This post is part of “What Comes Next?: A forum on the end of the two-state paradigm.” This series was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace as an investigation into the current state of thinking about one state and two state solutions, and the collection has been further expanded by Mondoweiss to mark 20 years since the Oslo process. The entire series can be found here.
A specter haunts the Middle East, the daunting specter of Palestinian-Jewish binationalism. All the world’s powers have joined hands to conduct a holy war to the bitter end, until that specter is defeated. One can read the entire modern history of the region as the history of a violent, lasting conflict instigated to deny and expel that specter.
Binationalism is not a new idea dreamed up by some fringe philosopher or other. It is the reality that we still refuse to recognize. Now, after one hundred years of conflict, with no solution in sight, the time has come to present binationalism in all its glory.
Thus, this small piece of land containing the names Israel and Palestine has become an intense critical mass containing all the tensions between East and West, between North and South, between religions, and between religious and secular thought. The Middle East has become the place where the world brings together all the ideological oppositions, like a testing ground for various ideological explosions. Therefore, one moment before this ancient mythology-infested place implodes into a black hole powerful enough to swallow the whole world, we propose binationalism as the only living alternative for a new place, a new beginning and a new language.
We live in a binational reality in which the two-state solution has become little more than an empty cliché intended to preserve the status quo. As such, the time has come to recognize that there is only one realistic option left. This is not some attempt to dodge the many difficult questions posed by a binational solution; we simply reverse the order of things. Our approach places the vision of binationalism squarely at center stage instead of first focusing on all the open-ended questions and concerns that inevitably accompany it. In the long run, the degree to which we disentangle competing narratives—the extent to which we separate and control them—isn’t really that important. The fact will always remain that two distinct peoples live in the same land and are as integrated with one another as the warp and woof of some oriental carpet. There is no way to separate them, but, more importantly, there is no need to separate them either. Instead, what we must do is find a new language, a binational language, as Edward Said proposed in tribute to Sigmund Freud.
The long journey of the binational specter into its realization as a living, breathing Mediterranean body is a bold odyssey through numerous hazards. And, like Odysseus, who had the wisdom to descend into the under-world, in order to seek the guidance of Tiresias, so shall we lend our ears to the spirits of our guides and teachers Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Mahmoud Darwish, and Edward Said.
What is binationalism if not our insistence on being able to gaze out over this beautiful country and see it as it really is, so rich in cultures, identities, and shades of identity? This is the only way we can avoid being held captive by the vile forces of secular and religious nationalism that have flourished in this country. Only when we reconsider our conceptions of the state, its laws and institutions, its culture and symbols, and adopt this new approach, can we truly rid ourselves of ideas and ideologies whose time has long since passed. And in any act, as revolutionary as it is, we shall not forget for a moment our intimate acquaintance with the precariousness of life. Only then will we be able to thrust open the door of all this, our common home, to a new era, to life.