The Brits have long used the odd-sounding (to foreigners) phrase when a monarch dies: “the king is dead; long live the king!” I’m adapting the phrase for this discussion of an important piece by Henry Siegman in The National Interest: two states are dead, long live one state. It’s not that Siegman or I are enamored of one state. It’s just that the Israeli settler regime has successfully throttled two states like a proverbial baby in its crib. Two states are no more.
The best outcome possible for Israel is to figure out what will come after we accept the death of two states. As I wrote recently in a post, will the single state be what Siegman calls an apartheid state offering no rights and dispossession to Palestinians living within its boundaries? Or will it be a real, viable state which offers democratic rights to all citizens? This battle will consume Israel for the next years and perhaps decades.
If Israel turns in the direction of a settler apartheid state, this is what it and its foreign supporters can expect:
…It is highly doubtful that Israel can survive another half century of its subjugation of the Palestinians. The region has been radically transformed by the emergence of Islamic regimes that, unlike their predecessors, will not suppress Arab furies provoked by Israel’s permanent disenfranchisement of the Palestinians. America’s ability to impose its own political order on the region is in decline. Even Arab royals in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Emirates will be pressed to prove their legitimacy by joining efforts to deepen the ring of Arab hostility that surrounds and threatens the Jewish state. America’s fading influence and Israel’s growing vulnerability in this emerging regional order have already been exposed by Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s decision, in defiance of American objections, to attend a conference of nonaligned nations hosted by Iran. The heightened sense of isolation and insecurity that Israelis will experience as Arab countries join the nuclear club, which in time they surely will, is bound to lead to an exodus of Israel’s best and brightest, and in time it could spell the end of the Zionist dream. As reported in Israel’s press, the search in certain sectors of Israeli society for foreign passports and second homes abroad has already begun.
With the departure of the secular, élite, educated professional classes, Israel will continue its transformation into a state composed largely of poor Haredi and Mizrahi Jews alongside Israeli Palestinians. Democracy will be long gone as will a free press. Religion will reign supreme. Art and culture will be consigned to nostalgic reruns of past glory. Politics will, even more than today, be decided by a bunch of insider deals among corrupt politicians. Cynicism and nihilism, already at a high pitch, will become even more pronounced. Israel’s famed high-tech industries will migrate to more hospitable climes. Tel Aviv’s cutting edge dynamism will be long-gone.
This won’t happen overnight. It may take years. But this is Israel’s inexorable fate unless it takes “the deal.”
Siegman believes that the Palestinians will play a key role in determining how this plays out. Their first move must be to give up on two states themselves. That is, they must dissolve the PA and throw in their lot with Israel as their future state. Then they must turn to the world and say something like: we gave you a chance to recognize our state in the context of a two state solution. You refused. Now we no longer want our own state. We want to become citizens of Israel.
In that context, what can the world say? No, you said you wanted your own Palestinian state and now we’re going to hold you to it? I think not.
Israel will likely respond to such a Palestinian decision by offering to recognize what it will call a “real Palestinian state.” But that so-called real state will be the equivalent of a South African Bantustan. It will be a few bits of land hemmed in on all sides by Jewish roads, Jewish settlements, Jewish checkpoints, Jewish walls, Jewish guns, and Jewish power. It will not be a state in any sense recognizable to any reasonable person.
After Israel makes its offer, it will then be up to the Palestinians to reject it forcefully and turn to the world and tell them that Palestinians have now let their voice be heard and it’s up to the international community to make it right.
There is another possibility, however unlikely: once Israel offers the Palestinian Bantustan and the Palestinians reject it and the world begins putting pressure on Israel to recognize Palestinians as full Israeli citizens, there could be a pragmatic Israeli leader who will come forward and say: we see that the jig is up; now we will really offer Palestinians a full state within 1967 borders. The Palestinians will then have the option of deciding which they prefer: one state or two. If they choose one, no one will be able to fault them, except Israel’s sourpuss politicians who will carp and whine about the fact that the Palestinians rejected a perfectly good offer (though one offered a few decades too late to matter).
As I’ve said, this is unlikely. Israel’s political leaders have, for decades (except for a brief interlude under Yitzhak Rabin’s leadership), been stuck with their head in the sand. It’s hard to imagine they will all of a sudden gain insight and wisdom and do the right thing. But hey, stranger things have happened.