There seems to be a new (to me) development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The idea of a single state solution has come on stage again, but with very different support than previously. In the past, the idea of a single state was associated with Arab nationalist thinking, of a kind which denied the legitimacy of any Israeli state, demanded the return of all Palestinian refugees from Arab-Israeli fighting,and their descendants, and which had limited if any regard for the rights of Israeli Jews who had settled in the country after the 1948 creation of Israel (and may have had limited regard for the residence rights of many other Jews who had entered Ottoman Palestine or British Mandate Palestine, as part of the Zionist movement to created a Jewish homeland in the land of the Biblical Jews). The slogan single democratic secular state and the like was used, which certainly never got much support from Israeli Jews and was generally regarded as ‘rejectionism’ characteristic of radical Arab nationalists, who had limited interest in the views of Israeli Jews.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (centred round the political party Al-Fatah which is now one of the two main political forces amongst Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza) in its time as a movement based outside Palestine, involved in violent struggle (including outright terrorism) edged towards the idea of a two-state solution during the 1970s, and that appeared to have become the basis for an agreement between moderates on both sides in the 1993 Oslo Accord Accord. There has been no serene progress towards peaceful co-operation between two states since then. Yasser Arafat, the PLO Chairman, continued to regard terrorism as an option, and showed a distinct lack of capacity for institution building or civic political culture. The Israeli side regarded the Palestinians with continuing distrust and disregard, continued to build settlements in the West Bank, and showed no interest in the prospect of a unified sovereign Palestine. The death of Arafat and the emergence of the Mahmoud Abbas as Fatah leader, and ‘President’ of Palestine offered some hope of a better political leadership and appropriate responses from Israel. This all crumbled, and not only was Abbas not able to advance the national hopes of Palestinians, self-governing Palestine split between a Fatah dominated West Bank and a Hamas dominated Gaza Strip, so a split between two Palestinian states, a three state ‘solution’.
There has been continuing Jewish settlement building, apparent Israeli contempt for Palestinian national hopes, and splits between Palestinian groups who distinctly lack skills in the art of politics, at least with regard to dealing with Israel, and often in internal affairs as well. Israeli Arabs continue to largely vote for parties which are Arab orientated and are not considered as acceptable governmental partners by the Jewish parties (who do however attract some Arab support). Israeli politics is tending more and more to the religious and secular nationalist right and the population structure is shifting away secular Jews to those known as Ultra-Orthodox, Hassidim, or Haredim, that is the most religious currents of Jewish society. Palestinian self-government seems to be working better in the West Bank in purely practical terms, and Hamas has weakened. So on the face of it Israeli Jewish opinion is more militant and Palestinian political culture is moderating. Nevertheless with Hams radical religious currents and the militant nationalist-statist heritage of Al-Fatah, we cannot possibly refer to the present situation as Israeli nationalists versus Palestinian liberals.
Two main possible outcomes are apparent. Continuing from the apparent achievement of the Oslo Accord, it may be that a re-drawing of borders will take place so that Jewish settlement lands on the West Bank will be swapped for Palestinian Arab populated parts of Israel to create states which are more ethnically distinct than the current situation, in which Israel has an Arab population of about 20% and Palestinians in the self rule areas find theşr lands more and more encroached upon by a mixture of settlement activity and security measures. This would remove any possibility that Israel would gradually become less of a Jewish state, because of a large Arab minority with a higher birth rate.
The other possibility that those with very Zionist views seem more and more inclined to talk about is that of an Israeli state covering all of the settlement areas and Palestinian self-rule areas. In the past this might have been supported by militant Zionists, bıt only accompanied by the ‘transfer’ of Arabs from Palestine. Only a real fringe could now believe that is a realistic possibility, the possibility that Israeli Jewish society could stand to be part of such a violent process, or that Israel could withstand the resulting international reaction. So the talk now is of Israeli citizenship for those Arabs incorporated into Israel, who are ready to make the relevant symbolic gestures towards accepting Israeli citizenship, and the legitimacy of the Israeli state. This would lead to an Israel with an Arab population of 40%. It seems strange that committed Zionists should think that is a viable proposition for a Jewish state, but on that side there is a spirit of confidence that the most religious Jews will outbreed Arabs; and that Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza will be slow to accept citizenship so restricting Arab influence in elections.
This is all rather startling. First it was radical Arab nationalists who favoured a single state (it’s not very long ago that the late Muammar Gaddafi was suggesting a singe state), now it’s radical Zionists (though this may be the new mainstream way of thinking). How can Zionists rest a solution on assumptions about relative future population growth? How can they be sure that a state close to parity in numbers between Jews and Arabs, even with Jews having the larger number, will be viable as a distinctly Jewish state, which will never have to compromise on Jewish identity or Zionist principles?
Will the single state on Zionist terms happen? Should it happen? I don’t know, and I’m certainly not making any predictions, but given all that has gone wrong with the Oslo Accord, and every previous attempt at a political settlement, I do not see this possible future as obviously worse than the present. Of course it could all go very wrong and be the source of a horrendous round of violence. It seems very risky from a Zionist point of view, but maybe it is no more risky than the present situation. It has the paradoxical character that it seems to be a real gamble from a Zionist point of view, a sign of underlying anxiety about the viability of Israel within it’s current internationally recognised frontiers, and the desirability of a state dominated by the Ultra Orthodox aspect of Judaism, but in the first instance it would seem like a Zionist triumph over humiliated Arab nationalism. We will not know any time soon. The current situation could carry on for a long time, but the longer it carries on the more likely it is we will see Israeli statehood asserted over all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.