Uri Avnery's Column 
One State: Solution or Utopia

One State: Solution or Utopia


THIS IS not a duel to the death of gladiators in a Roman arena.

Ilan Pappe and I are partners in the battle against the occupation. I respect his courage. We stand side by side in a joint struggle, but we advocate two sharply opposing goals.


WHAT IS the disagreement about?

We have no disagreement about the past. We agree that Zionism, which has made its mark on history and created the State of Israel, also brought a historic injustice upon the Palestinian people. The occupation is an abominable situation, and it must be ended. No debate about that.

Perhaps we also have no disagreement about the distant future. About what should happen in a hundred years. We shall touch upon that later in the evening.

But we have a sharp disagreement about the foreseeable future - the solution for the bleeding conflict during the next 20, 30, 50 years.

This is not a theoretical debate. We cannot say, as the Hebrew expression goes, "May every man live with his own faith", and may peace reign in the peace movement. Between these two alternatives there can be no compromise - we have to decide, we have to choose, because they dictate quite different strategies and different tactics - not tomorrow, but today, here and now. The difference is fateful.

For example: Should we concentrate our efforts on the struggle for public opinion in Israel, or should we give up on the struggle here and concentrate on the struggle abroad?

I AM an Israeli. I stand with both feet on the ground of Israeli reality. I want to change this reality radically. But I want the State of Israel to exist.

Anyone who opposes the existence of Israel as a state that expresses our Israeli identity deprives himself of any possibility to act here. All his activities in Israel are doomed to failure.

A person can despair and say: There's nothing to be done. Everything is lost. We have passed the "point of no return". The situation is "irreversible". We have nothing more to do in this country.

Everyone can despair for a moment. Perhaps each of us has despaired at one time or other. But one should not turn despair into an ideology. Despair destroys the ability to act.

I say: There is no reason at all for despair. Nothing is lost. Nothing in life is "irreversible", except life itself. There is no such thing as a "point of no return".

I am 83 years old. In my lifetime, I have seen the advent of the Nazis and their downfall. I have seen the Soviet Union at its zenith and watched its collapse. A day before the fall of the Berlin wall, no German believed that he would witness that moment in his lifetime. The smartest experts did not foresee it. Because in history, there are subterranean streams that nobody perceives in real time. That's why the theoretical analyses are so rarely confirmed.

Nothing is lost until the fighters raise their hands and say that all is lost. Raising hands is no solution. Neither is it moral.

In our situation, a person who despairs has three alternatives: (a) emigration, (b) inner emigration, which means to stay at home and do nothing, or (c) escape to the world of ideal solutions for the days of the Messiah.

The third alternative is the most dangerous at the moment, because the situation is critical, especially for the Palestinians. There is no time for a solution in 100 years. We need an urgent solution, a solution that can be realized within a few years.

It has been said that Avnery is old, he sticks to old solutions, he is unable to absorb a new idea. And I wonder: a new idea?

The idea of One Joint State was old when I was a boy. It flourished in the 30s of the last century. But it went bankrupt. The idea of the Two State solution grew in the soil of the new reality.

If I may be permitted to make a personal remark: I am not a historian. I was alive when it happened. I am an eye witness, an ear witness, a feeling witness. As a soldier in the 1948 war, as the editor of a news magazine for 40 years, as a Knesset member for 10 years, as an activist of Gush Shalom - I have seen the events from different angles. My hand is on the public pulse.

THERE ARE three questions concerning the One State idea: (1) Is it at all possible? (2) If it is possible - is it good? (3) Will it bring a just peace?

AS TO the first question, my absolutely unequivocal answer is: No, it is not possible.

Anyone connected with the Israeli-Jewish public knows that its innermost desire is the existence of a state with a Jewish majority. A state where the Jews are masters of their fate. That desire trumps all other aims, even the desire for a state in All of Eretz-Israel.

One can talk about One State from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, a bi-national or non-national state - in practice what it means is the dismantling of the State of Israel. The negation of all the nation-building that has been carried out by five generations. That must be said clearly, without mumbling and equivocation, and that's what the public - the Jewish, and certainly the Palestinian - quite rightly thinks it is. What we are talking about is the dismantling of the State of Israel.

We want to change many things in this state, its historical narrative, its accepted definition as a "Jewish and democratic" state. We want to put an end to the occupation outside and the discrimination inside. We want to create a new basis for the relationship between the state and its Arab-Palestinian citizens. But it is impossible to ignore the basic ethos of the huge majority of the state's citizens.

99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state. And that's quite natural.

There is an illusion that this can be changed through pressure from outside. Will outside pressure compel this people to give up the state?

I propose to you a simple test: think for a moment about your neighbors at home, at work or at the university. Would any one of them give up the state because somebody abroad wants them to? Because of pressure from Europe? Even pressure from the White House? No, nothing but a crushing military defeat on the battlefield will compel the Israelis to give up their state. And if that happens, our debate will become irrelevant anyhow.

The majority of the Palestinian people, too, want a state of their own. It is needed to satisfy their most basic aspirations, to restore their national pride, to heal their trauma. Even the chiefs of Hamas, with whom we have talked, want it. Anyone who thinks otherwise is laboring under an illusion. There are Palestinians who talk about One State, but for most of those, it is just a code-word for the dismantling of the State of Israel. They, too, know that it is utopian.

There are also some Palestinians who delude themselves into thinking that if they talk about One State, it will frighten the Israelis so much that they will agree to the establishment of the Palestinian state next to Israel. But the result of this Machiavellian thinking is quite the opposite: it frightens the Israelis and pushes them into the arms of the Right. It arouses the fearful dog of ethnic cleansing, which is sleeping in the corner. That dog must not be forgotten for a moment.

ALL OVER the world, the tendency is going the other way: not the creation of new multi-national states, but on the contrary, the breaking up of states into national components. In Scotland, this week, victory was achieved by a party that wants to split from England. The French-speaking minority in Canada is always wavering on the brink of secession. Kosovo is about to gain independence from Serbia. The Soviet Union has broken up into its component parts, Chechnya wants to separate from Russia, Yugoslavia has broken apart, Cyprus has broken apart, the Basques want independence, Corsicans want independence, in Sri Lanka a civil war is raging, the same as in the Sudan. In Indonesia, the stitches are coming loose in a dozen different places. Belgium has endless problems.

In the entire world there is no example of two different nations deciding of their own free will to live together in one state. There is no example - except Switzerland - of a bi-national or multi-national state really functioning. (And the example of Switzerland, which has grown for centuries in a unique process, is the proverbial exception that proves the rule.)

To hope that after 120 years of conflict, into which a fifth generation has already been born, there could be a transition from total war to total peace in a joint state, giving up all aspiration to independence - that is a complete illusion.

HOW IS this idea to be realized? The advocates of the One State never go into this in detail.

It is supposed, so it seems, to come about something like this: the Palestinians will give up their Struggle for Liberation and their aspiration for a national state of their own. They will announce that they want to live in a joint state with the Israelis. After the establishment of this state, they will have to fight for their civil rights. People of goodwill around the world will support their struggle, as they once did in South Africa. They will impose a boycott. They will isolate the state. Millions of refugees will come back to the country. Thus the wheel will turn back and the Palestinian majority will attain power.

How much time will that take? Two generations? Three generations? Four generations?

Does anyone imagine how such a state will function in practice? The inhabitant of Bil'in will pay the same taxes as the inhabitant of Kfar-Sava? The inhabitants of Jenin will enact a constitution together with the inhabitants of Netanya? The inhabitants of Hebron and the settlers will serve in the same army and the same police force, shoulder to shoulder, and will be subject to the same laws? Is that realistic?

Some say: but that situation already exists. Israel is already governing one state from the sea to the river. One has only to change the regime. But nothing of the sort exists. What does exist are an occupying state and an occupied territory.

It is far, far easier to dismantle settlements than to compel six million Jewish Israelis to dismantle the state.

NO, THE ONE STATE will not come into being. But let's ask ourselves - if it did come into being, would that be a good thing?

My answer is: absolutely not.

Let's examine this state, not as an imaginary creature, the epitome of perfection, but as it would be in reality.

In this state, the Israelis will be dominant. They have a complete superiority in practically all spheres - quality of life, military power, technological capabilities. The average per annum income of an Israeli is 25 times (25 times!) higher than that of an average Palestinian - $ 20,000 as against $ 800. The Israelis will see to it that the Palestinians will be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for a long, long time.

It will be an occupation by other means. A disguised occupation. It will not end the conflict, but open another phase.

WILL THIS solution bring a just peace? Hardly.

This state will be a battlefield. Each side will try to take over as much land as possible and bring in as many persons as possible. The Jews will fight by all means to prevent the Arabs from becoming the majority and coming to power. In practice, this will be an apartheid state. If the Arabs become the majority and try to assume power, there will be a struggle that may become a civil war. A new edition of 1948.

Even an advocate of the One State solution must admit that the struggle will go on for several generations. Much blood may flow, and the results are far from assured.

The idea is utopian. To realize it, one has to change the people, perhaps the two peoples. One has to create a new human being. That's what the Communists tried to do at the start of the Soviet Union. That's what the founders of the kibbutz tried to do. Unfortunately, the human being has not changed.

Utopianism can bring about terrible consequences. The vision of "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb" requires the provision of a new lamb every day.

There are some who cite the model of South Africa. A beautiful and encouraging example. Unfortunately, there is hardly any similarity between the problem there and the problem here.

In South Africa, there were no two nations , each with a tradition, a language and a religion that go back for more than a thousand years. Neither the whites not the blacks wanted a separate state of their own, nor did they ever live in two separate states. The one state had already existed for a long time, and the struggle was over power in this one state.

