In his recent speech ‘Remarks on Middle East Peace’ which I have already ‘interrupted’ and appraised the selective historical timeline of, John Kerry had also misrepresented a very central other issue, which I have not yet regarded in detail: The wish amongst Israelis and Palestinians for a one-state solution.
In so many words, Kerry regarded this as an impossibility, a non-solution and in any case, something not in anyone’s interest.
In one of the first paragraphs he reiterated three times why the 2-state solution was the ONLY way:
“…because the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people.”
Interestingly, he also ended that paragraph with a small and seemingly unobtrusive mention, that “it is an important way of advancing United States interests in the region.” As I had mentioned before, I found that last mentioning to perhaps be the most interesting phrase in the whole paragraph.
But on to Kerry’s rejection of the one-state scenario:
He states that “the alternative that is fast becoming the reality on the ground [one-state] is in nobody’s interest – not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not the region – and not the United States.”
I could quote more, like how he regards a “one-state reality that most people do not actually want”, but you get the gist.
Nonetheless, Kerry does manage to hint at more honest truth, at the end of a sentence which appears as a mere side-remark, comfortably hidden in his thrust of rejection:
“Now”, Kerry says, “most on both sides understand this basic choice, and that is why it is important that polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that there is still strong support for the two-state solution – in theory. They just don’t believe that it can happen.”
Now, this sentence deserves special scrutiny.
As Yousef Munayyer wrote in The Nation on the same day of Kerry’s speech:
“I believe the two-state solution is dead. I don’t think it is possible, and I doubt most honest observers do either. Nearly two-thirds of Palestinians in the occupied territories—the highest numbers ever recorded on this question—also believe that because of Israeli settlement expansion it is no longer possible. But the world has pretended that it is still alive, in part because it is not prepared to confront the fact of its death. This pretense has helped shield Israeli colonization: As long as there is hope for a two-state solution, there is less reason to press Israel on settlements, since at least most of them would have to be removed to create a viable Palestinian state.”
Munayyer linked to a poll from last month confirming his claim about two-thirds of Palestinians.
A couple of days ago, Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz that the two-state solution “is already dead”, and that “supporters of a two-state solution respond aggressively to anyone who tries to undermine their magical faith in a miracle that what is dead will somehow be resurrected.” He elaborated, saying that
“most people know the truth but refuse to admit it. They know that the number of settlers has reached a critical mass. They know that no party in Israel will ever evacuate them. And without all of them being evacuated – and this, too, is something they know – there is no viable Palestinian state. They know that settler Israel never intended to implement the two-state solution. The fact is that all Israeli governments – all of them – continued the settlement enterprise. Two-state supporters are worried about the situation, even fearful. They are acting like the relatives of a moribund patient who is already brain dead, and whose organs are needed for transplants, but they refuse, hoping that somehow, a miracle will happen and the living dead will be resurrected. There are rabbis who promise them it’s possible. From Kerry to Avineri, this is exactly how proponents of two states are acting – hoping for a miracle and therefore preventing the life-saving transplants.”
A recent Israeli poll aired on Reshet Bet radio channel, reveals that about 40% of all Israelis support a one-state. That support is, notably, greatest on the right and goes down as it moves to the left, yet we have to apply the caution that Levy alludes to, of ‘knowing the truth but refusing to admit it’, particularly on the left in this case. More specifically regarding polls, I spoke with Levy a week ago about this, where he opined that “most of the Israelis say they want two states, and they have no intention whatsoever to do anything about it. Anything. They want two states, but without evacuating settlements, without doing anything, to summate it shortly.” Notice how in the mentioned poll, left-center Zionist Union voters are almost equally divided between wish to annex ‘settlement blocs’ (46%) and 2 states on 1967 lines (47%). They are in fact the highest supporters of ‘settlement bloc’ annexation than any other group, and this corresponds well with the Union’s leader Herzog’s recent bemoaning of the ‘damage’ that the recent UNSC resolution condemning settlements does to the ‘settlement blocs’. Once again, we must treat that with caution, because saying you want ‘2-states’ has become a convenient fig-leaf. As Levy was saying to me in the mentioned conversation, “it’s very comfortable for everyone to babble ‘2-states’ and that’s it, it’s very comfortable, especially when you know you won’t ever reach it.”
What a ‘one-state’ actually means
Many may also wonder, how it is that Israeli right-wingers want a one-state, or more precisely, what that term actually means for them. This question deserves appraisal not only concerning the Israeli public, but also the Palestinian. Whilst I will regard the issue’s meaning for occupied Palestinians lightly, I would start and focus upon the Israeli paradigm. An very interesting perspective in this respect is provided by former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, who already in 2009 wrote in Haaretz that “it is customary to classify people as belonging to either the left or the right on the basis of their positions toward “the Arabs,” with the standard litmus test being a person’s position on a Palestinian state. But take away this acid test, and after a short period of confusion, people’s real positions on issues such as civic equality and the right to determine one’s own future will be revealed. And then, to our amazement, left-wingers will be exposed as rightists and vice versa”. His article deserves further attention, as it regards, despite its somewhat cynical vein also embodied in its title “The Binationalism Vogue”, a rather serious consideration of the necessity of a discourse on what Benvenisti calls ‘binationalism’ and what we could call a 1-state solution. He ends the writing with the conclusion that “in any event, discussion about a binational state should not be of interest only to the radical left. For if the two-state option melts away, the burden of coping with a binational reality will fall on all of us.” He rightfully notes a historical irony, that “a generation ago, the demand for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel expressed a radical, post-Zionist stance. Now that this position has been deemed acceptable by the heart of the establishment, and even serves as the platform of centrist political parties, the circles that fought for it are distancing themselves from it.”
