The ‘One State’: Different Arab and Israeli Formulas

Prof. As’ad Abdul Rahman

Shortly after the US President Donald Trump lifted the ‘sanctity’ of the internationally agreed two-state solution, several thoughtless proposals were floated in Israel. There has been talk of the ‘one state’ with a specific significance, although it remains rather ambiguous to many.  The reason could be the fact that  its formulas were ostracized from its historical context as well as a dominating  multipurpose proposal  put forward by more than a party in the Israeli rightist wing.

At the centre of the rightist proposal is the call for annexation of the West Bank (the blessed Judea and Samaria in the Torah!) to Israel, especially with the ‘impossible’ dismantling of the Jewish colonies/settlements since the de facto situation calls for a different Israeli formula that certainly does not have the same meaning and goal sought by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1969. That goal aimed at establishing a democratic secular and non-sectarian state on the land of historical Palestine where Jews, Christians and Moslems can live together with equal rights and duties and citizenship ensured for all who inhabit its land from River Jordan to the Mediterranean.

Thus, the notion of the ‘one state’ is not a new one. In fact it was put forward as early as 1944 when the Palestinian Communist Party declared its position calling for democratic development in Palestine with liberation from external influences within a one state where Arabs and Jews have equal rights and duties as citizens. A dispute erupted at the time between Arab and Jewish communists on whether the state should be a secular democratic or a bi-national one. However, the idea of one state was firmly rejected by most Arab and Palestinian leaders, parties and other political groups.

Israel, with all the formulas of a one state on the table, has and will not accept a solution to work towards a secular democratic or even a bi-national state. Both notions appear ‘impossible’ with the domination of Israel’s right, the most extremist in its history, over its policies penetrating all its political institutions and almost permeating the fabric of its society. There isn’t either a consensus in Israel on a specific formula for a one state, although its broad lines, within the colonialist settlement structure under the extremist rightist government,  means annexation of the West bank to Israel, with a few changes.

Some Israelis propose a ‘pure’ Jewish state with no Arabs in it, while others do not object to one state based on an apartheid regime which a UN report has recently confirmed that Israel is operating. The report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) concluded that Israel had  established “an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole” with Palestinians “divided into four groups each subjected to distinct laws” and that “facts and evidence have shown beyond doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid, a crime against humanity under customary international law”.

Certainly, there is more than one formula for a one state in Israel. As an example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not talk about a one democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis living together, but about a ‘purely’ Jewish state! The most recent proposal came from Naftali Bennett, leader of the rightist Jewish Home party proposing to grant self-rule to 40% of the West Bank land and annexing the remaining 60% to the Zionist state, while pushing Gaza Strip to establish “an independent Palestinian state”. A more strange proposal came from Israeli Knesset member Miki Zohar who in a recent interview said he envisaged a state coming up after a possible annexation of the West Bank by Israel, saying “the two-state solution is over, and there is only that of a one state where the Arabs will not get full equality status, i.e. they will not be able to vote in the Knesset. They will have all their rights as citizens without the right of vote in general elections”. Indeed, the Israeli rightist wing stands strongly behind the one state slogan as a culmination of that of the “entire land of Israel” where Jews and Arabs live under ‘Jewish sovereignty’. The most prominent advocates of such a concept are the Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, former defence minister Moshe Arens and the former chairman of the settlements council Uri Elitzur. They envisage annexing the whole West Bank, imposing Israeli law on its land, denying Palestinians national rights in the ‘land of Israel’, but recognizing them civil rights only, such as granting them the nationality.

On such proposals, Yair Sheleg, a researcher in the Israel Democracy Institute reveals his thoughts. He says “it is difficult to believe that the Palestinians in the West Bank will be one of the world groups whose members do not carry an identity or belong to a state. It isn’t any less difficult to think that the international society will allow Israel to do that. At the end, imposing the Israeli sovereignty on the West Bank will lead to international pressure to demand the right to vote to every human in the elections. Israel will then be forced to grant the Palestinians the identity with all the risks involved to its Jewish characteristic”. Again, Israeli journalist Rogel Alpher wrote in Haaretz that “Israel has no solutions for a bi-national state; it is a threat to its existence”. Under the title “The Debate is Over, Annexation It Is”, he said “the Jews in Israel will not grant millions of Palestinians who will be annexed full citizenship and the right to vote. Annexation means deepening the already existing apartheid. Annexation is a historical mistake and a step that reflects lack of political safety and most of all self-destruction. At the end the Palestinians will have full civil rights and on the way a bloody civil war will break out and Israel will end as a democratic Jewish state”. Sounding uncertainty, Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Israeli secret service Shin Bet (The Israel Security Agency), said “continuation of the current situation is the worst thing. Anyone who has a mind to think knows that the current situation will lead to a one state to all its citizens. In such a de facto state, we can choose between the Syria or the South Africa patterns!” He warned: “Do you really want the Syria option? I am not sure as to whether 500 or 600 thousand people will be killed, but this will be one of third world countries, in addition to the annexation of millions of Palestinians in the West Banks with no solution yet to the problem of 2 million others in Gaza Strip. We will weaken in terms of economic standards as well as in education and production levels.” He concluded in pessimism: “Therefore, it is either a South Africa style-apartheid or Syria”.

Is the one state/bi-national solution a logical one or rather impossible in light of the daily practices and ideas offered by the Israeli rightist wing? Will the current situation persist where old/new Israeli proposals are floated in the interest of Jews only not the Palestinians? Israeli journalist Eitan Haber predicts that President Trump who “apparently has no idea about the real situation in the Middle East, will learn that there is nothing such as (one state or two states, whatever you choose). He will soon discover the need for a settlement to be imposed in the Middle East because the minimum level demanded by Israel does not even touch the Palestinians demands”.