Viewpoint: Zionism and the one-state idea

Shimon Peres and Menachem Begin chat at the inaugural session of the 10th Knesset in 1981 (photo credit: GPO)
Shimon Peres and Menachem Begin chat at the inaugural session of the 10th Knesset in 1981
(photo credit: GPO)
ISRAEL FACES the most dangerous crisis in its history. Though the Arabs are incapable of defeating it in the battlefield, it is susceptible to a grave risk. Despite its prosperous economy, it can cease from existing as a Jewish and democratic state. And although the best minds are working in the country in every field of research and enterprise, it can find itself nearing its end in the year of its 70th anniversary. Israel is exposed to the risk of becoming a non-Jewish state, a binational one. Due to more than two decades of incapacity to materialize the two-state solution, there are many voices across the country that advocate the idea of one state on the entire territory of the mandatory Palestine; most of them, hawkish rightwing intellectuals and politicians, believe that there is a great need to apply the Israeli sovereignty on the West bank, without giving any political and civil rights for the Palestinians living there; only a tiny minority thinks that they are entitled to be given an Israeli passport and ID cards, hereby accepting the idea of a state with huge Arab minority. In many ways and in either case, a binational Israel would mark the end of Zionism.
The historic Israeli Right (which did not label itself as such), headed by the late Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin, insisted that liberalism, Zionism and democratic values are reconcilable. Jabotinsky wanted a Jewish majority in Eretz Israel as a precondition to national independence; he supported a situation in which the Jews will constitute a clear majority between the Jordan River and the sea. The Jews, he argued, would provide full equality to the Arabs residing in the country. He dared to contemplate upon a future in which the prime minister would be a Jew and his deputy an Arab. In effect, as much as Jabotinsky wanted to see the Jews ruling the entire historic Palestine, he refused to agree to any idea of a binational state (unlike some people on the Left, e.g. the Marxists in Hashomer Hatzair and the Communists, who advocated the idea of one, binational state; Jabotinsky was for a true Jewish state).
Begin, who led the Revisionists after Jabotinsky’s death in 1940, inherited the liberal-nationalist views of the founder of his movement who was inspired by great statesmen such as Garibaldi and Mazzini. Thus, throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, he fought against the Israeli military regime within Israel, aimed at depriving the local Arabs from their rights. He was stubborn enough to refrain from any expression of racism whilst fervently defending the idea of a Jewish state. Like Jabotinsky, he was for the Greater Israel but certainly against any idea that will place the Arabs under continuous oppression without providing them their rights. In his quest for political power, his agenda lacked any incitement against the Arabs. Since the mid-1940s, he stood for Jewish-Arab fraternity if the Arabs will be ready to accept a Jewish presence in Palestine.
However, those who founded the Likud party in 1973, including Begin, Ariel Sharon and Ezer Weizman, did not think of how to solve through liberal and democratic means the Palestinian question, a complicated problem that arose after the Six Day War. In fact, they had no idea of how to run a democratic Jewish state with so many Arabs ruled by this very state but lacking any political and civil rights. The believed that this problem is insolvable in the short run and only after the Jabotinsky-style Iron Wall would be built, it will be solved by itself. They did not manage to see the reality developing in the West Bank and Gaza and believed in the need to postpone the solution to the Palestinian problem onward to the next generation.
Begin, who died in 1992 after almost a decade of self-seclusion in his private home, preferred to deposit the problem at the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu’s generation. He did not anticipate the fact that there will be people from his own camp who would think of founding the Greater Israel by constituting a state where Arabs won’t get their basic political and civil rights.
The proponents of the one-state solution believe either in a strong state of Israel that will force the Arabs to accept longtime Israeli rule in the West Bank or, in the worse scenario, adhere to the idea of a ruthless Israel that will enslave and oppress the Arabs until their leaders would be ready to surrender. Liberals such as President Reuven Rivlin, who propose a democratic binational state, might find themselves supporting those who adhere to the idea of oppressing the Arabs until they will submit themselves to the newly-born nationalist Jewish state that won’t be Jewish at all. This is a nightmare in Zionist terms. That’s not the reality dreamed by Jabotinsky.
In fact, it is quite the opposite of what Jabotinsky and Begin advocated. Those who see themselves as their successors should be bold and firm enough and reject the binational dystopia. It is the Arabs are not ready to divide the country into two and renounce their Right of Return, but that is not a justification for Israel’s leadership to positively consider the frenetic one-state state idea.
It is the job of our generation to guarantee that the Jewish state envisioned by Jabotinsky continues to thrive throughout the coming decades without ruling millions of Arabs. A binational state would signify the end of Israel as we know it.
David Merhav is a graduate student at Tel Aviv University