Moving Beyond Two States
By Miko Peled
United States envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, kicked off a visit to Israel restating the US commitment to the Road Map and the Two State Solution. However, both of these options have become irrelevant and it is time for the administration to seriously study the possibility of the two nations living together within a single democratic state. This is an option that moderate parties on both sides have discussed for decades, only to be silenced by more militant forces that see this as a zero sum game.
The one state option speaks of a single secular democracy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea within which Israelis and Palestinians would live as equal citizens. This would elevate the rights of Palestinians to those of Israelis it will finally allow the two nations to stop bleeding and begin building. It is an ambitious proposition that Israel and its supporters will surely resist at first. However, judging by the facts on the ground, this may well be the only option available for the two nations.
In preparation for renewed US involvement in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Israel’s newly elected Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced his opposition to establishing a Palestinian state. Israel’s newly appointed foreign minister went even further and announced that there will be no more peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Adopting a tactic clearly designed to give them room to negotiate, the two are positioning themselves as far to the right as possible in expectation of American demands for concessions to the Palestinians. Judging by the size and the political makeup of Israel’s new cabinet, it is safe to assume that no amount of American pressure will convince them to allow Palestinian independence or to halt settlement expansions in the West Bank.
When Jimmy Carter published his book “Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid” he insisted that the apartheid did not apply to Israel, only to the occupied territories. But now the West Bank is inseparable from Israel. Because of the large settlement blocks and highways that Israel built over the years, the West Bank can no longer be separated from the rest of the country. So regardless of what solution the US supports, the geography and the demographics no longer allow for the creation of a separate political entity in the West Bank, or anywhere else in historic Palestine/Israel.
Try as we may to pretend that Israel is a Western style democracy, it is simply not the case. The government of Israel controls the lives of five and a half million Jews who enjoy the freedoms of a democracy, 1.4 million Palestinians who live as second-class citizens within Israel but with severely limited civil rights and 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are deprived of all civil and human rights.
Of the estimated ten million people living in historic Israel/Palestine today half are Israelis and half Palestinians. To bring a just and lasting end to the conflict the state must be divorced from religious or ethnic identity and provide all citizens equal rights. in other words, a secular, constitutional democracy that will protect the rights of all Palestinians and Israelis but will be the sole proprietorship of neither one. Equality, as history has shown us in this country, in South Africa and in other multi national, multi ethnic states, can only be guaranteed through laws that protect the rights of every citizen, regardless of race, religion or gender.
The Two State Solution and the Road Map are the latest in a series of failed attempts to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict through partition and segregation. The best one can expect from pursuing these options is a dangerously volatile status quo. But the good news is that Israelis and Palestinians discuss the possibility of a single state openly at academic and political forums. Now that the President has announced that he will visit Israel this summer, it is time for the US to join this conversation.