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Introducing the no-state solution

The artist Christo facing his creation "Running Fence" in 1976. (Photo: Morrie Camhi)

When I was growing up, my father served as one of Yitzhak Rabin’s chief advisers. This being the case, I learned to think of the two-state-solution to the question of this country as unquestionable.

In the early 1980’s the discourse common around the house involved “returning the territories”  to Jordan and Egypt, of which Israel conquered them in 1967. With time, however, my parents’ consciousness of Palestinian realities grew, as well as their understanding that Jordan and Egypt didn’t necessarily want the territories back. The idea of giving the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians themselves was accepted and stuck. The 90’s began and the rest is (somewhat depressing) history.

The entire Israeli public reached the Oslo years fighting either for or against a separation of the territory into two. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I understood that for the Palestinians themselves, this would be an enormously painful compromise.

Palestinians were free to live in Jaffa and Safed before 1948. My family didn’t have a similar attachment to Nablus and Jenin. If a separation occurred, we would have had to bite the bullet in East Jerusalem and Hebron, but that would have been an acceptable sacrifice. We could accept it as a fair price to be paid for the pain we have caused our neighbors.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, owe us nothing. They had no part in the Holocaust that caused us to escape to their shores, they never kept us occupied under martial law, bereft of human rights, labor rights and all other imaginable rights. Furthermore: they never stole our houses (with very few exceptions: refugees from such villages as Lifta, taken over by the Israelis in 1948, were subsequently accommodated in Jerusalem’s abandoned Jewish quarter).

They had no good reason to give up the dream of ever turning the wheels of history back, and still don’t. This is probably why, when it came down to it, Arafat could not bring himself to sign the separation plans offered by Barak and Bill Clinton. He promised his people the entire cake and could not come home with a crumbly slice.

Pragmatic but dumb

I believe in pragmatism and I believe that a two-state solution is currently the easiest development the world and the Israeli public would accept, which counts for something. We need to encourage any development, because the current situation is intolerable. As I write this I scan the headlines and read of five more Palestinians who were killed during the night.

Still, there are so many flaws with a two-state plan, and the imbalance in the degree of sacrifice is only one of them. Another has to do with the nature such states risk developing: Two ethnocentric states will very likely to become polarized. The Jewish one would easily turn into a proper theocracy, the Palestinian one could easily be taken over by fundamentalists. No side would be fully satisfied and the solution would forever be taken for an interim one.

Would two ethnocentric states be better than a single one, occupying  a society bereft of sovereign status? Yes, but the flaws are extremely numerous. This is why, in recent years, the one-state movement arose in Israel, demanding the unification of the territory into a single, democratically governed unit in which all will be citizens of equal rights.

What would be more natural than that? Why even have a single ethnocentric state? Ethnocentric states were a dated concept even when Herzl dreamed up his model of Zionism. They are so 1848! Here’s the land. Here are the people. Let’s give them all rights and do our best to maintain democracy in the new entity created.

This, indeed, is the sensible solution, but is it pragmatic? In the short run, I would say no. We and our brethren abroad (world Jewry, Palestinian expats) have all invested too much energy in the “dream” of sovereignty. Several generation will have to pass before this idea is accepted by more than a handful of activists and a few politicians with hidden agendas.

The playing-card parliament

Another problem is that a “one state” will likely soon turn into the same ethnocentric Palestinian state that was a part of the two-state solution, with one difference: it will now take over the entire territory and the Jewish population will become a minority in it. Currently the Jewish and Arab populations between the Jordan and sea are about balanced. The Palestinians are sure to become a majority soon.

Only a political system that entirely bans ethnic alliances will protect the single state from turning into a reverse model of the one we see now.  In the emotional Middle East, such a system would be difficult to maintain. It’s been tried in a way, in Lebanon, to disheartening results.

The accumulating anger of the Palestinians and the ingrained fear and distrust taught to Israelis will likely cause such a parliament built of playing cards to crumble with the first thump on the podium.

What to do then? Since ethnocentric states are an archaic folly, and a non-ethnocentric state seems unmaintainable, perhaps what we should do is just stop thinking “state.” This isn’t my idea. For decades now an entire continent has been moving away from the nationalist dogma towards a new concept.

