Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East

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Editorial: "Two Peoples, One State"

From America Magazine

What began in September as hope for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine has fizzled. Palestinians will not negotiate while Israel builds settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which in international law are occupied territory; Israel will not extend the “moratorium” on construction, during which Israel continued to build settlements and segregated highways and to demolish Palestinian homes.

The United States offered Israel concessions to renew the moratorium, but Mr. Netanyahu proposed a law demanding that all would-be Israeli citizens, including Israeli Arabs (20 percent of Israel’s population), swear allegiance to Israel specifically as a Jewish state—in effect, a forced commitment to beliefs they do not hold. Now Palestinians should consider alternatives. Should they unilaterally declare themselves a state and ask for U.S./U.N. recognition? Merge with Jordan? As the situation deteriorates, it is time for new ideas.

Hostility throughout the Arab world and within Israel mounts. Even if the West Bank and Gaza were to become a state, settlers already in place would refuse to budge. As Hanan Ashrawi, a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said to The Washington Post, “How can you have a two-state solution if you are eating up the land of the other state?”

Many Israelis, particularly in Tel Aviv, distracted by prosperity, seem not to realize that within a few years an Arab majority will emerge and “Greater Israel” (Israel, West Bank and Gaza) will not be Jewish. If Arabs are not given full citizenship rights, Israel will not be a democracy either.

In this context, Israel must choose. It must either: (a) dismantle the settlements and return to the 1967 borders; (b) try to remain in the occupied territory as a ruling minority, which is in effect apartheid; or (c) drive out the Arab population, which would be ethnic cleansing.

But Israelis might also consider an alternative, one with roots in history and recently developed by Jewish, American and Palestinian intellectuals: a one-state solution.

A nation state built around one religion might have worked in the unique, post-Holocaust context of the years after World War II; but today Israelis must ask, Has the idea of an ethnic state become an anachronism? Furthermore, a pre-historical promise to Abraham of a land for his descendants does not give any 21st-century ethnic or religious group a legal right in modern international law to a particular territory.

Once there was a “Christian Europe.” But today’s great Western cities—London, New York, Paris, Geneva—teem with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus: people of every land and color. Israel’s self-definition as a one-religion state sealed off by a 28-foot-high wall, a network of settlements and segregated highways, projects an image that is disturbing to many, including younger generations of American Jews alienated by Israel’s policies. Palestine has always had a multi-ethnic identity; and early Zionists, including Hannah Arendt and Martin Buber, saw Palestine as a spiritual center promoting Jewish culture, not as a nation state.

A plan for a single-state solution might include the following: (1) With Belgium and Switzerland as models, a new constitution would set up either a binational state or one unified with a one-person-one-vote structure. (2) With its combined army and police forces, the more secure state of Israel-Palestine would join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. (3) A law of return would apply in some way to both Jews and Arabs. (4) A new school curriculum would teach accurate history to both peoples. (5) A truth and reconciliation commission would be set up.

Look at the map. Erase the lines setting off the West Bank and Gaza; imagine highways connecting the whole territory with Jerusalem, the shared capital. Every citizen has the same right to vote, the same access to water, land, education, marriage, health care, employment, property, and freedom of speech and religion. Walls disappear. Settlements may remain, but Palestinians will build beside them. An emerging leadership class will shepherd Israel-Palestine into a peaceful future. The Jews are a gifted, energetic people. Even if in the future they become a numerical minority in Israel-Palestine, they will still demonstrate leadership in the new Promised Land.

About 25 years ago, when I was swimming in the Dead Sea, two young men who saw my camera asked me to take their picture. As I wrote down their address to send them the shot, I couldn’t help asking, “Are you Israelis or Arabs?”

They replied: “What difference does it make? We are all brothers.” Where are they now?

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is an associate editor of America.