Today, I want to focus on the substantive reasons behind this change.
One State or Two States?
As you might know, there is a debate about a one-state vs two-state solutions for the Palestinian statehood issue.
The former would require the establishment of a federal state on the current territories including Gaza and West Bank. It would mean that Israelis could no longer have a Jewish state and Palestinians would have to give up their aspiration to become independent and autonomous.
The latter, on the other hand, would entail, as the name implies, the creation of two states for two nations.
Lately, many international observers (and, I gather, quite a few Palestinians) are starting to favor the one state approach. I understand the intellectual appeal of the single state solution.
It would solve the major stumbling block of finding a contiguous territory on which to build a viable Palestinian state. The single state solution would also keep all parts of Jerusalem in the same country. And the Palestinian claims to their repossessed land could be handled through regular legal and compensatory means of a unitary state apparatus.
I am also aware that most of the "progressive" observers favor this solution.
You might say, "what's wrong with that idea? Why should "they" have a Jewish state, Wouldn't you object to a Muslim or Catholic or an ethnic state?"
I get the inference.
But Jewish state means something different from, say, a religious source of legitimacy like the one provided by House of Wahhab or some racial notion as a political foundation. To assume this is to ignore Jewish history.
I am not Jewish. But I know their history quite well. Unlike your average gentile who thinks that "they" are good with money and "they" run the world, I know that Jews have always prioritized education over material possessions, they have maintained, by and large, a progressive political identity and they have usually sided with the oppressed groups in their societies.
I also know that they are unique among all minorities in that they have been relentlessly persecuted throughout recorded history.
To non-Jews, Israel is a nation state like any other. And I grant that, in many instances, it behaves like one.
But to Jews, Israel is not any nation state. It is a safe haven, a place they can go to if things turned nasty again, as they did so many times in the past. They may not like to live there right now (40 percent of Israelis are thinking of emigrating elsewhere and a million Jews left the country in the last two decades). They may fret about the growing influence of religious Jews and where it might take Israeli society. But the idea of a Jewish state out there is incredibly important to them.
This is why your Jewish friends wince and grow silent when you criticize Israel, even if they quietly agree with the points made. This is also why they ignore or tolerate Israel's very questionable actions and policies towards Palestinians, even though they would have opposed the same policies if they were implemented by any other nation state.
Within that context, it is not an exaggeration to claim that a one state solution might require Jews to give up the idea of a Jewish state because such a state would hardly conform to the Jewish identity as they know it.
I know it is a big claim. Let me explain it.
Consequences of Managing the "Other"
What I mean is something quite straightforward: Since a large majority of Israelis say that they would never give up the idea of a Jewish state, a de facto one state solution would necessitate Jews "to manage" a sizable minority, - one that would become a majority in a decade or so- i.e. to treat them as second class citizens and deprive them of their rights.
You might think the terminology of "managing" is loaded and misleading. Actually, it is not my word, it belongs to the current Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, as he talks about "managing" the problem without ever solving it. And you know what that means.
“There are those who mislead the people or part of the people when they say that peace can be achieved,” Ya’alon said, and explained at length why “this conflict cannot be resolved.” He also said that “there are problems that cannot be solved and shouldn’t be solved,” arguing that “until the Palestinians give up their narrative, there will be no peace here.” Since the Palestinian people are unlikely to give up their narrative, Ya’alon suggests we shake off ''the illusion of conflict resolution'' and make do with managing the conflict. “We don’t have a time problem,” concluded the senior minister. “Time works in favor of those who know how to put it to good use.”You might wonder what that management specifically includes.
Domestically, it means an ever expanding settlement regime (while denying building permits to Palestinians). It also refers to a carefully designed system to maintain a segregated and unequal arrangement:
An editorial in Haaretz this month observed that Israel was really “two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish. … This is the gap between the Jewish state of Israel, which is a developed Western nation, and the Arab state of Israel, which is no more than a Third World country.”
Segregation is enforced in all the main spheres of life: land allocation and housing, citizenship rights, education, and employment.
If you need to see a detailed account of what occupation does to Israeli society, there is more here.None of this is accidental. It was intended this way to guarantee Israel’s future as a Jewish state. Legal groups have identified 57 laws that overtly discriminate between Jewish and Palestinian citizens, with a dozen more heading towards the statute books.
In any event, to put the issue in starker and more provocative terms, a combination of one state solution and a Jewish state would inevitably lead to a society where Israelis would have their very own "other," a group that would live amongst them, carrying their own invisible "star" on their nonexistent lapels.
If you think I am giving in to hyperbole, remember Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz's decades-old warning:
“A state ruling over a hostile population of one million people will necessarily become a Shin Bet state, with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy. The corruption found in any colonial regime will affix itself to the State of Israel. The administration will have to suppress an uprising on the one hand and acquire Quislings, or Arab traitors, on the other.”I once pointed to a distinction between the Jewish and Israeli perspectives (while discussing Shin Bet and Gatekeepers). If Israel continues to believe that the Palestinian populations can be "managed" within a one state structure, using similar policies, that distinction could become too sharp to be tenable.
And Jews in Diaspora know this. AIPAC change of heart reflects that new reality, something the Netanyahu government and conservative Israelis have not yet grasped.
At this point, you might wonder, what happens next. After all, if I claim that no one can evict settlers, that means the peace process is dead, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
First I want to highlight the divergence of strategy between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, as they can prove instructive for the first time in a long time. And I will point to a lever to force a change in polarized countries like Israel and Turkey where the conservative forces seem immutable.