National freedom demands a two-state solution

Upon first glance, a one-state solution appears to be a decent, liberal solution to a seemingly intractable problem.

Former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei 370 R (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei 370 R
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
The one-state solution has suddenly reappeared in the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Harvard recently hosted an entire conference promoting this solution and the former Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, came out on Saturday in support of it.
Though Qurei may have been pressed by political expediency, not only is this position completely unfeasible in practice, but it also represents a denial of the very purpose for Israel’s creation and a misunderstanding of the philosophy behind national movements.
In theory, a one-state solution would create a bi-national state in Israel giving both Jews and Palestinians equal voting rights, equal services and equal protections under the law. Upon first glance, this appears to be a decent, liberal solution to a seemingly intractable problem. Upon greater examination however, it becomes clear that this solution is nothing but a fantasy.
Attempting to unite two entirely disparate national movements would deny self-determination to each of them. The Jews and Palestinians, both, have their own distinct traditions, customs, beliefs, and most importantly, national aspirations. The Jewish State of Israel was founded as a home for the Jews, somewhere they would always be safe, a place where they could have a national culture that would be uniquely their own, and where they could unite to shape their own destiny as an independent member of the family of nations. Palestinians have the same hopes and dreams. In fact, every nation of the world hopes to achieve these ideals. It is when these aspirations are denied, justly or unjustly, that conflict erupts.
Herodotus illustrated this concept over 2,000 years ago in The Histories. In his classic, he discusses how different peoples tell different stories about themselves, their pasts and their aspirations for the future. This fundamental truth is really what differentiates nations from one another. Free people living in a nationless world would still make associations and groupings with others who share some set of characteristics. Once formed, these strong national, tribal and familial sentiments are nearly impossible to dissolve or change.
Herodotus notes that, “If someone were to put a proposition before men bidding them choose, after examination, the best customs in the world, each nation would certainly select its own,” (The Histories, 3.38.1). This natural propensity of people to stand by the traditions and culture of their nation would preclude the possibility of a binational state.
The Palestinians would obviously want their traditions informing national laws, holidays and education, while the Jews would fight for their own. Each group would seek to determine the path of this new state and would end up ceaselessly fighting the other do it. This solution would basically institutionalize conflict.
The “one-state solution,” though often shunned by Israelis and Palestinians alike for these very reasons, has support from an unsavory cast of characters including the late Muammar Gaddafi, the late Saddam Hussein, and even the British jazz musician Gilad Atzmon.
Each of these has argued that Zionism is a cancer and would, as the Durban Conference did, equate Zionism with racism. Thus, these individuals bring to the fore another possible motivation to institute a one-state solution: the hope that it will extinguish the Zionist movement and erase the Jewishness of Israel via demographic pressures.
These types of arguments fundamentally misrepresent the nature of Zionism, yet if we are to come to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, we must understand the underlying belief structures of each party.
From the Jewish point of view, Z i o n i s m began as a struggle for negative freedom.
Theodor Herzl, commonly referred to as the founder of Zionism, began his activism on behalf of the Jewish people as an assimilationist.
He was not a religious man and believed that Jews should follow the natural flow of history, becoming a part of whatever society they happen to be in.
He certainly did not believe in any sort of national unity for the Jewish people. In fact he argued that through assimilation, even anti-Semitism could be overcome.
It was the Dreyfus Affair that stripped him of this belief. He realized that even the most thoroughly assimilated Jew, one whose connection to Judaism was practically non-existent, could be targeted and destroyed by anti-Semitic forces.
In short, shouts of, “à bas les juifs” were what motivated him to pursue a national identity. He believed that through the creation of their own state, Jews would finally be able to escape the horrors of persecution. Thus, the purpose of his form of Zionism was negative freedom: freedom from persecution, from marginalization.
Yet the Jews would not be able to declare a state until they ceased defining themselves in opposition to the gentile world around them and began to strive for positive freedom: the freedom of self-determination, of self-government, of a culture.
This shift is best illustrated by the father of the modern state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion. In a 1944 speech to youth groups in Haifa, he intoned that, “the meaning of the Jewish revolution is contained in one word – independence! Independence for the Jewish people in its homeland!” Independence, too, means more than political and economic freedom; it involves also the spiritual, moral and intellectual realms. In essence, it is independence in the heart, in sentiment, and in will. It is important to note that he never said independence “from” anything.
This speech, among the words and deeds of many other Jewish influentials, is an indication that Zionism was no longer solely about escaping persecution, but had taken on the role of a national revival. This change in philosophy was able to give Jews the motivation to build the national infrastructure necessary for the proper functioning of a state.
Thus, with each successive aliya, there were more schools, more banks, more government buildings than before. By the time May 14, 1948, rolled around, the Jews had effectively already created a state in all but name.
The Palestinian national movement has undergone its own journey, but today, much of it seems to exist in opposition to Jewish nationalism. It is still focused on attaining negative freedom to the exclusion of pursuing positive freedom.
But no ideology can long exist only to oppose another. To achieve an independent Palestinian state, more Fatah politicians should take up the mantle of Salam Fayyad and work to create the conditions necessary for a true national renaissance.
Whatever disagreements and conflicts may exist in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, one thing is certain: both groups have legitimate national aspirations and will have no chance to achieve them if they are lumped into a bi-national state.
The writer is a student at Yale University and the president of Yale Friends of Israel.