Not Cutting the Baby in Half

Who’s in favor of this idea? Let’s establish a nation where every person born or naturalized in the country is a citizen, and every adult citizen of a certain age has the right to vote for representation in the nation’s parliament on a one person-one vote basis. This country will also, by its constitution, enjoy complete freedom of religion. Everyone will be able to practice their religion freely, and no one will be compelled to be a member of any particular religion or any religion.

Perhaps you think this suggestion is uncontroversial. After all, outside of communists or Islamists, who would be opposed to such an arrangement? But now let’s make this a proposal for the State of Israel. How does the proposal look now? It should not look like a new idea, because it has been around for some time now, and is called the “one-state solution.”

It is strange to consider that what I have just outlined is not the working model for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The model that has been assumed through all of the discussions is the two-state solution, where some of the land goes to the Israelis and some to the Palestinians and two states are formed. Prior to the November 29th United Nations General Assembly vote that overwhelmingly upgraded Palestine’s observer status to “non-member state” from “entity.” [1] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the vote the last chance to save the two state solution. [2]

It is questionable whether it is a solution that should be saved, or can even come to pass in reality. Looking at a map makes the proposal appear stranger than it sounds. The two areas that would presumably go to the Palestinians, the West Bank and Gaza, aren’t even contiguous. Travel between the two areas could become complicated if the two countries aren’t on the best of terms, a fairly likely scenario. Complicating matters, the West Bank and Gaza are in reality under separate governments at present; Fatah is in charge of the West Bank, and Hamas controls Gaza. Moreover, Israeli settlements dot the landscape all over the West Bank, and efforts in that direction are continuing in the face of the UN vote. [3] The Israeli government doesn’t seem to be planning ahead for the eventual partition. Or perhaps it is.

The two-state solution has been talked about for years, but it never gets implemented by the parties that matter most, Israel and Palestine, and the UN resolution upgrading Palestine’s status isn’t likely to improve its prospects. Not surprisingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the UN resolution as “meaningless.”

The fact is, too many on both sides simply don’t want the two-state solution to be carried out. There are Palestinians who don’t think there should be an Israel at all, and there are Israelis who firmly believe that the true Palestinian state is Jordan. The two-state solution was agreed to in principle by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority at the Annapolis Conference in 2007. In the five years since, the agreement has had no real result, and, as recent events in Gaza reveal, there remain divisions between the parties that at any moment can erupt into deadly conflict. What is the delay? If the two-state solution is something everyone can get behind, why doesn’t it simply happen?

An ongoing dispute between the parties is over the continuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The concern is that once partition finally takes place, removing the settlers is going to involve difficulties. But once that concern is raised we begin to see the nature of the two-state solution in stark terms. The outcome that is sought by the two-state solution is nothing other than the division of the inhabitants of Israel-Palestine along ethnic and religious lines. Viewed in this way, the essential difficulty that lies behind the two-state solution is plain to see. If the people of Israel-Palestine are so hostile to one another that there is no realistic hope that they could live together in one nation, how hopeful should we be that there won’t be constant wars between the two states to be formed?

While the one-state solution has a good deal of support from the Palestinian side, there are very few Israelis who are in favor of it. The concern is that the Jews would lose their majority status in such a state, which would open them up to mistreatment by the Palestinian Muslim majority. This is a concern that should not be cavalierly dismissed.  History as well as contemporary Islamic demagoguery gives Jews more than adequate grounds for insecurity. But it is a concern that can be addressed.

There has already been significant international involvement in the region, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t continue for a time. Events of the past decade should have convinced most Americans that involvement in the internal affairs of other countries should not be encouraged. But here, perhaps, an exception can be made. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict simply cannot be resolved without international assistance. What’s more, the security of the United States is directly involved in this situation, since tensions between the United States and countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa largely arise from Israeli-Palestinian concerns. A peaceful resolution of the conflict will do much to foster amicable relations between the United States and countries in the region.

The legitimate concerns that the Israelis have could be dealt with by means of enforceable United Nations resolutions guaranteeing a governmental situation where Jews, Muslims, and Christians could exist side by side with equal rights. Family law matters could be handled according to religious laws, as is the case in Israel now. Such resolutions would also guarantee a democracy on the principle of one person-one vote.

The existence of extremists cannot be ignored, of course, but the one-state solution actually answers that problem in a more direct and efficient way than does the two-state model. For one thing, extremists will have no legitimate apology for their actions within a country where everyone has rights that are respected and votes by which leadership can be selected. Extremists have a much easier time making their case to Palestinians who are walled off, economically deprived, and subjected to periodic military devastations, than they would to full citizens of a democracy. Secondly, the existence of a law enforcement apparatus operational throughout Israel-Palestine would be a much more effective mechanism for dealing with violent activity than occasional invasions. In a unified country, the violent will be criminals. With two states, the violent will be able to attach patriotism and heroism to their misconduct, especially since many Palestinians view their exclusion from any part of Israel-Palestine as a deprivation.

Thus far the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unsolvable because both sides have been seeking what have seemed to be mutually exclusive outcomes. Neither side will be satisfied with only a part; they both want it all. Given that is the situation, it seems that the only rational solution is to give it all to both of them.

Jack Quirk