Cry, the beloved two-state solution. By Ari Shavit, Haim Hanegbi, and Meron Benvenisti. The Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel. Originally published in Haaretz, August 8, 2003. Also reprinted at Righteous Jews and Aron’s Israel Peace Weblog. Part 1 at Haaretz. Part 2 at Haaretz, Internet Archive.
Brief comment on Cry, the beloved two-state solution. By Aron Trauring. Aron’s Israel Peace Weblog, August 9, 2003.
Two States or One? By Aron Trauring. Aron’s Israel Peace Weblog, November 2002.
Two States or One? By Ali Abunimah. The Electronic Intifada, November 21, 2002.
Why Israel won’t survive. By Ali Abunimah. The Electronic Intifada, January 19, 2009.
Israeli Jews and the one-state solution. By Ali Abunimah. The Electronic Intifada, November 10, 2009.
Catch 22: The end of the two-state solution. By Arjan El Fassed. The Electronic Intifada, June 21, 2004.
Israel simply has no right to exist. By Faisal Bodi. The Guardian, January 2, 2001.
Israel: The Binational Alternative. By Tony Judt. The New York Review of Books, October 23, 2003. Also here.
Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel. Interview by Merav Michaeli. The Atlantic, September 14, 2011.
Tony Judt’s Specious Clichés About Israel. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, June 10, 2010.
The Cana’anite Factor: (Un) Defining Religious Identities in Palestine and Israel. By Basem L. Ra’ad. Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. 8/9, Nos. 4/1 (2002).
The Settlement That Broke the Two-State Solution. By Larry Derfner. Foreign Policy, December 26, 2012.
Ma’ale Adumim: The mother of all Israeli settlements. By Daniela Deane. Washington Post, December 7, 2012.
The Narrative of Perpetual Palestinian Victimhood. By Shelby Steele. PJ Media, November 14, 2011. Also at Gatestone Institute.
The Death of Compromise. By David Brooks. The Weekly Standard, July 2/9, 2001. NJBR, January 1, 2013.
Israel Lives the Joseph Story. By Thomas L. Friedman. NJBR, June 6, 2013.
Even when it is at its most infuriating, I usually feel grateful for Haaretz. I mean this sincerely. The paper – the English edition of which is our principal competitor in Israel – serves its audience well. Its coverage is comprehensive, smart. If nothing else, Akiva Eldar, Amira Haas, and Gideon Levy prove by example that Israelis are capable of the most withering self-criticism. And the paper is fortunate to have on its staff Ari Shavit, easily the most interesting journalist in the country.
To those who have never read him, Shavit’s formula is the paired profile: Barak and Sharon, for instance, or David Grossman and Amos Oz. Usually he just lets them talk, serving not so much as an interviewer as an amanuensis. This may seem a rather lazy form of journalism, but it has a way of allowing the subjects to reveal themselves fully. To read Ehud Barak’s soliloquy in late January 2001, for instance, was to comprehend instantly why the man was unfit to serve as prime minister.
A more recent profile (August 8) is of Meron Benvenisti and Haim Hanegbi. Benvenisti was once an old-style Labor Zionist who served in the 1960s as Teddy Kollek's deputy and in the 1980s became a muse of sorts for the New York Times’s Tom Friedman. Hanegbi, a much less accomplished figure, was with Uri Avnery a leader in the ultra-Left Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) until he found the group too moderate for his views.
What unites Benvenisti and Hanegbi is that they have separately concluded the two-state solution can’t work. Many other Israelis, disillusioned with Oslo, have also come to this view, but not quite in the same way. For Benvenisti and Hanegbi, it isn't a Palestinian state that’s a problem. It’s a Jewish one. “Israel as a Jewish state can no longer exist here,” says Hanegbi. Says Benvenisti: “This country will not tolerate a border in its midst.”
Let me try to unpack this. Probably by chance, on the same day the Benvenisti-Hanegbi profile appeared, Haaretz carried a long feature by Daniel Gavron on the so-called Uganda scheme, which was debated at the sixth Zionist conference 100 years ago. Headlined “Nowhere in Africa,” after the recent film about a German-Jewish family that escaped from the Nazis to Kenya, Gavron’s article asks “whether [the scheme’s] rejection by the seventh congress was a fatal historical error.”
The article is a mostly competent piece of journalism. It covers the historic ground well. It also leaves little doubt that a Jewish state had no chance of establishing itself, much less succeeding, on the Uasin Gishu plateau in East Africa – or anywhere else on the continent, for that matter. Nor is it likely that even a temporary African haven would have saved large numbers of Jews from the Holocaust. Few had the foresight to leave Germany and Eastern Europe while it was still possible to get out. A dusty outpost in Africa would hardly have been an enticing destination.
