The one-state illusion

It is always pleasing to hear Muammar Qaddafi coming forward with a new idea. He is the joker in the pack of Middle Eastern leaders, appearing in the most unexpected places. He looks at things with fresh eyes. Unfortunately, his ideas are not always the most practical.

Now he is putting forward the idea that Jews and Arabs in our country should live together in one joint state, to be called Isratine (IHT Jan. 22, Muammar Qaddafi, “The Mideast’s one-state solution”.) [1]

That is a fetching, if not altogether original idea. Qaddafi has always been a great unifier. In 1972, early in his 40-year rule, he initiated the union of Libya, Egypt and Syria in one state. Then, In 1974, he started work towards a union of Libya and Tunisia. He also proposed the creation of a big Saharan Islamic State. I wonder if he himself remembers all these projects. Very few others do.

After these failures, one would have to be a very determined optimist to believe in the union of Israel and Palestine. After all, the peoples of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia are very closely related, profess the same religion, speak the same language and share the same social mores, while Israelis and Palestinians are not related, speak different languages, have different beliefs and are both fiercely nationalistic.

Since Qaddafi assumed power in Libya, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and then Serbia, as well as Czechoslovakia and Cyprus have broken up, Belgium is teetering on the brink of a split and the joint state of Bosnia is a fiction. The United States and Canada, two good neighbors mostly speaking the same language, would not dream of uniting in one single state, nor would Germany and France, who have become friendly partners in the EU. We don’t see Ireland rushing to rejoin the United Kingdom. On the contrary, many Scots want out.

The conflict in our country has been going on for 120 years, since the first Zionist settlers reached the shores of Palestine. A fifth generation has already been born into this conflict, a generation whose entire mental world, like that of their parents, has been shaped by the war.

It takes quite a stretch of the imagination to believe that under the benevolent guidance of Qaddafi, Israelis and Palestinians will come together tomorrow, serve in the same army, enact the same laws in a joint Parliament and pay the same taxes. One wonders how such a state would function.

Israelis might misunderstand the intentions of our Libyan friend and think that he is asking them to dismantle their state, take in six million Palestinian refugees and resign themselves to live as a minority in an Arab-majority Isratine. They will be tempted to answer: Thanks, but no thanks. If there is one point on which 99% of Israelis are in agreement, it is their desire to live in a Hebrew-speaking state of their own, in which they are masters of their fate.

Palestinians might react quite similarly. After enduring the Zionist onslaught for so long, they also want to be masters of their fate, in a state of their own, under their own flag. They might not take kindly to Qaddafi’s contention that their brutal oppression and exploitation by fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank constitutes a “successful assimilation” and that in 1948 “Jews did not forcibly expel Palestinians.” As a soldier in that war, this comes as quite a surprise to me, too.

At the end of that terrible war, my friends and I proposed the Two-State Solution. Not a hundred people around the globe accepted that. Now there is a world-wide consensus. The great majority of both Israelis and Palestinian, as well as the members of the Arab League and all the great powers, are convinced that this is the only viable way to achieve a lasting peace.

Qaddafi is quite right about the shortcomings of this solution and the difficulties in achieving it, including those created by successive Israeli governments which have paid lip-service to it while doing everything in their power to obstruct it. But all these obstacles are nothing compared to those lying on the road to a One-State Illusion, which is no solution at all. Those adopting this dream out of despair resemble a boxer who was unable to defeat a light-weight opponent, and therefore decides to take on a heavy-weight champion.

We Israelis have a lot to do to mend our state. We must turn it into a truly democratic, progressive and secular society, with full equality for all its citizens. We must put an end to the occupation, make peace with the Palestinian people, return to the 1967 borders (perhaps with some mutually agreed minor swaps of territory), dismantle the settlements and hold out our hands to the State of Palestinian with its capital in East Jerusalem. We must find a practical, decent solution to the refugee problem, based on mutual agreement. All that is difficult but possible.

The Two-State Solution is achievable right now, in 2009, if President Barack Obama is determined to implement it “aggressively”, as he says. He will find many allies in Israel.


[1]. The Mideast’s one-state solution – by Muammar Qaddafi
The International Herald Tribune, Thursday, January 22, 2009


An abridged version of this piece was published in the International Herald Tribune on February 6, 2009.