American Jews like me who argue against the one-state solution are constantly confronted by those who claim a moral high ground and cite the small but growing number of Palestinian intellectuals who have given up on two states. They spend much of their time showing why the two-state solution is no longer feasible while spending precious little time explaining how in the world one state could possibly arise, or what they have to offer Palestinians who need an end to the occupation as soon as possible. It was refreshing to read the following, devastating critique by Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine, another passionate Palestinian moderate. I will quote from it in full:
On college campuses in the United States and the United Kingdom, and increasingly among grassroots activists in the West generally, the cause of ending the Israeli occupation and securing independence for a Palestinian state is being abandoned in favor of a much more far-reaching goal of replacing Israel with a single, democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians, including all of the refugees. Until now, this rhetoric has been largely unchallenged from a pro-Palestinian perspective, which has probably been a significant factor in its appeal.
My new book, â€œWhatâ€™s Wrong with the One-State Agenda?â€, traces the development of this agenda and interrogates its assumptions and claims.
The outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, which inflicted profound suffering and created deep ill-will on both the sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide, bolstered stridently nationalist perspectives among Israelis and Palestinians. For many, it prompted a negative re-evaluation of what kind of peace was possible and desirable.
In Israel, this was manifested in the collapse of the â€œpeace camp,â€ a radical shift to the political right and the election of Ariel Sharon, who became prime minister. Among the Palestinians, Islamists, especially Hamas, gained significant ground. In the Palestinian diaspora, where support for Hamas is limited and, especially in the United States, politically untenable and even legally risky, this same disillusionment and radicalization was largely expressed through the rise of the one-state agenda.
More generally, the one-state agenda reflects the conclusion that Israel will never agree to seriously end the occupation and allow for the creation of a fully sovereign, viable Palestinian state, therefore that negotiations and diplomacy are pointless. At the end of Part One of my book I pose a series of pointed questions that are not usually addressed to, or have been insufficiently answered by, one-state advocates, and that in many cases their sympathizers have not adequately considered. Here are the six of them:
First, if Israel will not agree to end the occupation, what makes anyone think that it will possibly agree to dissolve itself? If Israel cannot be compelled or convinced to surrender 22 percent of the territory it holds, how can it be compelled or convinced to surrender or share 100 percent of it?
Second, what, as a practical matter, does this vision of a single, democratic state offer to Jewish Israelis?
Third, what efforts have Palestinian and pro-Palestinian one-state advocates made in reaching out to mainstream Jews and Israelis and to incorporating their national narrative into this vision?
Fourth, how do one-state advocates propose to supersede or transcend Palestinian national identity and ambitions? Why is it that no significant Palestinian political party or faction has adopted the one-state goal?
Fifth, how, apart from empty slogans about largely nonexistent and highly implausible boycotts, do one-state advocates propose to realize or advance their vision? What practical steps do they imagine and what is their road map for success?
And sixth, since they reject both Palestinian independence and the ongoing agenda of infrastructural and institutional development presently defining the strategy of what they consider the â€œquislingâ€ Palestinian Authority, what do one-state advocates, as a practical matter, offer those living under occupation other than expressions of solidarity and interminable decades of continued struggle and suffering?
It is striking that the most ardent and tenacious one-state advocates seem to be taking a great deal of their time in even starting to formulate answers to these questions. Assad AbuKhalil, who comments on anything and everything on his blog, has remained strangely silent. Ali Abunimah, who is surely the most ardent and prolific one-state proponent in the United States, and who also runs a well-read blog, also appears at a loss for words. Even the overgrown juvenile delinquents at the Kabobfest blog, who have exhibited signs of suffering from a cybersphere version of Touretteâ€™s syndrome, are also strangely passing up what would seem to be a golden opportunity to repeat their usual accusations about â€œtraitorsâ€ and â€œcollaborators.â€
I have no doubt that sooner or later a response, and hopefully a calm and thoughtful one, will be forthcoming from some of the committed one-state advocates. But the amount of time it is taking for them to offer any sort of answer to these extremely relevant questions suggests, perhaps, that they are proving difficult to formulate and quite possibly were not anticipated.
But there surely must be a considerable burden of proof on those proposing that the Palestinian national movement abandon its long-standing goal of ending the occupation, which is based on a huge body of international law and reflects a regional and international consensus, in favor of a grand experiment in almost entirely uncharted waters that poses significant risks and offers uncertain benefits. One-state proponents have an obligation to explain how exactly they think they can achieve the extraordinary task of compelling or convincing Israel to effectively dissolve itself.
Unless it offers answers to simple, clear and obvious questions such as these, the one-state rhetoric will be an agenda for accomplishing very little if anything. Rather it will merely be a convenient vehicle for rejecting any and all things Israeli and adopting a position of uncompromising confrontation.
This is not an abstract intellectual exercise. Those seeking to liberate the Palestinian people cannot allow themselves to be beguiled by the narcissistic thrill of â€œwinningâ€ an academic debate on campuses while contributing nothing, even doing harm, to the causes of peace and Palestine.
Hussein Ibish is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington DC. His book is available for free download or purchase on the website of the American Task Force on Palestine (americantaskforce.org). He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.