Friday, January 01, 2010

Why not a secular binational state in Israel/Palestine?

Norm has just expressed in an exemplary and lucid fashion the two possibilities when considering whether there should be a "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: normblog: The one-state dissolution.

The one state solution can occur in two ways: 1) with the consent of the majority of Israelis and a majority of Palestinians. If this consent has been reached, how can anyone else object to it? It would be the same as if any two nations decided to become one (for example, if the majority of Canadians and the majority of U.S. citizens decided to become the United States of Canada - not that this is going to happen!).

It can also occur 2) without the consent of either or both populations - in other words, forced upon Palestinians and Israelis. As Norm says, if this is done without the consent of either party, it would deny that party the right of national self-determination. He asks, "are the democratic one-state solution converts merely sponsoring in a more hand-wringing way what others put less tactfully in their rhetoric - namely, the forcible destruction of Israel?"

To be fair to the advocates of the one-state solution, it seems to me that they are actually pointing to a real problem that needs to be solved. Under the current state of affairs, Israel is in control of pre-1967 Israel, the West Bank, and the Golan. (I'm not including Gaza because there are neither Israeli soldiers nor settlers within the Gaza Strip anymore, and Israel evinces no desire to reoccupy the Strip, although I think it is fair to say that in a larger sense Israel still controls Gaza because of its ability to stop people or goods from moving from Israel to Gaza and because of its military power over Gaza; one could say the same thing of Egypt, although opponents of the "siege of Gaza" rarely do, because they prefer to blame Israel for everything).

Palestinians living in the West Bank are living under a military occupation which limits their movements and imposes many hardships on them (for example, Israel has confiscated Palestinian land for various purposes, including building settlements). Israeli settlers in the West Bank have a privileged position over Palestinians (for example, when they are permitted to drive on roads forbidden to Palestinians, although the Israel Supreme Court has just ruled that Route 443, one of the two main roads leading out of Jerusalem, which in part goes through the West Bank, must be open to Palestinian as well as Israeli drivers). Settlers are governed by Israeli law, Palestinians in the West Bank by military occupation rules. Legally, they have a different, unequal status.

How to equalize the status of Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers in the West Bank? How to make sure that Palestinians are getting their civil and human rights? One way is a two-state solution - a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that gives Palestinians the ability to govern themselves and make decisions about their own lives, unhindered by the Israeli military. There are a number of proposals of how to do this which would result in uprooting some, but not all, of the settlements from the West Bank, and in return giving the Palestinians land that is in Israeli proper to compensate them for the loss of land. This is the solution that I support.

Another way to ensure that Palestinians are given equal rights with Israelis is for Israel to annex the West Bank. This would mean that no settlements would have to be uprooted. It would also mean that West Bank Palestinians would now live under Israel civil, not military law. (This is what Israel did in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights - in both places Israel offered Israeli citizenship to the residents; very few Jerusalem Palestinians accepted citizenship, and I am not sure about the Druse on the Golan Heights). It would seem reasonable to me that if Israel did this, West Bank Palestinians should become Israeli citizens, with all the rights of Israeli citizens, including the right to organize political parties and run for Knesset (if Israel didn't do this, then it would also seem reasonable to accuse it of apartheid policies). If Israel did this, the Israeli Arab population would increase greatly and they would become a much more powerful political force within Israel. According to a Palestinian census of 2007, there are about 2,345,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank (this includes East Jerusalem).

According to Wikipedia (Demographics of Israel):
The State of Israel had population of approximately 7,465,500 inhabitants as of September 2009.[1] 75.5% of them were Jewish (about 5,634,300 individuals), 20.3% were Arabs (About 1,513,200 inhabitants), while the remaining 4.2% (about 318,000 individuals) were defined as "others" (family members of Jewish immigrants whom were not registered at the Interior Ministry as Jews, non-Arab Christians, non-Arab Muslims and residents whom do not have a religious classification).
The total figures thus break down to:

3,858,200 Arabs (39.3%)
5,634,300 Jews (57.4%
318,000 Others (3.2%)

9,810,500 Total

If we add the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip into the mix, this adds about 1.4 million Palestinians. The resulting figures are:

5,258,200 Arabs (46.9%)
5,634,300 Jews (50.2%)
318,000 Others (2.8%)

11,210,500 Total

If Israel annexed all of Palestine west of the Jordan River, the Arab and Jewish populations of the state of Israel would be almost evenly split, with a slight advantage to the Jewish population. Given the higher Palestinian birthrate, this would quickly be reversed (unless it has already, since the Palestinian figures are a couple of years old). If Israel gave all of the new Palestinian citizens equal rights to vote and run parties for the Knesset, this would quickly mean that if the Palestinian parties were able to organize themselves in a united fashion, they could have a majority in the Knesset, and make decisions to change the fundamental nature of the state of Israel. For example, they could decide to grant all Palestinians the "right of return" to Palestine. They could decide to annul the Jewish "right of return" to Israel.

Advocates of the one-state solution like Alice Walker would not have a problem with this solution. Probably many Palestinians would not have a problem with this solution. But how would Israeli Jews think?

From my knowledge of Israeli Jews, almost none of them would back this solution, for a variety of reasons. One big one, of course, is the principle of self-determination which is an essential part of Zionist ideology. Israeli Jews want to live in a democratic, Jewish majority state that respects Jewish traditions (while at the same time being a secular state) and gives democratic rights to the Arab minority. Another reason is fear of what would happen to Jews in such a binational state. Would Jews be treated fairly if there were an Arab majority? What if an important faction in the new Arab-majority Knesset coalition were Hamas, which advocates an Islamic state in Palestine and espouses openly anti-semitic beliefs and policies in its charter?

It is hard to imagine how such a transition to a binational state in all of Palestine could be managed peacefully with the end result that the rights of both Jews and Arabs would be respected in the new state. I doubt that Israeli Jews would just stand by and let the new state do things like abrogate the law of return for Jews and promulgate it for Palestinians. I doubt that Hamas would wait to gain political rights through the ballot box, given their actions in Gaza after they won the Palestinian elections.

The establishment of a binational state in all of Palestine would be a recipe for immediate civil war between Jews and Palestinians. It would not lead to the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs in one state. What Alice Walker and the good ladies of Code Pink advocate is a utopian pipe dream. For all of their proclamations that they love peace, this would lead to a savage war in which many thousands of people would be killed.

However difficult it will be to arrive at two states living side-by-side in peace, one Palestinian, one Israeli, it is far more difficult at this time in history to arrive at one peaceful binational state.

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