Israeli Binationalism Is Old News

Just accept it, Israel became a binational state 47 years ago when it occupied the territories. All that’s left is to decide whether it will be binational with a democracy or an apartheid regime.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli soldiers aim their weapons during clashes with Palestinians  in the West Bank city of Hebron, Fri. Aug. 8, 2014.
Israeli soldiers aim their weapons during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, Fri. Aug. 8, 2014. Credit: AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It’s a judgment-day weapon: the binational state. The left warns against it as if it were a national disaster, a near-holocaust; the right, meanwhile, won’t even recognize it as a possibility. And to support it? God forbid. It barely exists. The Jewish state is the mother of all consensuses, the holiest of holy cows, the raison d’être, even if no one knows what it is exactly and even if the “Jewish” is in effect nationalist. For nearly all Israelis, binational is the end of the story. And now Israeli journalist Rogel Alpher has joined the alarmists (Hebrew edition, October 2).

“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone and face reality: Israel is on its way to being a binational state. What do you intend to do about it?” Alpher asked. My telephone line hasn’t been cut, my clocks have not stopped and I tried to face reality: The binational state is already here, and has been for a long time. It’s less scary than it’s made out to be, and what remains is to fight over its character.

It’s hard to believe how the denial and repression machine succeeded even in this – in depicting the binational state as being in the future. Around six million Jews and nearly five million Palestinians (Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians) live under one government, in one state, and it’s not binational? If not, what it is? Mononational?

Two nations, one government – and it’s not binational? For 47 years it has been totally binational. Not even binational in the making or temporarily binational. A binational state, for all intents and purposes.

If it looks like a binational state, walks like a binational state and quacks like a binational state – then what is it? Seeing as Israel never – absolutely never – seriously intended to relinquish its occupied territories, this binational state has already raised two generations of binational citizens and subjects.

It is true that Israel has never dared to formally annex all its occupied territories and to extend civil rights to its non-Jewish inhabitants. But that does not make it any less binational, and the claim to be temporary has long since expired. True, there is a shocking gap between the rights of the two nations, but that too doesn’t make it any less binational. A Palestinian in Hebron and a Jew in Tel Aviv are subject to the same government, even if that government is democratic for the Tel Avivian and dictatorial for the Hebronite, and even if the former government is civilian and the latter military. The source of its authority is the same: The Jewish government in Jerusalem decides the fate of both. The Palestinian Authority has less freedom of action than a regional council.

So what do we have here? One state, two nations. For years the left tried to put up an alternative: two states. Now, when it is obvious that the chance of this happening is presumably gone forever – and perhaps never really existed – all we can do is concern ourselves with the character of the state, which has been binational for two generations and neither egalitarian nor democratic for even a moment.

Any further discussion of two states is nothing but a way to kill even more time, in order to further entrench the occupation. With more than half a million settlers and zero trust, it’s a lost cause. Israelis, Palestinians and the world must draw their conclusions from this.

The only question still open is what kind of state it will be: a binational democracy, or binational with an apartheid regime. Everyone who in the past considered the state’s Jewish character to be sacred – that is, the overwhelming majority of Israelis – must ask themselves where they were when there was still a possibility of two states. But now, when the right and the settlers have won, there is no point in continuing to discuss it. True, the solution of a single, egalitarian, democratic and binational state currently looks like either a fantasy or a nightmare. But what other alternative is there, exactly?

And so, stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone and face reality: Start fighting for a just (binational) state.

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