Having been an ardent proponent of the two state solution (2S42P) ever since it has been relevant, I am writing these lines with sorrow but as a person with applicable experience, varied background and capacity for analysis I think that we may well have passed the point of no return: Thanks to the concerted efforts of both sides, the Israeli side through incessant settlement construction and by mounting impossible security and other demands and the Palestinians, by consistently renouncing every offer along the way and insisting on the right of return, the implementation of 2S42P appears progressively more difficult to achieve and may indeed already be beyond reach.
At the same, time nobody is seriously suggesting a viable alternative and the one state solution (1S42P) which looms in the distance as an existential threat to Israel as a State of the Jewish People, remains not to be touched or discussed by any mainstream politician, promising to bury those who will mention it. But it’s there. Out there. Waiting. And contrary to what many people (including politicians) seem to think, the status-quo is not a viable alternative: It serves as a constant source of strife (violence that is) between two ethnic groups competing over the same territory while both groups get material and ideological support from their respective supporters to perpetuate the struggle with little chance of either group running out of resources. Ever.
Let’s assume then, for the sake of argument, that we have passed the point of no return, which is by no means certain. If we did, it’s not clear if we have passed it because neither side is willing to give up on long entrenched ideological positions, or else, both sides are scared of the (considerable) implications of implementing 2S42P and fear that they cannot deal with the required policy steps. It’s probably a combination of the two but the reasons are hardly relevant as long as the outcome is identical: The perpetuation of the status-quo at considerable cost to the population on both sides and collateral damage the world over.
Before giving up on it, even if it was possible to implement 2S42P at the huge material and human cost of moving tens of thousands of Israeli settlers, we will likely be creating two miserable ghetto entities (Gaza and the Palestinian State in the West Bank) that presently have no means of sustaining themselves economically for years to come. They will have to live on handouts in a highly charged environment with plenty of fringe groups interested in perpetuating the conflict even after 2S42P has been implemented. The steep disparity in per capita GDP between Israel and a future Palestinian state, starting at 38,000 USD vs 2,000 USD would further increase the likelihood of continued unrest and/or cross-border exchanges including the worst kind likely proving correct all the nay-sayers who resisted 2S42P in the first place.
So now, that we have, purely for the sake of argument, disposed of 2S42P as a viable solution, let’s look at 1S42P and consider it. Implementing 1S42P within Israel and the West Bank (leaving Gaza as a separate entity) would leave Israel de-facto as the State of the Jewish people and the Arab people of Palestine.
Calling it by another name, e.g. “The Federal Republic of Israel and Palestine” would make it more interesting. It goes without saying that such a construct would have to provide equal rights of citizenship to all its inhabitants (a state of all its citizens). That by itself would put a lot of people’s mind at ease, mainly those that don’t live here, but would certainly cause strong resistance from many others that do. We have to face the fact that most people, including tree-hugging left-wing liberals prefer to live among their own. After all, what is at the basis of the seemingly so desirable 2S42P solution if not a clear separation along ethnic lines? Arabs over there, Jews over here. And the Israeli Arabs? Oh well, what can we do? Not that Liebermann isn’t trying… So if we were able to achieve that kind of separation efficiently, humanely and agreeably within one state, it might just allay the fears of many and it may even get their support.
The key to a possible solution is in the separation, within a Federal Republic, into cantons (the Swiss model). According to one of the proposals, Eretz Israel (Israel plus the WB) would be divided into 26 cantons, 18 cantons of Jewish settlements between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and 8 cantons of Arab settlements in the same space. There would be 2 cantons for Israeli Arab Muslims and Christians, 1 each for the Druse and Beduin communities and another 4 for the Palestinians in the West Bank area. The characterization of the cantons does not indicate that they are exclusively settled by one ethnic group or another, just like in any other democratic nation, any citizen can live anywhere he or she chooses. It does indicate the ethnic majority prevailing there. Each canton would have far reaching autonomy to govern itself similar to the 50 states of the Union in the United States or the Laender of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The demographics would make this a state of around 10 M inhabitants, about 6.5 M Jews including 320,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came here based in the right of return but are not halachically Jewish and about 3.5 M Arab citizens including Israeli Arab, Druze, Beduin and West Bank Palestinians. Gaza would be left out of this arrangement. Translating these demographics into Knesset seats would yield a balance of 85-90 seats to the Jewish population and 30-35 seats to the Arab population. It would certainly continue to be a Jewish State by population if not by name.
The canton approach would lend itself as a basis for major governance reform and would involve the creation of a second chamber in parliament to represent the cantons, 2 delegates sent by each canton making for a 52 member upper chamber. This upper chamber would deal with all internal developments of the cantons, including social, economic, energy, environmental, educational and regional issues involving more than one canton. Obviously the specifics are open to change, this is, after all, just a proposal.
There is nothing in the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel (other than the name of the state) which would preclude such a political rearrangement. The demographics are, if anything, not threatening and the economic potential for such an entity are enormous. In addition to saving the huge material and human costs of relocating tens of thousands of settlers, money that could be put to use increasing the economic potential of the whole population in all the cantons, the very creation of such a state would turn it into a bridge between Jews and Arabs with truly huge economic potential for the whole region. It would be Shimon Peres’ New Middle East, this time for real.
What are the chances of implementing 1S42P along the lines suggested? I think if 2S42P fails either because it is not implemented, or else through poor implementation, democratically minded people and I’d like to think that we still are a majority in Israel, will find a solution of this kind promising. As long as it is not discussed openly and among mainstream politicians, it is of little value.
What do the Palestinians think about it? I don’t know, not having it discussed with them. It would be difficult for them to swallow but intuitively, the key would be the name of the country and a creative proposal with regard to the return of (some) refugees). Does anybody have a better idea for Eretz Israel that works along democratic priniciples?