There was great hope after the election of Barak Obama to the US Presidency that he would be able to use his considerable influence to find peace in the murky waters of Israel/Palestine. Yet 15 months after Obama’s inauguration and 16 months since the breakdown of peace talks, there seems to be no progress towards talks, much less towards a viable two-state solution. Considering Israeli PM Netanyahu declared a partial settlement freeze last December (arguably a concession for peace) and the Palestinians are now being led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad – two of the most moderate and peace leaning Palestinian leaders – one would expect true progress. The frustrating lack of progress has led many to eulogize the two-state solution.
The title of an opinion piece in Haaretz today leaves no question as to the political preferences of its author, Tzvia Greenfield: “Israel’s Choice: Make Piece or Disappear.” The piece is clear warning of the implications of avoiding peace under a two state solution: a binational state that is either overtly apartheid or not Jewish:
There is thus no way to avoid a solution that chooses one of two options – either withdrawing from all of the West Bank and establishing an independent state for the Palestinians, or granting full rights to everyone who lives under Israeli control, Palestinians as well as Jews. In that case, of course, Israel would lose its Zionist identity as the state of the Jewish people – and if it is even possible for Palestinians and Jews to live together after 100 years of hatred, the Jewish residents of Palestine would immediately turn into an insignificant minority that is at the mercy of the millions of Muslim Arabs round about.
Greenfield is perhaps on the optimistic side of the debate. Still believing that two-states are possible, she declares that “to save Israel” a two-state peace must be made immediately. Unfortunately, this is where she differs from other commentators.
Meron Benvenisti tries to find a binational solution that does not result in apartheid or the loss of the Jewish character and largely fails. His first alternative is what is called a “consociational democracy” in which Jews and Arabs share national power and rely heavily on territorial divisions and minority rights laws. Given the recent trends in demographics, Jews would be the minority in a binational state and would sloth to relinquish control of any part of the state (despite minority rights laws) out of fear of another Holocaust-like situation. As Benvenisti says, everything depends on “recognition being mutual and symmetric,” unlikely at best.
[tweetmeme] Benvenisti’s two other options include; 1) “cultural and civil local autonomy” in which Arabs are denied the right to vote in the Knesset (presumably among other denied rights) and in which the illegal security fence plays an integral role in Arab autonomy; and 2) “undeclared binationalism” – essentially apartheid (though Benvenisti prefers the term “belligerent occupation”). So, the author believes that there are alternatives to apartheid within a binational solution – the mutual agreement on power sharing (unlikely) or, well, apartheid.
Further underlining the unlikelihood of Benvenisti’s Utopian binational, power-sharing state is a recent poll of Israeli high school students. 48% of the students polled revealed that Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship should not be granted the same rights as Israeli Jews. 56% declared that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship should be barred from running for political office. It is not a long jump to hypothesize that these views are an impediment to a true democratic, power-sharing binational solution.
Despite the bleak outlook for a binational solution, there remain strong voices staying afloat despite the international acceptance of a two-state solution. On the Palestinian side, Palestinian President Abbas has rejected any one-state plan (forgoing a Palestinian state is certainly political suicide), saying that “the idea of having a bi-national state began to spread among the Palestinians after they lost hope.” Though it seems that Palestinians are indeed losing hope. A recent poll shows that the percentage of Palestinians who support a binational solution is up to 34% from 20% last year and 18% in 2001.
Despite Israeli opposition to a binational state, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin recently said that he would rather accept Palestinians into a Greater Israel than sign a two-state peace deal. Rivlin was quoted as saying, “I would rather Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up.”
Furthermore, John Mearsheimer (yes of the Walt and Mearsheimer) recently gave a lecture in Washington in which he called the current situation in Palestine is an incipient that will eventually evolve into a “full-fledged Apartheid state” and, eventually, into a democratic binational state dominated by Palestinians:
The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.
So is the two-state path a ‘fantasy?’ Is some sort of binational solution the only hope left? I would argue that there is still hope for a two-state solution. Considering the (understandable) Israeli hostility to the idea of a binational state (and Abbas’ refusal to accept one), there still remains time to hammer out an agreement. Though, like Greenfield, I argue that there is indeed an urgency to the matter. Fortunately, President Obama seems to see this urgency.
While Abbas continues to call on America to impose a peace, Obama has so far been reluctant to do so – understanding the difficulties held within. However, Obama has said that if talks do not make progress through the summer, he will call for an international summit with the EU, Russia and the UN to discuss the core issues in the peace process. This is perhaps a veiled method of lending international legitimacy to an imposed peace deal between the two counties.
It is not difficult to imagine the fate of a binational Greater Israel and Mearsheimer is probably correct in his hypothesis in what the future holds for such a plan. What is unknown is whether the two-state solution is indeed dead and gone, as Mearsheimer and others are claiming, or whether the next few months will show negotiations serious enough to save the two-state ideal from the clenches of an apartheid binational experience.