It’s an idea for solving the conflict that sounds like a vision of the end of days: Grant Israeli citizenship and equal rights to all the Palestinians in the West Bank. And who is proposing the one-state solution? Right-wingers and settlers
Noam Sheizaf, 15 July 2010
These remarks, which to many sound subversive, were not voiced by a left-wing advocate of a binational state. The speaker is from the Betar movement, a former top leader in Likud and political patron of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a former defense and foreign affairs minister – Moshe Arens. On June 2, Arens published an op-ed in Haaretz (“Is there another option?” ) in which he urged consideration of a political alternative to the existing situation and the political negotiations. He wants to break the great taboo of Israeli policy making by granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians in the West Bank. Arens is not put off by those who accuse him of promoting the idea of a binational Jewish-Palestinian state. “We are already a binational state,” he says, “and also a multicultural and multi-sector state. The minorities [meaning Arabs] here make up 20 percent of the population – that’s a fact and you can’t argue with facts.”
As Washington, Ramallah and Jerusalem slouch toward what seems like a well-known, self-evident solution – two states for two nations, on the basis of the 1967 borders and a small-scale territorial swap – a conceptual breakthrough is taking place in the right wing. Its ideologues are no longer content with rejecting withdrawal and evacuation of settlements, citing security arguments calculated to strike fear into the hearts of the Israeli mainstream. Their new idea addresses the shortcomings of the status quo, takes account of the isolation in which Israel finds itself and acknowledges the need to break the political deadlock.
Once the sole preserve of the political margins, the approach is now being advocated by leading figures in Likud and among the settlers – people who are not necessarily considered extremists or oddballs. About a month before Arens published his article, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ) said, “It’s preferable for the Palestinians to become citizens of the state than for us to divide the country.” In an interview this week (see box ), Rivlin reiterates and elaborates this viewpoint. In May 2009, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely organized a conference in the Knesset titled “Alternatives to Two States.” Since then, on a couple of occasions, she has called publicly for citizenship to be granted to the Palestinians “in gradual fashion.” Now she is planning to publish a position paper on the subject. Uri Elitzur, former chairman of the Yesha Council of Settlements and Netanyahu’s bureau chief in his first term as prime minister, last year published an article in the settlers’ journal Nekuda calling for the onset of a process, at the conclusion of which the Palestinians will have “a blue ID card [like Israelis], yellow license plates [like Israelis], National Insurance and the right to vote for the Knesset.” Emily Amrousi, a former spokesperson for the Yesha Council, takes part in meetings between settlers and Palestinians and speaks explicitly of “one land in which the children of settlers and the children of Palestinians will be bused to school together.”
It’s still not a full-fledged political camp and there are still holes in the theory. But although its advocates do not seem to be working together, the plans they put forward are remarkably similar. They all reject totally the various ideas of ethnic separation and recognize that political rights accrue to the Palestinians. They talk about a process that will take between a decade and a generation to complete, at the end of which the Palestinians will enjoy full personal rights, but in a country whose symbols and spirit will remain Jewish. It is at this point that the one-state right wing diverges from the binational left. The right is not talking about a neutral “state of all its citizens” with no identity, nor about “Israstine” with a flag showing a crescent and a Shield of David. As envisaged by the right wing, one state still means a sovereign Jewish state, but in a more complex reality, and inspired by the vision of a democratic Jewish state without an occupation and without apartheid, without fences and separations. In such a state, Jews will be able to live in Hebron and pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and a Palestinian from Ramallah will be able to serve as an ambassador and live in Tel Aviv or simply enjoy ice cream on the city’s seashore. Sounds off the wall? “If every path seems to reach an impasse,’ Elitzur wrote in Nekuda, “usually the right path is one that was never even considered, the one that is universally acknowledged to be unacceptable, taboo.”
A year ago, in a seminar sponsored by the Geneva Initiative group, Uri Elitzur astonished an audience of parliamentary assistants with pointed, clear remarks about the desirable political framework. “The worst solution,” he said, “is apparently the right one: a binational state, full annexation, full citizenship.”
Among those who were not surprised were leading figures from the settlers’ movement Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful ). Elitzur has been trying to sell them his idea for some time. “At first I was in splendid isolation,” he says, “but lately more and more people are willing to move in my direction. I think it’s the only practicable solution. The two-state formula has been kicked around for 10 years or more. All the politicians say – aloud or in a whisper – they are for it, but it’s still not happening. The differences between left and right, over which they kill each other in hatred, are really very small. But everyone is convinced that moving a fraction of an inch from his viewpoint will mean the country’s destruction. Neither the one side nor the other is to blame, nor even the Palestinians. The Arab world simply does not want to reach a compromise with us, and even if the formula is found, it won’t endure.
“The existing situation is also a dead end,” Elitzur continues. “It can’t last forever. The problems Israel has faced in the international community in the past five years are due to the fact that the world is fed up. The international community is telling us, ‘You claimed it was a temporary situation, yet that temporary situation has already lasted 40 years. We are ready to agree to another decade, but we want to know where things are going.’ The Israelis are also starting to grasp this. I want us to look for the solutions on the other side of the scale, which lies between the existing situation and the annexation and naturalization of all the Palestinians.”
In internal forums and in front of a home audience, Elitzur is even more outspoken. “There are many softened or newspeak variations of apartheid,” he wrote in Nekuda, which devoted an entire issue to the search for an alternative policy to the two-state solution. “Some suggest that the Palestinians should be under Israeli rule but vote in the elections for the Jordanian parliament. There are ideas involving autonomy, cantons, powerless self-government. It’s not by chance or by neglect that none of these proposals became the official policy of Likud or of the right. In the end, they all go back to a dead end: a whole population living under Israeli rule without civil rights. That is unacceptable on a permanent basis. It’s a situation that can exist only temporarily and faces mounting pressure, both internal and external, to bring the temporary situation to an end at long last.”
What do you say to the allegations that you have joined the radical left?
