Moot Argument

The Palestinian demand for Israel to annex the territories and extend citizenship rights to their inhabitants is considered more of a threat to Israel than the demand for an independent state.

It?s hard to tell whether the reports that more and more Palestinians are now leaning toward a one-state solution are genuinely due to an increase in supporters of the idea, or to Israeli sensitivity. The binational bogeyman is so off-putting to Israelis that any Palestinian expression on the issue gives rise to speculation and conspiracy theories. Former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ahmed Qureia ?(Abu Ala?) is aware of this sensitivity, and exploits it every time he hits a bump in the negotiations: "If Israel continues to put up opposition, we will demand a single state for two peoples," he said recently.

Indeed, the Palestinians use the slogan "One State" to threaten Israel, and they know full well how effective that threat is. So great is the fear that the Palestinians are planning to exchange their struggle for national independence for a demand for citizenship rights in a binational state, that the very mention of this option is seen as proof of their unwillingness to reach peace. The Palestinian demand for Israel to annex the territories and extend citizenship rights to their inhabitants is considered more of a threat to Israel than the demand for an independent state, since civil equality is a universal norm and the demand for its implementation would win sweeping support in the West. And woe to the Israeli who dares to champion binationalism; he is denounced as a traitor wracked with self-hatred.

The Israeli public debate over binationalism versus a partition into two states is conducted on the theoretical, ideological and philosophical level, and in effect is put forth only as a threat to the accepted and desirable solution of partition. But that debate, which always resurfaces when frustration with the peace process intensifies, never manages to turn into a real discussion of the two alternatives and instead remains a provocative academic topic. This is not only because the binational option is viewed by most Israelis as spelling the destruction of their state, and by most Palestinians as the end of their national liberation movement. Mainly, it is because the debate over the two alternatives is a moot argument, the sole value of which is in its very existence, and whose purpose is to obscure the robust and durable nature of the status quo.

A status quo is preserved as long as the forces wishing to preserve it are stronger than those wishing to undermine it, and that is the situation today in Israel/Palestine. After more than 40 years, the Israeli governing system known as "the occupation," which ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community?s total domination and the political and material advantage that it accumulates, has become steadily more sophisticated through trial and error - without planning, but in response to the genetic code of settler society.

This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the conventional description of the situation as a temporary ?military occupation? would indicate. The tensions and internecine confrontations that prevail in the area under Israeli control are so acute - and the power gap between the Jewish and the Arab communities so decisive - that there is no way to deal with these tensions except by means of military might.

Usually the emphasis is on the political and civil inequality and the denial of collective rights that the model of division - or, alternatively, inclusion in a binational government - is supposed to solve. But the greater, and more dangerous, inequality is the economic kind that is characteristic of the current situation and will not be reversed by either alternative: the dramatic gap in gross domestic product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis, which is 1:10 in the West Bank and and 1:20 in the Gaza Strip, as well as the enormous inequality in the use of natural resources ?(land, water?). This gap cannot exist without the force of arms provided so effectively by the defense establishment, and even most of those who oppose the ?occupation? are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their welfare.

This explosive status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other; enlistment of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as protecting its very existence; funding of the status quo by the ?donor nations,? which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as ?negotiations with the Palestinians,? which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to ?the final-status arrangement;? the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological repugnance toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed.

It?s not nice to admit, and it is a sad forecast, but without accepting this conclusion and learning our lesson from it, change will not be possible.