Indeed, the separation of ‘two states for two people’, whilst being a typical mainstream ‘leftist’ and ‘centrist’ idea in the past generation, should not fool us as a necessarily ‘humanist’ or truly ‘liberal’ stance. The motives behind it can be deeply racist, and it is no wonder that one of the most boasting proponents of ‘two states for two nations’ is the ‘centrist’ and ‘liberal’ Yair Lapid, whose “principle says maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”, , and likewise that “whoever takes out a knife or a screwdriver [my emphasis]– should be shot dead”. The separationist vein applies also in general to the Zionist Left (Herzog and his ‘settlement blocs’ already mentioned), because whilst the Zionist left may be a ‘left’ in the paradigm of Zionism, it has historically been more Zionist than it was leftist. That is to say, when it came to the question of equality possibly threatening the Zionist Jewish State principle, it would opt for the latter.
On the right of Israeli politics, we see the support for ‘annexation’ much stronger, but this should not persuade us that what these people want is equality and cancellation of Jewish State. It is interesting that Shas, the religious party, is strongest represented in this, and this may be an indicator that there is also a certain messianic, strongly Jewish-religious motive here. A historical precedence that is very useful to consider in this respect, is Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, deemed illegal by the entire international community. This annexation is cemented in an Israeli quasi-constitutional ‘Base Law’ (Israel doesn’t have a constitution, ‘Base Laws’ are meant to constitute its hypothetical future constitution) from 1980 – ‘Base Law: Jerusalem’. By its first article, “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” This is a status that no country in the world recognizes. But for Israelis, the romantic concept of ‘liberating Jerusalem’ has hit such a central romantic-messianic nerve of Zionism (the term Zion stems, actually, from Jerusalem), that the prospect of creating this ‘fact on the ground’ was so appealing, that it could get wide public support despite its blatant illegality. Israel had thus annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and therefore, East Jerusalem should provide for us a certain litmus test in order to examine how Israel envisions such ‘unity’ in an event of annexation, or a one-state.
In annexing Jerusalem, Israel has bestowed upon its East Jerusalemite Palestinian subjects, not citizenship, but permanent residence permits, with the option of seeking citizenship. Historically it has been contentious for Palestinians to apply for such permits, as it was read in Palestinian society as a certain ‘normalization’ of the Israeli illegality, a view which in itself is completely in line with international law. The number of those applying has thus been in the range of a couple of percentages. Nonetheless, from around the turn of the millennia, there has been a rise in the number of applications. . Yet the reason for the rise appears to be based in other than an ideological affiliation with the Jewish State. As Ahmad al-Khalidi, a field worker in East Jerusalem points out, the majority of East Jerusalemites apply for Israeli citizenship for one reason: to ensure they won’t be expelled from the city. “They consider themselves to be Palestinians, but request citizenship to guard their residency status,” he said. Since 1967, Israel has been applying the 1952 “entry into Israel law” on Palestinian East Jerusalemites, a law which gives the Interior Ministry the right to revoke the residency status of anyone who has been out of the country for seven years, has received the status of permanent resident in a foreign country, and/or became a citizen of a foreign country. In addition, in 1995, without any public statement, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the Interior Ministry began demanding East Jerusalemites prove the capital was their center of life. Retroactively, thousands of families were legally liable to have their residency statuses revoked. The process involves immense bureaucratic problems which I will not enter in detail here, and the upshot has been an unprecedented wave of evictions, spiking in 2008 to nearly 5.000 evictions that year. In addition, from around that point (2008), the handling of the applications by Israel has slowed down and come to a near halt in recent years. All in all, roughly the same number of Palestinians applying for citizenship since 1967 (many of them denied), has been evicted from East Jerusalem over the years (about 14.000). So, that’s East Jerusalem for Palestinians (settlers are of course a whole other story of privilege), within the ‘complete and united’ Jerusalem. That’s Israeli ‘annexation’ and ‘equality’. So, if anyone is in the illusion that annexation, or a one-state, would be synonymous with democracy, equality and freedom – think again. For Jews, this annexation can be another means of takeover and facilitation of further ethnic cleansing. It will need much more than mere sterile acts of ostensible ‘annexation’ and ‘unification’ to be real, which is why we should also be skeptical of those Israelis seeking it, particularly from the right.
On the left of Zionism, there has historically been a movement which advocated ‘binationalism’, notably represented by movements like Brit Shalom and Hashomer Hatzair, but with the establishment of Israel, these movements were marginalized politically, where the mainstream, exclusivist labor Zionism of Ben Gurion got the main stage and rather exclusive political representation until the first right-wing election victory of Begin in 1977. It is that exclusivist vein that has continued to represent the mainstream Zionist left since.