“There’s a clear separation between us. I am talking about a Jewish state, the state of the Jewish people, which will contain a large Arab minority. The left is talking about an Arab state containing a Jewish minority, even if they do not explicitly think that. The leftist demonstrators in [the West Bank village of] Bil’in have totally joined the Palestinian cause.”
Still, in terms of the political plan, there are points of convergence between you and them.
“In terms of the political plan, yes. But so what? I have many points in common with the extreme left. I am in favor of refusing an order to dismantle settlements, they are in favor of refusing an order to serve in the territories, and both of us are against the [separation] fence. I am not frightened at the fact that there are Jews with whom I profoundly disagree on one issue but with whom I share views on other issues. But I will not enter into a political alliance with the Anarchists [Against the Wall] even though I too am against the fence. We have common ground, but beyond it we have a very deep disagreement. As I see it, the State of Israel was established in order to preserve the rights of the small Jewish minority in the Middle East – six million vs. 300 million – and that is its main purpose. After fulfilling its main purpose, it is also a democratic state. That’s why it has to grant human rights to everyone, Jew or non-Jew.”
Indeed, Elitzur no longer needs the left to wrench him out of his splendid isolation. Hanan Porat, for example, one of the iconic founders of Gush Emunim, though rejecting what he terms “the automatic citizenship that Uri is proposing, which is naive and is liable to lead to grave consequences,” also suggests gradually applying Israeli law in the territories, first in regions where there is a Jewish majority, and within a decade or a generation, throughout.
And the Palestinians?
Porat: “In my view, every Arab has three options. First, those who want an Arab state and are ready to implement that goal by means of terrorism and a struggle against the state, have no place in the Land of Israel. Second, those who accept their place and accept Jewish sovereignty, but do not want to take part in the state and fulfill all their obligations, can be considered residents and enjoy full human rights, but not political representation in the state’s institutions. By the same token, they will also not have full obligations, such as military or national service. Third, those who say they are loyal to the state and to its laws and are ready to fulfill the obligations it prescribes and declare loyalty to it, can receive full citizenship. I consider this a moral and human principle: citizenship is not forced on anyone or granted just like that. We tried this in East Jerusalem, and the fact is that we failed.
“There is no point in threatening us with the idea of a state of all its citizens,” Porat continues. “Already 30 years ago, we in Gush Emunim were against solutions of fear – both withdrawal and transfer – and said that in the Return to Zion there is room for the Arab population who desire this, as long as we are not naive about the process.”
A few weeks before he published his article in Nekuda, Elitzur spoke at the conference Hotovely organized in the Knesset on alternatives to the two-state solution. Despite the participation of serious speakers, such as former chief of staff and present minister for strategic affairs, Moshe Ya’alon, and Major General (res. ) Giora Eiland, a former head of the National Security Council, Hotovely came out of the conference disappointed. “It made a lot of headlines and had resonance, but I did not see a genuine vision,” she says. “The ideas ranged from the status quo to ‘Jordan is Palestine.’ Most of the speakers rejected the alternative put forward by the left without putting anything positive on the table.
“This approach has characterized the political discourse of the right wing for years,” she continues. “The right, you could say, had a Qassam for every argument of the left. We had deep ideological roots which said that this is our land, but beyond that we did not put forward a real solution. Only Uri Elitzur took a different approach.”
Since then, Hotovely has become increasingly convinced that the idea of giving the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria citizenship must be part of the political horizon. At the moment, she envisages this as a long-term process, perhaps lasting a generation, during which the situation on the ground will stabilize, while the symbols and character of the Jewish state will be enshrined in a constitution. But the goal must be clear: annexation and citizenship, or as she puts it, “removing the question mark from above Judea and Samaria.”
Hotovely: “My outlook has two motivations. First, my deep belief in our right to the Land of Israel. Shiloh and Beit El settlements are, for me, the land of our forefathers in the full sense of the term. The second thing is that I do not ignore the fact that there are Palestinians here. Both the left and the right chose to shut their eyes to the fact that there are human beings here. The left chose to do it by building a fence and deciding that they just don’t want to see them, and the right simply said, ‘We will continue and see what happens.’ We have reached a critical point, a situation in which the entire Zionist enterprise is under threat, because the international community now disputes the legitimacy of our defense of Sderot and Ashkelon, not the legitimacy of building a settler outpost.”
The international community takes that stance because we are still occupiers. There will be greater legitimacy when the occupation ends.
“We did not get legitimacy in return for our previous withdrawals. Worse, the harm we are inflicting on the Palestinian population has become far more mortal. Our instruments of defense became tanks and planes, and that is always worse than policing operations that are done when you control the ground.
“The assumption of the left is that once it hides behind the international border, everything will be permitted. But it’s clear already now that not everything is permitted and that the principle of proportionality is shackling Israel in Gaza – so what will happen in Judea and Samaria? In fact, it goes even deeper. There is a moral failure here. After all, the left has long since stopped talking about peace and is resorting to a terminology of separation and segregation. They are also convinced that the confrontation will continue even afterward. The result is a solution that perpetuates the conflict and turns us from occupiers into perpetrators of massacres, to put it bluntly. It’s the left that made us a crueler nation and also put our security at risk.”
Could a country with such a large non-Jewish minority still be Jewish?
“At the moment, we are talking about citizenship in Judea and Samaria, not Gaza. In Gaza there is an enemy regime that rejects Israel. It is outside the political discourse, including the two-state discourse. There are 1.5 million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. I want it to be clear that I do not recognize national rights of Palestinians in the Land of Israel. I recognize their human rights and their individual rights, and also their individual political rights – but between the sea and the Jordan there is room for one state, a Jewish state.”
The fact is that the state is having a hard time containing a minority of 20 percent even now. How will it cope with 30 or 40 percent and also preserve its character?
“Every choice entails a price. The status quo carries a heavy price, the two-state idea carries a heavy price, and the approach I am now presenting also carries a price. Coping with the Arab minority is a lower price than the danger of the Qassams, the delegitimization and the immoral actions we will commit in coping with them, and also preferable to giving up parts of the homeland, including Jerusalem.”