Currently in Europe, a Belgian is still a Belgian, but that is just one category in a chain. You are first of all human, then a European, then a Belgian, the a Walloon, then a Liegois. One solution that was raised for the Palestine\Israel question is cantonization. That’s a fine thought, but rather than emulating the Swiss, who reject the EU, I say, let us embrace it.

If we had here two national entities, each with a constitution that allows a limited bias of “national character”, and if both were members of the EU, then perhaps the whole juvenile question of who “rules” the place would become less meaningful, as it does now in Alsace, for example. Movement would be free between the two parts. One could live wherever one chose to and worship wherever one chose to.

Jews could live in Hebron, for example. They would simply have to live there as good neighbors, subject to the laws of the Palestinian entity, which would be drafted in accordance with EU principles. If Hebron Jews start acting like brutes (as they often do now, while being guarded by the IDF), consequences would follow.

Palestinian refugees could, in turn, return to Haifa and elsewhere. In fact, all Palestinians living in the EU will automatically have the right of return.Would Israelis have to vacate homes for them? I would rather a certain monetary compensation for the suffering of the families helped them purchase those homes or others. It’s all open to negotiations, and no concession would seem quite as painful, when both nations are granted both solid sovereignty and the freedom to integrate.

An historical debt

Would the distance from Europe not make this unfeasible or unreasonable? Not at all. Mind you: the next country to the west, Cyprus, is already a member of the EU. Would the Arab world like it? Would Iran? Hard to tell, but I’d like to see Iran threaten the EU following the creation of a Palestinian state. That would really make a lot of sense. The Muslim world has a lot to earn from such an arrangement. It would, for one, allow many Muslim pilgrims to visit Al Aqsa and other holy sites. They would simply need a Schengen visa.

Would the EU itself benefit? Enormously. A stake in the Middle East never hurt. The Americans are investing billions every year in order to maintain one, and yet they don’t solve our problems. Turkey has so far not been admitted, true, but it has a population of 80 million and human right issues that often exceed even our own. Would Europe be “opening its gates” to receive unwanted migration from another part of the world? Not really. Israelis and Palestinians are already immigrating to Europe by the scores. They would probably be less prone to, once the situation here improves.

Christian Europeans could make their home in the land of Christ and the internationalization of Jerusalem would gradually become less and less of an unthinkable idea. I’m not suggesting my plan as a form of bureaucratic crusade (a union of European nations already did preside over this land, with sorry results), but this is a land that should truly welcome all who hold it to be sacred. Currently, converting to Judaism is one of the only ways to immigrate here.

But leave religion aside for a moment. The EU was born of a trade union. It’s about economy and is dedicated to maintaining prosperity in its member countries. Prosperity is exactly what we need here, prosperity for all, that would weaken the fundamentalists and instill a sense of future in those who so far sorely lacked it.

One last point: I truly think, as a Jew who lost countless relatives during the Holocaust, that Europe owes this to us. I too am the child of refugees. I have no plans to return to my great grandparents’ impressive property in Slovakia. The Slovaks can have it, but the loss of that house and the loss of the demolished village whose ruins are to be found a few steps away from where I write this stem from the same tragedy. The nakba was a ripple effect of World War Two. The nations that launched that war could easily give us a hand in ending its last battle and recovering.

Yes we can

If they refuse to, we can always just copy their successful model here on a small scale. Israel and Palestine could become a tiny little “Canaanite union”. Sound ridiculous? But this would be the compromise between two solutions that are not any more realistic. Think back to the two ethnocentric states solutions. Now think back to the one state solution bound to eventually become ethnocentric. Now think Benelux.

Think we can’t do it? Remember that in the past 100 years, people in the region of the Benelux slaughtered each other in two bouts, with no regard to each others’ humanity. This has never happened here. We in the Middle East are at least as civilized and capable of growing together. Yes, we benefit from outside help, but the will to change and the capacity to change will forever remain our own, as will the achievement.

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    1. noy

      this kind of ludicrous articles will surely keep you guys in the nobody-cares margin of the public political discussion

      Reply to Comment
    2. Got a better idea? You’re welcome to share it.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Hassan

      I like the idea and love this comment:

      “Ethnocentric states were a dated concept even when Herzl dreamed up his model of Zionism. They are so 1848! Here’s the land. Here are the people. Let’s give them all rights and do our best to maintain democracy in the new entity created.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ari

      God damn Yuval, this is fucking brilliant. I actually thought you were gonna go with the Canaanite Union as potential number one. Incorporation into the EU, that’s just a lovely dream. I’m happy to lay my head next to yours in that case.

