The idea of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seemingly never ceases to surprise and even entertain. It used to be official PLO policy, before the PNC adopted the two-state solution over 20 years ago. In recent years, with the two-state solution going nowhere, there has been a revival of interest in the one-state idea in Palestinian intellectual circles and even among some Palestinian citizens of Israel. Most surprisingly, a number of prominent right-wing Israeli politicians have gone on record in the past few months supporting a one-state solution in which the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and East Jerusalem ostensibly become equal Israeli citizens.
The two-state solution is still far and away the conventional wisdom. From an option endorsed only by the Israeli communist party in 1967, it is today accepted by the Likud and all parties to its left in Israel, as well as by the PLO and, conceivably, through some form of default or innuendo, even by Hamas on the Palestinian side. The two-state solution is of course the agreed topic of discussion in Washington at the September 2 summit.
If the two-state solution is increasingly so consensual, why the growing discourse about a one-state solution? One explanation is the looming gap between the international consensus regarding two states and the actual feasibility of this approach. After all, we are nowhere near an agreed formula regarding core issues like refugees/right of return and "ownership" of the Holy Basin, and neither PM Binyamin Netanyahu nor President Mahmoud Abbas seems a likely candidate to make and enforce the necessary ideological and political concessions regarding these and additional issues.
Thus for some, honest despair over a two-state solution drives them to "think outside the box" and toy with one-state and related ideas. I recently encountered a serious project that investigates the feasibility of creating two "parallel" or "overlapping" states, Israeli and Palestinian, on the very same territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. This looks like a formula for living in hell and is enough to make both Palestinians and Israelis prefer the current depressing status quo.
Undoubtedly, there are Palestinian advocates of a one-state solution who believe, not without reason, that if it could only be imposed upon Israel it would lay the demographic and political foundations for an Arab-dominated state. They draw encouragement from, and in turn contribute to, the growing international campaign to delegitimize Israel as a necessary precursor to their version of a one-state solution.
It is precisely this Palestinian advocacy of one state that may explain why the Israeli right-wing one-state solution camp appears to have had so little impact on Israeli public opinion. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former minister of defense and foreign affairs Moshe Arens both suggest that Israel can somehow swallow up the West Bank and award citizenship rights to the Palestinian population there and in East Jerusalem, yet remain a Jewish state. This does not sell easily to skeptical Israelis.
How do Rivlin and Arens rationalize their solution? First, both engage in willful self-delusion by reducing the West Bank/East Jerusalem Arab population from around 2.5 million to 1.5 million, then assuming it will not grow any faster than the united country’s Jewish population, thereby leaving the Jews in the majority forever. In so doing, they buy into totally unprofessional and politicized demographic estimates emanating from the Israeli and American Jewish far right.
Second, they assert in a roundabout way that Palestinians, if just given a chance, would like nothing more than to be productive citizens of Israel as currently constituted–a Jewish and democratic state. Rivlin allows that this may take a generation or that perhaps the West Bank Palestinians will suffice with a condominium setup inside Israel; Arens wants first to "tame" Israel’s own Palestinian Arab population of 1.2 million and make them good citizens in order to "prove" the same can be done with the West Bankers. Likud Member of Knesset Tzipi Hotobely also wants to wait a generation and anchor the country’s Jewish status constitutionally so that Arabs can’t challenge it. But to be on the safe side, she refuses to recognize Palestinian national rights–only individual rights.
All, in short, fall back on patronizing, colonialist thinking that characterized Moshe Dayan’s and Menachem Begin’s ill-fated experiments in autonomy several decades ago. All these "solutions" smell of condescension, ignorance about Palestinian national aspirations and a refusal to recognize that demography would sooner or later bring about the Palestinization of Israel. Nor, under present circumstances, would even the most egalitarian offer of Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians persuade the international community and Arab world to acquiesce in Israel ignoring Gaza’s 1.5 million.
There is only one persuasive explanation for the timing of these bizarre proposals. As they confront the cumulative weight of both Israeli and international opinion regarding a two-state solution, Israeli right-wing circles are also beginning to confront the inevitability of "losing" the West Bank, and consequently to panic. Hence some are dressing up old and discredited autonomy schemes as one-state ideas. In stark contrast, a few prominent West Bank settlers are beginning seriously to contemplate the possibility of remaining in a Palestinian state. While none of this necessarily makes a two-state solution any easier, it should put wind in the sails of those who continue to strive toward that end.