Once the Palestinians become citizens, things might lurch out of your control. Some will say you are playing with fire.
“Everyone is playing with fire. There is no solution that is divorced from the world of risk in the Middle East. The risks in the two-state conception are not virtual, they have already been actualized. The risks I am talking about can be addressed in a rational process lasting a generation.”
Of the two dangers you discern – a binational state or a Palestinian state – which would you choose?
“Unequivocally the binational danger. In the binational process we have a degree of control, but the moment you abandon the area to the Palestinian entity, what control do you have over what will happen there?”
51 percent majority
In a political reality of increasing polarization between the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens, talk of a shared space between the Mediterranean and the Jordan does not always get a serious hearing. Some of the right-wing spokesmen understand this. For Moshe Arens, integration of the Arab population into Israeli society is a prior condition – only afterward will it be possible to talk about granting citizenship to the Palestinians in the territories. “If we are incapable of integrating Israel’s Arab citizens, how will we be able to offer the others citizens?” Arens says. “If I wanted something to happen after my article was published, it was for an emphasis to be placed on the attitude toward the Arab population inside Israel. I have spoken to the prime minister about this dozens of times. It’s the biggest problem in the country. If we do not integrate the Arabs, it will simply be a disaster.”
There is one large party that says they simply have to be transferred into a Palestinian state.
“The platform of Yisrael Beiteinu is nonsensical, an attempt to curry to the lowest common denominator in the country,” says Arens sharply. “Where will the transfer be carried out? Will Galilee be transferred to the Palestinian state? The Negev to Egypt? It’s not doable. They are just causing damage to 20 percent of our population, insulting them by saying they want to be rid of them, strip them of Israeli citizenship. Who ever heard the like?
“I repeat: first of all, we need to take care of the Israeli Arabs who are citizens. That is also essential if we are thinking of giving citizenship to Palestinians from Judea and Samaria. Only if they see that the Arabs have it good in Israel will they think it might be good for them, too.”
Your opponents will say that by publishing an article like this, you are strengthening Sheikh Ra’ad Salah [a leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel] and that you will introduce a fifth column into the country that will spell the end of the Jewish state.
“Only those who don’t grasp the full depth of the issue will say that. I have written dozens of times that the policy must be two-pronged: against the Islamic Movement – to outlaw them, because they are a subversive, seditious movement – and, at the same time, to work against feelings of discrimination among Israel’s Arab citizens. It is untenable for these people to be hewers of wood and drawers of water – doing the dirty work in the industrialized and advanced country that is Israel.”
Have you been accused of becoming a post-Zionist in the wake of your article?
“That’s a lot of nonsense. Was [Revisionist leader Ze’ev] Jabotinsky a post-Zionist? He talked about a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, but for him a majority meant even 51 percent, too. In his last book, he suggested that the president might be a Jew and the vice president an Arab, and also the opposite. Jabotinsky was no post-Zionist.”
If there is anything that unites the political establishment – Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and now Netanyahu, too – it’s the view that granting the Palestinians citizenship is dangerous and that only separation will ensure a democratic Jewish state.
“Demagoguery. If Zionism means ‘as little as possible for the Arabs,’ I have to say that I do not accept that. Jabotinsky did not accept it, either. You call that Zionism – as few Arabs as possible in Israel? That is the Zionism of [Avigdor] Lieberman. If what is implied by the rhetoric of Tzipi Livni is that we need as few Arabs as possible in Israel, it’s not so far from Lieberman. “People should not exploit what I said for their purposes. My intention is that, to begin with, we have to focus on the Arab population in Israel, and especially the Muslims. It’s definitely a dual-stage process. Only then, many years from now, will it be possible to consider additional minorities, and then maybe the Arabs across the Green Line will say that things are simply good in Israel – not in order to overcome us demographically, but simply because things here are good. We haven’t yet reached that point.”
If Elitzur, Hotovely and Arens represent the political aspect of the idea of a joint state, Emily Amrousi is interested in its everyday side. Amrousi, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Talmon, is active in Eretz Shalom (Land of Peace ), an organization that arranges meetings between settlers and Palestinians, focusing on the local interests of both sides, not necessarily on the political pitfalls. She, too, admits that in the distant future there will have to be citizenship for everyone. “But don’t make me out to be a one-state advocate,” Amrousi says. “In the end, it might arrive at that, but that’s still a very long way off. Let’s talk first about one land, one strip of ground. We are not like the Canaanite movement: we are not forgoing the State of Israel and the flag of Israel.”
And until we reach the coveted equality, will we have to make do with the status quo?
“No, I don’t like the status quo either because it’s really not moral. It’s impossible to go on like this, with a situation in which my Palestinian neighbors have to cross three checkpoints to get from one village to another. There is a distortion here – true, for security reasons, for logical reasons – but something went wrong along the way, and we can’t go on accepting this.
“The word ‘citizenship’ is very national and very political. In the Eretz Shalom initiative we do not talk about citizenship, but about concepts of neighborly relations. There are no neighborly relations here, because either it’s relations between enemies or we are transparent to them and they to us. And the relations that do exist are like those between horse and rider. There must be an initial basis before we talk about citizenship and a judicial system. We need to speak their language and we can even have a joint swimming pool here, because both they and we need separation between men and women. That may be a bit far off, but we have to think first about everyday life. I know that sounds like conditional citizenship – saying they must first be my good neighbors and then I will grant them rights – but I really do want to talk about a process that starts from below.”
From below or from above, in the end we reach a state whose demographic and geographic parameters are very different from what we have today.
“Demography is definitely a threat, but the other threat is bigger. The harder price is to cut up this country, with one part topographically higher than the other. I can’t speak with the Israeli public now about citizenship and Palestinians on the beach in Tel Aviv, because that’s a threat to the public. The whole situation now is wrong. We made a mistake, we arrived at the wrong place and we have a long way to go, but in the end there has to be one space here. We will yet talk about one state, but in the meantime we can talk about one land.”
