Two States or One?
Ahmad Khalidi (Senior Associate Member, St. Anthony's College at the University of Oxford; Former Adviser to the PLO Delegation ['91-'93]) offers further skepticism about the one-state solution because there is no plan for achieving it if two-state negotiation failed. He also cites various uncertainties in the region — ranging from Syria's chaos to Iran's nuclear program — as variables that could introduce unexpected new complexities to the current negotiations.
From the Middle East Policy Council's 74th Capitol Hill Conference, "Two States or One? The Future of Israelis and Palestinians" This event was held October 9, 2013, at the Washington Court Hotel on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
I am a Palestinian from Jerusalem. My family traces our origins back about 1,000 years. The Nusseibehs claim to have been there before us, but they have no proof of that. I have grown up in the diaspora and am currently based in England. I've been active in Palestinian politics for many long years, in official and unofficial peace making and with great success, as you have already heard from today's panel.
How can we characterize the Middle East today? There is a rampant regional civil war across the Levant, from Lebanon's shores to the Iraq-Iranian borders. Now it has taken a substantially sectarian character, Sunni-Shiite, with multiple underlays. Here and elsewhere in the region, there are ethnic and economic factors, regional power struggles, historical rivalries, personal animosities, great-power politics, generational transitions, youthful frustrations. All of these have created a maze of interconnected, overlapping conflicts and fault lines.
Out of this turmoil, we have had new borders and new identities. In Southern Sudan, there's a new state. In Syria, there is any number of statelets. Iraq has broken apart. Libya is polarized. Yemen is likely to go the same way. The map, as is now widely recognized, is changing shape, and its geopolitical permutations remain unpredictable. Will there be a new Kurdish state, for instance? Will new tribal and confessional entities redraw the region along more or less stable lines? Will the continuous collapse into more primordial and less heterogeneous polities ultimately bring peace and coexistence, or will the forcibly cleansed ethnic, tribal or confessional entities that are emerging remain in perpetual conflict and competition? Will they be as much a source of chronic instability as their predecessors?
You've already seen the tide of conflicting axes and alignments come and go; alliances and forces appear and wither: Yesterday's Muslim Brotherhood, which seemed to be sweeping through the region, is now being relentlessly swept out of power. New powers have emerged, dominated and then receded. Qatar, yesterday's master of the region, today has shrunk back into its football stadiums. Old players have appeared to be on the verge of extinction, only to demonstrate a confounding survivability, like our good friend President Assad of Syria.
Where is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in all of this? Certainly, it's not the most visible conflict, but compared to the rest, it is in a relatively bloodless moment, thank God. But visibility should not be confused with saliency. The Palestine-Israel conflict, among other things, is the point of convergence among almost all the elements I have mentioned. Borders, ethnicities, identities, religion, nationalism all come together here on this sacred ground. Its relative insulation from what is around it today is no indication of its incendiary potential, as we have witnessed before on many occasions. Furthermore, it is of global resonance. It is not a local affair, partly as a consequence of its history and the historicity of its place and its players, and partly because Israel is integral to the U.S. political fabric, just as Palestine is to the political and moral consciousness of millions around the globe. When the United States wants to go to war in and around the region, it is Israel that is invoked, for better or for worse. When protesters mass in Tehran against Western injustice, real or perceived, Palestine is still a genuine rallying call.
Will a Palestine-Israel solution address everything and resolve all these conflicts in the region? Of course, not. Will it help to create a stable zone in a sea of turmoil? Most probably, yes. Will its perpetuation as an open sore help to make the world a better place? Undoubtedly, not. This, I think, is the very basic calculus of the United States today. It is also the calculus of Israel and the PA/PLO's own dynamic.
Putting myself in the position of this Israeli government for a moment, I see an ever-expanding path towards growing delegitimization, spreading Jewish communal divisions in the diaspora, and a genuine demographic and political dilemma on the ground. How do you preserve the Jewish state when you're spread between and among roughly four million Palestinians?
If I'm Bibi Netanyahu, Iran certainly looms large, not just for the day when, but for the day after, whatever happens is going to happen. If you want the world to support you on the day after, you do what you have to do. The key, I think Bibi has come to realize, lies in potential movement with the Palestinians. Palestine, if you want, for Netanyahu, has become the key to Tehran.
But for Ramallah, the road ahead is also very uncertain. This leadership's slender national credentials hang by a thread. There's no visible alternative to them, but they still represent the very last breeze from the Palestinian national movement's winds of the '60s. The national project, so-called, in 1988, to build a state for Palestinians on territories occupied in 1967, is still at the PLO's shaky core. All talk of UN unilateral action notwithstanding, the PLO's leadership today is wedded to a negotiated solution and has little option of divorce from it.
The two-state solution is not a new invention. It is a very respectable 76-year-old. Lord Peel, in 1937, was the first to propose the two-state solution. It was, of course, tried again in 1947. It was manifestly unacceptable from the Arab point of view then. This is not the place to debate it, but it only really sprang back to contemporary life after the PLO adopted it unilaterally in 1988. Indeed, the much-maligned Yasser Arafat is today the father of the latter-day two-state solution. All those adamantly supporting it today seem to have forgotten that it was equally adamantly opposed yesterday by the United States and Israel for almost a decade. Even in 1999, just before Camp David, Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party in Israel, refused to include the two-state solution in its electoral program. It was not until 2003, paradoxically, that it was adopted by Israel, by Ariel Sharon, and not until 2009 that Bibi was converted to it.
