The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can seem intractable, with no realistic hope of a peaceful settlement ever taking place.
Cynics who believe that peace is impossible have reason to be pessimistic. For decades, low-level armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been, with exceptions, seemingly the norm. And sometimes, simmering violence has morphed into higher-profile conflict, whether for decades when Israel contended with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), or more recently, when Israel has been forced to defend its civilian population from terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
In the face of such apparent hopelessness, there have been no shortage of solutions offered by observers, some more well-meaning than others, ranging from the practical to the fantastical.
And some proposed solutions, as well-meaning as they may be, are not necessarily feasible options.
Into that latter category would be an opinion column by Philip Slayton, a Canadian academic, author and lawyer, which appeared in the July 8 edition of The Globe & Mail.
Entitled “How Israelis And Palestinians Can Make a One State Solution Work,” Slayton proposed a slight alteration to the binational state concept, where all Israelis and Arabs living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River would become citizens under one, new state. This proposal, famously once suggested by the late Libyan strongman Muammar Ghaddafi, who even nicknamed the new country “Isratine” (a portmanteau of the words Israel and Palestine), eliminates the State of Israel, at least as a Jewish nation-state.
Though in his column, Slayton acknowledged that this binational state is a non-starter, but he suggested a slight change that would be a binational republic with two “largely independent states” which would retain independence domestically, but with an agreement which would “collectively regulate their separate sovereignty by a joint constitution.”
While on the surface an improvement over the binational state concept, in reality, both ideas effectively end Israel as a sovereign Jewish country. While such a country would have domestic sovereignty, it would still be subservient to a “joint constitution” with another peoples. That may look like independence, but reliance on a joint agreement is not independence at all.
Borrowing his concept from American philosopher Omri Boehm, Slayton wrote that such a proposal would be “one liberal state that belongs to and protects all citizens equally.”
But this would be a failure for historical and moral reasons. Israel is the modern-day embodiment of Zionism, the Jewish People’s desire for national self-determination in their historic homeland. Under a binational state – even a revised version of it – would be the end of that self-determination. The Jewish people possess extensive historical and legal rights to their land, rights which are not eliminated simply because they complicate a contemporary political reality.
Israel’s legitimacy has a strong basis in international law. In fact, the Jewish People’s legal rights to reconstitute their ancient lands date back to 1920 and the San Remo Conference, where representatives from the international community acknowledged as such.
Such a ‘solution’ would render the end of Israel for other reasons. Israel is a small country, home to about 9.5 million people, roughly 7.5 million of whom are Jews. Should a binational or similar state come to fruition, the Palestinian leadership would undoubtedly welcome millions of Palestinians who descend from refugees who were displaced in 1948. In due course, such a massive influx – even into the Palestinian half of a binational state – could easily jeopardize Israel’s existence in sheer demographic terms, rendering Jews an even smaller minority in their own country.
While the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is complex in many respects, in other regards, it is remarkably simple. While Israel has repeatedly made painful concessions for peace with the Palestinians, most notably the 2005 Gaza Disengagement, where it forcibly removed all Israelis from the coastal enclave, the Palestinian leadership has repeatedly refused to negotiate in good faith with Israel. In fact, worse than that, while Hamas in Gaza wages ongoing low-level war against Israel, the Palestinian Authority in Judea & Samaria (called the “West Bank” by the news media) incites its population against Israel and actively funds terrorism which murders innocent Israeli civilians.
In his column, Slayton mentioned Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria as being a main stumbling block preventing a Palestinian state, thus necessitating a bilateral option, but this too is a red herring. In 2000, Ehud Barak, Israel’s prime minister at the time, famously offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat eastern Jerusalem, all of Gaza, and virtually all of Judea & Samaria, and in the case of Israeli communities there, mutually-agreed upon land swaps. The offer was rejected, Arafat launched the Second Intifada, and more than two decades later, little has changed.
If the Palestinian leadership truly wanted a Palestinian state, it could achieve it by sitting down with Israel, and by opening up negotiations in good faith. While there are many elements of disagreement between the two parties, they can only be solved with openness, compromise and collaboration.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he is happy to negotiate with the Palestinians “anytime, anywhere, now, without preconditions.”
No matter what any future final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians looks like, any proposal which eliminates full sovereignty and self-determination for Israel, in its historic homeland is simply not a serious suggestion, nor a potential solution to the protracted conflict.