One can take a cynical view of Eretz Shalom, of Amrousi’s decision to learn Arabic or of the project being organized by the settlers in Talmon: to build a lean-to for Palestinian workers awaiting a security check before entering their settlement. Fashionably late, one could say, and under the threat of evacuation, Gush Emunim is discovering the enlightened occupation. But there is another side, too: the impression that the Israeli center, in its addiction to the separation idea, has sloughed off the question of relations with the Arab population, on both sides of the Green Line. Is it a coincidence that Amrousi chose to describe the reality in the Land of Israel as “one space,” a term used by critical sociologists from the radical left?
Prof. Yehouda Shenhav, formerly from the Sephardi Democratic Rainbow and editor of the journal Theory and Criticism for the past decade, believes that the concept of reality for people on the right, as quoted above, is far more accurate and honest than the two-state concept of the left. In his recent book, “The Time of the Green Line” (Am Oved, Hebrew ), Shenhav returns to what he terms the true foundation of the conflict, namely 1948, and not “the obliterating and blurring paradigm according to which everything was swell until 1967, and then things went awry, as David Grossman writes in ‘The Yellow Wind.'” Shenhav rejects both the two-state idea and the “state of all its citizens.” He argues that the only possible stable model is one that will recognize the distinctiveness of different communities – among both Palestinians and Jews – in the one space between the sea and the Jordan River.
“The diagnosis of the right-wingers is accurate,” Shenhav says, and immediately adds, “But let’s be precise: it’s not the whole of the right. Most of them do not speak in those terms. But there is a minority that reads reality in a far less denying and less repressive way than all the people on the left who support the two-state solution. The majority of the left does not understand a spatial concept that does not permit homogeneity. The Jews and the Palestinians are Siamese twins. The ideology of the Jewish state espoused by the articulate spokespersons of the left tries to sever the different Palestinian groups, and takes their severance as a fait accompli. In contrast, Rubi [Reuven] Rivlin and Moshe Arens understand that those on both sides of the Green Line are Palestinians.
“I am not in favor of the wrongs being caused by the settlements,” Shenhav continues, “but in their political diagnosis the settlers are right. In one way or another, we too will ultimately learn this, and the only question is how much bloodshed it will entail. I wrote exactly what the right is saying today: the war in Gaza is the model that will be repeated in the future if there is separation.”
The 1967 lines are accepted by the international community. The left is against the plunder of land that is taking place to the east, against the fact that a settlement like Ofra is situated on private Palestinian land.
“What exactly is the difference between Ofra and Beit Dagan, which is situated on [the former Palestinian village of] Beit Dajan? Do the 19 years from 1948 to 1967 make one settlement moral and the other immoral? In my book I quote Uri Elitzur, who says, ‘You [the left] expelled the Palestinians in 1948, did not allow them back, established settlements on all their villages and afterward built the separation fence, and then you come to us with complaints, even though we have not destroyed even one village in the West Bank – not even one – to build a settlement.’
“The 1967 paradigm is intended to make it possible for the left to live in Tel Aviv and feel good about itself,” Shenhav continues. “The settlements will be sacrificed in order to atone for what they did to the Palestinians in 1948. The settlers will pay the price of the sins of the left. Yossi Beilin and his Geneva Initiative and all the rest want to preserve the achievements of the Ashkenazi elite.
“Don’t get me wrong: I am not in favor of the vision of the right wing. All I am doing is recommending that the left listen to what the right is saying. To take the right wing’s diagnosis and develop it into normative and moral left-wing viewpoints, to create a horizon that reflects leftism – not nationalism, not a Jewish empire.”
Are you now a person of the left or the right?
“I don’t know. I wrote in favor of the [Palestinians’] right of return and I am against the evacuation of settlements. So where does that leave me?”
The supporters of the two-state concept always warned against closing a window of opportunity to establish a Palestinian state. Now that the right has started to talk about a one-state solution, is the window closed? Definitely not, says Gadi Baltiansky, director general of the Geneva Initiative: “But I appreciate the sincerity of those who speak clearly at this time. The right always spoke in negative terms. Tzipi Livni once noted that the Likud’s platform always starts with the word ‘no.’ No to a Palestinian state, no to withdrawal, no, no and more no. Now there are people on the right who are saying with great candor what must be done, even if some of them are still hesitant about going public.
“I never liked the division into the ‘peace camp’ and the ‘national camp,'” Baltiansky continues. “The fact is that I am no less national than the right and they want peace no less than I do. In Israel there is a two-state camp and a one-state, binational camp, and the choice is between them. But the right should not delude itself: one Jewish state will not be a solution, but a continuation of the conflict. There will be fights over the flag and over the anthem and over the school curriculum, and the situation will be untenable.”
As of now, giving citizenship to the Palestinians is not on the political agenda of the right. According to the head of the Yesha Council, Danny Dayan, “the idea is unrealistic. In the present circumstances, it could put Israel’s character at risk. Morally, the fact that the Palestinians will not have full political rights in the foreseeable future is the fault of the Palestinians themselves. They rejected every compromise and chose war and are now paying the price of their mistakes. It’s not apartheid, it’s their choice.”
So what’s the solution?
“The solution for the coming decades is the present status quo, with improvements of one kind or another. Of all the possibilities, that one affords the most stable balance. It is also important to say that even so, the Palestinians have more political rights than any Arab citizen in the Middle East, with the possible exception of the Lebanese.”
Faithful to his outlook, Dayan last week – ahead of Netanyahu’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama – was busy cobbling together a coalition of the leaders of the right-wing parties in the Knesset. The aim: to compel Netanyahu to end the construction freeze in the territories at the end of September, as promised. Other MKs who are against the two-state solution, such as Aryeh Eldad (National Union ) and Danny Danon (Likud ), also told me that giving the Palestinians citizenship is not on their agenda, not even in the face of the emerging two-state plan.