“Even the land of Israel and Jerusalem,” Gavron writes, “were only just powerful enough magnets to attract a sufficient number of Jews to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish state.”
Only just. There is something in Gavron’s piece that reads almost like a Haggada: So this is why we didn’t go to Uganda, remember? This is why Palestine was the only place it could have happened, remember? And even then, only just. “Had [Arab nationalism] emerged earlier . . . there never would have been a State of Israel,” Gavron writes, citing Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann.
What’s interesting, then, about the Uganda article isn’t what it says but the fact that it was written at all. It suggests an incredible fragility of belief in the Zionist enterprise as it came to be – and a negative belief at that. Are we here because it is, in some meaningful sense, our home? Not at all. We’re here because it was the only workable and least-bad solution to an urgent refugee problem. Nowadays, however, perhaps it’s not the ideal solution.
Of course I may be extrapolating too much. And Gavron and Haaretz are hardly typically Israeli. But Benvenisti touches on something very deep when he says that Israel’s conflict is not between two national movements but between “a society of immigrants and a society of natives.” It suggests that Jews no more belong here than they would have in Uganda. It suggests that Jews remain, at best, refugees. It suggests the Zionist enterprise is colonialist. And it means that the Jewish state is as illegitimate as it is doomed.
“In the end,” says Hanegbi, “the region will be stronger than Israel, in the end the indigenous people will be stronger than Israel.” The only solution is to abandon the idea of a Jewish state – “the mad dream,” he calls it – to mix with our Arab neighbors in mixed cities and mixed neighborhoods and mixed families, and to “take part in the democratization of the Middle East.” Let’s stop trying to be Jews, counsels Benvenisti, and let’s stop trying to build a “Jewish state.” We’re “neo-Canaanites” now.
THIS MAY seem outrageous, absurd; Benvenisti all but agrees it is. “Yes, you can tell me that I am a walking mass of internal contradictions. You can tell me that my recipe is hopeless. A federal solution hasn’t worked anywhere in the world. But my diagnosis is correct: even within the boundaries of 1967, Israel is on the way to becoming a binational state.”
But Benvenisti and Hanegbi are very far from stupid. In the way of Marxists – who castigate morally what they believe is all-but finished historically (and vice versa) – they look at Israel and see a losing team that neither can nor deserves to win. Thus the air of hyper-rationality, the apparent absence of sentimentalism, in an analysis that springs, ultimately, from the most sentimental of motives: the righting of past wrongs, atonement for sin, and real fellowship with Arabs. “I am truly a native son of immigrants,” says Benvenisti, “who is drawn to the Arab culture and the Arabic language because it is here. It is the land.”
In its way, this is a perfectly respectable idea. Just as so many of our grandfathers shed their Jewish name in favor of something more bland, and in the process traded their Jewish identity for an Anglo or an American one, Benvenisti and Hanegbi propose to do the same here. “What [the right of return] means,” says Hanegbi, “is that the borders have to be open to them, as in Europe.”
And just what is wrong with that? The answer is, nothing is wrong with that. It’s a wonderful idea. Far- fetched, yes, but who would have thought Germany and France . . . ? At a minimum, it’s something to work towards: the next phase in our transcendence; our return to the land; our metamorphosis into a native species. It is, in short, the great dream of the Jews – to live as normal people – which Zionism failed to deliver.
So why does this trouble me?
LEAVE ASIDE the sheer improbability of it: the curious yearning to open ourselves to a culture that seems so intent on killing us, to a world in which there is no democracy or prosperity or respect for the basic rights to which we’ve grown so accustomed. None of this is fundamental. The only thing that’s fundamental is Jewish life.
Benvenisti and Hanegbi want many good things: distributive and retroactive justice, friendship with the neighbors, connection to the land, openness to the region, Canaanite authenticity. Very nice. I think there ought to be a place on this earth where Jewish civilization flourishes, where Jewish life is protected. Zionism failed in its first task – to save the Jews of Europe. It has yet to fail in its second task – to save the Jews of Israel. To the extent that Benvenisti and Hanegbi jeopardize that task – and I believe they do – they commit a crime. And to the extent that Haaretz and Shavit facilitate that crime, they are accessories to it.
There is something genetic here that doesn’t allow us truly to recognize the Palestinians, that doesn’t allow us to make peace with them. And that something has to do with the fact that even before the return of the land and the houses and the money, the settlers’ first act of expiation toward the natives of this land must be to restore to them their dignity, their memory, their justness.
