Judging by the increasing number of symposia around the world devoted to promoting a binational state instead of two states for two peoples, a sea change is underway among academics and organizations engaged in progressive thinking.
A generation ago, the demand for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel expressed a radical, post-Zionist stance. Now that this position has been deemed acceptable by the heart of the establishment, and even serves as the platform of centrist political parties, the circles that fought for it are distancing themselves from it. In its stead has come talk of a binational state.
Is a new trend taking shape? And are those who adhere to the old formula in danger of losing their position as the leaders of progressive thinking? Will the skeptics and naysayers opposed to a binational state today claim in a few years that they always favored this approach?
Without a doubt, the intense interest is not solely academic or intellectual in nature. The steep decline in Israel's standing in the wake of its violent actions has spurred attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state - and even the legitimacy of the Jewish collective in Israel - by advocating a binational formula. Those hostile to Israel have discovered that the call for one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a state based on civil and collective equality, is a powerful propaganda tool, because it is based on universal norms that enable critics to denounce Israel as an apartheid state.
Israelis who seek to earnestly examine various models that could serve as the basis of a future sovereign entity at times find themselves being used as fig leaves to cover up efforts to spread anti-Israel propaganda. But this is always the lot of those who pursue new avenues. We should not rule out participating in such a discussion by denouncing it as illegitimate, because it is taking place in the shadow of the reality that has taken hold in the territories and in the midst of a diplomatic stalemate.
Several factors have combined to rouse greater interest in the binational option. First, there is a growing realization that the chances of establishing an independent, viable Palestinian state no longer exist, aside from an entity along the lines of a Bantustan. Second, the status quo that has emerged, though it appears chaotic, is in practice quite stable and could be characterized as de facto binational. Third, the diplomatic positions of Benjamin Netanyahu's government inevitably lead to a diplomatic deadlock and a deepening of the policy of annexation.
Under these circumstances, it appears that the continued preoccupation with establishing a Palestinian state is not just hopeless, but also injurious, since the delusions that it fosters enable the continuation of the status quo.
Nothing serves the interests of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman better than the demand that they recognize the principle of "two states." What happens if they agree to it? They do not intend to offer the Palestinians any proposals more generous than those Mahmoud Abbas already turned down in talks with Ehud Olmert. And in the meantime, they would have a free hand to expand settlements. Even the impassioned pleas for the Obama administration to finally enforce the "road map" lead to the same smokescreen of imagined progress toward a dead end.
But if the fictitious option is taken off the table, the real dilemmas will finally be revealed. And this is precisely what the talk of a binational state seeks to accomplish.
It is customary to classify people as belonging to either the left or the right on the basis of their positions toward "the Arabs," with the standard litmus test being a person's position on a Palestinian state. But take away this acid test, and after a short period of confusion, people's real positions on issues such as civic equality and the right to determine one's own future will be revealed. And then, to our amazement, left-wingers will be exposed as rightists and vice versa.
But in any event, discussion about a binational state should not be of interest only to the radical left. For if the two-state option melts away, the burden of coping with a binational reality will fall on all of us.