215).
In the early 1970s, Al Fatah proposed a “secular democratic state” of Palestine which was interpreted by many on the left as a bi-national state in which Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs would live as equals. However, the official PLO statement clarified that this actually meant an exclusively Arab state of Palestine in which the Jews (or some Jews) would enjoy religious freedom, but no national rights (O’Mahony 1990: 10-11). Continued in Part 2 ….