Still, the impression is that even those who are against the idea have modified their approach recently. Adi Mintz, a former director general of the Yesha Council, presented a plan whereby after the security situation stabilizes, Israel will annex 60 percent of Judea and Samaria, whose 300,000 Palestinian inhabitants will be granted Israeli citizenship. The status of the rest of the population and of the area will, in this view, be settled within the framework of a comprehensive regional solution in the more distant future.
The right-leaning newspaper, Makor Rishon, recently devoted an issue to the possibility of leaving settlements under Palestinian sovereignty if the two-state plan is implemented. Logic says that if supporters of such an idea are truly serious, it should not be a problem for them to agree to live in the one state that will extend from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, whatever its character.
In any event, it will soon become clear whether renewal of the political process will lead to the removal from the agenda of every option except the establishment of a Palestinian state, or whether the opposition to such a state will generate momentum for supporters of the one-state alternative. Those who espouse this idea admit that its main drawback is that no genuine discussion of its merits and shortcomings has ever been held. Thus, key issues, such as the transition period leading up to citizenship, the refugee problem, the status of Gaza and even the bizarre question of how many Palestinians there really are have not been seriously addressed.
For this reason, Hotovely wants to publish a position paper on the issue, perhaps with the aid of an American research institute. “I want people to understand the issues, not to say that [MK Ahmed] Tibi and I are from the same party. The taboo that forbids talk about any option other than the two-state solution is almost anti-democratic. It’s like brain-gagging.” W
Proposals to grant Israeli citizenship to Palestinians in the West Bank are being pushed by some prominent activists among the West Bank settler movement
Ali Abunimah, 20 July 2010
One might expect that any support for a single state among Israeli Jews would come from the far left, and in fact this is where the most prominent Israeli Jewish champions of the idea are found, although in small numbers.
Recently, proposals to grant Israeli citizenship to Palestinians in the West Bank, including the right to vote for the knesset, have emerged from a surprising direction: Right-wing stalwarts such as knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, and former defence minister Moshe Arens, both from the Likud party of Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister.
Even more surprisingly, the idea has been pushed by prominent activists among Israel’s West Bank settler movement, who were the subject of a must-read profile by Noam Sheizaf in Haaretz.
Their visions still fall far short of what any Palestinian advocate of a single state would consider to be just: The Israeli proposals insist on maintaining the state’s character – at least symbolically – as a “Jewish state,” exclude the Gaza Strip, and do not address the rights of Palestinian refugees.
And, settlers on land often violently expropriated from Palestinians would hardly seem like obvious advocates for Palestinian human and political rights.
Although the details vary, and in some cases are anathema to Palestinians, what is more revealing is that this debate is occurring openly and in the least likely circles.
The Likudnik and settler advocates of a one-state solution with citizenship for Palestinians realise that Israel has lost the argument that Jewish sovereignty can be maintained forever at any price. A status quo where millions of Palestinians live without rights, subject to control by escalating Israeli violence is untenable even for them.
At the same time repartition of historic Palestine – what they call Eretz Yisrael – into two states is unacceptable, and has proven unattainable – not least because of the settler movement itself.
Some on the Israeli right now recognise what Israeli geographer Meron Benvenisti has said for years: Historic Palestine is already a “de facto binational state,” unpartionable except at a cost neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing to pay.
‘Horse and rider’
The relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is not that of equals however, but that “between horse and rider” as one settler vividly put it in Haaretz.
From the settlers’ perspective, repartition would mean an uprooting of at least tens of thousands of the 500,000 settlers now in the West Bank, and it would not even solve the national question.
Would the settlers remaining behind in the West Bank (the vast majority under all current two-state proposals) be under Palestinian sovereignty or would Israel continue to exercise control over a network of settlements criss-crossing the putative Palestinian state?
How could a truly independent Palestinian state exist under such circumstances?
The graver danger is that the West Bank would turn into a dozen Gaza Strips with large Israeli civilian populations wedged between miserable, overcrowded walled Palestinian ghettos.
The patchwork Palestinian state would be free only to administer its own poverty, visited by regular bouts of bloodshed.
Even a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank – something that is not remotely on the peace process agenda – would leave Israel with 1.5 million Palestinian citizens inside its borders. This population already faces escalating discrimination, incitement and loyalty tests.
In an angry, ultra-nationalist Israel shrunken by the upheaval of abandoning West Bank settlements, these non-Jewish citizens could suffer much worse, including outright ethnic cleansing.
With no progress toward a two-state solution despite decades of efforts, the only Zionist alternative on offer has been outright expulsion of the Palestinians – a programme long-championed by Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, which has seen its support increase steadily.
Israel is at the point where it has to look in the mirror and even some cold, hard Likudniks like Arens apparently do not like what they see. Yisrael Beitenu’s platform is “nonsensical,” Arens told Haaretz and simply not “doable”.
If Israel feels it is a pariah now, what would happen after another mass expulsion of Palestinians?
Lessons from South Africa
Given these realities, “The worst solution … is apparently the right one: a binational state, full annexation, full citizenship” in the words of settler activist and former Netanyahu aide Uri Elitzur.
This awakening can be likened to what happened among South African whites in the 1980s. By that time it had become clear that the white minority government’s effort to “solve” the problem of black disenfranchisement by creating nominally independent homelands – bantustans – had failed.
Pressure was mounting from internal resistance and the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions. By the mid-1980s, whites overwhelmingly understood that the apartheid status quo was untenable and they began to consider “reform” proposals that fell very far short of the African National Congress’ demands for a universal franchise – one-person, one-vote in a non-racial South Africa.
The reforms began with the 1984 introduction of a tricameral parliament with separate chambers for whites, coloureds and Indians (none for blacks), with whites retaining overall control.
Until almost the end of the apartheid system, polls showed the vast majority of whites rejected a universal franchise, but were prepared to concede some form of power-sharing with the black majority as long as whites retained a veto over key decisions.