      But Noy is right. This new and interesting idea, stemming from an intellectual thought process is just not what we need. Realities are not born from ideas. Wait, that’s not true at all.

      This is my first talk back. I feel gross inside.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Yuval, any viable solution requires the stable well-considered democratic support of both people. So the first step is to establish agreement to this basic idea and then to run a deliberative competition among all proposals (including yours) to see which ones are preferred over the status-quo by both sides. Only by such process people will be willing to invest the mental energy to consider more creative solutions and their proposers (like you) will have to make them real and concrete rather than just etudes. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaWFh_FD90U.

      Reply to Comment
    6. […] Ben-Ami wrote a piece for +972 Magazine Sunday with a creative, albeit impracticable, vision of a resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian […]

      Reply to Comment
    7. David

      Why is it that only Israelis (even nice ones) come up with these stupid, fated-to-die-on-the-vine ideas? Is it just to keep delaying (or avoiding facing) the inevitable?

      Reply to Comment
    8. “…We could accept it as a fair price to be paid for the pain we have caused our neighbors.”

      Really? Was there actually talk in the household of a chief advisor to Rabin, around the dinner table, talking of giving up East Jerusalem? I’m sorry, I find this comment a little too candid to be believable.

      “Two ethnocentric states will very likely to become polarized…”

      This was where you really lost me. The idea that two states, freed of their frustrating ethnic ‘others’ would automatically slide into theocracies, is a bit of a throwaway.

      On the other hand, the idea of a ‘Canaanite Union’ is actually very interesting and I think 972 would have been much better served if it had been the starting point of the article, not the finishing point. Certainly the idea of economic union for the two future states would be of tremendous value to both. The chances of such a union coming about are an order of magnitude slimmer than any peace agreement, but the idea is interesting none the less, and there’s all sorts of things I can think of to suss out such an argument.

      In the end, I have to agree with Noy, despite his lack of constructive criticism. There’s an air of demonstrable apology to this article, perhaps to show the other, peaceable, Israeli face to the world. Being apologetic is all well and good, but it’s not necessarily constructive – and shouldn’t be the subtext of an article.

      If +972 wants to carve out a niche for itself as serious commentary on haMatsav, or perhaps be a rallying point for the left, it’ll need to be a little more thoughtful, and less on the apologetic fringe, than this.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Adam, yes, there was talk of it. I can’t tell you that my father was a fan of such idea at the time because I don’t quite remember, probably not. I do remember, though, that it was discussed openly when I brought it up. In any case my father was Rabin’s media advisor and not a policy advisor. No one asked him what he thinks should be done with Jerusalem. No one except me, that is.

      As for the polarizing two states comment. I feel that The various societies sharing this territory are already polarizing, with or without a two state solution, and with the influence of such figures as Lieberman, not to mention the religious factors, a separation could result in a turn to even greater extremism. I find it interesting that you see my fear as so ludicrous. Do you currently live in this country?

      As for your final comment and that of Noy: I’m less concerned about where +972 falls in the eyes of the public than about changing things. Our prestiege will be worth nothing if we don’t dare to bring up ideas that deserve being discussed.

      Honestly, I don’t think of this post as apologetic. It was written following an entire weekend shared with a Palestinian friend, during which we both tried to shed apalogetics and listen. At the end of it I was left with many new understandings, a lot of sadness and a sense of urgency: a need to try and open up a new door.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Hi Yuval. Regarding your comments: fair enough.
      I do live in the country, and when I read your comments I was reminded of the old adage that the only thing that was keeping Israelis from fighting amongst themselves more was the (at least somewhat) unifying factor of the conflict, and the sense of a shared Jewish narrative. I don’t know what would happen if the conflict were to be solved – I suppose that given the current, and ever-increasing, level of involvement with the religious in the affairs of the state, a theocracy is certainly possible. I’d like to think that the secular wouldn’t stand for it though, and would check their power before it got to that point. At any rate, I don’t feel your fear was ludicrous; I just thought the statement was poorly defended in this article.

