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The meaning of a two-state solution

Discussion about a one state solution in Palestine/Israel is moving into the mainstream. As its advocates gain a platform for their views, defenders of ethnic separation are increasingly falling back on crude arguments about birth-rates and how ‘Jews’ would be treated in an ‘Arab state’. But a smarter, seemingly ‘pragmatic’ objection to a single state is also common: namely that a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians actually want a ‘two-state solution’. At first glance, this can appear to be a strong argument, particularly when deployed in debates in the West (e.g. ‘Who are you to force your solution on people who don’t want it?’) However, it is a claim that cannot withstand serious scrutiny.

First, the apparent support of Israelis for a ‘two state solution’ is not what it seems. For example, consider a recent opinion poll conducted by The Jerusalem Post, which found that 67% of Israeli Jews said they support a two-state solution. However, the same survey also found that 74% of Israeli Jews reject the idea of a Palestinian capital in any portion of Jerusalem, with only 15% backing a divided city: an essential part of any two-state solution.

Moreover, while two-thirds backed a two-state solution, a mere 8% wanted the borders to be based on the internationally-recognized pre-1967 lines. 59% expressed support for a ‘two-state solution’ in which Israel retained major colony blocs (e.g. Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion) or annexed Area C (60% of the West Bank) entirely. The support of a clear majority of Israeli Jews – note that Palestinian citizens were not part of the poll – for a ‘two-state solution’ is thus actually an endorsement of a Palestinian Bantustan, whose borders would be shaped by Israeli colonization priorities. This is what has been offered by Israeli leaders from Yitzhak Rabin to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Second, claims of Palestinian support for a two-state solution always refer to or rely on periodic polls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet that excludes the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as well as refugees and the diaspora who together make up more than 60% of the total Palestinian population. A two-state solution as conceived by the official peace process, designed to maintain Israel as a Jewish state, is highly prejudicial for the rights of both Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as refugees who seek to exercise their right to return.

Furthermore, even within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, opposition to and disillusion with the two-state solution is remarkably high, given the long-standing support for the model from the Palestinian Authority and international community. In a March poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, only 52.4% of respondents expressed support for a two-state solution, with around 1 in 4 preferring a bi-national state in Palestine/Israel. Thus even among the 37.5% of the Palestinian people who would presumably stand to most immediately benefit from the establishment of an independent state, a mere half of respondents endorsed the two-state framework.

Third, there is a broader point about basing one’s argument for a particular situation on majority opinions. Support for the abolition of slavery or votes for women were both minority views for long periods of time, which said nothing meaningful about the practical or moral implications of such a change. Which brings us to a reminder about what the two-state solution is really all about: a means of rubber-stamping ethnic cleansing and guaranteeing Jewish privilege in the majority of Palestine/Israel.

This is being made increasingly clear as a result of the anxiety of some Zionists both in Israel and abroad about the fading prospects of what they see as the only viable option for maintaining apartheid. After Israel’s Economic and Trade Minister and key coalition partner Naftali Bennett declared the two-state solution to be dead and buried, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni claimed that the international community’s peace process was in fact “the only way to preserve Israel” (meaning, ‘as a Jewish state’).

Also this week, former US president Bill Clinton on a visit to Israel said he saw “no alternative” to the establishment of a Palestinian state, since the two-state solution was the only one “that will preserve the essential character of the state of Israel as a Jewish but democratic state where minorities can vote”. Israel can’t hold on to the West Bank forever, Clinton said, because “no matter how many settlers you put out there the Palestinians will have more babies”. It is telling that when it comes to Palestine, an obsession with baby counting is characteristic of both so-called ‘liberals’ and the Right.

The warnings keep coming. A few days ago, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that senior businessmen have told Netanyahu that without “progress toward a two-state solution” there will be “negative developments for the Israeli economy”, adding that they were already “feeling the pressure” abroad. Ha’aretz cited one participant in the meeting who said that “the lack of progress toward a two-state solution could send Israel down a slippery slope toward a binational state that would be either not Jewish or not democratic”, a state of affairs that would lead to large-scale boycott.

This anxiety about the long-term sustainability of Israel’s ethnocracy and the establishment of a Palestinian ‘state’ is reflected by Western pro-Israel advocacy groups. The Cambridge Union recently hosted a debate on the subject where those arguing for a two-state solution were representatives of the right-wing, pro-Israel Henry Jackson Society, Israel lobby group BICOM, and an activist with liberal Zionist lobby group Yachad.

In another timely example, senior US Jewish leaders and Israel lobbyists have this week urged Netanyahu to disown remarks by Israeli officials opposing two-states. This is partly for hasbara purposes, but also, because of their belief that one state is a “fantasy” and that a “negotiated two-state settlement is the only way to assure that the State of Israel will remain both Jewish and democratic”.

We can expect louder and more desperate pleas for a ‘two-state solution’ from Israel lobby groups as the ‘facts on the ground’ (the worst, but mainstream-friendly argument) combines with a growing understanding of the irresolvable contradiction in the ‘Jewish and democratic’ definition to boost the groundswell for a democratic, one state solution.

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