JERUSALEM — It took a truly open mind as well as journalistic courage for a mainstream Israeli newspaper to publish an editorial calling for a single-state solution to the dispute with the Palestinians.
“Yediot Aharonot,” which has the biggest paid circulation of all the Hebrew language dailies, broached this highly controversial idea two weeks ago and backed it up with a constructive, if not politically feasible, rationale.
Proceeding from the realistic premise that the prospects of “two states for two peoples” that live in geographical Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, it proposed that the Arabs of the West Bank and their counterparts in the Gaza Strip be offered citizenship, equal rights and all the other prerequisites of true democracy.
The political logic for this is that the Strip’s inclusion in the formula to which the so-called “Quartet” — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — pay lip service is unattainable for several reasons:
• Hamas, the Islamic party that rules the Gaza Strip, refuses to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state; it contends that all of Palestine belongs to the Arabs;
• The West Bank is not a viable economic entity and would be permanently dependent on foreign aid (mainly from the United States and the existing Arab states) if the existing Palestinian Authority were to be transformed into a sovereign entity;
• Israel’s preconditions for the renewal of talks are unacceptable to the P.A. administration, i.e. that it recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that the negotiations be based on the armistice line of 1949, commonly known as the Green Line or the “1967 borders” (the latter being a misnomer);
• Unilateral settlement initiatives by Jews imbued with the belief that the West Bank (which most Israelis as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government call Judea and Samaria) have resulted in more than 350,000 Jews living beyond the line that was crossed in the Six-Day War of 1967 by the Israel Defense Force. To organize, finance their evacuation and rehabilitation inside the Green Line, Israel would be a daunting task.
Today, at least 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab. The Israeli Arabs (some call themselves Israeli Palestinians or vice versa) constitute a vibrant segment of the national economy. They contribute a significant percentage of professional personnel in the nation’s work force, especially in the fields of medicine, law and construction.
Many West Bank Palestinians admit privately that they would prefer to live under the same governmental roof as Israel’s Jews with all the democratic rights that Israel provides than be subject to the artificial offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its unrealistic ideology, i.e. the Palestinian National Authority.
They would like to have free access to the entire country, take off on pleasure trips to Tel Aviv or enjoy the Mediterranean beaches rather than be required to obtain special permits to do so from the P.A. government and pass through the security checks imposed by Israeli authorities.
One of the main obstacles to this Middle Eastern utopia is that most of Israel’s Jews (including many if not most of those who campaign for peace and co-existence with the Palestinians such as Peace Now’s local advocates) fear the addition of 1.5 million-plus Palestinians if the Gazans were included in contemporary Israel. They warn those numbers would inevitably result in the loss of the Jews’ numerical majority and could have dire political consequences for them in the long run.
This attitude explains the theoretical support here for the “two-state solution.” It was exemplified by the simplistic slogan “We Here, They There” used by Ehud Barak in his 1999 campaign for Israel’s premiership. He won the election and served as prime minister for the next two years.
To some, those words may sound like a call for apartheid. However, most Israelis, including those who fervently advocate peace with the Palestinians, see it as politically correct.
The overriding problem now, however, is whether the status quo is tenable.
One prominent commentator here contends that it cannot last.
Those who criticize the seemingly blind pursuit of the “two-state solution,” by American foreign policy experts in and out of office, argue that if the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority were resumed, and an agreement were reached, it would result in three, rather than two, states west of the Jordan: a West Bank state, a Hamas state and Israel.
Bearing all this mind, enlightened and realistic Israelis and their well-wishers abroad, Jewish and non-Jewish, at least should explore the feasibility of a one-state solution, if only because it may be the only way to go. It is time more Israelis came to realize that living in this country means living with Arabs as well as Jews and that greater familiarity with Arab culture and above all the Arabic language could make the one-state solution worth considering.
(Columnist’s footnote: All existing terrorist organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would have to be eliminated totally for a binational state to come into being.)
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)