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Beinart Peels Open the One-State Curtain
The American Conservative
May 1, 2013

I know John Kerry is said to be seriously committed to negotiating a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine, that he has leaned on various Gulf Arab states to consider modifications in their 2002 (reaffirmed in 2007) peace proposal, that he has apparently gotten some positive response from both the Gulf States and Tzipi Livni, the figure in Israel’s present government with some responsibility for peace negotiations.

I doubt it will go anywhere. Israelis have elected Likud-led governments in most recent elections, including the last two. The Likud is formally, officially, on record against the creation of a Palestinian state. Its charter states, “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel.” Likud election platforms plainly reject a sovereign Palestinian state west of the Jordan river. Members of Israel’s present government like Naftali Bennett are unequivocal opponents of Palestinian statehood. While Obama made a nice speech to Israeli university students about the desirability of a two-state solution, he has no stomach (or Capitol Hill support) for a battle to undermine Netanyahu or change the Israeli leader’s calculations. (To give a sense of the political constraints, a liberal Democrat, Barbara Boxer is actually sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would give Israel the right to racially discriminate against American citizens in granting visas, while Israelis would be permitted to come to the U.S. freely.)

All this means there won’t be a two-state solution. It’s a shame—it’s the most logical, most practical way that two warring communities could salvage the essentials of the self-determination they both want. There are injustices about it, certainly. But one can see that it would, that it could, with a fair amount of good will, actually work.

In the absence of a two-state solution, then what? A significant barrier was breached this week when Peter Beinart’s Open Zion site published Daniel Gavron’s provocative column, “Time to Stop Demonizing the One-State Solution.”

If you’ve read Peter Beinart, one of America’s most eloquent and influential liberal Zionists, you will see the import. Beinart is as committed emotionally to the idea of a Jewish state in the Mideast as anyone. But he also can’t tolerate the injustices against the Palestinians Israel regularly commits. I would guess he published Gavron’s piece because he recognizes that the two-state idea may, actually, be finished—and that in publishing it, he is trying to provide two-staters one final burst of electro-shock resuscitation. If it fails now, there will be nothing to resuscitate.

He didn’t stack the deck. He chose an Israeli advocate of one-man one-vote who clearly rejects the demographic overwhelming of a new Palestine by either Arabs or Jews. Gavron suggests that those who reside in the state now learn to live together on the basis of equal political rights. It’s a sensible proposal: if I were a Jewish Israeli, I would be reluctant to embrace a future where I and my children would soon be a pronounced demographic minority, but could (I’d like to think) be able to live in a country where Palestinians could vote. As in the American South, voting rights would bring the oppressed almost immediate concrete benefits, most especially the solidification of Palestinian property rights, rights to build, rights to water, rights to movement—all of which are now under Israel’s complete control and granted or denied capriciously.

Gavron concludes thus:

At least at the outset, the Jews will still have a majority, which self-interest dictates they should use wisely. If the Knesset becomes one-third Arab, this will be a positive development. The Arabs can utilize their new political power to achieve long overdue reforms that will equalize their conditions with those of the Jews. Their towns and villages will receive equivalent development budgets, equal water allocations, fair planning permission for building homes, and adequate educational resources.

Higher living standards and better education may well drive down the Arab birth rate to that of with their Jewish fellow-citizens. Thus it is by no means inevitable that the new entity will have a dominant Arab majority.

In a one-state solution, the Jews will accept voluntary limitation of their sovereignty, and the Palestinians will lose their chance of establishing an independent state, but they have only themselves to blame. Both peoples share the historical responsibility for failing to implement a sensible partition plan, which would have resulted in a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the Jewish state.

There are also positive aspects. The Palestinians will become citizens of a modern democratic state—and there are strong indications that that is what most of them really want. The Jews will gain acceptance in the Middle East, which is their existential need.

This is sunny vision, and perhaps too optimistic. I know Beinart’s work well, and imagine that even acknowledging on his site that the two state solution—and a “Jewish” Israel—may have reached an endpoint must have come only as a result of painful soul-searching.

This is of course not the first mention, in a prominent venue, of the one-state idea. The late Tony Judt described Israel as an anachronism in the New York Review of Books over a decade ago. One-state advocacy is legion in such influential websites as Mondoweiss, or Electronic Intifada. But for mainstream liberal Zionists, the one-state solution has always been the Big Bad Idea, too dreadful even to contemplate, much less look at closely. Now, Beinart has opened the curtain to take a peek. It’s a significant moment in the American debate on Israel.

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