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At first, I thought it was a joke. The world is funny, so we laugh, instead of crying. Then I realized that it is serious: Serious people do not repeat the same stupid joke twice. Sari Nusseibeh and Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) are serious people, and recently they have been bringing up the idea of a binational state: No more two states for two peoples, but rather one state for both. The end of days is preceding history; plowshares and pruning-hooks are replacing swords and spears before they have been beaten at all.

It is possible to understand them: After 40 years of occupation and oppression, after 15 years of barren negotiations in which an agreement, like the horizon, has grown more distant the nearer one approaches, it is no wonder that people are growing addicted to despair like a narcotic.

Abu Ala told a Fatah meeting in Ramallah that if Israel continues to block the Palestinian state that is on the way, there will be no choice but to demand a binational state, according to a New York Times report. Not long ago, the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information completed a working paper that includes the binational option in case the negotiations collapse. And another group, the Palestine Strategy Study Group, which is funded by the European Union, is suggesting a number of scenarios, including one involving Israel-Palestine under a single sovereignty.

Sari Nusseibeh is now the prophet of the one-state-for-everyone, for all who dwell between the Jordan River and the sea. His despair is even more uncomfortable and much scarier, because there is no one like him for insight and realism. And if he is sending out distress and warning signals like these, that is a very bad sign for "the process," and there are not very many hopeful people left in the neighborhood.

A joke is a joke, but this region has a nasty proclivity for fulfilling black prophecies and bad jests. An idea is an idea, but it comes with a problem: It simply has not succeeded anywhere. One state for two ethnic or religious groups is a guarantee of calamity in the Balkan or Caucasian sense, of another Lebanese or Iraqi or Cypriot story - and never mind Africa, which colonialism left in shreds and tatters. Even Belgium seems set to fall apart; even Scotland is playing with musings about independence.

Is something that has failed everywhere going to succeed in this cursed place, of all places? The more the status quo surrounds itself with barricades, lest it be breached, the more desperate people there will be, both Palestinians and Israelis, who will unwittingly want to establish here what is essentially a bad old South Africa, but without the South African solution. After all, the Jews will never agree to give up their exclusive rule, but a reconstructed apartheid state cannot survive in this day and age - and who would want to live in it willingly?

The same state for two peoples? There will be one neither for me nor for you. The judgment of this country is the opposite of Solomon's judgment in the case of the two prostitutes living in the same house, because this is the test of one's relationship to the land: The one who seeks to clasp it to his breast and rock it, in one piece, is in fact the one who hates it, whereas the one who wants to amputate large parts of its body - to butcher, to relinquish and to share - is in fact the one who loves it. So divide it, divide it and save it, before we die.