One of the more fashionable arguments wielded by those seeking a Two-State solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict is the One-State threat. It goes like this: if Israel does not conclude a peace treaty with the Palestinians, allowing them to establish a distinct political entity, then eventually settlement growth and efforts to annex significant parts of the West Bank will put Israel in a situation where, within its official or controlled borders, Arabs outnumber Jews.
At some point these Arabs will demand citizenship and voting rights equal to that of the Jewish Israelis and this will then create a single democratic state from the river to the sea. The Jewish State will cease to exist- the ballot box will return a victory for Arab political authority, the key symbols and nature of Jewish nationhood will be forever erased- the end of Zionism will be at hand.
This argument is meant to be a gun at the head of the Israeli right and its supporters. Accede to the Two-State solution, it says, or else this will be your destiny! The fact that this inevitable disaster has failed to push the Israeli right out of power or slow growth in settlements is seen in the same light as human actions in the shadow of global climate change- a way of ignoring an oncoming calamity by refusing to make hard sacrifices. But, a closer look at this argument shows that it’s not the Israeli right who is the ignorant party.
Let’s look at the point where this argument jumps the shark- where annexation and aggressive settlement building leads to equal political rights for Palestinians. The argument assumes that the Israeli right would annex the West Bank wholesale, not having any regard for what territory they are taking in. There are elements of the Israeli right that call for such actions, but they are in an extreme minority. Most followers of the Israeli right don’t want to annex the West Bank just for the sake of grabbing territory. They want to annex the parts of the West Bank that have significance to the Jewish religion, that would be easiest to manage and rule over and that would increase the long-term security of Israel.
At the present time, the West Bank is divided into three distinct sections of administrative rule: Area A, Area B and Area C. Area A has full Palestinian civil and security control, it encompasses the major Arab population centers of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, etc. Area A is the smallest territory, in terms of total land area, of the West Bank. Area B has full Palestinian civil authority and Israel has primacy over security. Area C, which is a full 60% of the West Bank and its largest territory by land area, features all of the Israeli-Jewish settlements, most of the areas of military/security importance, contains most places that hold significance to the Jewish religion and also has the least amount of Arab residents. So, why wouldn’t the Israeli right leading the annexation charge just try to annex Area C and call it a day?(Oh, yeah, that’s exactly what they are doing….https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Bennett-We-will-annex-Maaleh-Adumim-first-and-then-the-rest-of-Area-C-477236) Why would any Israeli rightist want the headache of annexing Ramallah and Jenin?
Those wielding the One-State threat would counter this argument by saying that formal annexation does not mean much here. What matters is the fact that Israel controls the lives and fate of millions of Palestinians while not affording them basic civil rights to participate in Israeli democracy. Eventually the other shoe will drop, Palestinians will demand equal rights, Israel will have to give it to them and then the Zionist dream will end.
But, what happens to Israeli society and government that will make them agree to grant voting rights to Palestinians in the whole of the West Bank? How does that play out? How does a well-armed, patriotic, nationalistic state, whose armed forces, economy and major territories are all in the hands of Zionist Israeli-Jews, decide to grant Palestinians voting rights and put the fate of the Zionist dream up for grabs? How exactly is this supposed to ever actualize?
But, says One-State Threat proponents, this rightist Zionist fervor will weaken in the face of international sanction. Just like South Africa during Apartheid, Israel will face massive pressure to allow true civil rights and democracy to take root in all of the territory it controls. The world community will stand aghast at the fact that Palestinians will be ruled by Israel but not allowed to participate in the government that rules them.
There are some obvious problems with this analysis. First, since Oslo, the vast majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank territories have their daily affairs managed by the Palestinian Authority. Yes, there are checkpoints. Yes, Israeli army raids on villages and attacks on protests occur. But, if you want to get a business license in Ramallah, you don’t have to talk to a Jew. If you want to build an addition to your house in Nablus, you are facing a fellow Arab whose governmental authority has a certain amount of legitimacy. In order for West Bank Palestinians tol be forfeit of all civil rights in their society, there would have to be a massive change in the current machinations of how the West Bank is run- in a way that neither the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli right want.
Another problem with this argument is that, given that there won’t be any significant worsening of Palestinian civil control in the case of settlement increase, annexation or continued occupation, exactly what new terrible thing will the international community be shocked by? Absent more violence and harsher Israeli security measures, the press and the international community is well-read on the hardships that West Bank Palestinians face from their Israeli occupiers. Why does anyone think that the longer this goes on the worse the international community will react? Couldn’t you make a better argument for the opposite? That the longer this goes on in the same way, the longer the international community is conditioned to see this treatment of Palestinians as normal? Isn’t it possible that the slow Bantustanisation of the West Bank will play out like a toad in a pot with the water slowly beginning to boil?
You could read this post as a confidence booster for the Israeli right. But, that’s not my intention and to look at this reasoning as such really highlights the problem. The One-State threat shows weakness and defeat on the part of Palestinian advocates and leftist/centrist pro-Israel groups. This is because the One-State threat is becoming an exercise in self-distraction. If you, as a political group or individual, want a Two-State solution, then you should try to drum up heightened international pressure on Israel to accede to a-Two-State-solution. Instead of using broken logic to convince the Israeli right, you should use the facts on the ground to show the international community that it should create extreme negative consequences on the State of Israel if it does not make moves towards facilitating Palestinian self-determination.
Is this heavy lifting? Maybe. Is the international community distracted by other problems that make it seem like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is old news? Of course. But, just because a problem is difficult doesn’t mean it goes away if you use flawed reasoning and illogical rhetorical flourishes. If anything, all that does is waste time, drawing focus and efforts away from actions that will truly forward Palestinian civil rights and self-determination.
If you want a viable Palestinian State and an Israel freed from occupying territory then the last thing you should be doing is pontificating about a One-State solution- you should be trying to create conditions that create the political realities you dream about. You should not try to fill the minds of your opponents with insipid nightmares instead.