One State, Two State, No State, New State

Inspiration for article’s title

Israel’s independence day is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar (in 2019, it was from sundown May 8th through sunset May 9th); the Gregorian calendar date when Israel declared independence was May 14, 1948.  The map is from the United Nation’s plan to partition the Mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.  

Passed in the UN General Assembly by a majority vote of 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions on November 29, 1947,  UNGA Resolution 181 outlined a soft partition, not a hard separation between Jewish and Arab states in Palestine.  It actually laid out a loose confederation between the two states with an economic union — including a common currency, a customs union and cooperative mechanisms for other common projects and institutions.  It also included an international zone compromising all of Jerusalem and some neighboring towns, including Bethlehem.  Yet not this nor any resolution recognizing Jewish sovereignty anywhere in Palestine was peacefully accepted by Palestinian Arabs at the time, who immediately launched a war intended to destroy the Yishuv (Palestine’s autonomous Jewish community).

The following is adapted from a draft submitted by Bennett Muraskin, employed as a staff representative for the Council of New Jersey State College Locals affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.  Although a longtime contributing writer for Jewish Currents and not a Zionist, Muraskin’s piece was not welcomed by its new anti-Zionist editors:

The slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Must Be Free” should be categorically rejected by progressives and leftists because it ignores the national existence of over six million Jewish people in this territory, nearly half the world’s total Jewish population.  At best, the slogan implies a Palestinian state in which Jews would be permitted to live under Palestinian (Arab) sovereignty as a minority.  Is this a viable scenario?

Since Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews are of approximately equal numbers and have, for the most part, different economic profiles, histories, languages, religions and cultures, it’s doubtful that they could co-exist in a single state; add the decades of ferocious conflict between the two peoples and this proposition becomes absurd.  If “national self-determination” has any meaning, each community has the right to its own nation-state.

Some proponents of this slogan claim to stand for a bi-national state.  But they invoke only one nationalityPalestinian Arabwhile remaining silent as to the other, Israeli Jews. Just as advocates of a two-state solution employ the slogan “Two States for Two Peoples,” any honest advocate of a bi-national state would have to declare in favor of “One State for Two Peoples.” 

Although the concept of a bi-national state is attractive for those who believe in both democracy and the right of nations to self-determination, it is utopian. Bi-nationalism has worked out in Canada and similarly in Switzerland, but where else?  Even Belgium has had difficulty in recent years maintaining a functioning government between French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish. Does anyone think that Canadian or Swiss historical circumstances resemble Israel/Palestine, where Arabs and Jews have been at each other’s throats for a century? Once Lebanon was considered a model for a multi-religious/ethnic state. Considering the bloody civil war of 1975-1990, how did that work out?    

Once upon a time, during  the British Mandate, there were Zionists who called for a bi-national state as an alternative to a Jewish state.  Although a minority, they were not an insignificant force and counted among their supporters Jewish luminaries Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Gershom Scholem, as well as the left-Zionist mass movement, Hashomer Hatzair.  When the UN voted to partition British Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947, three member states—Yugoslavia, Iran and Indiaissued a minority report calling for a federal, bi-national state.  However, whether proposed by dissident Zionists or UN member states, the Arab side would have none of it. They insisted on an Arab state, period. It will be a lot harder to resurrect this proposed solution today after 70 years of bloodshed.  

Assuming the proposal gains traction among today’s Palestinians, how can it be implemented? It is safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel prefer to live in a Jewish state where they are not subject to the will of non-Jews.  How will they be convinced otherwise? Certainly, force should not be the answer. A bi-national state could only become a possibility after decades of peaceful co-existence and collaboration between separate Jewish and Palestinian states, which may convince their respective citizens that they can join together in some kind of federation.  

I am of the opinion that a two-state solution is the only way the rights of both peoples can be assured. Still, as long as advocates for a bi-national solution rely on peaceful persuasion, I would not label them anti-Semitic, no matter how misguided they may be. I am not so sure about one-state advocates, but am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  However, the moment they call for “armed struggle” or “jihad” to achieve their ends, they begin a short descent into hell.

The demand for one state (“from the river to the sea”), or a bi-national state for that matter, is also troubling for reasons having nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Jewish progressives associated with Americans For Peace Now,  J Street, Jewish Currents magazine and kindred spirits spent decades fighting for an agreement whereby a Palestinian state would be created on the West Bank and Gaza, land Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 Six Day War.  Its main opponents were many Zionists, Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals, who dismissed Palestinian claims to statehood and argued that Israel’s security depended on holding onto Arab territory. Small far-left groups beat the drum for the PLO or the various “fronts” for the “liberation of Palestine,” but they were marginal. Today, a growing number of leftists want to turn the clock back from 1967 to 1948. In other words, they challenge the legitimacy of Israel as a state.

They forget that the UN sanctioned the creation of Israel (and an Arab state) in 1947 and that it was the Arab side that violently rejected it.  The partition plan allotted around 55% of the territory to the Jewish state, 45% to an Arab state and declared Jerusalem an “international city.”  Although the division was unequal, a sizable chunk of the Jewish state was desert; there was also an understanding that many European Jews displaced by the Holocaust, as well as others, would flock to the new country.  An “economic union” was to be established between the two entities. Nearly the entire international left supported it.

By the time the war ended in 1949, Israel had expanded into half of the Arab state, with the other half taken over by Jordan and Egypt.  Some say that even if the Arab side accepted the partition plan, Israel would have provoked a war to rid itself of a large Arab minority, upwards of 40% within the partition borders, that threatened the Jewish nature of the state.  But this is pure speculation. Consider how much Palestinian Arabs have lost due to their implacable opposition to a Jewish state in any form or dimension.

It cannot be denied that Israel exploited its military success in 1948 by seizing the opportunity to expel hundreds of thousands of Arabs (not yet known as Palestinians) from both its original and expanded borders.  On the other hand, the Arab nations treated these refugees as political pawns in its ongoing struggle against Israel, rather than integrating them into their societies. The 1948 war was not the first, nor was it the last war to create refugees. To expect that Israel will grant these refugees and their descendants, who now number in the millions, the “right to return” after 70 years is a delusion.   

It’s arguable that Israel is an ethno-religious state that discriminates against the Palestinian minority within its pre-1967 recognized borders, and has imposed apartheid-like conditions on Palestinians in the occupied territories; but Arab states in the region are at least as notorious for mistreating their ethnic and religious minorities, including with instances of mass violence and expulsion. First of all, Jews were forced out decades ago, but also Kurds, Christians and Yazidis have suffered greatly in Iraq, as have Sunnis and Shiites in episodes of mutual violence.  And Coptic Christians have long been subject to violence and discrimination in Egypt.

To this day, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza spread the worst kind of anti-Semitic propaganda. Even the moderate Mahmoud Abbas denies that Jews have any historical claim to Israel, and accuses Zionists of complicity in the Holocaust. According to textbooks used in Palestinian schools, Israel does not even exist. Why, then, would any Israeli Jews in their right mind welcome a Palestine that extends from “the river to the sea?”  

The two-state solution remains the only alternative to endless conflict. Call it a second partition, if you like. If not international control over Jerusalem and an economic union (as proposed by the UN in 1947), cooperative mechanisms and institutions need to be worked out. Hopefully an agreement can be reached for the return of a limited number of Palestinian refugees and compensation for others.  If both sides commit to it, with international encouragement and assistance, it could work.