An alternative to the two-state solution

Jewish statehood is directly linked to Jewish nationality, which is basic to any understanding of Israel’s raison d’etre.

Clinton lauds Hussein, Rabin at peace treaty signing 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Clinton lauds Hussein, Rabin at peace treaty signing 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The issue came up during a casual conversation with my brilliant and affable colleague Yitzhak Noy, who monitors the international news media – dailies, weeklies and monthlies – for Israel Radio. A master of monologue, he is on the air every Saturday morning from 9 to 10.
“How do you explain the fact Israel and the Palestinian Authority have failed to arrive at a peace agreement despite the passage of 45 years since the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six Day War?” I asked.
“It’s because they refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” Noy replied.
Noy’s prompt answer brought to mind one of the last rounds of negotiation between the two sides shortly after Binyamin Netanyahu had become prime minister.
Among the conditions set by Netanyahu’s delegate was that the PA confirm its acceptance of this fact of Middle Eastern life. The reaction was negative and the talks were suspended.
At the time, I thought that this demand was irrelevant if not excessive. I asked myself, would a French negotiator demand that his counterpart, whatever that diplomat’s nationality might be, must recognize France as a French state? Since when does any national state need confirmation of its ethnic makeup from a foreigner no matter who he or she might be? But with the passage of time and constant exposure to the seemingly endless Arab-Jewish dispute over Palestine, I had to admit that this issue indeed is relevant.
Israel’s definition of herself is embedded in its declaration of independence, as the state of the Jews. Refusal by a projected entity that not only would be its eastern neighbor, but also would include people who claim the “right of return” to their families’ former homes in western Palestine (now Israel) implies that the so-called two-state solution could eventually erupt in armed conflict.
This is one of the reasons why I must clarify the alternative onestate solution described in a recent column.
It certainly was not meant to promote the Palestine Liberation Organization’s concept of a single Palestinian state in which the Jews would have no statutory national status and certainly no constitutional authority whatsoever, if indeed its Arab rulers agreed to let them stay.
My proposal presumes that the political framework would be based on the one that already exists in contemporary Israel, that the same principles would apply and that the enlarged state still would be called “Israel.”
The main difference between today’s status quo and the proposed alternative would be that the Palestinians of the West Bank would be granted citizenship and equal rights.
One of the main objectives would be to bring an end to the current stalemate in which the Palestinian Authority is unable to transform itself into a sovereign Palestinian state as long as the Islamic Hamas movement continues to rule the Gaza Strip, an area regarded as a future part of that state’s domain since the Oslo Accords of 1993 if not before them. This problem is all the more pressing inasmuch as Hamas is unlikely to give way to the PLO which governs the West Bank.
Iran, for which Hamas has been providing a strategic bridgehead, will see to that.
A secondary purpose would be to extricate the West Bank’s Palestinian Arabs from political limbo.
The fact that many if not most of them aspire to self-determination and statehood does not relieve them of their post-war status as “protected persons” who must be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 1949 – an international compact inspired by the bitter experience of the Europeans whose respective countries were conquered and occupied by the Germans during World War II.
In actual fact, Israel’s interpretation of the 1949 Geneva Convention differs from that of the international community, but even if Israel conformed to the prevailing view this would by no means bring salvation or relief to the West Bank Palestinians.
It goes without saying that 45 years of life in political and diplomatic limbo has been frustrating and difficult for these Palestinians, while the constant responsibility for their personal security and well-being has been a burden for the Israeli authorities. One might therefore conclude that the time has come for a viable alternative to be tried. De facto annexation by Israel may be just that alternative.
Admittedly, all this may seem to be academic if not unrealistic.
Even so, the lopsided situation that has existed since 1967, in which Israeli nationalists and religious extremists have been able to establish Jewish settlements in the West Bank and rank and file Israelis have moved into the sectors of Jerusalem that were taken from Jordan in the Six Day War, is a perpetual source of conflict.
The one-state solution which I envision could provide an opportunity to mollify the Palestinians by allowing a mutually acceptable number of 1948 refugees or their descendants to be repatriated. It would not open Israel’s doors to the millions who claim refugee status, but could have the effect of a goodwill gesture based on Israel’s acknowledgement of the refugees’ plight and misfortune.
All this may be nothing more than “pie in the sky,” however.
The Arab side might react by adopting the old Jewish maxim, “When someone gives, take!” without drawing any positive political conclusions and certainly without shedding the longstanding rejection of Jewish statehood.
Jewish statehood is directly linked to Jewish nationality, which is basic to any understanding of Israel’s raison d’etre.
It is not for naught that the identity cards issued to Israel’s citizens specify the bearer’s nationality (le’om in Hebrew) rather than his or her religion. In theory, therefore, the State of Israel is not legally obligated to support, encourage or promote Jewish religiosity, nor must it do this for its Muslim or Christian citizens.
The fact that Israel grants substantial financial aid to the various ultra-Orthodox Jewish institutions including the Chief Rabbinate (Ashkenazic and Sephardic) is due to the political clout the beneficiaries have obtained due to the state’s parliamentary system of government and the consequent need for coalition regimes.
In contrast, justification for the state’s recognition of the Jewish le’om can be found in the fact that throughout the 2,000-yearlong Diaspora, Jews were subjected by the non-Jewish majorities alongside whom they lived to violent persecution and crass discrimination.
The logical conclusion drawn from this experience was Zionism, i.e. that the Jewish people must have a state of their own in which they will be able to defend themselves whenever necessary...hence, the State of Israel.
This concept underlies the positive aspects of the international community’s attitude toward Israel, including that of the United States and to a greater or lesser extent France and Russia among many others.
To paraphrase George Santayana, those who ignore history are liable to repeat it.
The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent.