Two states, one idea, no solutions

Benny Morris concludes most Israelis have accepted the notion of 2 states. However, the Arabs have not.

Benny Morris 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Benny Morris 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict By Benny Morris Yale University Press 256 pp, $17.16, Benny Morris is the enfant terrible of Israeli academia. Originally identified as a leader of the New Historians who attempted to revise and recast what they considered central Zionist "myths," he has been savagely condemned by what were once thought to be his fellow travelers on the scholarly Left. Most famously in an article entitled "Morris's shocking interview" (2004) the late Hebrew University sociology professor Baruch Kimmerling spoke of "outing" Morris who had "abandoned his historian's mantle and donned the armor of a Jewish chauvinist who wants the Land of Israel completely cleansed of Arabs." Kimmerling's conclusion was that Morris "lacks any meaningful answers." Morris is an admirable scholar for having taken unpopular positions which flew in the face of received wisdom and then, having experienced the failure of Oslo, seemingly changed the views that found expression in his most famous work, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (1987). Over the years he published on other subjects, such as Glubb Pasha, the British general of the Arab Legion, the "Border Wars" between 1949 and 1956, a history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a book on the War of Independence. These varying perspectives and the fact that he has been accused of post-Zionism and extreme Zionism should make him an excellent person to write a book on "resolving" the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. He's not the first to tackle this subject. Martin Van Creveld did the same in Defending Israel (2004) and Jimmy Carter's latest We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land (2009) are recent additions to this sub-genre. In fact Morris wrote his latest work mostly to challenge those voices on the West's extreme Left, and the Arab Right, who have suggested a return to the binational ideal of one state for Arabs and Jews in Palestine, with an Arab majority. He is confronting here not only the historic Brit Shalom Jewish movement of Judah Magnes, disillusioned president of Hebrew University who left Israel in 1948 when his ideas were not accepted, but also more recent voices such as Virginia Tilley (lecturer at Hobart and William and Smith Colleges), Jewish-European writer Tony Judt and Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American. The bulk of One State, Two States is made up of a history of movements among Jews and Palestinians favoring one- or two-state solutions. The reader is introduced first to the fringe group of Jewish intellectuals of Mandatory Palestine and their adherence to binationalism. In one poignant passage Arthur Ruppin, a Zionist leader and sociologist, is described as flirting with binationalism only to find himself rummaging through his desk in the midst of the 1936 Arab revolt to locate his Browning revolver. He writes, "Now it lies on my bedside table." For him and many other idealists, binationalism was dead. Another striking revelation is the fact that Magnes argued that the one-state solution must be "imposed [on the Jews and Arabs] over their opposition" by the international community. This rings true today with calls by radicals in Israel and in the international community for an "international intervention." Morris's narrative provides an excellent "who's who" among Jewish and Arab activists and thinkers of Mandatory Palestine. The author reminds us once again of the vagaries of the Peel partition report and the differences among the Arab parties. However, Morris departs from the usual description of there being "moderate" and "extremist" Arab parties in Palestine and argues instead that all of the Arab political leaders desired to impose a solution on the Jewish minority and force it into a single state with Palestinians or some other Arab state as the governing body. Even the most moderate Arabs, such as Musa al-'Alami, a bureaucrat and intellectual, would only support a "Jewish canton" in a British colony. Morris concludes that a majority of Jews during the Mandate and Israelis in the years since have come to accept the notion of two states for two peoples. However, the Arabs have not. The historian takes the reader through the various covenants and declarations of the PLO, Fatah and Hamas and illustrates that even when claims of moderation are made, they do not reflect reality. There is no "secular democratic Palestine" in the making. Morris argues that all the solutions are almost a "practical nightmare and well nigh unthinkable" or "not realistic." So he argues for a return to an idea from the 1970s of a union between the West Bank and Jordan, with Gaza attached to this "confederation." This perplexing creation must be created over the opposition of the Jordanian monarchy, which has jettisoned the Palestinians since the Jordanian civil war, and the Palestinians themselves who already lived under such a scheme from 1948 to 1967. Morris's failure to provide a real answer, however, lies not in any fault of his own, but the hardship of "resolving" the conflict. The writer is a PhD student in geography at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and runs the Terra Incognita Journal blog.