The One-State Illusion

The One-State Illusion

Readers may recall how I tangled with Prof. Tony Judt on his scathing view of Israel and his quixotic preference for a binational state to replace Israel and the Palestinian territories. At a public appearance, I had reminded him of how nationalism was derailing European ambitions for a transfer of sovereignty from individual nations to the European Union (with the defeat of the EU’s proposed constitution), let alone the utopian nature of similarly high-minded dreams for a binational solution in the Middle East.

The news from Tony Judt’s native Britain is delicious. The 300 year-old “binational” experiment known as the United Kingdom is now in jeopardy, with the Scottish National Party having won a plurality of the vote for the Scottish parliament.

It is instructive in this regard to read Uri Avnery’s “Bed of Sodom.” This non-Zionist left-wing Israeli punctures the binational balloon, but the following by Alexander Jacobson in Haaretz, April 28, anticipated the Scottish election and also wrote effectively on the bi-nationalist illusion as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Who really wants binationalism? By Alexander Jacobson

Have the English and the Scots gone out of their minds? Here in the Middle East, it is clear that there is something to fight about. But what reason is there for the national tension between Englishmen and Scots, who live together happily and prosperously in the United Kingdom?

With great seriousness, senior British statesman have recently been discussing the danger of the dismantling of the unification of England and Scotland. According to recent public opinion polls, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which upholds Scotland’s resignation from the union, could win the coming elections for the local parliament. Surveys in Scotland show that more than 40 percent of the country’s inhabitants support independence (according to another poll, that proportion reaches 59 percent). Also, 52 percent of the English replied that they are interested in Scotland leaving the union, in the sense of “we are here and they are there.” The English press reports with concern on “anglophobic” tendencies in Scotland.

How has this happened? After all, in Israel, we have heard that Europe has almost entirely rid itself of nationalism and the national state, and that in the near future the victory parade of multi-nationalism and post-nationalism will come to the Middle East, where the masses, as everyone knows, are waiting for it with bated breath. However, it appears that the news of the death of nationalism has not yet reached the distant provinces where the English and the Scots live.

There we have two nations facing each other, Protestant Christians both, who have undergone profound secularization and are very close to each other in their modern culture. The two peoples have been living in the same state for 300 years; their representatives sit in the same parliament and in the same governments (and also serve as prime minister); they are partners to the same economic system; they intermarry with no difficulty; they live in the same neighborhoods; they fight in the same wars; they agree on the same values of a modern, democratic and liberal society and they speak the same language.

Not only has all of this not created a common national identity for the two peoples, it is even possible that this is not enough to keep them in the framework of a shared state. This, even though it is one of the most liberal and least nationalistic states in history, and even though the Scots have received an autonomous parliament and government of their own. It is not easy to explain this, but the reality is that most nationalities, even in Europe, aspire to national independence even when they are offered a reasonable and fair alternative to it.

The idea of one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which is known to the public as a binational state, has in fact been promoted by the Israeli right, which supports the establishment of Jewish settlements in the territories. Parts of the radical left also believe in the binational idea, but they cannot bring it about.

Beyond every other argument, of principle or practice, there is one question that must be answered by everyone who supports this idea: If the vision is realized, will it indeed be a binational state? If today, hundreds of years after the establishment of the United Kingdom, the Scots are still finding it hard to accept it as a true binational framework and about half of them see it as an expression of the hegemony of the English majority, is it reasonable that a state with an Arab-Muslim majority, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, will really be “binational,” even if it is officially defined as such? It is clear this will be an Arab-Muslim state in every respect. Or is it the case that someone believes that from the moment he has adopted a fashionable slogan that is detached from the reality even in Western Europe he is exempt from responsibility for the practical significance of what he is proposing to the Israeli public?

By | 2007-05-07T13:24:00-04:00 May 7th, 2007|Blog|7 Comments


  1. Thomas Mitchell May 7, 2007 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    About two months ago, after I saw Prof. Abunimah appear on CSPAN talking about a one-party state and citing South Africa as an example of how different nationalities could live successfully together, I offered to write a piece for his website on the lessons of power sharing. It was quite negative, so Abunimah proposed that I write it in such a way that power sharing could be a solution to the conflict in the Middle East in the context of a one-state solution. So I wrote, examining the histories of power sharing in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Northern Ireland, that it would be possible if the two sides both concluded that partition was impossible and that the Israelis decided that they must surrender to the Palestinians. The piece never appeared.

  2. Ralph Seliger May 8, 2007 at 4:49 am - Reply

    I’m not exactly shocked that Abunimah would not allow such a piece to be posted on his site.

  3. Anonymous May 8, 2007 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    I think whatever your position is about a one state or two state solution, you weaken it by comparing it to the UK which is highly unlikely to come undone. furthermore, it’s really quite a stretch to make a comparison.
    I myself don’t personally care if there is a one or two state solution, I think the real issue is the nature of the states. If they are based on ethnic identity, there’s a problem. Who decides who’s in or out? what are those identities? and what about those who are living there who aren’t of the same identity as the dominant group? better take a lesson from the US where we are managing to maintain a country where ethnic/religious/racial identity is not part of our constitution.

  4. Ralph Seliger May 8, 2007 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    The news from Scotland is that even when cultural differences are small, ethnic identities are strong. Bosnians, Serbs and Croats all speak the same language and coexisted in the same country for most of a century, yet fell apart.

    Most of Europe’s Jews were murdered or driven out because dominant nationalities did not see them as part of their nations. The Islamic Middle East is dominated by Arab and Muslim majorities that lord it over minorities, including the Jews who were massively expelled half a century ago.

    I would want Europe and the Middle East to approach the American ideal of integration, but they have a long way to go. I wouldn’t start by ending Jewish self-rule in the only country this small vulnerable people can call their own.

  5. Anonymous May 10, 2007 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    With all due respect, I think the example of the UK is overly simplistic and furthermore, separation is not likely to happen there anyway. The Scottish independence party got as much support as it did mostly in protest and probably had very little to do with a real desire to secede. In any case, the comparison is too simplistic to make your case. (in addition there is finally reason to hope for peace in Northern Ireland)
    And, while you see the real issue in Palestine/Israel as framed by the need for a Jewish homeland, you are dismissing that there can be no such safe homeland nor peace without justice.. and that requires refugee return and a political identity that is not based on race/religion/ethnicity. Peace with out justice will never happen and , furthermore, Judaism without justice is hardly Jewish.

  6. Ralph Seliger May 11, 2007 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    “Anonymous” provides some high-minded words about “justice.” I’m not for injustice –au contraire — but it’s telling that my previous posting about the abiding power of ethnic/religious differences is entirely ignored. I want to see Israeli Arabs feel more fully integrated into Israel, but it will not serve the cause of justice for Jews to again become a defenseless minority everywhere in the world.

  7. Anonymous May 11, 2007 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    Sorry, didn’t think I ignored your previous comment at all. I said I did not think that the UK would break up over the ethnic /religious differences between the English and the Scottish. I also didn’t think that was a case that proved your point about the difficulty of establishing a state with different ethnicities.
    Almost one in every 5 Israelis are Palestinian and there are many other people there who are neither Jewish nor Palestinian. All I am suggesting is that as the number of Jewish citizens diminish, Israel has to really do some drastic things demographically to maintain a “Jewish” state, and that I think a growing number of people (Jews and non Jews) are asking what that means anyway, in the 21st century.

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