Among Palestinians, support for a one-state approach is also growing. A poll last month showed that support for a one-state formulation premised on equal rights has inched up among both Palestinians and Israelis. In the West Bank, there are fresh peaks of disillusion with the Palestinian Authority – whose tenure was always supposed to be temporary, pending statehood, as set out in the Oslo Accords. Unelected, tainted by corruption, aid-dependent and viewed as enforcers of the Israeli occupation, the PA’s last stab at credibility was probably its statehood bid at the UN last year. But you could practically hear the hope hissing out of that media-inflated bid when, pressured by the US, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas switched to a hollowed-out version that was meaningless and destined to fail. Now a new generation of Palestinian activists, in part inspired by the Arab uprisings in the region, are bypassing territorial demands to focus on civil rights and freedoms.
In Israel, there are green shoots of debate around practical questions of how to share the space between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Weeks ago, Israeli analyst and blogger Dahlia Scheindlin – previously a two-state advocate – set out a list of key questions and suggestions, concerning issues such as national symbols, voting systems, refugees and land rights. Already, Israeli intellectuals are working out the idea that Jewish claims to the region – currently enforced with guns and walls – would need instead to be enshrined by law, alongside equally guaranteed Palestinian protections. In his new book, Beyond the Two State Solution, Israeli sociologist Yehouda Shenhav draws on a pre-Israeli, bi-national strain of Zionism that was historically drowned out but should now, he argues, be reclaimed.
Countering a common criticism of one-state proposals, these emerging formulations don’t insist that Palestinians and Israelis give up outdated attachments to nationalism – which is helpful, because it seems that neither side wants to, yet. A small group of Palestinians, Israelis and Jewish settlers, Eretz Yoshveyha – “land of its inhabitants” – set out “principles for a single spatial polity” last year, among them safeguarding the collective rights of the two nations. One settler tells me of a consensus emerging within nascent, one-state settler groups that, while national identity may be important, exclusive Jewish sovereignty is not.
It’s all germinal and there are problems, of course. Most polled Palestinians and Israelis still support a two-state framework, even while at the same time believing it doomed. Shared-space alternatives have grassroots momentum, but no leadership support. The left needs to ensure that Gaza remains part of the picture….
But one idea is crystallising: that clinging to a two-state approach is, by default, a victory for the far-right claims of one state called “Greater Israel”, with a Jewish minority and two, ethnically coded tiers of rights and freedoms.
That’s the reality on the ground, cemented by Israel while paying lip-service to the idea of Palestinian statehood. Now the Israeli government wants to consolidate this even further, through approval of a report that declares all settlements legal under international law – enshrining the idea that the West Bank isn’t occupied. In this context it’s heartening that peace camps on both sides are starting to break a period of paralysis, discarding the spent husks of the Oslo phase to claw back fresh thinking space. It’s only when freed from the dead weight of a two-state paradigm that a just, dignified and peaceful solution has the chance to flourish.