Shaul Arieli
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 9, 2012 - 1:00am

One recent high-profile solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the establishment of a binational state instead of two states. Its logic is comparable to an effort to put two people who couldn't agree on the placement of their two separate beds into one bed. The idea has been put forth by people who see no hope for peace. It has also been advocated by proponents of a "state of all its citizens," but particularly by those who subscribe to the concept that they must "possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you."

The people in this latter camp are certain that friction will ignite the situation before they are forced to agree to divide the pie, or maybe they'll find other ways to exclude the Palestinians from the area. From their standpoint, the flames will eliminate the last of the barriers to a kind of national "price tag" operation that would establish Jordan as the Palestinian state.

But what happens if this wild vision is not fulfilled, if the fire is not ignited? What do the visionaries of "Israstine" suggest, for example, when it comes to the Palestinian refugees? Can they deprive a Palestinian of the immigration rights that are accorded to every Jew? Can potential aliyah of Diaspora Jews offset the Palestinian right of return?

Absent partition, a future Arab majority in Israel simply leaves the Jews inequality as an organizing principle and as their defining political, social and cultural force if they want the country to remain the state of the Jewish people. The current inequality in the West Bank would not be possible in a stable binational state, but the principle of equality would spell the end of the Zionist idea. And how do these Jewish advocates of a unitary state expect to merge first-world and third-world economies?

The weaker segments of Israeli society - ultra-Orthodox Jews, Israeli Arabs and part of the immigrant population - suffer from poverty, low rates of workforce participation and low or irrelevant skills. It is well-known that they are a drag on Israeli economic growth. The immediate addition of 4 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are similar to the weak segments of Israeli society or are even worse off, would immediately defeat Israel's economic wizards, who would quickly look for greener pastures elsewhere.

And what model would be adopted for the public sphere? Who would support a constitution that puts the right of the individual above the sectoral interests prevailing in both societies? Who would serve in the army and in which units? What would be the future of the Shin Bet security service? How would remembrance days and state holidays be marked? What status would women have in such a country? How would a political system with parties led by rabbis and sheikhs function?

Palestinians who seek a unitary state in all of former British Mandatory Palestine believe that, due to these tensions, the binational state would become an Arab state governed in the spirit of Islam. The secular Palestine Liberation Organization would not find favor there. The Islamist Hamas and those of like mind would demand that their doctrines rule every last meter of Palestine. A rigorously Orthodox Jewish minority would remain in their midst, again observing their faith in physical and social ghettos in the Holy Land.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' concerns about both of these scenarios - fears that his associates are aware of - explain Abbas' adamant stance in favor of partition and a two-state solution. This is why he doesn't simply wait until the Arabs constitute a majority of the population in a unitary state, as some Israelis would expect him to do. The Israeli side, however, doesn't seem to be a party to his concerns or to an agreement on partition.

We need an Israeli leadership that will realize, as the British did in 1937 and the United Nations did in 1947, that there is no alternative but partition for the national and cultural existence of the two people in the same land. Any other approach would spell tragedy for one side at the expense of "historic justice" for the other.


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