Middle East

Israel and Palestine: A Bi-National Solution

Palestinian children on their way to school run across a road in front of an Israeli tank in Nablus, Palestine, during clashes between militants and Israeli forces in September 2003. (Photo: Rusty Stewart)

"For all that we've seen over the last several decades, all the mistrust that's been built up, the Palestinians would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people. And they recognize that Israel is not going anywhere," U.S. President Barack Obama said recently. There also seems to be a dawning awareness by Israelis that Palestinians are not going anywhere either.

Instead, some Israelis, like historian Joshua Teitelbaum of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, are now referring to their country's presence in the Palestinian West Bank after so long as "making things harder for Israel." Many political analysts foresee risks attributed to the occupation now becoming permanent, raising questions about the nature of Israel's democracy. The loss of human rights of people living in Israel devoid of a state for decades is affecting how Israel is viewed abroad, most notably in the West. Making matters worse seems to be Israel's constant demands for theocratic recognition. Demanding this from people who have been in refugee camps for decades is raising questions over Israel's democratic legitimacy as a member of the international state system in the 21st century. UNHRC rapporteur on human rights Richard Falk, for example, requested that the United Nations call upon The Hague over Israel's presence in Palestinian territories, saying that Israeli policies can be classified as "colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing."

It seems that Israel has no intention of realizing the "two-state solution." After two decades of intermittent negotiations, the situation still suffers from conflict and intransigence. Yoaz Hendel, an ex-communications director for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently summed it up. "He's not talking about a peace agreement," he said of Netanyahu. In Hendel's opinion, Netanyahu will delay all tough decisions for as long as possible, in the hope of keeping "maximum land and minimum Palestinians" under Israeli control.

All of which begs the question, why can't the Israeli government realize the two-state solution with the Palestinians? Security is inevitably Netanyahu's response. "There's one thing I will never compromise on, and that's Israel security," he said yet again earlier this month.

Theocratic insecurities

History is rife with the religious rivalries of Jews, Christians and Muslims, reference to which has never prevented territorial disputes in contemporary times, especially in the Middle East. Indeed, root causes of Middle Eastern conflicts, most notably this one, resides in these ancient rivalries, which in this case dates back to the 10th century BC when the Israeli King David captured the hill upon which the Jebusite city of Jerusalem stood and renamed this hill Zion. And so justified claims to Jerusalem, which raged on through one bloody battle into the next for centuries. Until here we are today with the Middle East still in turmoil, with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and Jerusalem still at the crux.

Even today, maintaining Israel's rightful security is the given reason Netanyahu wants Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel. Demanding recognition of a Jewish state specifically could be the heart of why the two-state solution has failed to materialize. Once again the spotlight is cast on ancient religious rivalries of blood long since shed. No matter that it's also long since evaporated. "It's time the Palestinians stop denying history. Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state," Netanyahu said. But is it really the same? The Palestinians are not necessarily demanding Israel recognize an Islamic state of Palestine.

Rather, Palestinians along with 20 percent of Israelis balk at this demand. For them, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is tantamount to being stripped of their citizenship, classified as second-class citizens and denied democratic rights. Not to mention stirring up religious rivalries further afield emanating from what some writers term a "xenophobic theocracy."

Neri Livneh, for instance, reflects in Haaretz on what a failure the Israeli reality has become. She writes of how young people are leaving Israel because of Israel's constitution as a Jewish state, which is construed as a Jewish superiority over others. Meanwhile, writers such as Yair Lapid suggest there is nowhere else in the world for Jews but Israel. Interestingly, early Zionist thinkers avoided the "Jewish state" term, preferring "Jewish homeland," the upside being that "Jewish homeland" can be aligned with a democratic bi-national state. This could well warrant greater consideration.

For many, Israel's theocratic demands are seen to institutionalize policies of discrimination rather than uphold civil, democratic, and pluralistic principles. For Palestinians the issue involves the fate of their refugees, namely those forced out in 1948 when Israel became a state and who now, along with their descendants, amount to 5 million.

Demographic insecurities

Little wonder Israelis are putting up settlements left, right and center and demanding formal theocratic recognition.

