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What Comes Next: The musings of a Two-Stater

Israel/Palestine
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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.

Just so you know, I spent part of the summer of 1950 picking plums at Ein Hashofet, the first American kibbutz in Israel. On a side trip to Tel Aviv, Martin Buber, the famous philosopher, graciously agreed to be interviewed if I agreed to accompany him on a shopping trip to a local market. We had, not surprisingly, a fascinating conversation; much of it was devoted to our shared vision of Israel as a binational state.

But that was then and this is now.  As a human rights lawyer nothing is more alien to me than ethnic compartmentalization.  But as a diligent observer of the political scene, I can see no possibility of a binational state, comprising the present Israel and the occupied territories, coming into being in the foreseeable future. It is not a matter of right and wrong; it is, rather, a matter of  Israel  being so wedded to the notion of a predominantly Jewish state and, for that matter, Palestine being equally unwilling to accept a state with a Jewish majority, that makes the one state solution unworkable  for the time being.

I have emphasized the last four words because I am not wedded to the idea of a Jewish state forever and a day. But I am horrified by the prospect of another ten, twenty or fifty years of status quo, with Israeli jails filled with Palestinians separated from their families, periodic intifadas and never ending humiliations at checkpoints and Israel becoming even more of an international outcast, if such a thing is imaginable. And yet, that is the prospect which “one state now” conjures up. 

I am tempted to say that what is desperately needed now is “a decent interval,” except that Henry Kissinger has given that expression a bad name. Let us call it a pause, a respite, a truce. I can think of only one way to bring that about with dignity for both sides. It is called “two states,” with peace and justice for each.

If it lasts, as well it may, a time may come to think of a new structure; a federation, perhaps, or even a single state with enforceable constitutional guarantees  of fundamental human rights for all of its citizens.

Some years ago, I got into a conversation with a taxi driver on the way from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport.  I asked him if he had a thought about how to bring peace to the region. “Yes,” he said, to my surprise. “We should have one state with three kings, a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian. They should take turns every year.”

Not a bad idea.  A bit premature, though.

Peter Weiss is a member of the Executive Committee of Americans for Peace Now and a Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  He is speaking here only for himself.

Peter Weiss
About Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss has had a long career in international human rights law. In a law practice that lasted over 50 years, he performed pro bono work in the fields of human rights, constitutional law, and nuclear weapons law.

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17 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    October 31, 2013, 11:00 am

    Lovely thoughts here. Not sure “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” is the right song — didn’t work so well, I believe, in Lebanon. But anyhow.

    Yes, We all desperately need a PAUSE. For that we need Israeli/USA consent. For that we need a seismic change, a “sea change”, something like “global warming” to change the hearts and minds of Israeli and American Establishments.

    It would help if Israel had become a “pariah” among the governments of the world rather than only among (some of) their people. This “pariah” thing is wishful thinking so long as it is not connected to action.

    The strategy of world-imperialism (global capitalism if you will) is “divide and conquer” and what is divided is governments and large business, on the one hand, from their people, on the other. And what is conquered is the world. And global capitalism has yet to express dissatisfaction with most dictators including today’s Israel (seen, at a minimum, as dictator over the West Bank and Gaza and Golan). And seen as flouter and maybe also as destroyer of international law.

    Something, that last, that one would wish were of concern and consequence to “the nations”.

    Sigh.

  2. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    October 31, 2013, 1:21 pm

    Either outcome is acceptable as long as it is done with justice. If you don’t let refugees return to their homes it is not justice. You can gerrymander the borders along where the Jewish population would be larger than the nonJewish one even after their return.

    Also, if our goal is to help the oppressed, then we must value the desires of the oppressed themselves. How do they see the best strategy and outcome?

  3. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    October 31, 2013, 1:36 pm

    Both the 2SS and the 1SS have real problems.

    The problems with the 2SS are: Israel rejects it, backed by the US. And Israel rejects the right of return for Palestinians (while supporting the Right of Return for Jews). And Israeli governments have worked very hard to make 2SS impossible. By now 500,000 Jews (10% of the Jewish population) live in Jews-only settlements in the Occupied Palestinians Territories, and the Jewish settlers believe they have every right to be there.

    The problems with the 1SS is that there is almost no support for a nonracist 1SS among Israeli Jews. (The current situation is a racist 1SS, with many of the Palestinians being stateless) And there is no international (i.e., European) support for the 1SS.

    Either the 2SS or the 1SS would have be forced on Israel by outside forces. The US acts to support Israel, and Europe objects verbally but does nothing to help the Palestinians resist Israel’s land grab.