But that is just what we are incapable of doing. Our past won’t allow us to do it. Our past forces us to believe in the project of a Jewish nation-state that is a hopeless cause. Our past prevents us from seeing that the whole story of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel is over. Because if you want Jewish sovereignty you must have a border, but as [Zionist thinker and activist Yitzhak] Tabenkin said, this country cannot tolerate a border in its midst. If you want Jewish sovereignty you need a fortified, separatist uni-national structure, but that is contrary to the spirit of the age. Even if Israel surrounds itself with a fence and a moat and a wall, it won’t help. Because your fears are well-placed, Ari: Israel as a Jewish state can no longer exist here. In the long term, Israel as a Jewish state will not be able to exist.
I’m not crazy. I don’t think that it will be possible to enlist thousands of people in the cause of a binational state tomorrow morning. But when I consider that Meron Benvenisti was right in saying that the occupation has become irreversible, and when I see where the madness of sovereignty is leading good Israelis, I raise my own little banner again. I do so without illusions. I am not part of any army. I am not the leader of any army. In the meantime our act is that of a few people. But I think it's important to place this idea on the table now.
In essence, the binational principle is the deepest antithesis of the wall. The purpose of the wall is to separate, to isolate, to imprison the Palestinians in pens. But the wall imprisons the Israelis, too. It turns Israel into a ghetto. The wall is the great despairing solution of the Jewish-Zionist society. It is the last desperate act of those who cannot confront the Palestinian issue. Of those who are compelled to push the Palestinian issue out of their lives and out of their consciousness. In the face of that I say the opposite. I say that we were apparently too forgiving toward Zionism; that the Jews who came here and found a land that wasn’t empty adopted a pattern of unrestrained force. Instead of the conflict foisting moral order and reason on them, it addicted them to the use of force. But that force has played itself out, it has reached its limits. If Israel remains a colonialist state in its character, it will not survive. In the end the region will be stronger than Israel, in the end the indigenous people will be stronger than Israel. Those who hope to live by the sword will die by the sword. That is perfectly clear, Ari: they will die by the sword.
Don’t treat me as a stranger, as an outsider. True, it’s easier for me, because I’m from Hebron and Jerusalem, from the Old Yishuv. It’s easier for me because I never took part in the killing and the dispossession and the occupation. All the same, I feel a commitment toward the society I live in. And precisely because of that, I believe that anyone who wants to ensure the existence of a Jewish community in this country has to free himself from the Zionist pattern, has to open gates. Because as things are now, there is no chance. A Jewish nation-state will not take hold here.
It’s totally clear that it can’t be done without recognition in principle of the right of return, because this is a case in which a nation was condemned to exile from its land, not because there was no room, but because it was supplanted by others. That injustice has not been erased for 55 years and it won't be erased in another 55 years. But that doesn’t mean they will return to Jamusin, which is in the middle of Tel Aviv. It doesn’t mean they will settle at the corner of Arlosoroff and Ibn Gvirol.
What it means is that the borders have to be open to them, as in Europe. It means the establishment of a super-modern city in Galilee for the 200,000 or 300,000 refugees in Lebanon. It means the establishment of another Palestinian-Jewish city between Hebron and Gaza that will both make the desert bloom and connect the two parts of Palestine.
In general, we have to shift to a binational mode of thinking. Maybe in the end we have to create a new, binational Israel, just as a new, multiracial South Africa was created.
There will be no other choice, anyway. The attempt to achieve Jewish sovereignty that is fenced in and insular has to be abandoned. We will have to come to terms with the fact that we will live here as a minority: a Jewish minority that will no longer be squeezed between Hadera and Gedera, but will be able to settle in Nablus and Baghdad and Damascus, too – and take part in the democratization of the Middle East. That will be able to live and die here, to establish mixed cities and mixed neighborhoods and mixed families. But for that to happen, the mad dream of sovereignty will have to be given up, Ari. We have to forgo that mad dream, which has caused so much bloodshed here, has inflicted so many disasters, has generated a hundred years of conflict.
What I have to say is seemingly not new, because at the beginning of the 1980s I already maintained that partition was no longer a viable option, that the establishment of the settlements and the takeover of land had created an irreversible situation here. And at that time there were only 20,000 settlers. Today there are 230,000. So it’s clear that the critical mass I was afraid of, which would not permit a change in the status quo, existed even then. Neither Oslo nor the separation fence nor talk about a Palestinian state can change the status quo.
In fact, even today we are living in a binational reality, and it is a permanent given. It cannot be ignored and it cannot be denied. What we have to do is adapt our thinking and our concepts to this reality. We have to look for a new model that will fit this reality. And the right questions have to be asked, even if they give the impression of a betrayal of Zionism; even if they give the feeling that one is abandoning the dream of establishing a Jewish nation-state in the Land of Israel.
What is new is that I have reached the conclusion that my analysis of the conflict was incorrect. For my convenience, I started with the assumption of the Israeli Zionist left: that what is taking place here is a struggle between two national movements for the same land. It followed from this that the rational solution was two states for two nations.
However, in the past two years I reached the conclusion that we are dealing with a conflict between a society of immigrants and a society of natives. If so, we are talking about an entirely different type of conflict. If so, we descend from the rational level to a completely basic, atavistic level that goes to the bedrock of personal and collective existence. Because the basic story here is not one of two national movements that are confronting each other; the basic story is that of natives and settlers. It’s the story of natives who feel that people who came from across the sea infiltrated their natural habitat and dispossessed them.
The result is that the conquering immigrants are victorious in every battle because they utilize the technological and cultural advantages that Western civilization has made available to them. But these settler immigrants are unable to enjoy the fruits of their victory. They take over the land but fail to achieve tranquility, fail to entrench peace for themselves.
For me, that was an overwhelming discovery. It came after Camp David, after the trauma of 2000, after the two sides effectively retracted their mutual recognition. When we went back to seeing the Palestinians as a terrorist collectivity and they went back to seeing us as outsiders.
Then, as I observed this terrible breakdown, I suddenly understood that it was impossible to explain our pattern of settlement and redemption of the land solely in terms of a national conflict. It is impossible to explain the suicide bomber phenomenon solely in terms of a national conflict. Because beneath the rational crust of a national conflict, something is going on at a far deeper level. We will never reach a point at which one group will truly renounce the right of return and the other group will truly abandon its longing for Beit El. We will never reach a situation in which the Arabs in Israel forgo their demand for their own collective rights.
The conclusion is that the seemingly rational solution of two states for two nations can’t work here. The model of a division into two nation-states is inapplicable. It doesn’t reflect the depth of the conflict and doesn’t sit with the scale of the entanglement that exists in large parts of the country. You can erect all the walls in the world here but you won’t be able to overcome the fact that there is only one aquifer here and the same air and that all the streams run into the same sea. You won’t be able to overcome the fact that this country will not tolerate a border in its midst.
In the past year, then, I reached the conclusion that there is no choice but to think in new terms. There is no choice but to think about western Palestine [Eretz Yisrael, or the land of Israel] as one geopolitical unit.
I don’t yet have a coherent proposal. I don’t have a work plan. But the direction of thought is clear. The new paradigm is mandated by reality. What I see is a combination of horizontal division (sharing in government) and a vertical division (partitioning of the territory). What I see is a federal structure that will include all of historic western Palestine. Different ethnic cantons will exist under that structure. It’s clear, for example, that the Palestinian citizens of Israel will have their own cantons. They will have their own autonomy, which will express their collective rights. And it’s clear, on the other side, that the settlers will have a canton. The executive of the federal government will strike some sort of balance between the two national groups. It wouldn't bother me if the basis for the balance is equality: one for one.
I admit that there is an emotional layer here: my own identity. I am 70 now, and I have the right to engage in summing up. And I was part of it all here: the youth movement and the army and the kibbutz and politics. I am the salt of the earth and I’m not ashamed of it. I am a proud Israeli Mayflower person. I won’t let anyone tell me I am a traitor. I won’t let anyone say I am not from here – including the Palestinians. I am exactly what my father wanted me to be: a native. He wanted me to grow like a tree from the soil of the land. He wanted me to be a natural part of the landscape. And he just may have succeeded: I am a native son. But this is a country in which there were always Arabs. This is a country in which the Arabs are the landscape, the natives. So I am not afraid of them. I don't see myself living here without them. In my eyes, without Arabs this is a barren land.
This is where I am different from my friends in the left: because I am truly a native son of immigrants, who is drawn to the Arab culture and the Arabic language because it is here. It is the land. And I really am a neo-Canaanite. I love everything that springs from this soil. Whereas the right, certainly, but the left, too, hates Arabs. The Arabs bother them – they complicate things. The subject generates moral questions and that generates cultural unease.
That’s why the left wants this terrible wall, which in my view is anti-geography, anti-history and anti-human. That’s why the left wants to hide behind this wall, which in my view is the rape of the land. That's why they are fleeing from Jerusalem and fleeing from the landscape and the soil and huddling in Tel Aviv and concentrating only on how to screw Vicki Knafo, how to lord it over the Moroccans.
