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Can we call it one state and be done with it?

The debate over whether we are living in a single state is irrelevant – the answer is a resounding yes. The real problem is that freedom and equality are only extended to some of its subjects.

Israel youth should slogans outside Jerusalem's old city, as they take part in the flags march, to celebrate 48 years for the occupation of East Jerusalem May 17, 2015.

Israel youth should slogans outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, as they take part in the ‘March of the Flags,’ marking 48 years since Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem, May 17, 2015. (Activestills.org)

“You’ve just crossed the Green Line.” I say it every time I take a friend or a group from abroad to visit Jerusalem, as we turned left from Jaffa Street down toward Damascus Gate in the Old City. Many of them do a double take, looking around for a sign or marker indicating the line’s existence – but there are none. The roads intersect, the light rail train passes by, and pedestrians walk across the street as usual.

I always raise this fact with visitors not to emphasize the importance of the Green Line, but rather to show them how insignificant it really is. Decades ago, this “armistice” line separated the hostile armies of Israel and the neighboring Arab countries. Today it is supposed to demarcate the border of a Palestinian state. But the Green Line is nowhere to be found in East Jerusalem, nor in any other part of the occupied territories. Settlements, highways, national parks, and the separation wall have completely erased it from the land’s geography.

The only places one can find the Green Line are on some foreign maps (not Israeli- or Palestinian-made maps), and in the minds of policymakers and observers who believe that the two-state solution is still possible. But even that seems to be changing. Barak Ravid recently reported in Haaretz that senior officials at the White House are beginning to publicly speak about the situation in the West Bank as a one-state reality, with almost “no chance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.” This news comes a few weeks after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry remarked that the violence of the past month “offers a glimpse” into the reality of two peoples being forced to live with each other.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy to the peace talks Martin Indyk (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy to the peace talks Martin Indyk (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

The White House would predictably disavow these comments with statements reiterating its commitment to establishing two states and renewing peace talks. It shouldn’t. For years, the international community has glued itself to the notion that a two-state solution is still within its grasp, albeit slipping away due to Israel’s expansion into the West Bank. Their assumption is that the occupied territories have not yet been completely absorbed by Israel, and therefore there is still a possibility of “reversing” the process and returning to the pre-1967 borders with some adjustments.

This longstanding view, however, has ignored the passing of time and insulated itself from the facts on the ground. The reality is that the Israeli and Palestinian generations of the past 50 years have only ever lived in one state. With Israeli citizenship or Jewish identity, a person can travel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, live on most parts of the land, and receive the support and security of the state. But with Palestinian residency, a person’s movement is heavily restricted, their place of living is designated in specific areas, and the state’s security apparatus is constantly directed against them. The supreme powers presiding over this vast system lie with the Jewish-Israeli political and military authorities sitting in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — not in Ramallah or Gaza.

Demonstrator overlooking wall and settlement in Bil'in (Haggai Matar)

Demonstrator overlooking wall and settlement in Bil’in (Haggai Matar)

The debate over whether we are in a single state is therefore irrelevant – the answer is a resounding yes. The real problem is that all its subjects have very different and separate experiences living under this state. Palestinians in the territories live in a cage that is forcibly imposed upon them. Israelis live in a bubble that they have deliberately imposed on themselves. Only one group on the land – the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel – is immersed in both societies, caught between their relative privilege vis-à-vis Palestinians under occupation on one side, and systemic discrimination from Israelis on the other.

The sources of the conflict derive from these competing experiences: of democracy versus occupation, privilege versus discrimination, freedom versus oppression. It is why Israelis are always perplexed when violence is directed at them from the West Bank or Gaza, and why Palestinians are desperate enough to protest in the streets even if their lives are at risk. The U.S. and the international community should start accepting and acting on this paradigm, rather than drag efforts like the peace process into further obsoleteness. If we want to create two states, let us speak about it as secession. If we want to keep one state, let us speak about achieving equality. Don’t trap us in limbo because some people believe we might be living under the same state – we already are.

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    1. I think Amjad Iraqi’s description of the situation is quite accurate. But that doesn’t mean we can just “call it one state & be done with it”. As Paul Norton wrote in a comment to my share of Ben White’s article “Israel’s falsified fear of a one-state solution” (on MiddleEastEye.net): “The question is how to ensure that a binational state will be genuinely binational and remain so, rather than degenerating into the domination of one people by the other (which is what we have now).” To which I replied: “I agree, Paul, that IS the question. & I think what’s urgently needed is for some good heads — Israeli-Hebrew & Arab Palestinian & maybe some other — to get together & start on blueprints on how to make it work. Some feeling like that was got me to start the Imagining a Binational State of Palestine – Israeland page. But I haven’t seen any start of a constructive response…” It is time for some serious planning by responsible leaders from both sides working together on how to bring their constituents to accept a vision of a harmonious binational state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Thank you but no thank you. We will just stick to the two state solution. One Jewish majority state and the 23rd Arab majority state.

        Here is what would happen in a truly democratic bi-national ste.

