A regular reader of this blog, Ruth Bennett, has sent us an email asking if we would publish a letter she has written in defense of a single-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While we strongly disagree with this view, we think that it is not something that can just be dismissed out of hand, particularly when it comes from someone who claims to be affiliated with the mainstream in the South African Jewish community. We need to engage with Ruth’s concerns.
And so in the spirit of open debate that we have been trying to foster, and as a continuation of our crossing swords debates we have decided to post her letter together with my reply. I am sure this will extract an emotional response from other readers. We call on them not to shy away from expressing their views but to try and be respectful. Let’s see if we can play the ball and not the woman here.
Exploring the one-state solution
“Everyday Jews, Muslims and Christians mourn the loss of another innocent life in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. South Africa has been held up as an example to the Middle East of how to attain democracy peacefully. What is strange about the use of the South African model is that some pivotal aspects of the nature of change in this country are completely ignored. The most important of which is that upon the establishment of the new South Africa, the country did not fragment like the Balkans states. One nation, one vote, many cultures and people define this country. Yet, a two-state solution is still touted as the only means of resolving the conflict in the Middle East.
I have long believed that the establishment of a one state in which Judaism, Islam and Christianity are all equally recognized is the only real solution. With three major world religions laying claim to the land, surely it is more sensible to establish one state?
Advocates of the one-state solution have been accused of calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. Yet, they forget that the one-state solution calls as much for the destruction of the state of Palestine as it does Israel.
If it were so easy to establish two states co-existing peacefully, then surely this would have been created a long time ago? As long as the two-state solution is seen as the only means of resolution, there will always be questions about:
- the boundaries of the Palestinian state: pre-1948 or 1967 borders?
- The settlements in the West Bank
- Control of Jerusalem
These are the issues that prevent any meaningful dialogue and negotiations. As long as these questions remain, there will never be peace in Israel and her people will continue to live in fear.
Why do we fear a single state encompassing Israel and Palestine? Are we trying to protect the “Jewish” nature of Israel? I find this hard to believe when one considers that the vast majority of Jews in Israel are secular. Most of the immigrants, especially from the former Soviet Union are not even considered Jewish by Orthodox standards. Whose Jewish state is this?
For far too long, there has been a blind acceptance worldwide that two states will solve the problem. It won’t, and the terror from both sides will continue.
Before I am labelled a ‘self-hating Jew’, ‘anti-Semite’ and other names so favoured by many readers of this blog, I would like to point out that I am an observant, Orthodox Jew. I am proud of my Jewish identity and heritage. As a descendant of a Holocaust survivor, I feel that I must speak out. It is my Jewish responsibility.
I trust that we will be able to have an intelligent, decent discussion about the option of a unitary state.”
Ruth Bennett’s letter in support of a one-state solution fails to take into account many important aspects of Jewish history and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Firstly, it must be pointed out that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis support a 2 state solution. The peace polls over the years have consistently shown this (see here). Surely imposing a solution that both peoples oppose is not only anti-democratic but is also impractical. An agreement that does not have the support of both parties will never be successfully implemented.
Secondly, a one-state solution denies both the Jewish and Palestinian people the right to national self determination. The fact that both parties are denied such a right does not make this denial more legitimate. When applying a human rights approach to the conflict, which I support, there will have to be some limitations of rights. But the key is to find a solution that reduces the infringements to a minimum. Both people need to make difficult compromises as part of a 2 state solution. Both need to give up their claim to sovereignty over the entire land of Israel. But surely some sovereignty for each party is better than nothing for both.
Thirdly, given the bloody history of Jewish-Arab relations in a unitary state and the extent of the current animosity, a one-state solution is completely impractical. Ruth does not specify the legal framework for the one state solution. But under any alternative, Jews would become a minority in the land of Israel. Without control of the army or police-force how would they ensure their security? The state of minority Christian communities in the region gives us some insight into what the most likely fate would be for a Jewish minority in the land of Israel. Lebanon provides a bloody historical example of the failure of bi-nationalism in the Middle East. The terror inflicted on Palestinian Christians particularly in Hamas controlled Gaza on a daily basis is surely not something any Jew in their right mind would wish to accept.
And the hatred towards Jews is so much worse. Historically, look at the massacre of the centuries old Jewish community of Hebron in the 1920’s by Palestinian forces. More recently, look at the horrific acts of destruction that have been carried out on Jewish religious sites under Palestinian control. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, Palestinians gleefully desecrated the synagogues left behind. There is a serious risk and without the power of a Jewish force to keep them at bay these same elements would destroy much more Jewish property throughout Israel.
Fourthly, Israel has over the last 6 decades become an important vessel for Jewish identity both in the state and in the Diaspora. While Ruth is right that the majority of Israelis are secular, they still have a very strong Jewish national identity. Judaism is not only a religion but also a people-hood. Being secular does not take away from a person’s sense of belonging to the Jewish people. Secular Israelis just express their Jewish identity in a different way. For them being Jewish is going to the army to defend the Jewish state or supporting the Israeli soccer team. For many Jews in the Diaspora, Israel is a source of tremendous pride and an important way for them to connect to the Jewish people. The success of the birthright program is one example. Even for those Jewish critics of Israel, the existence of the Jewish state is one of the only things that keep them involved in Jewish affairs, albeit in a negative sense. Dissolving the state would destroy this link to Jewish indentify for millions of people. This is certainly something that someone, who claims to be interested in the survival of the Jewish people, could not support.
It is tempting for many South Africans to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the prism of their own experience. While of course there are important lessons that can be learned from the South African experience, importing our solution wholesale is extremely naïve and dangerous. We need to examine the issues that exist in that region and try to address them. The fact that we are still in the process of working out a 2 state solution does not mean that it is by definition defunct. No-one said it will be easy. Issues like borders and Jerusalem are difficult but they can, with some comprise, be solved. They are not the stumbling blocks to peace. Trust and the capacity to implement agreements are the real problems. A one-state solution would solve none of them.
Previously at IAS