The continued failure of the Mideast peace process and the escalation of violence from the second intifada to the Gaza war have led many to think that the two-state solution is pedestrian, unimaginative and inhuman.
Many Palestinians and a small but vocal group of Jews back Edward Said's claim that a one-state solution with full right of return for all Palestinians must be endorsed. This, they say, would finally lead to absolute and full justice.
It has been this search for absolutes that has made the Middle East intractable. The Jewish side has made the same mistake as the Palestinians. The original Zionist narrative wanted a metaphysical justification for the right of Jews for a State in Israel and connected Israel to Biblical times until the destruction of the Second Temple. Along with most liberal progressives, I think that the idea that Jews need a homeland where Jews could forever be safe is perfectly enough of a justification.
What about Palestinian suffering, then? The creation of Israel engendered great suffering, dislocation and expropriation for the Palestinians. This is a tragedy partially due to choices they made. There are two wrong ways to deal with this tragedy: On the one hand, trying to suppress consciousness of this tragedy by law, as Mr. Lieberman proposes, combines historical stupidity, inhumanity and a propensity for fascism.
On the other hand, the claim that the one-state solution would lead to perfect justice, and that the Palestinian tragedy can be abolished betrays total lack of realism. How on earth could two groups with such different cultures and histories as Jews and Palestinians share power, particularly after the traumatic history of the last sixty years? And how exactly would you envisage all Palestinians returning to the lands that they lost in 1948?
While the one-state solution with full Palestinian Right of Return sounds the prophetic dream of the wolves living with the sheep, its reality would a nightmare that would continue the Israeli-Palestinian struggle by other means. Israeli demographer Arnon Sopher has coined the expression that the wombs of Palestinian women are biological weapons. Behind this ugly term there is a sad reality: in a state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean there will be an endless Jewish-Palestinian struggle for demographic hegemony. The race for who will have more children would turn the idealist dream of perpetual peace into an ugly war of wombs.
Already various groups are building scenarios how to take over the new larger Palestine/Israel; Palestinians in the Diaspora will be given citizenship to vote on the basis of the Right of Return - countered by Jews throughout the world that will become citizens by virtue of the Law of Return and vote by mail. In other words: the one-state solution, far from being a prophetic dream of perfect justice, would turn into a nightmare.
Even those who, like me, are not particularly attached to the idea of nation states need to admit that the human need for cultural self-expression and political self-determination seems to be ineradicable. Czechoslovakia has fallen apart into two states, and even peaceful Belgium seems on the way to do so.
For the time being, there is no alternative to the nation state in most areas of the world. Israel will have to remain a state with Jewish hegemony based on democratic process and full rights for all minorities, with special emphasis on Israeli Palestinians. Alongside there must be a Palestinian state in which Palestinians can live in freedom, prosperity and dignity.
The two-state solution may be pedestrian and unimaginative, but it has at least a realistic chance to bring peace - if Israel stops wasting time and dragging its feet. The paradox is that the Israeli right is playing into the hands of those who no longer want the two-state solution. Its policies are the royal road to the nightmare of the one-state solution and the end of a democratic, Jewish Israel.
Carlo Strenger is a psychology professor at Tel Aviv University, and a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists.
Previous blog entries by Carlo Strenger:
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