Security Studies Program Seminar
Israel, the Palestinians, and the One State Agenda
Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP)
February 10, 2010
- This talk is based on Ibish’s recent (2009) book, What’s Wrong with the One State Agenda? which is available for free online at the ATFP website.
- Some Israelis like Benny Morris have critiqued the one-state solution, but Ibish’s book is first time that the one-state solution has been critiqued from a pro-Palestinian perspective.
- The ATFP is a non-profit NGO founded in 2003, and its mission is to advocate for an end of conflict agreement for two states living side by side, one Israeli and one Palestinian, which is in the American national interest.
History of the The One-State Agenda
- There has been an erosion in pro-Palestinian circles in America, Britain, and elsewhere of what had been a consensus since the late 1980s and, in truth since the early 1970s, that the Palestinian national goal is two-state solution.
- In recent years, a small but growing and increasingly vocal group, centered on university campuses in the West, has begun advocating for a one-state, bi-national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- Where does the one-state idea come from?
- A certain strain of Zionist discourse in 1930s pushed for a bi-national state, but this idea died on the vine due to Jewish settler-Palestinian tensions.
- There was never any enthusiasm for the one-state idea on the Palestinian side at the time.
- The vision for Palestine in the original PLO charter was for a single state in historic Palestine, but it was to be Arab/Palestinian, not bi-national.
- The PLO changed it stance over time, culminating with its recognition of Israel in 1993 with the Oslo Accords.
- The second intifada changed everything. Due to the extreme violence and anger experienced on both sides, people on all sides reevaluated what kind of peace was possible/advisable.
- In Israel, a shift was made to the right, and the peace camp fell from power and has not returned.
- Among Palestinians, the second intifada led to the rise of Islamists/Hamas, as even the secular PLO had to use religious rhetoric to avoid outbidding (the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” label comes from the PLO, not Hamas).
- In the Palestinian diaspora, Hamas has some sympathy but is not embraced by most immigrants who have not fully embraced Islamism (there may be differences between Britain and U.S. on this count). What is found instead of support for Hamas is growing support for a one-state agenda, which is very strident/angry and more typically reflects the views of nationalists rather than Islamists.
- There is a small amount of Jewish/Israeli rhetoric in support of a one-state solution, but it is small and different than that from the Palestinian side, so Ibish did not examine it in his book.
Ibish’s Key Questions for the One-State Agenda
Ibish poses six important questions not asked or addressed by most supporters of the one-state agenda, which he feels they cannot effectively answer.
- If the occupation cannot be ended, as one-state supporters claim, when did the tipping point occur, since presumably they believed it could have been ended at some point? If Israel will not agree to end the occupation, what is the logic in thinking that Israel might dissolve itself via the one-state solution? If Israel cannot be compelled to give up/share 22% of the land under its control, how can you convince them to do so with 100% of it?
- Shouldn’t Jewish Israelis be a key/primary audience for the one-state agenda, since they make up half of its potential constituency (currently the more powerful one at that)?
- What efforts have one-state supporters made to reach out to Israelis and say what is in the one-state solution for them? (Ibish believes that they have made no such efforts.)
- What do one-state advocates propose to do to transcend Palestinian national identity/ambitions? Why has no major Palestinian political party subscribed to the bi-national one-state idea?
- Apart from empty slogans like “boycott until justice,” how do one-state advocates propose to advance their vision and make it reality?
- Since they reject both the project of ending the occupation and the state and institution building program of the Palestinian Authority (PA), what do one-state advocates offer to those living under occupation other than decades of suffering and claims of solidarity?
Ibish’s Argument for a Two-State Solution
- People are rightly skeptical about an end to occupation, but Ibish sees no other alternative, nothing else will end the conflict but a two-state solution. There is not going to be military victory for either side, ethnic cleansing is off the table, so a two-state solution is the only peaceful option.
- Absent a two-state solution, the conflict will become increasingly violent, religious and unable to be negotiated, as is clear from a survey of the conflict’s history from the first intifada to the second intifada to what might come next. It will become defined by “bearded men fighting over the will of God,” and God’s will is difficult to negotiate.
- The rise of the Israeli religious right is not fully appreciated in U.S. as is the rise of religion/Hamas in Palestinian society, but it poses some similar challenges.
- Some Israelis sometimes maintain a potentially suicidal attitude that the status quo can be maintained through force of arms alone. Eventually, without an end to the occupation, the Palestinian cause could well become an Islamist cause, the Palestinian cause go away, and becomes Muslims vs. Jews over control of the holy places. Israelis, Americans, and Palestinians should all recognize that the nature of the conflict can change irreversibly in dangerous ways they do not anticipate.
- It is true that diplomacy is currently at an impasse, but there is the Palestinian State and Institution-Building program (introduced by Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority Salam Fayyad).
- Under this plan, which Ibish supports, Palestinians will unilaterally build the framework of an independent state, in spite of the occupation, with intentions to end it. In this way, a Palestinian state becomes a fait accompli, and is easier for Israelis to officially recognize. This is the Palestinian answer to settlements, since it creates new facts on the ground and changes the strategic equation. Israelis are both delighted and terrified by this plan. They increasingly trust Fayyad and many are in favor of a real, stable Palestinian state in the territories, but saying these things and then seeing them be put into practice (with all of their associated risks) are two different things. It should be noted however that Fayyad’s speech at Herzliya, in which he laid out his plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state without Israeli permission/support, was applauded by most Israelis in attendance.
- The model for this plan is the new Palestinian security forces trained by General Dayton. Israelis originally didn’t like the idea, but couldn’t effectively block it because it was being backed by the United States. Most Israelis in the national security establishment have changed their mind over time, decided that having competent PA security forces to enforce law and order in the West Bank is actually a good thing. This process of Palestinians successfully using international support to create governing structures and Israeli fears being overcome by performance in practice can and should be replicated in sector after sector. Eventually Israel will have to choose between ceding more and more of the facets of sovereignty to the Palestinians in ever larger areas of the occupied territories, or crushing the plan and admitting to themselves and everybody else that they never intended to allow for an independent Palestinian state in the first place.
Rapporteur: Peter Krause
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Spring 2010