Hussein Ibish writes in a guest commentary for Informed Comment
Last Thursday on Informed Comment, Juan Cole uttered a powerful cris de coeur about prospects for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, echoing warnings by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat that if Israeli colonization continues, Palestinians may switch to demanding equal rights in a single state. Such pessimism is not only justified, it is requisite given the difficulties facing the prospects for peace, and can only be intensified by a similarly despairing announcement by Pres. Abbas that, because of Israel’s refusal move seriously towards peace, he would not seek another term in office.
Erekat’s statement, while unusual, is hardly unprecedented from senior Palestinian and PLO figures. Similar “threats” to abandon the quest to end the occupation in favor of a single-state agenda have been issued several times in the past as I describe in my new book, What’s Wrong with the One-State Agenda? In 2008, former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and other leading Palestinians, including the “Palestine Strategy Study Group,” expressed similar views.
In contrast with the one-state rhetoric among pro-Palestinian activists in the West, which generally holds Palestinian independence to be both unachievable and undesirable, Palestinians in the occupied territories who raise this specter generally do so as a tactic designed to compel greater seriousness by Israel on negotiations and warn about the consequences of a failure to achieve a two-state agreement. Erekat’s comments clearly reflected this. In his speech Abbas declared that he was personally fed up but that everything in his experience indicated that a two-state agreement is possible.
These two versions of one-state rhetoric may one day merge into a unified agenda, but for now they remain distinct phenomena, most clearly divided by their ultimate goal: Palestinian leaders still seek independence and an end to the occupation, aims that are angrily rejected as insufficient and even outrageous by many diasporic one-state advocates.
Under the present circumstances it seems most probable that if the strategy of the secular-nationalist forces in Palestine were to collapse or be abandoned, the main beneficiaries would not be one-state advocates. The real political contest among Palestinians is between the nationalists and the Islamists, and the declining fortunes of either almost axiomatically advances the interests of the other.
Even if Palestinians were somehow to abandon their long-standing national aim of independence, avoid their national movement becoming entirely dominated by Islamists, and adopt the goal of equal rights in a post-nationalist state, it is very hard to imagine that this would leave them in an improved strategic position.
A noted one-state advocate has accused me of suggesting an interview with the Atlantic website that “the one-state solution is bad because Jews don’t want it.” This is to misread not only my analysis but the fundamental political reality, which is extremely simple: a one-state solution will be impossible as long as an overwhelming or even a solid majority of Jewish Israelis don’t want it. The added irony is that most one-state advocates have not only done nothing to try to create a message that can appeal to mainstream Israelis, they have crafted one that encourages the greatest possible fear and suspicion.
In reality, it’s almost impossible to imagine a one-state “solution,” although it’s certainly possible to envisage a one-state outcome. The distinction is crucial: the second formulation recognizes the incredible amount of brutality, violence and mutual exhaustion that would be required for both parties to surrender their cherished national agendas to some formula for post-nationalist power-sharing in relatively equal numbers. Consider the violence of the past 60 years, without any real dent in the nationalist fervor of either party, and then try to imagine what would be required to actually get them to abandon these ideals.
One should be under no illusions that the final abandonment of a two-state agenda will give way to a campaign of nonviolent resistance, boycotts and sanctions that will somehow succeed in bringing Israel to its knees. The alternative to an agenda of negotiations is crystal clear: increasing conflict, violence and occupation that is increasingly dominated by religious fanatics on both sides. The religious right is well-positioned in both societies, ready to lead a battle to the death between bearded fanatics over holy places and the will of God.
We face a simple choice: either a slow, gradual and, yes, painful, inching towards a two-state agreement, or war, conflict and occupation into the foreseeable future, very possibly leading to a catastrophe. Despairing, giving up and walking away is too irresponsible for anyone with the best interests of Palestinians, Israelis and Americans at heart. This is an existentialist crisis we are facing, like Beckett’s suicidal unnnamable: we can’t go on, we’ll go on.
Cries of despair are intellectually and morally justified and, perhaps, necessary, but the only rational policy for all responsible parties is to avoid calamity and continue to somehow try to find a way to make the only plausible peaceful solution work.
Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow for the American Task Force on Palestine and blogs at www. ibishblog. com.
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