Nonetheless, it is today the only common ground for all parties to the conflict: Israel, Palestine and the Arabs. Even Hamas does not oppose it in principle, so it will take a massive political earthquake to shift this cumbersome ship off its course. The fact is that there's no real Plan B. There's no other negotiable solution. There are many other options, but the practical alternatives to a two-state solution are unacceptable to one or both parties: an interim or provisional state or process, on the one hand, or a one-state solution, on the other. In between lie the whole range of unilateral actions that will only involve, at best, a partial and temporary solution.
I do not want, for the moment, to dispute the difficulties of reaching a fair and sustainable two-state solution. There is no doubt about the narrowing window that Secretary of State Kerry spoke of earlier this year at his confirmation hearings in Congress. I personally came to this conclusion many years ago. How does one shift 500,000 settlers out of the West Bank? How does one divide Jerusalem in a way that's workable? How do you get the Israelis out of the Jordan Valley after Bibi Netanyahu has told Abbas that he wants to stay there for 30 years? How do you ensure Palestinian security against future threats? How do you resolve the refugee problem and address the issue of a Jewish state? The problems of negotiating have to do with signing, ratifying, implementing, verifying and then sustaining. And these are immense. Negotiating is just the very, very first hurdle.
In spite of all of this, I believe that the prospects of actually reaching an agreement today are not negligible, and we should be prepared, not because the parties have suddenly turned to peace mongering, but because in the short to medium term, every other alternative looks worse to one or both sides. This is not about optimism or pessimism; it's about reading which direction the compass is pointing.
A catastrophic failure of the talks, however, should lead to a rethink. Again, this is not new. I've recently been involved in a five-year-old project called the Parallel State Project. A book is about to be published, edited by Mark LeVine and Mathias Mossberg, on this very interesting idea. The idea is to take the whole of mandatory Palestine and superimpose one state over the other, so that, for instance, all the Jews would vote in one parliament, and all the Arabs would vote in another.
It is indeed, as a matter of principle, very hard to argue against the notion of one state. Ian Lustick makes a very good case for one state, not necessarily as a virtue, but as a possible outcome. It's very hard to dispute the vision of a civic state with one man, one vote, in which all can live wherever they want in the whole of Mandatory Palestine.
I think we can distinguish among three forms of one state. One has already been very clearly made. This is not just the reality of the day; it's been a reality since 1967. It is the apartheid state, the one that we have today. It is a de facto consequence of occupation, and its prevailing characteristics are Israeli domination and its oppression of the Palestinian people.
A second is one state as a desirable outcome. The question here is how. This to my mind is not something you can negotiate, at least not in the short term. How will the Jewish majority that is in control of every aspect of their life transfer power to either a similar number of Palestinians or even a Palestinian majority? In many ways, this is very similar to the predicament that the Palestinians found themselves in before 1948. I don't see any mobilizable partners for such a project in the short to medium term.
The third case is that something may arise, not out of a rational strategy but out of the convergence of some unseens and unknowns. Something may happen. But I believe we cannot base politics on maybes or unseen aspirations. This is neither good strategy, nor good analysis.
As someone who's not unsympathetic to the vision of one state, it poses enormous problems. Jeremy has mentioned some of them: Jewish fears of Arab domination, potential deadly competition over land and resources; the issue of Jewish technical and institutional domination; the emergence of a marginalized Arab underclass in a largely Jewish-run state. We've seen all of this before during the "one state" of the mandate. Furthermore, the region does not provide a perfect model of harmony and communal existence for one to draw on.
I believe that the one-state/two-state dichotomy is to some extent false. The options are not necessarily exclusive. One state could eventually arise as the result of two states. This could be a very likely outcome: a consensual new regime in mandatory Palestine born out of enlightened self-interest after the conflict has been defused. This is where the European model becomes relevant. It only took a few years from the end of World War II to the beginnings of the European Union.
For the one-statists, the real challenge is to operationalize it within a real time frame and a pragmatic political context. How, in essence, do you get Israel to de-Zionize itself in an era of ethnic and religious retrenchment, and at a point where Israel's Jewish population is becoming more nationalist, more religious and more Jewish than Israeli? Rabbi Ovaida Yosef's 500,000 mourners yesterday attest to this.
But the one-state/two-state dichotomy is not the only potential outcome of what is happening today. Other things may move as well. The worst case is a descent into intercommunal violence that is now all too common across the region. If Sunni can slaughter Shiite, Arab and Jew within and across the Green Line are perfectly capable of following suit.
A more hopeful scenario is one where the Palestinians retrench and reconnect in peaceful pursuit of their three primary national aims: full civil rights in Israel; an end to the occupation of the territories seized in 1967; and a fair, just and justifiable deal for the 1948 refugees, a struggle in which the precise form of national statehood takes second place to other goals.