This article is a kind of mental exercise on a subject that is surfacing frequently in many forums and is often greeted with censure in varying degrees of vehemence. The idea is already out there on the Arab and Israeli tables, in any case. Now it appears to be the only alternative to the two-state solution to the Palestinian question which has prevailed since the partition resolution of 1948 to the Oslo Accords of 1993. There is no sign of the implementation of two-state solution on the horizon. Even if it did happen it would be like a surgical operation with a lot of blood loss. Both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides have people who find this solution unjust and who hold that the solution can only be reached by controlling all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean to establish a Palestinian state or to legitimise the Israeli state that already controls this expensive piece of real estate. Such a notion is what our Sudanese brothers call “silent words”. Its advocates leave much unsaid.
The Palestinians do not mention where the Israelis will go and the Israelis do not mention what will happen to the Palestinians in the end. All this has given rise to the idea of a single state for both the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples. According to opinion polls, there is a minority of opinion on both sides that support this idea. Most are young people who hope to see a solution to the conflict in some foreseeable future and who do not want to experience what their parents and grandparents went through.
The notion of a single state is not new. It was espoused by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) in its original charter that called for the establishment of a single, democratic state for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. From a practical standpoint, there already is a single state — Israel — that enjoys security, strategic and economic control or, in short, sovereignty over the land from the river to the sea, albeit with some codified concession of sovereignty to the Palestinian National Authority in Gaza and in Areas A and B in the West Bank.
Theoretically, there are 1.6 million Palestinians who are treated as Israelis. With 13 MPs, the Palestinians make up the third largest parliamentary bloc in the Knesset and they take part in the formulation of Israeli policies from their position in the opposition. Incidentally, the Israeli Arabs, as they are called, refuse to become part of any independent Palestinian state and prefer to fight for equal rights with the Jews in the Israeli state in which they are treated as second class citizens. In addition to the foregoing, the long years of occupation have created a range of interactions that have generated an intensive mutual dependency.
In addition to close security cooperation, there is a market in labour and economic activity, a single currency (the shekel) and numerous other activities that have resulted from the encroachment of 500,000 Jewish settlers into the Palestinian territories as well as the ongoing process of the Judaicisation of Jerusalem. The result is that there are 12 million people, half of whom are Palestinians and the other half of whom are Jews, who have been interacting for the past seven decades, in war and peace and in dispute and collaboration.
Such a condition is the translation of a colonising power situated alongside an entity that is not a state, a situation where unmitigated and unequal relations generate varying degrees of oppression depending on antagonising situations. To put an end to this delicate condition, which teeters precariously between conflict and peaceful coexistence, some Palestinian and Israeli groups have proposed a return to the idea of one state with a single citizenship and in which a united Jerusalem would be the capital of all citizens.
Palestinians who oppose the idea argue that a state based on full and equal citizenship between Arabs and Jews could never really exist and that a single state for both would merely be an extension of the current one in which, after seven decades, Israeli Arabs remain second class citizens even if they enjoy higher levels of political and economic participation than their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli opponents, who are more numerous, hold that the Zionist project was and remains the establishment of a state in which the Jews are the majority, which is something that could not be sustained given higher Palestinian population growth rates which would reduce the Jews to a minority.
There are other objections. Some believe that the two-state solution is still possible if the new ideas they have conceived are applied. Others hold that the status quo serves Israel’s purposes perfectly. It gives it the opportunity to create new realities on the ground that will guarantee its permanent superiority, especially given the collapse of major Arab powers such as Iraq and Syria, the chronic Palestinian rift, and developments in the international order that have generated closer relations between Israel and Russia, China and India while Israeli relations with the US have soared to unprecedented heights.
Still, all the many objections do not diminish the validity of the idea, which is that the status quo and the ongoing occupation creates a volatile situation with all the conditions for uprisings, resistance and sometimes full-scale war, as has occurred in previous instances when tensions snap in the contradictions between a national liberation movement and a colonial power. If the two-state alternative to the status quo is unavailable or impossible, then the one-state alternative could be approached from perspectives that make it possible to deal with the various objections on both sides. For example, the majority/minority question could be dealt with by means of constitutional weights that would render vital matters subject to a right to veto on the part of the minority or to a two-thirds majority vote or some mixture between the two. Consensus democracy can create a framework that permits for all ethnic and religious groups to exercise their rights and participate in the state.
If such a solution to an over century-long conflict appears idealistic, overly optimistic and, moreover, in contrast with the current balances of power, especially as there is no one in the Israeli political elite prepared to discuss the subject, there is the confederal solution. This would give each side its state but would also permit for a single capital for both in Jerusalem. Perhaps this is the path to a single state of a new sort. This situation ensures that the Palestinian presence in Israel and the Israeli settlement presence in the West Bank can act with respect to their respective political concerns, while the economy and security form a bond sufficient to manage their affairs and while the majority in Israel is ensured for the Israelis and the same applies to the Palestinians in the State of Palestine. In sum, it is a kind of partition into two political entities, but in the framework of a broader state that guarantees security and prosperity to both peoples.
Once again, the above is no more than an effort to work out some ideas in response to Saeb Ereikat’s suggestion that the one-state solution might be the alternative if the two-state solution fails. However, this effort will probably require more deliberation and study, which takes as its starting point an unacceptable status quo.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly