If I were a Palestinian (the two state solution reconsidered)

Posted: July 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »
Jewish settlements in WB, 2002 (click to enlarge). source: Betzelem

Jewish settlements in WB, 2002 (click to enlarge). source: Betzelem

I’m going on reserve service, so I probably won’t be posting for two weeks or so. Meanwhile, here is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

On March 1998, just before his first campaign for the position of Prime Minister, Ehud Barak was interviewed on a one of the cable channels by Haaretz’s Gidon Levi. At one point, Levi asked Barak where his life would have leaded him, if he was born a Palestinian. “If I was at the right age,” the response had come, “I would have joined one of the terror organizations.”

Thus started a big controversy: some people thought Barak was taking a brave and candid approach, others argued that he was legitimatizing suicide attacks (most people didn’t notice at the time or don’t remember now, but Barak condemned the Palestinian attacks on civilians in the second part of his answer to Gidon Levi). Altogether, the answer might have been a slip of a tongue, but it certainly didn’t prevent Barak from beating Netanyahu in the 1999 elections. Levi himself tried the same trick on Ariel Sharon a few years later, but Sharon ducked the question. Maybe it’s better that way; I believe it is not for Israelis to pass judgment or to give advice on the way the Palestinians fight the occupation.

Still, I would like to use this approach to make a point about an abnormality in the current debate that never ceases to amaze me.

Let me put it this way: if I were a Palestinian “of the right age,” like Barak puts it, I wouldn’t have joined any terror organization, and in fact, I wouldn’t even support the Palestinian fight for an independent state. Instead, I would embrace Netanyahu’s “economical peace“.

I’d like to explain:

It is clear that Israel would do anything in its power to postpone the creation of such a state, and later on, to limit its authority, resources and powers. Israel will probably insist on some sort of control – or at least, monitoring ability – over the borders of the future Palestinian state (like it has in Gaza); it will certainly control the future state’s airspace; it will try to limit the actual area the Palestinians get (by annexing the settlements blocks around Jerusalem and next to the Green Line); and it will have all but complete control over the Palestinian economy.

In other words, the future state will rid the Palestinians of the IDF and the settlers’ presence, and will probably increase their civil liberties and answer some of their political aspirations – and these are no small things – but it will never be allowed to grow into a full sovereign economical and political unit. And almost all resources will be left in Israeli hands. This might lead to mistrust and endless conflicts between the two sides, and given the power equation, no doubt the Palestinians will go on paying a bigger price.

ON THE OTHER HAND, let’s imagine the Palestinians abandoning their quest for independence; dismantling the Palestinian Authority, and publicly recognizing Israeli control over the whole area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. All they’ll need to do next is one little thing: demand to become full citizens of the state. And once they prove their peaceful intentions, how can the world refuse them, and let Israel establish the 21st century version of South Africa’s Apartheid?

To understand the importance of this point, one has to acknowledge the difference – almost never spoken about – between any occupation on earth and the Israeli version: It’s the fact that Israel never tried to annex the people as well. China took Tibet and East Turkestan, and made all their people into Chinese citizens. The same goes for Indonesia in East Timor or the former Yugoslavia: The question in the conflicts there was never the people’s right to citizenship, only which citizenship will this be.

The Israeli situation is different: to keep the Jews as the dominant culture, as well as to preserve Jewish control over resources, one must keep a large Jewish majority in the political system. The current ratio – 78%-22% in favor of the Jews – is already seen as problematic by some. Annexing the West Bank only, without Gaza, will push it to 60%-40% according to the most modest estimations.

Becoming a part of the state of Israel will carry huge benefits for the Palestinians: instead of being one of the world’s poorest nations, with a huge population of refugees, they will be part of a fast growing western economy, with fine social services and better health care than many Americans have. Instead of confining themselves to the tiny West Bank, they will be able to enjoy the whole land – from Eilat to the Galilee. And with time, they will be able to influence the politics, the culture and the symbols of this state. Given the demographic trends, the vision of the bi-national “Isratine” state is not that far away.

IS THIS A GOOD IDEA? That depends on who you ask. Most Israelis, even die hard leftists, see the one state solution as blasphemy. My guess is that the majority of Palestinians won’t like it either. After four decades of struggle, you don’t give the little you achieved so easily. To me, the one state solution always seemed too abstract, like some sort of academic simplification that can only be brought up by someone who didn’t spend a single day in the region. If they did, they would have surly understood that the fate of this bi-national project might resemble that of Yugoslavia rather than Canada’s.

But lately, I’ve been having second thoughts on the matter. It seems that Israelis are determined to do whatever they can to prevent the Palestinian state from ever being formed, and they are doing a good job at it – How else can you explain the insistence on building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? The failure of the disengagement from Gaza to improve the life of both Palestinians and Israelis should raise concern as well, not to mention the fate of the Oslo process. Maybe the long-term project of the Israeli Right – to secure Israeli control over the whole land – has succeeded? Maybe parting with the land was hopeless to begin with?

