An Unwelcome Intro to the Binational State

A binational state would not arise solely due to Israel’s doings; its establishment also would be abetted by the silent cooperation of Palestinians.

A. B. Yehoshua
A.B. Yehoshua
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A. B. Yehoshua
A.B. Yehoshua

In his op-ed last week ("Now it's your turn," Haaretz, December 23), Avraham Burg posited a new thesis holding that the time has come to prepare for the possibility that Israel is moving with blind, irreversible certitude toward the establishment of a binational state in Eretz Israel.

Apart from the religious camp (owing to the structure of its religious identity), apart from the camp of the secular extremist right (owing to the violence of its fantasies), and apart from the post-Zionist left (owing to its humanitarian-cosmopolitan vision), all other political and ideological camps in Israel grasp and articulate the fact that a binational state in Eretz Israel is a dangerous and unfavorable possibility, both in the short term and (more particularly) in the long term.

A binational state of ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. (Illustration by Eran Wolkowski)

Despite this fact, we stride, as though out of necessity, toward the establishment of a binational state, an entity which at some stages of Zionist history was viewed as a plausible possibility, and even as a laudable one in some circles.

Even if many of us believe that it is possible to prevent the creation of such a state through forceful political steps, there still remains an obligation to prepare for it, both intellectually and emotionally, just as we prepare for other states of emergency. The aim of such preparation is to guarantee that a binational state will not undermine Israel's democratic structure, and will not completely destroy the Jewish-Israeli collective identity that took shape over the past several decades.

We must realize that a binational state would not arise solely due to Israel's doings; its establishment also would be abetted by the silent cooperation of Palestinians, both within Israel and beyond its borders. Even pragmatic members of Hamas want to drag Israel, as a first step, toward such an eventuality.

That is not only because of the dubious assumption that what is bad for the Jews must certainly be good for the Palestinians; it also stems logically from the Palestinian perspective, since as far as the Palestinian people is concerned, a binational state in all of Eretz Israel is a better option than the chopped and diced quarter of Palestine that could possibly be squeezed from Israel's jaws after much toil and bloodshed.

Owing to Israel's strong economy and its strong connections with the West, a binational state, even one that is half-democratic, could promise Palestinians a better and safer life, and (most importantly) a larger territorial area, than what might be wrought by dozens of years of a campaign conducted with the declared goal of obtaining all of Palestine.

We hear from innumerable sources about the Palestinian vision of a binational state. This vision perhaps accounts for the Palestine Liberation Organization's obstinacy both at the 2000 Camp David summit and during the talks between the Palestinian Authority and the Olmert government. The vision might also have influenced the PA's stance during recent feelers with Israel's present government, this stance propounding that a series of negotiations aimed at forging a real solution ought to be eschewed. This vision also explains the otherwise unfathomable passivity of the Palestinians with regard to organizing civil, non-violent protest against the settlements. Perhaps it also accounts for their staying asleep at nights when thugs burn their mosques.

Unlike their brethren in Syria and other Arab states - who, bare-chested, confront army bullets fired by their own compatriots - the Palestinians passively watch accelerated settlement construction; and with their sub-conscious patience they drag us toward a binational state.

Simultaneously, relying on thousands of years of "expertise," the Jews once again inseminate and cultivate themselves in the womb of another people's identity, a people that belongs to the huge Arab nation. In so doing, Jews here act exactly as their ancestors did in the Ukraine, Poland, Yemen, Iraq and Germany; partly out of fear, partly out of passion, the Jews pull themselves toward a situation that brought calamity to them in the past and which, still more poignantly, will deliver a mortal blow to any possibility of national normalization under Israeli sovereignty.

For most of the religious, fanatics or half-moderates, the binational vision is not so threatening. Anyone who knew how to preserve his identity via religious rites and circumscribed community life around the world for centuries certainly could guard their identity in an isolated district surrounded by Arab villages, with an Israel Defense Forces company protecting their welfare.

Right-wing extremists, who regard Israel as a huge American aircraft carrier (as Minister Uzi Landau put it), believe that this confused superpower will allow them to solve the demographic problem by carrying out a series of small-scale transfers at some point in the future.

Also, the humanists, veterans weaned on ideas of brotherhood between nations inculcated by movements such as Hashomer Hatzair and Brit Shalom, will not find anything illegitimate about Hamas offices being located in the future in the Azrieli complex in Tel Aviv, so long as these offices do not disturb their humanist sensitivities.

But for those who believed in and dreamed of an independent Jewish-Israeli identity which, for better or for worse, stands up to the test of dealing with a national-territorial reality entirely its own, a binational state represents a broken dream, a surefire source of demoralizing conflicts in the future, as was proven by the failure of binational experiments around the world that involved peoples who were closer to one another than are Jews and Palestinians in terms of religion, economics, values and history.

Is it still possible to forestall this anticipated downswing in the patient's health? Will it still be possible to persuade the Palestinians to mobilize for the attainment of the two-state solution (even if the states are joined as a federation)? Will it still be possible to persuade Israel's well-wishers in the United States and Europe to display moral forcefulness, and keep Israel from the downward-spiral course it has set for itself?

Or if, willy-nilly, binationalism make its way here, how might its damage be contained? How will it be possible to deal with it in a fashion that does not destroy independent Israeli secular national identity, and does not crush us somewhere between the exclusion of Jewish women and the exclusion of Muslim women? These are serious, new questions to which even the peace camp must furnish answers.

The writer is an Israeli novelist, essayist, and playwright.



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