    Supporters of the 2SS have not faced up to the possibility that Israel, after decades of hard work, may have made the 2SS impossible.

    The BDS and similar movements are hurting Israel’s image around the world. That’s about the only hopeful sign.

    • Sibiriak
      Sibiriak
      October 31, 2013, 11:51 pm

      Nevada Ned:

      Either the 2SS or the 1SS would have be forced on Israel by outside forces.

      Absolutely true. And of those two possibilities it would be far easier to force the abandonment of Zionist occupation/settlements than force the abandoment of Zionism completely.

      But there is next to zero chance of either scenario being forced on Israel, so, in a practical sense, both a 2SS and 1SS are equally unrealistic.

      The US acts to support Israel, and Europe objects verbally but does nothing to help the Palestinians resist Israel’s land grab.

      Basically true.

      Supporters of the 2SS have not faced up to the possibility that Israel, after decades of hard work, may have made the 2SS impossible.

      True. And if a 2SS is impossible *because of Israel’s efforts*, so is a 1SS, a fortiori. I think that Noam Chomsky got it right that 1S/2S is besides the point, since realistically the completion of the Greater Israel project is a near-inevitability.

      The BDS and similar movements are hurting Israel’s image around the world. That’s about the only hopeful sign.

      True.

  4. Ludwig
    Ludwig
    October 31, 2013, 5:15 pm

    Ah the old “decent interval” strategy of destroying the Jewish state in stages. Nope. Try again.

    • SQ Debris
      SQ Debris
      November 1, 2013, 6:24 pm

      Interval shminterval. 1ss/2ss dichotomy/discussion: baloney construct. It’s already one state, an apartheid state. And if the demographers weren’t wrong in 2004, the number of non-Palestinians under Israeli rule today is smaller than the Palestinian population under Israeli rule. “Equal Rights for the Palestinian Majority” should be the paean of every humanist on the planet. Time to dump the “blind-mans bluff” routine and address reality.

  5. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    October 31, 2013, 6:38 pm

    Is Peter Weiss related to Phil? By the way, one of my grandmother’s cats is called Peter Weiss.

    I can see no possibility of a binational state coming into being in the foreseeable future. It is a matter of Israel being so wedded to the notion of a predominantly Jewish state and, for that matter, Palestine being equally unwilling to accept a state with a Jewish majority, that makes the one state solution unworkable for the time being.

    In a one-state solution, there would be a Palestinian majority. I read this on the Haaretz website some months ago.

    I can think of only one way to bring that about with dignity for both sides. It is called “two states,” with peace and justice for each.

    A just two-state solution is as unlikely as a just one-state solution. That’s simply because Israel rejects any kind of just solution. Besides, a two-state solution requires separating the OPT from Israel. I think that would be much more effort than a one-state solution.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      October 31, 2013, 8:25 pm

      G.L.,

      You are right. If there is a one state situation with the right of return, it will mean one state where Palestinians are the majority. If you ask the Israeli population if they would rather have have 2SS or live with a Palestinian majority, they would usually pick a 2SS.

      What if you ask Palestinians if they would rather finally have a 2SS? I think they would not accept it, since it would lock half their population in exile. And how could they accept a 1SS with no right of return? Even under the 2SS, Palestinian refugees could live in the Palestinian “half”. That would seem to make a 2SS with this “half” right of return more acceptable to Pal.s than a 1SS with no ROR.

      In other words, 2SS with no right of return is the most acceptable for Israelis, so considering they have the upper hand, this is the more “realistic” outcome.

      A 1SS with a right of return has an advantage that it follows the general principle of refugees being allowed to return to their homeland, which is a humanitarian idea. Plus, it is also ideal in that it promotes equality, universalism, sharing the same territory that is claimed. Finally, it is the outcome that the oppressed group prefers.

      Thus, a 2SS is more “realistic” currently, but a 1SS is ideal, and by the way, neither is seriously “realistic” at the moment.

      Perhaps the best way to transition to the ideal would actually be a 1SS with gradual right of return. In such a case, Israelis would be the majority, but Palestinians would be a serious minority and have the hope and expectation of eventual restoration as well. This is perhaps what is slowly happening currently- the destruction of 2 rigidly distinct states and the creation of a very discriminatory “one state”. The gradual “right of return” has not been decided on yet, but it could be, should fortunes change within that one state.

      The author’s feeling is that once they have two states they will have a better idea of how to get along. Certainly with two states they would treat eachother better, I suppose. As it is said, “fences make good neighbors.” But with 1 state, even a discriminatory one, at least they would be forced to live together and operate in a way where they are interacting.

