Today, one-state supporters comprise mostly Palestinians, but also a handful of Israelis and Diaspora Jews. Many of the key advocates – including Ghada Karmi, Ilan Pappe, Ali Abuminah, Joseph Masad and Nur Masalha – joined together in a conference held in London in November 2007 (Challenging the Boundaries 2007). Some supporters of this notion claim to be former supporters of two states who are disillusioned with the lack of progress towards a Palestinian State (Loewenstein 2007: xxviii). However, most appear to be long-time supporters of a Greater Palestine whose principal agenda is not equal rights for both peoples, but rather the elimination of the State of Israel.
A number of the London conference presenters are closely associated with calls for an academic boycott of Israel, which I have described elsewhere as based on a racial or ethnic stereotyping of all Israeli Jews – and all Israeli academics in particular – as an oppressor people (Mendes 2006). In my opinion, this group appear to be using the bi-national argument as a mere ruse to put a humanitarian face on what is an ethnocentric and even openly genocidal proposal. The political strategy is to simplistically limit the options for conflict resolution to either a Greater Israel which is likely to become a pariah state due to denying national and civil rights to the Palestinians despite their demographic majority, or one unified state which will inevitably become a Greater Palestine due to the higher Palestinian birthrate. The two-state solution, which would respect the national rights of both peoples, is conveniently rejected.
Nevertheless, two recent books have expounded the one-state solution in significant detail, and deserve to be examined on their merits. The first text by US scholar Virginia Tilley (2005) argues that there are overwhelming territorial and political barriers to any two-state solution. She claims that Jewish settlements have removed the territorial basis for a viable Palestinian state. Any Palestinian entity carved out of the remaining enclaves would be “little more than a sealed vessel of growing poverty and demoralization,” and almost certainly a source of ongoing anger, political instability and violence (p. 5).
In addition, Tilley claims that it is inconceivable that any Israeli Government would have the political will to dismantle the settlements. She notes that the settlements have prospered because they have enjoyed the ongoing patronage of Jewish national institutions such as the Jewish National Fund and all Israeli governments whatever their political persuasion. This support also reflects the dependence of Israel on the key water aquifers in the West Bank, and the power of the settler movement which threatens to respond to any pullback by shattering the unity of Jews both inside and outside Israel. In short, she argues that the Greater Israel campaign to preclude any possibility of Palestinian national independence has won, and there is no prospect of establishing a new state of Palestine separate from Green Line Israel.
Tilley’s argument against the possibility of a Palestinian State conveniently excludes many significant counter-factors which she simply implies are either idealistic or naive. But more importantly her argument is totally Israeli-centered, and makes little reference to the impact of Palestinian political culture. She assumes that only Israeli decisions and actions preclude a two-state solution, and neglects to analyze Palestinian attitudes, actions and interests that may also enhance or hinder two states. This one-sided discussion is also extended to her discussion of possible alternatives.
Tilley admits that a one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. But she then retreats to glib assertions, rather than facts. She acknowledges that many Jews fear that they could experience “marginalization, oppression and even expulsion in a unified state” (p. 161). But she simplistically dismisses such concerns as not reflecting the reality of Palestinian beliefs and actions toward Israel, and/or as based on “racial stereotyping” (p. 163).What Tilley doesn’t state here is the obvious. The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews will never willingly agree to give up the power of state sovereignty, and return to being a powerless minority. This consensus operates for two reasons. Firstly, there is the historical oppression of Jews in both the West culminating in the Holocaust, and in the East culminating in the systematic expulsion of Jews from Arab countries in the 1950s (Mendes 2002; 2005). Jews regard statehood as essential for defending their right to live free from actual or potential scapegoating as a minority group irrespective of the current decline of anti-Semitism in most of the global community.
Secondly, there has been 60 years of the Israeli-Arab conflict including ongoing Palestinian and Arab political and military attacks against the State of Israel and its civilian population. Whatever may be said about the complex causes of this conflict and the division of responsibility, most Jews believe that the Palestinians would attempt to slaughter the Jewish civilian population if they ever had the opportunity and the means to do so. This fear may or may not be reasonable, but there is no way that the Israeli Jews will expose themselves to the possibility of that threat being fulfilled.
The second text by Palestinian-American Ali Abunimah (2006) devotes more space to arguing the potential benefits of one unified state for both peoples. Abunimah claims to be a moderate and an advocate of non-violence who supports “a permanent, protected, and vibrant national Jewish presence in all of Israel-Palestine as partners and equals” (p. 105). He admits that he supported the Oslo Peace Accord, and the two-state solution that it appeared to promise. However, he joins Tilley in blaming Israel’s continued building of settlements for the failure of the Oslo peace negotiations. He also argues that two states will not address the rights of the 1.35 million Palestinians who live inside Green Line Israel, or the four million Palestinian exiles who live outside Israel and the Territories.
Abuminah argues that the settlement process is not reversible. Whilst acknowledging that a clear majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor two states, he notes the important qualification that most Israelis would not support a full dismantling of the West Bank settlements. He suggests that the limitations of the Israeli position was confirmed by the Camp David negotiations of July 2000, and even by the unofficial Geneva Peace Accord signed by Yossi Beilin and Yasir Abed Rabbo in December 2003 (Beilin 2004). For Abuminah, none of these two-state proposals meet minimum Palestinian demands for the dismantling of all settlements, and the unconditional return of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel.
Both Tilley and Abuminah are concerned with only one side of the conflict. They are passionate supporters of the Palestinian narrative and at best pay lip-service to the Israeli counter-narrative. Neither provides a serious political strategy for achieving their one-state objective. This is because it is arguably a solution based on despair and fatalism.
To use one comparable analogy, it is the equivalent of the East Timorese giving up the struggle for an independent state in the 1980s and ‘90s, and instead helplessly seeking to transfer the whole of Indonesia into a bi-national state of Indonesia and East Timor. I doubt that plan would have enjoyed much chance of success. Similarly, if Israel can’t be persuaded by the international community to cede the Palestinians an independent state in the Territories, then there is absolutely no hope that the Israelis will be persuaded to go even further and completely dissolve their state. Two states remains the only viable option for achieving Palestinian self-determination.
References are included in the printed version of this article featured in the Spring 2008 issue of ISRAEL HORIZONS. Dr. Philip Mendes is a senior lecturer in the department of social work at Australia’s Monash University, and the author or co-author of six books, including “Jews and Australian Politics” (Sussex Academic 2004) and most recently “Australia’s Welfare Wars Revisited” (UNSW Press 2008).