        1. The immigration laws would need to be changed which means that Arab immigration would increase while Jewish immigration would decline. This would lead to another Arab majority state.

        2. The IDF which is our security blanket, would need to open it’s ranks and before long, it would not be a Jewish majority army. At best, it would be a mixed army.

        3. Ditto the government.

        Now I know that the starry eyed idealists see nothing wrong with that, they just say, so what? Embrace the idea and rejoice in it. Live happily ever after in Kumbaya. But the majority of us Jewish Israelis have memories and we are realists.

        We still remember what life for us was like as minorities, even in Palestine. We still remember massacres of our people as recent as 1929 in Hebron and Tzefat.

        We also look around us TODAY and listen to what Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s messages to us are and it doesn’t evoke confidence.

        And it does not end there. Around our borders we have the likes of Hezbollah and the Islamic state and if not them then other dictatorships, civil wars, theocracies etc.

        Oh and if that isn’t enough then we look at the history of other examples of what befell to other bi-national states. Places like Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Lebanon (during their civil war) and Syria today. We are also aware of the oppression of most minorities in most of the rest of the Middle East. And we say, no thanks. No bi-national state for us. By we, I mean the majority of Jewish Israelis, I am convinced that my view represents the majority view amongst us.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Better get cracking on two states then. Time’s not on your side. (Unless your aim is to illegally annex area C and transfer the remaining Arabs there out that you have not already shoved out, and live as a rogue nation and by the sword as your hero says. Might well be your aim. Jewish Home has already declared it their explicit aim.) By the way you could definitely make one state work if you wanted to but continuing to be awful to the neighbors and more than 20% of your citizens certainly will make a failed one state a forgone conclusion. Making things fail is not hard.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”Better get cracking on two states then. Time’s not on your side.”

            Sure, Benny, sure…

            We will sure listen to the opinions of people like you, NOT! We don’t listen to obsessive haters.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Charlton Price

      This is obvious. But has almost never been said firmly and openly, until now, especially from the Israeli (albeit liberal Israeli) side.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      The Green Line is insignificant, which exposes the political bullshit around establishing it in the first place. Jerusalem is now Berlin. “White House Officials” do not represent any electorate of American Voters, which exposes the political bullshit in my own country. John Kerry is a buffoon who has been intentionally surrounded by ONLY pro-Israel people. There will never be two states because the Jewish one wants ALL the territory, plus far more to make their zionist-chartered Land Of Israel (nobody thinks Israel’s neighbors know this??).

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Utter BS Average. You ignore the whole history of this conflict. This conflict stems from the Arabs attempt to choke off our country when it came into existence and their continuing attempt to achieve the same end ever since, by hook or by crook.

        If you really would be an American, you’d know that. I have never seen Americans turn the other cheek when America gets attacked.

        Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          Gustav: Your neighbors know your plans. THAT’s what they have been fighting.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BS Average. Our neighbors attacked us because they opposed the existence of a Jewish majority state. Many still openly say it. Heck, Hamas and Islamic Jihad openly say so and they got more than 50% of the vote in the last democratic elections which the Palestinian Arabs held in 2006. They said so themselves. They say that ALL the land, from the river to the sea are Arab lands. So in fact, they are guilty of what you accuse us of, Average. They want it all.

            But you already know all that coz I told you so before. Oh and of course you can read their charter for yourself or just listen to their bellicose tirades. Want some links? I’ll gladly post some for you although I’d prefer you not to be so lazy and look for it yourself. You won’t have any trouble seeing what they stand for unless you want to be wilfully blind.

            So, tell me Average, why are you keen to perpetrate a lie? Don’t answer that, I know the answer already. You are just another two bit Jew hater like your friend Benny. It is because of people like you why we need a Jewish majority state.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Why am I saying that this so called Average is a Jew hater? Because I read many of his posts before. Here is a sample…


            AVERAGE:”I think the most interesting thing to find out about is the interaction and boundaries between being Jewish and being Zionist. Are Jews a smokescreen for the advantage of Zionists. Or are Jews Zionists, since Zionism created the Jewish State. Do Jews claim the right to control the territory Zionism defines as “The Land Of Israel” which includes Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, half of Iraq, and Sinai.”

            He wrote it on March 25, 2014.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            This so called Average is obsessed by Jews. Here is another one of his posts…


            AVERAGE:”Reputations are earned. People have opinions about the behavior of Israelis because it is earned. Read a little of the Torah. If a Jew buys a bowl from a non-Jew for the agreed price of 3 zuz, and the Jew gives the non-Jew 2 zuz, and the non-Jew is such a bad businessman as to trust the Jew and not count his change, then the Jew can keep the bowl for 2 zuz.”

            He wrote this one on the 24th of February, 2015. He musta copied it straight out of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

            Reply to Comment
          • Average American

            Gustav: I’ll stand by those quotes, they aren’t hating anybody. WZO is as much part of history as anything else. I don’t see how you can get around that and the plans it laid out (way more land than river to sea). And if you noticed, I had some comments about my own country too.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            LOL. Your own country, Average? Which Arab country is that?

            Reply to Comment