I don’t think anyone knows the answer to these questions. I certainly don’t. All I’m saying is that right now, in the cross-roads we are at, when the American administration is making what could be the last push for the two-state solution – and given the Israeli response to the this effort – we should start asking ourselves not what will a future Palestinian state look like, but rather where are we heading to if such a state will never exist.

I’m almost certain that if that will be the dominant question in Israeli and Palestinian politics, we will start to see surprising shifts in positions. I bet we will have some of the Israeli nationalistic Right embracing the Palestinian state in the name of Jewish dominance. In a sense, we already had this from Avigdor Liberman, who offered to use the two state solution to rid Israel of its Arab minority. Writers like Maariv’s Ben-Dror Yemini, certainly not a left-wing man, are having such thoughts as well, and they are already getting some harsh responses from the settlers. On the other hand, the Israeli left will have to ask itself just how moral is the two state solution right now, given the way this state might look, and is the separation of the two populations still the right way to promote peace and justice – the two ideals we are supposedly fighting for.

As I said, I still prefer the two states idea – if not for other reasons, than simply because that’s what the Palestinians preference right now – but I do believe it is the time to introduce the one state solution into the mainstream debate (Some Palestinians, as Sari Nusaiba, are already doing it; in Israel it’s still a taboo). After 20 years of asking the same questions – and getting the same answers – this might be the push that will enable the quantum leap we all so desperately need to take.

8 Comments on “If I were a Palestinian (the two state solution reconsidered)”

  1. 1 Ori Folger said at 1:48 pm on July 25th, 2009:


    Israeli already annexed land without annexing the population, and got away with it.

    The Palestinians of East Jerusalem were not given citizenship when Israel annexed the area. They are permanent residents without citizenship. And it is not a small group of people, numbering over 200,000.

    I think that’s the picture of the future Israel following annexation of the West Bank. If it worked in East Jerusalem and the world has not really complained, why wouldn’t it work for the rest of the West Bank?


  2. 2 tamar said at 3:43 pm on July 25th, 2009:

    Only an Israeli blogger (well, with some exceptions) could open a post with the lines you used. A sobering thought. And a perfect lead-in to the post that ensues and, really, most of your posts. I wish you good health, safety, and good reading. A friend often tells me when he’s on reserve duty that it’s a time to catch up on reading… he’s modest and honest… that he’s a lowly guard. Maybe your skills are more critical. (Oh, he’s a lowly PhD student, finishing up his dissertation;-)

  3. 3 thomas callahan said at 5:11 pm on July 25th, 2009:


    I wish you the best with reserve duty. The single state solution has always been one that I’ve imagined… citizenship and basic rights for everyone. Remove all reasons for anyone to resort to violence. Thanks for another seriously well thought-out post.


  4. 4 Ihsan Hamid said at 2:17 am on July 26th, 2009:

    “…they will be part of a fast growing western economy, with fine social services and better health care than many Americans have. Instead of confining themselves to the tiny West Bank, they will be able to enjoy the whole land – from Eilat to the Galilee. And with time, they will be able to influence the politics, the culture and the symbols of this state.”

    You make it sound as though Israeli Arabs are living in heaven. Truth is they’re not. They’re living closer to hell. Whilst your article is good, I think you’re forgetting that if the Palestinians were absorbed in to a single state with Israel, they too would become Israeli Arabs.

  5. 5 Aviv said at 11:41 am on July 26th, 2009:

    I disagree with what you wrote but take care during miluim and stay out of unnecessary trouble.

  6. 6 Daria Shualy said at 10:23 pm on July 27th, 2009:

    Though I’m not sure how well the Palestinian’s would do as Israeli Arabs, this is a very inspiring thought. The real difficulty being both sides eternal wish for a country of their own, to be identified with their own distinctive nationality.

  7. 7 Haya said at 12:16 pm on July 28th, 2009:

    Thougth everybody talks only “land!” , you shouldn’t overlook the cultural issue. The scenario must include the demand for cultural expression (language, religion, calender and festivals, tradition, media, etc) which to my opion is the basic abyss between the two nations. Separating religion from state will not be enough for either group. The extremists on the right know the answer, but for tactic reason they do not say it clear and loud. In their vision, arabs will be sort of second class citizens forever, or will be forced to leave the country.(We will rull the country.) Therefore your idea of an open debate about “one big two-nations country” will always involve the leftist and the mainstream but not the settlers themselvs.

  8. 8 Michael LeFavour said at 6:35 pm on July 29th, 2009:

    Since you won’t comment on the other blog I will cross post my response here and hope…

    The question is a foolish one. Any human is capable of acting the way other humans do. The answer would be that it depends on any number of factors and any specific answer would be speculation. What shapes your attitude and education depends on your environment.

    As a neutral observer I have had the luxury of learning about the issue from the outside with equal input from both sides. In fact, initially I was biased towards the Arab narrative as I was very close to an Arab family from Gaza and all the foundational information I received was through their point of view. Lacking any Jewish friends I held assumptions at the beginning that proved to be not quite accurate.

    As a speculative exercise, I would say that if I were an Arab and had been able to learn everything I know now, I would not likely be alive. Anyone speaking positive about Israel and against the terror campaign risks being labeled as a collaborator and executed on the spot. Or I would have immigrated away from under the criminal control of the Arab leadership like many of the Arabs have done.

    As to your own speculation of what a future Terrorstan would look like, I see little evidence to support your fantasy.

    For example; Israeli control. Israel will defend itself, no more and no less. All of the restrictions you speculate will only materialize if the Arabs continue with war and are unable to control their own population from committing terrorist acts against Israel much like the situation in Lebanon. Whether there is a state or not is irrelevant to the amount of force Israel will use to protect it’s own civilians. Most of your whining about controls and actions that Israel may or may not take for self defense blames Israel, but ignores the root cause of the situation, which is Arab aggression.

    Increase of civil liberties for the Arabs. You actually printed that? The civil liberties they have now are due solely from the presence of Jewish soldiers to protect the weak. Where do the homosexuals reside? What about the women that choose to be sexually active before marriage? Why, while the Arab population is increasing is the Christian population under PA and Hamas controlled areas shrinking? And which country can you point to as an example where Arabs have individual rights protected? If Hamas has influence over the future state it will resemble a totalitarian nightmare. They have already brought back crucifixion and enforce sharia law in Gaza. If you are speaking of the check points and security measures, they are all brought about by Arab actions. Civil liberties have nothing to do with that.

    Invoking Apartheid. How can the world allow gender apartheid? How can the world allow ethnic cleansing of Jews? How can the world allow religious bigotry? Israel is a tiny bantustan now where the Middle East Jews have been confined to under threat of death. If the Arabs suddenly demanded to be citizens of Israel the world understands this as a ploy to destroy Israel. All those fine institutions you mention would be plundered the moment something like that occurred. A better model would be the annexation of the land and the same status as Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are part of the United States but have no vote in national elections. They can vote in municipal elections, have representation, but not for the presidency…it works, nobody is calling the US Apartheid, and they are not murdering other Americans. Further, Hashemite Occupied Palestine (Jordan) just revoked citizenship of thousands of Arabs they oddly call “Palestinians”. These Arabs can remain in Hashemite Occupied Palestine (Jordan) as residents, but they have no rights. They hold special identification cards that show they were former residents of Judea and Samaria (they call it by its ethnic cleansing term…West Bank). I haven’t noticed a huge cry over the Apartheid have you?

    The two examples you give for occupations. China is a totalitarian form of government. They annexed Tibet and its people, but those people have zero to say about the way China is run, therefore China is not threatened by inclusion. On the other hand, assuming that the alien form of government called one man one vote that does not exist anywhere in the Islamic world will be the form of government Israel will have, the state of Israel would no longer exist, which defeats the purpose of having a sanctuary where Jews can be Jews without fear of persecution.

    Did you actually mention East Timur in the same article as Israel? What a cowardly UN commission found was, “Rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence were tools used as part of the campaign designed to inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters.” What they failed to mention is that Muslim clerics sanctioned the brutality where two hundred thousand or so civilians died. Their crime? The mostly Catholic people wanted independence from their Muslim antagonists. Never the less, East Timor, had a pre-invasion population of just 628,000, hardly a demographic threat to Indonesia. When the Indonesian Kopassus were coordinating the invasion a butchery I didn’t hear much of an outcry over the starvation, the rape, the public beheadings, the mutilation of genitals and other body parts, and the burning alive of Catholics in Timur while Clinton was busy bombing Christian Serbs in Kosovo, who were defending themselves from Muslims aided by an army of foreign jihadists, did you?

    Speaking of Yugoslavia. It has fractured into separated groups now. Yugoslavia shows that some people are better off separated. Have you considered that? No. Jews of all ages and genders are being targeted for elimination by genocidal Arabs but transfer is a dirty word around your dinner table.

    Economic benefit of one state solution. Is there an Arab industry outside of oil that you can point to that is a player on the world stage? There must be something they do well besides murder non-Jews, but I can’t think of anything off hand. Your fantasy applies attributes to the Arabs that do not exist. Israel’s economy would sink in relationship with its Muslim population.

    Building in Judea and Samaria. Why is Jewish building in Judea an impediment to peace but Arab building not? The demarcation line is not a border, nor was it intended to be one. Rejection of US demands is not a rejection of peace, it is a rejection of bias. You are incapable of allowing the Arabs to be responsible for their predicament. If they reject war the war will end, until then Israel has every right to defend itself and to move forward.