The important point, as I have argued previously,is that one could not predict the final outcome of the negotiations that eventually brought about a fully democratic South Africa in 1994, based on what the white public and elites said they were prepared to accept.
Once Israeli Jews concede that Palestinians must have equal rights, they will not be able to unilaterally impose any system that maintains undue privilege.
A joint state should accommodate Israeli Jews’ legitimate collective interests, but it would have to do so equally for everyone else.
Moral currency devalued
The very appearance of the right-wing one-state solution suggests Israel is feeling the pressure and experiencing a relative loss of power. If its proponents thought Israel could “win” in the long-term there would be no need to find ways to accommodate Palestinian rights.
But Israeli Jews see their moral currency and legitimacy drastically devalued worldwide, while demographically Palestinians are on the verge of becoming a majority once again in historic Palestine.
Of course Israeli Jews still retain an enormous power advantage over Palestinians which, while eroding, is likely to last for some time.
Israel’s main advantage is a near monopoly on the means of violence, guaranteed by the US.
But legitimacy and stability cannot be gained by reliance on brute force – this is the lesson that is starting to sink in among some Israelis as the country is increasingly isolated after its attacks on Gaza and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
Legitimacy can only come from a just and equitable political settlement.
Perhaps the right-wing proponents of a single state recognise that the best time to negotiate a transition which provides safeguards for Israeli Jews’ legitimate collective interests is while they are still relatively strong.
That proposals for a single state are coming from the Israeli right should not be so surprising in light of experiences in comparable situations.
In South Africa, it was not the traditional white liberal critics of apartheid who oversaw the system’s dismantling, but the National Party which had built apartheid in the first place. In Northern Ireland, it was not “moderate” unionists and nationalists like David Trimble and John Hume who finally made power-sharing under the 1998 Belfast Agreement function, but the long-time rejectionists of Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, and the nationalist Sinn Fein, whose leaders had close ties the IRA.
The experiences in South Africa and Northern Ireland show that transforming the relationship between settler and native, master and slave, or “horse and rider,” to one between equal citizens is a very difficult, uncertain and lengthy process.
There are many setbacks and detours along the way and success is not guaranteed. It requires much more than a new constitution; economic redistribution, restitution and restorative justice are essential and meet significant resistance.
But such a transformation is not, as many of the critics of a one-state solution in Palestine/Israel insist, “impossible.” Indeed, hope now resides in the space between what is “very difficult” and what is considered “impossible”.
The proposals from the Israeli right-wing, however inadequate and indeed offensive they seem in many respects, add a little bit to that hope. They suggest that even those whom Palestinians understandably consider their most implacable foes can stare into the abyss and decide there has to be a radically different way forward.
We should watch how this debate develops and engage and encourage it carefully. In the end it is not what the solution is called that matters, but whether it fulfills the fundamental and inalienable rights of all Palestinians.
Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Uri Avnery, 24 July 2010
SINCE I witnessed the rise of the Nazis during my childhood in Germany, my nose always tickles when it smells something fascist, even when the odor is still faint.
When the debate about the “one-state solution” began, my nose tickled.
Have you gone mad, I told my nose, this time you are dead wrong. This is a plan of the Left. It is being put forward by leftists of undoubted credentials, the greatest idealists in Israel and abroad, even certified Marxists.
But my nose insisted. It continued to tickle.
Now it appears that the nose was right, after all.
THIS IS not the first time that a kosher leftist plan leads towards extreme rightist consequences.
That happened, for example, to the ugliest symbol of the occupation: the Separation Wall. It was invented by the Left.
When the “terrorist” attacks multiplied, leftist politicians, headed by Haim Ramon, offered a miracle-solution to the problem: an impassable obstacle between Israel and the occupied territories. They argued that it would stop the attacks without recourse to brutal actions in the West Bank.
The Right opposed the idea vehemently. To them it was a conspiracy to fix the borders of the state and promote the two-state solution, which they saw (and still see) as an existential threat to their designs.
But suddenly the Right changed its tune. They realized that the wall offered a wonderful opportunity to annex large tracts of West Bank land and turn them over to the settlers. And that is what happened: the wall/fence was not put up along the Green Line, but cuts deep into the West Bank. It takes away large areas of land from the Palestinian villages.
Nowadays leftists are demonstrating every week against the wall, the right is sending soldiers to shoot at them, and the two-state solution has been set back.
NOW THE rightists have discovered the one-state solution. My nose is tickling.
One of the first was Moshe Arens, former Minister of Defense. Arens is an extreme rightist, a fanatical Likud member. He started to talk about one state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, in which the Palestinians would be granted full rights, including citizenship and the vote.
I rubbed my eyes. Is this the same Arens? What has happened to him? But this apparent mystery has a simple solution.
Arens and his companions are faced with a mathematical problem that seems insoluble: turning the triangle into a circle.
Their aim has three sides: (a) a Jewish state, (b) the whole of Eretz Israel, and (c) democracy. How to combine these three sides into one harmonious circle?
Between the sea and the river there now live about 5.6 million Jews [note: original text said 6.5 million, subsequently corrected by Avnery] and 3.9 million Palestinians – a proportion of 59% Jews to 41% Palestinians (including the inhabitants of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Arab citizens of Israel.) This number does not include, of course, the millions of Palestinian refugees who are living outside the country.)
Several “experts” have tried to dispute these numbers, but respected statisticians, including Israelis, accept them with tiny changes here and there.
The proportion, alas, is rapidly changing in favor of the Palestinians. The Palestinian population is doubling every 18 years. Even taking into account the natural increase of the Jewish population in Israel and the potential immigration in the foreseeable future, one can predict with almost mathematical precision when the Palestinians will constitute the majority between the Jordan and the sea. It’s a matter of years rather than decades.
The inescapable conclusion: one can reconcile between any two of the three aspirations, but not all three at once: (a) a Jewish state in the entire country cannot be democratic, (b) a democratic state in the entire country cannot be Jewish, and (c) a Jewish and democratic state cannot include the entire Eretz Israel.
