The Palestinian Turn to a One-State Solution

In a recent report, peace now (an Israeli NGO) revealed that since President George W. Bush convened the Annapolis peace talks last October, the number of construction tenders issued in East Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38 compared to the previous year. Since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, and especially since the Madrid peace negotiations of 1993, Israel has built almost 13 new neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which is now home to more than a quarter million Israelis—almost the same number as Palestinians allowed to reside within the city. If you recall that most plans for a two-state solution envisage East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state (alongside the Israeli capital in West Jerusalem), it's easy to understand why many Palestinians are losing faith in this project.

There is another reason the two-state solution is losing support: Washington's attitude. On a recent trip to Ramallah, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when reminded that Palestinians have already shown willingness to concede 78 percent of what they consider their rightful territory to Israel, reportedly shot back, "Forget the 78 percent. What is being negotiated now is the remaining 22 percent." The message was clear: Palestinians must be ready to give up more land.

Israelis have long described their West Bank settlements—long fingers of territory that stretch along the north-south and east-west axes, serviced by highways, electrical networks, etc.—as organic extensions of the Israeli community. But Israeli construction has (again according to Peace Now) increased by 550 percent in the past year. This building, combined with that of the nearly complete separation wall or barrier, and reports that Israel wishes to maintain security control along the eastern edge of the Jordan Valley, sends another message: that Israel plans to hold onto the land for good. Combine this with the still unaddressed refugee problem, and it's no wonder many former two-staters are giving up hope.

It is important to remember that the Palestinian national movement only began to endorse the idea of a two-state solution 20 or 30 years ago, as a practical compromise. Realizing that Israel wasn't going anywhere, moderates decided that their best hope for a state was one alongside Israel, not one that sought to replace it. Yet the 15 years of negotiations that have followed have produced little, and thus it's no surprise that faith in this supposedly pragmatic option is waning. The lack of progress, as well as the unmistakably expansionist reality on the ground and the growth in popularity of Hamas, have left little room for anyone seeking a positive future for Palestine. Except, that is, to rejuvenate the old idea of one binational, secular and democratic state where Jewish and Arab citizens live side by side in equality.

For some, such as the intellectuals and activists who make up the Palestinian Strategy Group (which recently made this case in Arabic newspapers), talk of a one-state scenario is meant to warn Israel of the dangers posed by its expansionist policies. This group would still prefer a two-state solution to emerge. Others, however, are returning to the one-state vision first espoused by Fatah (the mainstream Palestinian nationalist movement) back in the late '60s. The first group believes that one-state talk might help knock some sense into the heads of Israeli decision-makers. The second prefers a one-state solution because it would create a government they would eventually control as a demographic majority. Although even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has lately recognized the danger Israel faces, it is not clear that other decision-makers in Israel do. They may try to defer the problem through some diversionary tactic, such as throwing control of the West Bank's population centers to Jordan under continued Israeli military supervision. Such a "solution" was first floated by Israel back in the '70s. According to this scenario, Gaza would also be thrown to Egypt.

But even if Jordan and Egypt could be persuaded to accept such burdens—and they couldn't be—neither tactic would bring lasting stability in the region. And serious proponents of the one-state scenario seem not to realize how much more human suffering it would take to attain. As for sounding alarm bells, this might have made sense 25 years ago, when settlement building in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank was just starting. Today, with over half a million Jews living across the 1949 Armistice Line, it's almost too late to reverse the process. It is therefore time for action, not words. Practically, this means pushing within the next few months for a fair deal both parties can live with. And that means a two-state deal; the Israelis will never agree to anything else. Many Palestinians think a single state might be ideal—since it would involve the defeat of the Zionist project and its replacement by a binational country that would eventually be ruled by its Arab majority. But many ships have been wrecked on such rocks before. And the one state likely to emerge from a cataclysmic conflict would likely to be anything but ideal.