Yes, you can tell me that I am a walking mass of internal contradictions. You can tell me that my recipe is hopeless. A federal solution hasn’t worked anywhere in the world. But my diagnosis is correct: even within the boundaries of 1967, Israel is on the way to becoming a binational state. In another decade, when the Arabs constitute 25 percent of the population, it will be a binational state. The attempt to drag more and more new immigrants from every remote corner on earth is becoming inane. These new immigrants are liable to cause the implosion of the Israeli society.
So I think the time has come to declare that the Zionist revolution is over. Maybe it should even be done officially, along with setting a date for the repeal of the Law of Return. We should start to think differently, talk differently. Not to seize on this ridiculous belief in a Palestinian state or in the fence. Because in the end we are going to be a Jewish minority here. And the problems that your children and my grandchildren are going to have to cope with are the same ones that de Klerk faced in South Africa. The paradigm, therefore, is the binational one. That’s the direction. That's the conceptual universe we have to get used to.
Could things have worked out differently? Not necessarily. The Zionist idea was maimed from the outset. It didn’t take into account the presence here of another national group. Therefore, from the moment the Zionist movement decided that it was not going to exterminate the Arabs, its dream became unattainable. Because this land cannot tolerate two sovereignties. So the options are terribly simple: either one nation will not be or the other nation will not be, or one nation will subjugate the other and condemn itself to perpetual enmity, or both nations will forgo their demand for full sovereignty. That is what Sharon is now demanding of the Palestinians. That is what I am now proposing to both the Jews and the Palestinians on an equal basis.
In 1948, Zionism was truly victorious. It succeeded in consolidating itself in 78 percent of historic Palestine. But in 1967, Zionism won one victory too many, and in the 20 years that followed it sealed its fate by implementing the settlements project. Paradoxically, the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan only exacerbated the situation, because they determined the outer limit of the borders of western Palestine. They sealed us into the binational reality of a territory that cannot be divided. The result is that now Zionism really can’t realize its dream. It is the victim of its victories, the victim of a terrible history of missed opportunities.
What comes to mind in particular are those Shabbats when Dad would go on outings with me in the villages around Jerusalem. He was a tour guide and a high priest of knowing the land. He would take me into Malha and Beit Mazmil and Ein Karem and Saris and Deir al Hawa. So their way of life was not foreign to me; it was part of me.
But in April 1948, I was on King George Street in Jerusalem when Etzel [the nationalist underground military organization] held its victory parade through the center of the city with trucks carrying the survivors of Deir Yassin. When I think about it today it is terrible, but at the time it didn’t seem terrible. And again, in 1949, when I reaped the harvest in fields belonging to Palestinians as part of a work camp of the youth movement, that didn't seem terrible, either. Their tragedy simply did not penetrate my consciousness.
It was only in 1955, when I was a student and we were carrying out a survey for the Geological Institute, for which we examined abandoned Arab wells after the rain, that I arrived in a village near Beit Guvrin and it suddenly hit me. Because the whole village was still standing, it was perfectly whole. Only it had no people. For the first time, I asked myself where these people were, where had they gone.
Yet even that was a passing moment. It didn’t shatter my consciousness. That happened only in 1967, when I met all those people who said they were from Malha, from Saris, from Deir al Hawa. Suddenly I said to myself, here they are. Here they are. And all that old geography suddenly hit me: The whole geography of the tragedy came rushing back.
So today I live their tragedy even though I perhaps caused it. I feel myself attached to them. Emotionally, I am very attached to them. But for years I didn't know how to translate that attachment into political language. Now the binational mode of thought may give it political expression.
I am not happy about what I am proposing. I know that what I am stammering to you here is not truly a solution. Because even if some sort of federal structure is established here it won’t bring peace. There won’t be peace here. Even if there is some sort of binational arrangement, it will do no more than manage the crisis. The violence will always occur on its fringes.
But the truth is that the whole situation that has been created here is one of conflicts and contradictions and the absence of a solution. So today I am sad and pessimistic. I live with a deep sense of breakdown. It is not easy for me to part with my father’s dream of a Jewish nation-state. It’s hard for me. For most of my life that was my dream, too. But I am truly fearful for my grandchildren. Whenever I look around me I am fearful for my grandchildren. How will they live here? What am I leaving them? Because I know that there will not be a Jewish nation-state here and that there will not be two states for two nations here, I seize on this faint hope that maybe, after all, something shared will evolve here. Something neo-Canaanite. That maybe, despite everything, we will learn to live together. Maybe we will come to understand that the Other is not demonic, that he, too, is part of this place. Like these cypresses. Like these bustanim, these fruit gardens. What the land brings forth.