Simple. Logical. One does not have to be Moshe Arens, an engineer by profession, to see this. Therefore the Right is looking for another logic that would allow the creation of a Jewish and democratic state in the entire country.
LAST WEEK Haaretz published a stunning sensation: prominent personalities of the extreme Right – indeed, some of the most extreme – accept the solution of one-state from the sea to the river. They speak about a state in which the Palestinians will be full citizens.
The rightists quoted in Noam Sheizaf’s article do not hide their reasons for adopting this line: they want to obstruct the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, which would mean the end of the settlement enterprise and the evacuation of scores of settlements and outposts throughout the West Bank. They also want to put an end to the growing international pressure for the two-state solution.
Among some leftists in the world, who advocate the one-state solution, the news was greeted with great joy. They pour scorn on the Israeli peace camp (leftists enjoy nothing more than deriding other leftists) and heap praise on the Israeli Right. What magnanimity! What readiness to break out of the box and adopt their opponents’ ideals! Only the Right will make peace!
But if these good people would read the texts, they would discover that it ain’t necessarily so. To be precise, it’s the very opposite.
ALL OF the six rightists quoted in the article are united on a number of points which deserve consideration.
First: all of them exclude the Gaza Strip from the proposed solution. Gaza will no longer be a part of the country. Thus, the number of Palestinians will be reduced by 1.5 million, improving the menacing demographic balance. (True, in the Oslo agreement, Israel recognized the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as one integral territory, but the rightists consider the Oslo agreement anyhow as the tainted product of leftist traitors.)
Second: the one state will, of course, be a Jewish state.
Third: the annexation of the West Bank will take place at once, so that the building of settlements can go on undisturbed. In a Greater Israel, the settlement enterprise cannot be limited.
Fourth: There is no way to grant citizenship to all Palestinian forthwith.
The author of the article summarizes their positions thus: “a process that will take from about a decade to a generation, and at its conclusion the Palestinians will enjoy full personal rights, but the state will remain, in its symbols and spirit, Jewish…This is not a vision of ‘a state belonging to all its citizens’ and not ‘Isratine’ with a flag combining the crescent and the Star of David. The one state still means Jewish sovereignty.”
IT IS worthwhile to listen well to the explanations provided by the initiators themselves (emphasis added by me):
Uri Elitsur, former director general of the Judea and Samaria Council (the leadership of the settlers, known as “Yesha”): “I speak of a Jewish state which is the state of the Jewish people, and in which there will exist an Arab minority.”
Hanan Porat, a founder of Gush Emunim (the religious settlers’ leadership, and the man who called upon the Jews to rejoice after the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron): “I am against the automatic citizenship proposed by Uri Elitsur, which is naïve and could lead to grievous consequences. I propose the application of Israeli law to the territories in stages, first in the areas in which there is (already) a Jewish majority, and within a time-span of a decade to a generation in all the territories.”
Porat proposes dividing the Palestinians into three categories: (a) Those who want an Arab state and are ready to realize this by terrorism and struggle against the state – they have no place in Eretz Israel. Meaning: they will be expelled. (b) Those resigned to their place and to Jewish sovereignty, but not ready to take part in the state and fulfill all their obligations towards it – they will have full human rights, but no political representation in the institutions of the state. (c) Those who declare that they will be loyal to the state and swear allegiance to it – they will be granted full citizenship. (They will, of course, be a small minority.)
Tzipi Hutubeli, a Member of Parliament on the extreme fringe of Likud: “On the political horizon there must be citizenship for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria…That will happen gradually …This process must take place over a long time, perhaps even a generation, in the course of which the situation on the ground will be stabilized and the symbols of the Jewish state and its character will be anchored in law…The question mark hovering over Judea and Samaria will be removed…First comes my deep belief in our right over Eretz Israel. Shiloh and Bet-El (in the West Bank) are for me the land of our ancestors in the full meaning of the term…At this moment we speak about conferring citizenship in Judea and Samaria, not in Gaza. Let it be clear: I do not recognize political rights of Palestinians over Eretz Israel…Between the sea and the Jordan there is room for one state, a Jewish state.”
Moshe Arens: “The integration of the Arab population (inside Israel) into Israeli society is a prior condition, and only afterwards can one speak about citizenship for Palestinians in the territories.” Meaning: Arens proposes focusing on the integration of the Arab citizens of Israel – something that has not happened in the last 62 years – and only afterwards thinking about the question of citizenship for the West Bank population.
Emily Amrussi, a settler who organizes meetings between the settlers and the Palestinians of the neighboring villages: “Don’t describe me as one pushing for the ‘one state’. In the end we may arrive there, but we are still very far from there. Let’s talk first about one country…We don’t talk about citizenship, but in terms like relations between neighbors… First let them become my good neighbors, and then we shall give them rights…In the far future, it will be necessary to move towards citizenship for everybody.”
Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset: “The country cannot be divided…I oppose the idea of a state belonging to all its citizens or a bi-national state and am thinking about arrangements of joint sovereignty in Judea and Samaria under the Jewish state, even a regime of two parliaments, Jewish and Arab…Judea and Samaria will be a co-dominion, held jointly…But these are things that take time…Stop waving demography in my face.”
THE REGIME described here is not an apartheid state, but something much worse: a Jewish state in which the Jewish majority will decide if at all, and when, to confer citizenship on some of the Arabs. The words that come up again and again – “perhaps within a generation” – are by nature very imprecise, and not by accident.
But most important: there is a thunderous silence about the mother of all questions: what will happen when the Palestinians become the majority in the One State? That is not a question of “if”, but of “when”: there is not the slightest doubt that this will happen, not “within a generation”, but long before.
This thunderous silence speaks for itself. People who do not know Israel may believe that the rightists are ready to accept such a situation. Only a very naive person can expect a repetition of what happened in South Africa, when the whites (a small minority) handed power over to the blacks (the large majority) without bloodshed.
