Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If not two-state then one-state?

The two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has for some time been unrealizable because it is blocked on both ends--by the Palestinian power struggle and the collapse of the Left in Israel and the Israeli party system. As a result a growing chorus of Palestinians, Arabs, and anti-Israel activists in the West have been calling for a one-state solution. There are basically three versions of the one-state solution, although its backers only talk about one of these. The first is the Greater Israel version in which Israel rules from "the sea to the river." Palestinians have few rights. This has proven to be unstable and unacceptable to the Arabs.

The second version is one in which all citizens are equal, ethnicity doesn't matter and "the lamb shall lie down with the lion." This is the naive version put forward mainly by the radicals, particularly Jewish radicals, in the West. It is based on a false equation with South Africa. In South Africa the resistance to apartheid was led by a principled Christian leadership composed of figures from the African churches and the African National Congress. The ANC in exile was led by Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela's former law partner who once trained to be an Anglican priest. The ANC had a policy forbidding the attacking of soft targets--terrorism. It only targeted military installations and government offices, with the aim of minimizing the loss of life. This is very different from the "armed struggle" of the PLO or Hamas. Most of the casualties of the liberation struggle in South Africa were black--caused by interorganizational violence in KwaZulu/Natal province where the ANC faced the ethnic Zulu organization Inkatha, which ran the Zulu homeland KwaZulu. The other main source of casualties were suspected informers.

In the Israeli-Palestine conflict while there have been many Palestinian victims of interorganizational violence among Palestinians, both in the 1936-39 Arab Revolt and in the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza, most casualties have been in fighting between Arabs and Israelis or by Palestinian terrorism. The overall number of casualties has also been significant. In this regard the Israeli experience is much more like that of South Africa's neighbor Zimbabwe. The African majority took power in Zimbabwe after a seven-year liberation struggle that cost the lives of between 20,000 and 50,000. Most of the dead were Africans but most white families suffered either death in the family or a severe wound due to the conflict. In South Africa relatively few whites were killed or severely wounded in either the war in Namibia or the ANC's guerrilla campaign. Both sides in Zimbabwe were left embittered by the struggle and half the white population had emigrated within two years of majority rule--although many of these later returned. Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe was embittered by his wartime experiences and the death of his first wife during the war.

The Zimbabwean peace deal was based on temporary guarantees to whites. Once these guarantees expired after seven years Mugabe began freezing whites out of the economy. He made it clear that the deal was that they could remain in the country only if their children emigrated. Many Israeli Jews feel that Arab acceptance of a sovereign Jewish presence will likewise be purely temporary. This is why nearly all Jews in Israel oppose a right of return for Palestinians to Israel. A one-state solution would effectively mean a right of return by incorporating the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza within Israel. It would mean the end of a Jewish majority and Jewish sovereignty.

The Lancaster House deal of December 1979 that ended the war in Zimbabwe was dreaded by most Rhodesian whites because Africa was a region dominated by one-party autocracies, not to mention kleptocracies. They correctly feared the same fate for their own country. For this same reason many Afrikaners (and English-speakers) feared majority rule in South Africa. They negotiated an end to minority rule only once they felt assured by the ANC leadership and that they had no choice in the long run. Israel still is situated in a region with similar characteristics to that of Africa in the 1980s. 

The third version is that of an Arab-dominated state. The Jews would be a tolerated minority as they once were in Arab states throughout the region and as the Copts are in Egypt today. Lebanese Christians have been unwilling to accept a Muslim-dominated state in Lebanon. This has resulted in two civil wars: a brief civil war in 1958 and a long very bloody civil war from 1975 to 1990. The refusal of Hezbollah to disarm or accept accountability for their actions threatens a repeat of the civil war. The fate of a single state ruled by either Jews or Arabs is the same--chronic instability.

Theodor Herzl in 1895 wrote Der Judenstaat (normally rendered in English as The Jewish State but actually meaning The State of the Jews), not The Binational State. Jews emigrated from Europe and the Middle East to Palestine with the dream of having a state of their own, not the nightmare of sharing a binational state with another people.

In Northern Ireland the logic of demography and politics dictated power sharing as the only stable solution to the conflict. It triumphed 33 years years after it was first tried and failed. Third time's the charm as they say. It may take decades before a two-state solution can be realized in the Middle East, but the one-state solution is a chimera, a mirage, not a solution.

Those who have read my early posts will know that I believe that Northern Ireland is much closer to Israel's past and present than South Africa. But South Africa or even Zimbabwe may be in Israel's future if it is not careful. 

No comments:

Post a Comment