Voices | The One-State Delusion

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israeli and palestinian flags on a cracked wall
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By Paul M. Schneider

Several commentators have proclaimed the Middle East peace process dead, and with it the possibility of a two-state solution. Some who have adopted this viewpoint advocate a one-state solution. Let’s look at two recent examples.


Paul M. Schneider
Paul M. Schneider (Schneider)

In his 2019 book, “Paradigm Lost,” political science professor Ian Lustick argues that the land between the Jordan River and the sea has become a “one state reality” and must be dealt with as such. He argues for ways to treat that reality “as a new paradigm for thought and action.” In effect, he says that what was once an international human rights problem is now a domestic civil rights problem, which must be solved by affording Palestinians the same rights as Israeli Jews.

At the outset, some might note that Israel has poor record when it comes to Palestinian rights, and has even failed to guarantee the rights of its own Arab citizens. But Lustick is undeterred by such concerns, arguing that “Jews will have to accept Arabs as political partners and honor the role they have played and will play in the democratization of Israel and in the return of their society to values of peace, tolerance, and freedom.” He then states: “For Jews, this will require abandoning shrill warnings of Arab threats to Jewish demographic superiority.” As Lustick would have it, Jewish Israelis are concerned about the demographics of a binational state because “the Holocaust as a template for Jewish life powerfully contributes to vicious cycles of violence and hatred between Israel and the Palestinians.” “Two state advocates” then promote their cause by “exploiting and even deepening Jewish Israeli fears of and distaste for Arabs.” That must come as a surprise to members of J Street.

Lustick suggests that Jews no longer need a state that affords them the right, and the means, of self-determination. Thus, he maintains that Israelis must simply abandon “the statist tradition within Zionism that Jews — and Jews alone — should wield political power over Jews.” Really? Isn’t that tradition the whole idea? Isn’t that why 1% of the Yishuv gave their lives in 1948? Isn’t that what thousands more have died defending? It seems that maintaining a Jewish majority — a key to the whole Zionist enterprise — doesn’t really matter after all. Who knew?

Professor and commentator Peter Beinart makes a similar one-state argument in a July 7 essay in Jewish Currents and his New York Times op-ed published the next day. In the Times, he writes, “It’s time to abandon the traditional two-state solution and embrace the goal of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state.” Beinart argues: “The essence of Zionism is not a Jewish state in the land of Israel; it is a Jewish home in the land of Israel, a thriving Jewish society that both offers Jews refuge and enriches the entire Jewish world.” But as he acknowledges, that understanding of Zionism has been largely forgotten. So it’s a bit late to uncouple Zionism from the idea of a Jewish state, where a Jewish majority looks out for its own interests. That’s been the main point for a long time. Can we really expect Israelis to give it up? Of course not.

Like Lustick, Beinart suggests that Israeli Jews could abandon their Zionist aspirations and join in a binational state if it weren’t for their collective memory of the Holocaust. But there is a simpler and more likely explanation — one that does not depend on speculative mass psychology: It may just be that Israeli Jews want to preserve liberal Zionism because, for the first time in nearly 2,000 years, they are afforded the right of self-determination.

Finally, it must be noted that the one-state argument amounts to tacit acceptance of the occupation and its violations of international law. Lustick and Beinart do not address this issue, but presumably a one-state advocate would argue that those violations would somehow be cured by the declaration that Palestinians now have equal rights. Surely, any such declaration would be honored in the breach. In any event, granting an indigenous population “equal rights” does not excuse the seizure and colonization of its land. As J Street Director Jeremy Ben-Ami has said, “‘one state’ is not a solution, it’s the problem.”

The more one digs into the issues posed by a one-state solution, the less likely it seems. So what’s the better alternative? A two-state solution remains supported by Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. It also has the support of most major interest groups and the American political establishment. It presents well-known challenges, but there is nothing about it that is inherently unworkable. The problem is a lack of leadership — in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah. Let’s try to fix that, before we abandon liberal Zionism in favor of academic fantasies.

Paul M. Schneider is an attorney who lives in Bethesda.

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