Opinion

Why Uri Avnery Opposed a One-state Solution

A single state is a utopia, the dean of Israeli journalism said – one that would end in a civil war with the Palestinians marked by murder and terrorism

Palestinians stand in front of Israelis as they wait for the release of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi from an Israeli prison, Rantis checkpoint, West Bank, July 29, 2018.
Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

On Wednesday, Uri Avnery’s coffin lay in Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolov, the home of the Israel Journalists Association. Hundreds of journalists, politicians and supporters came to pay their last respects. After all, Avnery was first and foremost a journalist; in fact, Israel’s number-one journalist.

But he was also the main thinker of the peace camp, and if there was one thing that really infuriated him, it was the new fashion of supporting a “one-state solution.” To him, such support expressed despair that impeded the struggle for the right solution. In fact, he was the first to speak out, back in the ‘50s, about the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, an idea that was translated after the Six-Day War into the formula “two states for two peoples.”

“They’re romantics who don’t understand human nature,” Avnery told me when I asked for his opinion on the one-state solution. “They haven’t learned from history.” He explained that for millions of years humankind and its predecessors have preferred to gather in small groups that provide security and a sense of belonging.

After that, humans organized in tribes that provided similar needs. Today, the nation and the state have replaced the tribe, but their role is the same: to provide safety from any external or internal threat with the help of the police and military, to provide an economic and social umbrella in times of need and to fulfil the deep psychological need of belonging to a distinct group.

To preserve the group and create a sense of belonging, every nation has learned to isolate itself from other nations using a different language, culture, history and/or religion. This is how the Jews preserved their national identity for 2,000 years until they returned to the land of their forefathers, and that’s exactly what the Palestinians want now: an independent nation-state, separate from Israel.

So any attempt to unite these two nations in a single state, roughly half and half, would be destined for failure, Avnery said. Such an artificial country would suffer a never-ending civil war, including terrorism and murder, over control of the country: Who would lead it and who would receive budgets. This would be a civil war without restraints, there are so many examples in history, so “a single state is a crazy idea without foundation. A utopia without a chance.”

In May 2007, the Gush Shalom peace movement held a public debate on the matter: Avnery against historian Ilan Pappe. Avnery said “a binational state means the dismantling of the State of Israel, and 99 percent of the Jewish community here isn’t interested in this dismantling.” He added that “the great majority of the Palestinian people want their own state, and this requires bringing back its national pride and healing its trauma, and anyone who thinks otherwise is dreaming.”

He even said: “There are Palestinians who talk about one state, but for them this is code for dismantling the State of Israel.” The trend all over the world is not to establish multinational states but to take them apart into separate national units.

“How would a single state function?” he asked. “Would a resident of Bil’in pay taxes like a resident of Kfar Sava? Would residents of Jenin and Netanya join together to write a constitution? Would residents of Hebron and the settlers serve in the same army?”

Avnery even expected that in a single state, the Jews would be dominant because of their economic and technological superiority, while the Palestinians would become the “hewers of wood and haulers of water” (borrowing from Alexander Hamilton), and so the occupation would continue covertly until it reached the next stage – a bloody civil war.

“A single state is utopia, and we must be wary of utopia,” Avnery concluded. “Utopia looks like the shining light at the end of the tunnel, which is attractive, but it’s a deceptive light that would lead us into a dead-end tunnel.” So maybe it’s worth listening to him on this issue, too?