We said above that it is impossible to “turn the triangle into a circle”. But the truth is that there is one way: ethnic cleansing. The Jewish state can fill all the space between the sea and the Jordan and still be democratic – if there are no Palestinians there.
Ethnic cleansing can be carried out dramatically (as in this country in 1948 and in Kosovo in 1998) or in a quiet and systematic way, by dozens of sophisticated methods, as is happening now in East Jerusalem. But there cannot be the slightest doubt that this is the final stage of the one-state vision of the rightists. The first stage will be an effort to fill the entire country with settlements, and to demolish any chance of implementing the two-state solution, which is the only realistic basis for peace.
In Roman Polanski’s movie “Rosemary’s Baby”, a nice young woman gives birth to a nice baby, which turns out to be the son of Satan. The attractive leftist vision of the one-state solution may grow up into a rightist monster.
From the desk of Reuven Kaminer, 24 July 2010
No serious observer of the Israeli political scene ascribes any significance whatsoever to a new highly publicized flurry of publications emanating from right wing circles. For the journalist, ever in search of a new angle, these circles are supposed to represent a sea change in basic attitudes regarding the rights of the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. The evidence for this is that a number of right wing politicians came out for a one state solution based on equal rights for the Palestinians. Of course, there is no real program, and not even the semblance of an organization. Just a rather quaint list of right wingers who seem to be willing to make some limited concessions on their way to the imposition of complete, sovereign, control of all of the land of Palestine, the Land of Israel.
The best guess as to the reason for this wave of sensitivity among right wing annexationists for “equal rights for the Palestinians” appears to be linked to the ‘legitimacy crisis”. The existence of such a crisis is now part of the received wisdom of Israeli political discourse. Many semi-official experts (PR people, pollsters, analysts) have joined forces to impress the public that the deligitimization of Israel is the greatest threat, bar none, to the very existence of Israel. This is of course a rather superficial way of looking at matters, but even so, anyone can see that there is some truth to it. Israeli policy and actions have destroyed the last vestiges of sympathy for Israel the whole world over. But official Israel would have Israel’s growing isolation seen as matter of imagery, public relations and unfair coverage.
There are some annexationist politicians intelligent enough to understand that they need some sort of answer to the obvious objection that they meet with regularly. People have asked them what is supposed to happen after the annexation of the territories. Therefore, it has occurred to some of them that they need an answer to the objections against pure Israeli control, and so they came up with the idea of Israeli citizenship for all. None of them see any need to grapple with the fact that they have turned their back on the principles of democracy and equality absolutely essential in addressing the basic rights of the Palestinians. The individuals concerned (a few leading lights of the right, several MK’s and a former minister) reject, without exception, any solution of the Palestinian refugee problem or the inclusion of Gaza and its people as part of the new one state entity. None of these people have ever uttered a word of compassion and regret regarding the imposition of decades of suffering and degradation on the Palestinians under occupation. You do not even have to read the fine print. It’s a gimmick from the beginning to the end and almost all readers’ responses noted that the “plan” is based on the unilateral imposition of a new form of occupation. One can be certain that the inevitable resistance to the ‘approaching unilateral generosity’ will be suppressed with the full might of the Israel Defense Forces.
This being clearly the situation, it was rather strange to see that a number of Palestinians and their friends rose to take the bait. One outstanding example is Ali Abunima, the editor of the Electronic Intifada. Abunima makes almost every conceivable mistake as he totally misreads the map and the significance of the latest gimmick. Believe it or not, for Abunima, the print splashed on a weekend supplement is, no more and no less than an important sign that the Israeli occupation is crumbling. Not only the occupation, but the entire Zionist edifice is shaking to its foundations.
“This awakening can be likened to what happened among South African whites in the 1980s. By that time it had become clear that the white minority government’s effort to “solve” the problem of black disenfranchisement by creating nominally independent homelands — bantustans — had failed. Pressure was mounting from internal resistance and the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
By the mid-1980s, whites overwhelmingly understood that the apartheid status quo was untenable and they began to consider “reform” proposals that fell very far short of the African National Congress’ demands for a universal franchise — one-person, one-vote in a nonracial South Africa.”*
This attempt at a parallel interpretation of current events and South Africa before the end of Apartheid is so far off base as to almost eliminate any need for rebuttal. First of all, it exhibits a total and complete misunderstanding of Israeli politics and the power structure in the country. Secondly, it shows a strange inability to analyze current reality. The South African ANC was basically united and enjoying international prestige and respect. Unfortunately, the movement for Palestinian national liberation is deeply divided, in a deep crisis and the Palestinian Authority has lost all authority. Part of the Palestinian cause has been literally taken over by the military and economic direct control and influence of the United States, which also acts as a surrogate for Israeli interests. The US and Europe in its wake refuse to impose any genuine curbs on Israeli control and expansion. I could go on and on, but Abumima’s entire conception is obviously dictated by wishful thinking. He is so enthusiastic over the meager incomplete reflections of a handful of chauvinist politicians that he is close to declaring victory. Sadly, he is hopelessly wrong and conceptual narrowness has led him far astray from genuine contact with political reality.
Abunima goes on to define this week end supplement gimmick as a major development furthering the cause of a one state solution.
You see, the Israeli right and the militant Palestinians really want the same thing. It is only a question of terminology.
“The proposals from the Israeli right-wing, however inadequate and indeed offensive they seem in many respects, add a little bit to that hope. They suggest that even those whom Palestinians understandably consider their most implacable foes can stare into the abyss and decide there has to be a radically different way forward.
We should watch how this debate develops and engage and encourage it carefully. In the end it is not what the solution is called that matters, but whether it fulfills the fundamental and inalienable rights of all Palestinians.”
*Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. This article first appeared on Al-Jazeera English and is republished with permission.
One is left with deep concern that our “one staters” have become the last bulwark of sterile dogmatism. If Abunima sees the statements of this almost random collection of Israeli annexationists as a serious political development, he will be sorely disappointed. One has the impression that his opposition to a two state solution and his dislike of the Zionist left has seriously impaired his critical faculties.