      My last comment about improving 972’s profile and prestige – it stems from a conversation I’ve been having with myself lately about what the left needs to do to become a force again in the state, and it seems to me that the only way it can do so is if it rallies behind the common shared ideals and abandons (at least in the meantime) it’s individual desires, flares, interpretations, policy suggestions, etc. As it is, the left is madly off in all directions, unaccessible to the secular mainstream, and unable to combat the labeling by the right. If it is to be any use in steering the state then the various factions must unite behind their shared, and centrist, ideals.

      Reply to Comment
    11. …but I digress. 😀 We can certainly agree that an ethnocentric state is sooo two centuries ago, and the benefits of an economic union is a good idea that should be explored.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ben Israel

      Regarding the statement above the the “Palestinians had no part in the Holocaust”, I find that doesn’t jibe with the recent revelation that the leader of the Palestinians Amin el-Husseini, received a salary from Nazi Germany of 50,000 Reichsmarks per month, double what a Field Marshal in the German Wehrmach received. Why were they paying him and what services was he rendering in return? Maybe like recruiting Muslims for the Waffen SS who butchered Jews and Serbs among others?

      Reply to Comment
    13. Y.

      It is telling that all of the comments attacked the post’s “solution”, but I do think it deserves a bit more than mere dismissal. After all, this is a very revealing post. Starting from its complete and uncritical acceptance of the Palestinian narrative, its admission it was the Palestinian which broke up the peace process [did the other contributers to +972 notice?], and the author’s lack of knowledge (or logic).

      First, the “solution” is no solution at all. The EU won’t consider even starting an inclusion process before the conflict is completely resolved, making an EU-based solution useless, as the conflict would have to be solved somehow first. And a local union (contra comments, not a new idea) is exactly the same as “one state” – dismissed by the author himself.

      Second, the author is provincial and therefor a bit ignorant of the world outside. Nationalism, far from a spent force, is one the main movers in the post-WWII world. It was a huge factor in decolonization. Pretty much all of the former-communist nations broke up according to it in the nineties. We can still see the reverberations in today’s Kosovo and Georgia… The EU is a weak example: its members feel no loyalty to one another (look at what it took to help Greece).

      Worse and nigh inexcusable, is the author’s ignorance on our neighbour Cyprus. He should know there a nasty conflict there, complete with its own “Green Line”, “right of return” and “settlers”. Coincidentally, Cyprus’s EU membership offers it no protection from Turkey, which occupies 38% of its territory. Which is another example of how the EU can’t deter anyone, much less Iran.

      The author is similarly (but more excusably) ignorant on Belgium (which is in a slow process of breaking up, and most Flemish have voted for parties who want to break up Belgium [NVA, Vlaams]).

      Reply to Comment
    14. sh

      Must say I too was a bit nonplussed by the seeming ignorance on Belgium’s current state of being that led to its use as a role model.

      In reality, whereas a Walloon might be European first, Belgian next, Walloon after that and Liègeois last, a Fleming (they’re the Belgians with the most financial clout, who are sick and tired of subsidizing the less dynamic Walloons) would prefer no longer to be Belgian at all. They’re the ones who voted for a Flemish republic that would secede from Belgium in its last election. Belgium has been without a government for half a year now, a state of being that, if perpetuated, could function as a useful pilot for our no-state solution (on the assumption that no state would require no government).

      Also, most EU members have remained wedded to their respective national identities. And the last batch of countries to join were mainly new, fiercely nationalistic chips off the old Soviet bloc.

      Finally, if the currently embattled EU cannot cope with its own internal problems, viz financial straits of Eurozone countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and the political status of the city in which its institutions are based should Belgium fall apart, why would they want to take our unresolved issues on? I can see what would be in it for us, but what’s in it for them?

      Reply to Comment
    15. Rehmat

      A two-state solution is totally against the WZC’s dream of Eretz Israel – which even included parts of Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Taking into account the current situation on ground – Israel’s definition of ‘two-state’ is different than proposed by the US and EU or the Saudi Arabia in 2002. The Zionist-regime wants a Palestinian state – as the current situation is – The West independent of Gaza and East Jerusalem being Judaized under Israeli occupation.

      The durable solution lies between the expectations of Gilad Atzmon, Roger Tucker and Helen thomas.


      Reply to Comment
    16. 123456

      The 50-state solution: Israel is annexed to the United States.

      Reply to Comment

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