"We do not seek either to flood Israel with millions [of refugees] or to change its social composition," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli students recently in Ramallah. He can't guarantee this, but his comments are taken as his clearest indication yet for acceding to Israel's requests on refugees returning only to a future Palestinian state. "Otherwise what we are being asked to do is allow the establishment of a Palestinian state ... which will try to flood us with refugees undermining Israel's own existence," Netanyahu said. Even so, what sort of life would it be for 5 million displaced citizens, for the second or third time round in an already overcrowded space? Putting aside the politics behind the demographics, a nightmare scenario could unfold for both Israelis and Palestinians: more demolitions, roiling resentment, revenge, psychological problems, economic upheavals—the list is endless.

At present, Israeli and Arab populations are almost on par. According to a U.S. government report, the Palestinian population in Israel and the occupied territories now exceeds 5.3 million, with the Jewish population around 5.2 million, making Israel an apartheid state as an empowered minority ruling over a disenfranchised majority. And that's without any returning refugees.

Centuries of displacement underlie the interminable nature of warfare in Israel, with its manifestation of suffering and terrorism. How can this be resolved while both sides are locked into past grievances? Invalidating Israel's demographic insecurities could take an across-the-board immigration policy. That means tough decisions indeed, because it fundamentally comes down to Palestinians foregoing an automatic "right of return" and Israel accepting its secular position within the state system once and for all.

Realistically, for Palestinians to recognize Israel and vice versa should involve essential actions of statehood. Actually forging trade and economic ties, addressing common energy concerns, and collaborating on scientific and technological innovation would go well beyond lip service. Countless promises have come and gone, along with ceasefires, declarations, peace agreements and U.N. resolutions, to no avail.

"In any solution, whether it involves two states or one, the only way to defuse this 'demographic bomb' is for Israel to abandon the racist doctrines according to which an entire group of human beings—women, men, the elderly and babies—are viewed, merely by the fact of their existence, to be a 'threat,' to be walled in, ghettoized and treated as an alien presence in the land they have lived on and nurtured for generations," said former Ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah of Jordan at the U.N. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy recently wrote in Haaretz, "With the exception of a few anti-Semitics ... no one thinks about 'eradicating Israel.' It's only we Israelis who cling to the concept: caution, annihilation ahead."

Meanwhile, Israel keeps constructing settlements on sensitive ground, the latest proposed by Netanyahu for 5,000 units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, after releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners. East Jerusalem portfolio head Dr. Meir Margalit said the announcement was "little more than a thinly veiled attempt by the government to derail the peace talks." He added, "To make such a declaration on the same day the municipality demolished four homes in East Jerusalem—it's a message to the United States and the world that we're not interested in a peace agreement with the Palestinians." The feeling is apparently mutual with Palestinians demanding that any peace agreement be ripped up and renewed violence be cast on the agenda instead. Same old, same old.

Military insecurities

With every political upheaval in the Palestinian ranks comes further conflict throughout. This month alone has seen schisms in the Palestinian Authority allowing for the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel; denial by Hamas of cross-border violence; another 60 rockets landing in Israel from Gaza with retaliatory air strikes by Israel; a crashed Israeli drone and both Palestinians and Israelis bracing for more conflict. None of this augurs well for a two-state solution. Instead, the configuration represents a security nightmare, especially with infighting between Hamas and Fattah. The only gain seems to be had by military industries rather than progressive stability, of which Israel seems the epitome: a military industrial complex.

Netanyahu is increasing troops along the Jordan Valley, which borders the eastern side of the West Bank. "Experience has shown that foreign peacekeeping forces keep the peace only when there is peace, but when subjected to repeated attacks, those forces eventually go home," he said. "The only force that can be relied on to defend the peace is the Israeli army."

Alternative to a two-state solution

"If he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach," Obama said of Netanyahu.

Increasingly, a bi-national solution to the conflict involving the state of Israel, the West Bank and possibly the Gaza Strip, with citizenship and equal rights in the combined entity for all inhabitants regardless of ethnicity or religion is gaining recognition. Many see a one-person-one-vote arrangement as the obvious solution to all the outstanding issues between Israel and the Palestinians, especially security.

"The window for a two-state solution is closing," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said last December. Support for a one-state solution is increasing instead as frustrated Palestinians see the one-state solution as an alternative way forward. Even some on Israel's right, such as former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, say they would prefer this to a division of the land. Is the Israeli prime minister strong enough to make such a decision?

"Peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships," Netanyahu said earlier this month. "The combination of Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship could catapult the entire region forward. I believe together we could solve the region's water and energy problems."

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