Now to relate lightly to occupied Palestinians in this respect (I do it lightly because I know more about Israeli politics, and as a Jewish Israeli I am cautious not to speak to heavily on their behalf):
Here there has also been advocacy for a one-state, from various directions. It has been the goal of the Marxist PFLP from its inception at late 1960’s (which alas is considered a terrorist organization by USA, UK, EU, Australia and Canada). It has also been the goal of the PLO in terms of the ‘liberation of the whole of Palestine’, until it changed its position in 1988 to a 2-state goal, recognizing Israel in Oslo accords in 1993. But as we can see, this recognition, for all practical purposes, has not been reciprocal, and despite over 130 countries recognizing Palestine, Israel doesn’t, and USA doesn’t, and this ‘2-state solution’ has not really come out of this ‘peace process’. Of course, those who have been paying attention to the words of the Israeli ‘peacemakers’ would have noticed that Rabin told the Knesset in 1995 that this process would mean “less than a [Palestinian] state”, or that Peres was “vehemently opposed” to a Palestinian state throughout the Oslo years, as former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami notes in his memoirs. I need not even talk about the Likud party platform of 1999, never rescinded, which ‘flatly rejects a Palestinian state’. This is no doubt part of the frustration effecting Palestinians today.
In the mentioned Palestinian poll, the finding of 65% who believe “that the two-state solution is no longer viable due to settlement expansion” is interesting in its distinct formulation, because it relates to a certain reality on the ground. It’s not the ‘what do you want’ type of question, it’s more the ‘what do you believe in the face of reality’ type of question. This percentage is, by the way, a rise from 56% three months ago.
The 2-state solution has thus been a mainstream position for the Fatah in the past generation. As to Hamas, although it has apparently denied official accept of this position , it has effectively sought to approximate it in a pragmatic way, also as in the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliaton and unity government agreement was regarded even by Palestinian officials as a recognition “of the existence of Israel and is based on the two-state model” (Jibril Rajoub). Alas, this fragile unity, which meant that the main international players (the Middle East Quartet) were willing to negotiate with a government including Hamas, was immediately shattered by Netanyahu who claimed that Abbas should choose between “peace or Hamas”, and from there on it was a short road to the summer onslaught on Gaza.
A one-state solution for Palestinians can also seem as a capitulation of Palestinian statehood to their colonizers. Neither can they be sure that this one state will not be discriminatory towards them, as the Jewish State already is towards its non-Jewish subjects. But I believe that many have witnessed that against the reality of the occupation, there is little to lose. The hope can be, that this state would eventually become democratic and secular, as well as multi-cultural and religiously liberal as Palestine once was. I have several Palestinian friends who have told me that their grievance is not with Jews, but with Zionists. And if that weren’t true, I don’t think they would be my friends since I am a Jew, even an Israeli Jew. If a one state is not Jewish State (but rather democratic), then it is effectively not a Zionist state. Sure, there will no doubt be ultra-nationalists and bigots on both sides, but at least it won’t be institutionally so.
Now, back to Kerry’s claim, that “most on both sides understand this basic choice, and that is why it is important that polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that there is still strong support for the two-state solution – in theory. They just don’t believe that it can happen.”
Well, the first part of that sentence seems to be highly misleading. It would also appear that Kerry’s appraisal leans most towards the Israeli side, not the Palestinian.
Palestinian lawyer and former advisor to PLO and PA Diana Buttu commented on this, when she recently said (in a Democracy Now talk with Gideon Levy) that
“the international community has spoken about us and not to us. And you see this particularly when it came to Secretary Kerry’s statement that people—that Palestinians don’t want to see a one state. The polls are actually showing the opposite, that people don’t believe in two states any longer, and even taking away the negative, not believing in it, that people genuinely want to see one state. So it’s time for people to start listening to the voices of Palestinians. We’re very capable of speaking for ourselves.”
In reference to Buttu’s ‘taking away the negative’, as the LA Times recently reports, positive support for a one-state solution has advanced in the recent three months to 36% from 32%.
“This is a major change, a significant erosion in the viability of the two-state solution,’’ Khalil Shikaki, the director of the polling center, said in a lecture at the Jerusalem Press Club. “Today, we don’t have majority support for the two-state solution. What has gone up is support for the one-state solution.’’
Indeed, Kerry seems to be talking inside his own world of perception, or wishful thinking, that is somewhat divorced from, and misrepresentative of, the reality of what is and what people are thinking. It is particularly so when it regards Palestinians. His wish to believe the “theory” seems to overshadow his regard for facts, and for him, the “belief that it can happen” seems to be the ONLY WAY. The only way to maintain Jewish State that is, because for him, the option is unthinkable. His perception thus has a certain Zionist bias, and that should not surprise anyone, as it also serves the “advancing” of “United States interests in the region”. The question is, how long Herzl’s mantra of ‘if you want it, it is not a dream’ will continue to persuade, whilst it is mostly Palestinians who are suffering a nightmare?