Last week, the latest battle for the soul of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict erupted — not in the refugee camps of Gaza, the settlements of the West Bank, or the urban metropolii of Tel Aviv or Ramallah — but in the manicured yard of Harvard University, which hosted a student-organized conference on the one-state solution.
Suggesting that only the two-state rubric “has received a fair rehearsal in mainstream forums,” the colloquium was billed as bringing together left-leaning intellectuals and activists to “expand the range of academic debate on the issue,” and “educate ourselves and others about the possible contours of the one-state solution and the challenges that stand in the way of its realization.”
From there, the Boston fog rolled in: while Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah (a denizen of my own Chicago neighborhood) quipped to his audience that “the two-state solution is like Santa… things ferverently believed in that don’t exist,” a series of speakers engaged in arcane and ultimately ambiguous descriptions of the one state project. A Times of Israel reporter characterized the panels as a “drab, highly intellectual event” of “the same group of twenty regulars preaching to the converted choir.”
While the erstwhile Solomonic dilemma between Israel and Palestine remained unresolved, attendees adjourned to a reception, presumably splitting the tab on Fairtrade beer. Yet, far from the controversy in Cambridge, has the one-state solution already gone mainstream in the cities-on-a-hilltop of the West Bank?
Excluded from the discussions at Harvard, Israeli settler leadership pondered the issue at home. On Monday, MK Uri Ariel, a resident of Kfar Adumim and delegate for the right-wing National Union Party, attended the ninth annual Jerusalem Conference, where he unveiled his own plan for a one-state solution at a panel dedicated to “what are the alternatives to a Palestinian state?”
Reports indicate that he called for Israel’s immediate annexation of the entire West Bank, wherein Israeli settlers would remain full citizens of a newly enlarged Israel, but Palestinians would only be given a modified residency status without political rights, subject to a loyalty oath and Hebrew proficiency exam. Ariel’s proposal followed closely upon former YESHA Council head Naftali Bennett’s “mollification plan” a week earlier, urging Israel’s unilateral annexation of Area C — the portion of the West Bank designated under full Israeli control since the Oslo Accords — which comprises 60% of the land mass, all Jewish settlements, and approximately 150,000 Palestinians. Moreover, in recent conversations with settlers for my dissertation, many have expressed the possibility — even desirability — of remaining in their homes under a one-state solution, including under both Israeli and Palestinian scenarios.
There is also new evidence that the idea has become increasingly commonplace within the corridors of the Knesset. Since 2010, several hawkish Likudniks, including (former MK) Moshe Arens, Reuven Rivlin, and Tzipi Hotovely, have gone on record endorsing some version of this agenda. Further, one recent piece of legislation (proposed by Uri Ariel himself) to extend state funding to museums in the West Bank has attracted attention as purported de-jure evidence of Israel’s de-facto policy of creeping annexation. Despite Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi’s characterization of the bill as “the death knell of any chances of peace,” it passed a first reading in committee and is expected to be imminently approved on the Knesset floor.
What to do with the West Bank?
At the US-Israel summit in Washington this week, it was clear that that two-state solution has been put on the back burner yet again, eclipsed by talks of the threat of a nuclear Iran and the ongoing tumult of the Arab Spring. However, with growing restiveness both within the Israeli ultra-nationalist camp and the Palestinian national movement (including the aborted UN bid for Palestinian statehood last September), Israel is confronted with a pressing dilemma: what to do about the West Bank?
As in 2005, conditions seem ripe for the consideration of unilateral action, including a one-state solution where Israel could annex Area C of the West Bank. Apart from constituting an assault on Palestinian national aspiration, it is a highly risky strategy likely to provoke extreme violence in the territories, international opprobrium and isolation, and possibly even regional war. Yet, in some corridors of the Israeli ultra-nationalist camp close to both the Netanyahu administration and the IDF, an “orange state” today is viewed as the only bulwark against a “green” state in the future. While it remains to be seen whether Israel will exercise its own version of the one-state solution, it is clear that the idea is no longer merely a source of esoteric controversy in the so-called People’s Republic of Cambridge and may have profound consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in coming months.