      Please ask yourself which is more “ideal”- in the socialist kibbutzes no employment of Palestinians was allowed. The prohibition was justified because it would be wage exploitation. In the right wing kibbutzes, however, Palestinians were hired, although they were naturally exploited.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        October 31, 2013, 8:41 pm

        I would add that, as Avnery pointed out in his article distinguishing and criticising South African Apartheid, blacks were exploited there as labor. It was certainly objectionable, but ironically didn’t that make their position more secure? Namely, the South African economy actually ended up relying on the black population, which gave them a more certain place in society. This exploitation of labor made it impossible for South Africa to expel them without causing a major hit to the economy.

        Could that provide another way to look at the situation in the Holy Land with regard to various “solutions” and intermediate steps?

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        November 2, 2013, 6:26 am

        If there is a one state situation with the right of return, it will mean one state where Palestinians are the majority.

        Even without the right of return, there’s a Palestinian majority. Here’s the Haaretz article on which I based my statement:
        “The government of Israel confirms that between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River there is no longer a Jewish majority. In other words, in the territory under Israel’s jurisdiction a situation of apartheid exists. A Jewish minority rules over an Arab majority.”
        http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/the-jewish-majority-is-history.premium-1.470233

  6. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    October 31, 2013, 7:08 pm

    Dual kingship was a traditional institution of our Khazar forebears (as of other tribes with names ending in -ar). Itil, anyone?

  7. RoHa
    RoHa
    October 31, 2013, 8:55 pm

    “Palestine being equally unwilling to accept a state with a Jewish majority”

    Is this true?

    • SQ Debris
      SQ Debris
      November 1, 2013, 6:30 pm

      “Is this true?”

      PLO/Oslo Accords recognition of the State of Israel says otherwise. The state was ruling over a nominal Jewish majority in 1993.

  8. NickJOCW
    NickJOCW
    October 31, 2013, 11:04 pm

    Israel has determinedly beckoned nemesis. It’s too late to pause.

  9. piotr
    piotr
    October 31, 2013, 11:25 pm

    The heart of the problem is not in Israel but in USA. There is a number of conflicts with contested territories and expelled populations, but actually pretty small. Cyprus, Kosovo, areas in Croatia from which local majority of Serbs was expelled, South Ossetia, Abkhasia (“independent”, Georgians mostly expelled), Nagorno-Karabagh and surrounding area, where Azeri were expelled, Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh (controlled by India, contested by China).

    In most cases the power in control can be accused of various abuses, but only in the case of Israeli occupation a large population is actively oppressed and not given or offered the rights of regular citizens. Also, and this is my point, only in the case of Israel USA takes a side in the conflict. More precisely, USA is truly engaged on one side of the conflict: we take a side in the case of Kosovo (for the separatists) and in the case of Ossetia and Abkhasia (for the “territorial integrity”, i.e. against the separatists) but without really doing much.

    My further observation is that in these conflict either there is no resolution, or there is a resolution imposed by force. You can give Serbs and Albanians, Abkhaz and Georgians, Azeri and Armenians hundreds of years for negotiating and finding a consensual solution and nothing of the kind will happen. Expectation that we just need to bring two sides to the table and talk without interference is absurd and few pretend otherwise. Somehow, in the case of Israel and Palestinian we prefer to be total morons, totally disregarding the experience, be it contemporary or historical, local or global.

  10. Sibiriak
    Sibiriak
    November 1, 2013, 12:05 am

    A possible future progression:

    1. Israel completes and consolidates it’s long-in-the-making Greater Israel project. There simply is no external or internal force that can impose a 1SS or 2SS.

    2. Gaza and the truncated, discontiguous Palestinian territories in the West Bank become the de facto Palestinian “state”that NOW EXISTS de jure.

    3. Zionism continues its downward ideological slide and becomes increasingly rejected by American Jews. Internal fissures in Israel deepen and widen. Political Islamism also goes into decline as well, perhaps.

    4: The Palestinian “state” forms a confederation with Israel.

    5: A single democratic state comes into being. Alternately, a regional confederation is created, as national-statism loses it’s appeal in a post-neoliberal age.

  11. seafoid
    seafoid
    November 1, 2013, 8:23 am

    Whatever comes next the IDF cult of war will have to be dismantled. Israeli Jewish kids deserve a normal education free of military ideology.

    And a lot of public spaces will have to be remodeled…

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/1.555477
    .

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