As progress toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stalls, an old idea has gained increased currency in some circles: one bi-national state for both Israelis and Palestinians. There are a number of variations of this argument, but proponents essentially call for forgoing the concept of two distinct national entities. Instead, they advocate that Israelis and Palestinians share the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River in one state.
The idea of a bi-national state is not a new one. Several prominent Jewish intellectuals in mandatory Palestine between the two world wars advocated such an arrangement, though they had little political influence. Originally, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) advocated the establishment of a democratic Palestinian Arab state in all of mandatory Palestine, with Jews as citizens of this state. In 1987, the PLO and Palestinian National Council (PNC) formally embraced the two-state solution, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in all of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. This continues to be the position of the PLO and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
The recent resurgence in discussion about the bi-national concept is essentially due to the lack of movement toward a negotiated two-state solution coupled with what are deemed irrevocable Israeli facts on the ground in the occupied territories, making the possibility of a viable and independent Palestinian state remote.
What makes the one-state argument seductive is that it sounds theoretically reasonable. Israeli facts on the ground, primarily settlements, control of vital resources, and the appropriation of critical parts of a future Palestinian state including East Jerusalem through the separation barrier, are serious challenges to the two-state concept. The idea of "one man, one vote" is fundamentally democratic. The land in question is small and the two societies are intertwined to some extent.
But however well intentioned proponents of a bi-national state are, their argument suffers from fatal flaws. The first is that international support for the idea barely exists. All of the relevant international world powers and institutions, including the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Arab League, support a two-state solution.
More important, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians continue to desire to express their national aspirations in an independent state of their own where they will be first class citizens. On the Israeli side, the bi-national idea predictably has no support. To assume that Israeli Jews would willingly give up on the idea of a Jewish state is to show lack of understanding of the existential need of Jews for a state of their own after centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust.
To Israelis and Jews, a bi-national state means a state where they will be a minority, equating in their eyes to calls for their destruction.
For Palestinians, the danger of talking now about a one-state solution is that it diverts critically needed energies from the still achievable goal of two states, and destroys decades-long work towards achieving international recognition of the need for a Palestinian state, essentially returning them to square one. Since no realistic individual can assume that Israelis will willingly give up on a Jewish, Israeli state, it condemns the two peoples to decades of bloody conflict in the pursuit of an unachievable goal.
Even if such a state were to miraculously come into being, Palestinians would very likely be an underclass, with decades if not more of civil rights to fight for. Worse, with such a bitter history of violence between the two peoples, it is easy to foresee degeneration into Balkans-style and ceaseless inter-communal conflict.
What is required at the present time is a refocusing of efforts toward surmounting the challenges facing a two-state solution, the parameters of which are well known and have been accepted by all parties: a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem, and a negotiated settlement of the refugee issue.
In terms of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, though all illegal under international law, it is also recognized that some Israeli settlement blocs, accounting for 4 percent to 5 percent of the West Bank, will be incorporated into Israel as part of a negotiated and equitable land swap. The rest of the settlers would return to Israel proper. Negotiation and the application of political power can separate settlers from the settlements and bring down walls. This is achievable because the majority of Israelis realize that the settlement enterprise has been an obstacle to peace.
It is true that time is running out on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis, Palestinians and the U.S. need to shoulder their responsibilities to create a viable and contiguous Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace. Such a state is in the interest of all these parties and remains the only way to fulfill Palestinian national aspirations and address Israel's security and integration into the Middle East.
Achieving a two-state solution is admittedly difficult, but replacing it with something far less achievable is not the answer. The Palestinian national project is hardly any less achievable than Jewish hopes for a state of their own as recently as 70 years ago. The alternative is continued and expanding conflict with the real danger of degeneration into a holy war between Muslims and Jews. At the end of that fight there will neither be one nor two states.
Raafat Dajani is the executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, an organization advocating the U.S. national interest in a two-state solution.
Copyright © 2006, Orlando Sentinel