The bosses of South Africa were racists, who admired the Nazis and were incarcerated during World War II because of that. It was easy to boycott their state in all fields of activity. Israel, on the other hand, is accepted by the world as the State of the Holocaust Survivors, and apart from small groups, nobody will boycott it. It is enough for the Israelis to point out that the first step on the way to Auschwitz was the Nazi slogan "Kauft nicht bei Juden" - Don't buy from Jews.

Furthermore, a world-wide boycott will arouse in the hearts of many Jews all over the world the deepest fears of Anti-Semitism, and will push them into the arms of the extreme Right.

A quite different thing is a focused boycott against specific elements of the occupation. We were the pioneers of this approach, when, more than ten years ago, we started a boycott of the products of the settlements and pulled the European Union along with us.

By the way, experts on South Africa tell me that the effects of the boycott are much overrated. The boycott was not the main factor that brought the apartheid regime down, but the international situation. The United States supported the regime as a bastion in the fight against Communism. Once the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Americans just dropped South Africa.

The relationship between the US and Israel is immeasurably more profound and complex. It has deep ideological layers - a similar national narrative, the Christian Evangelist theology, and more.

THE TWO STATE solution is the only practical solution in the realm of reality.

It is ridiculous to assert that it has been defeated. The very opposite is true. In the most important sphere, the collective consciousness, it is winning all out.

On the morrow of the 1948 war, when we raised this flag for the first time in Israel, we were a tiny band. We could be counted on the fingers of two hands. Everybody denied that a Palestinian people even existed. In the late 60s I tramped around Washington DC and spoke with officials at the White House, the Department of State, the National Security Council and the US delegation to the UN - nobody there was prepared to entertain this idea.

Now there is a world-wide consensus that this is the only solution. The United States, Russia, Europe, Israeli public opinion, Palestinian public opinion, the Arab League. One has to realize the full meaning of this: the entire Arab world now supports this solution. This is extremely important for the future.

Why did this happen? After all, it is not that we are so gifted as to win over the whole world. No, it is the inner logic of this solution that conquered the globe. True, some of the new adherents of this solution only pay lip service to it. Perhaps they use it to divert attention from their real aims. People like Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert act as if they support this idea, while in reality their intention is to keep the occupation forever. But this shows that even they realize that they cannot go on opposing the Two State solution openly. When the whole world recognizes that this is the only practical solution - it will, in the end, be realized.

THE PARAMETERS are well known, and they, too, now enjoy world-wide agreement:

  1. A Palestinian state will come into being next to Israel.
  2. The border between them will be based on the Green Line, perhaps with an agreed-upon and equal swap of territories.
  3. Jerusalem will be the capital of the two states.
  4. There will be an agreed-upon solution of the refugee problem. In practice, this means that an agreed number will return to Israel, and the rest will be rehabilitated in the State of Palestine or in their present places of domicile, with the payment of generous compensation that will turn them into welcome guests. When there is an agreed plan that tells every refugee family what their choices are, it must be submitted to the refugees wherever they are. They must be partners in the final decision.
  5. There will be an economic partnership, in which the Palestinian government will be able to defend Palestinian interests, unlike the present situation. The very existence of two states will mitigate, at least to some extent, the huge difference of power between the two sides.
  6. In the more distant future - a Middle Eastern union, on the model of the EU, that may also include Turkey and Iran.

The obstacles are well known, and they are big. They cannot be circumvented by patent medicine. They must be faced and overcome. Here, in Israel, we must weaken the fears and anxieties, and point out the benefits and profit that we will gain from the creation of a Palestinian state at our side.

We must bring about a change of consciousness. But we have already come a long way, from the days when the entire public denied the very existence of the Palestinian people, rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, rejected the partition of Jerusalem, rejected any dialogue with the PLO, rejected an agreement with Arafat. In all these areas our stand trickled down and has been accepted in various degrees.

It is clear that this is still far from what is necessary. But that is the direction things are moving - and there are hundreds of opinion polls to show it.

REAL OBSTACLES to the Two State solution can be overcome. They are small compared to the obstacles on the way to One State. I would say: the ratio is 1:1000. It is like a boxer who fails to win against a lightweight opponent, and therefore chooses to confront a heavyweight. Or an athlete who fails in the 100 meter sprint and therefore enters the marathon. Or somebody who despairs of climbing Mont Blanc and therefore decides to climb Mount Everest.

No doubt, the One State idea gives its adherents moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, it is not realistic, but it is moral, and that is the place where I want to be. I say: that is a luxury we cannot afford. When the fate of so many human beings is in the balance, a moral stand that is not realistic is immoral. I repeat: a moral stand that is not realistic is immoral.

There are those that despair because the peace forces have not succeeded in putting an end to the occupation. We have remained a small minority. The government and the media ignore us. True. But we, too, bear a part of the responsibility for that. We have not been thinking enough, we have not identified the reasons for the failures. When was the last time a thorough discussion of the strategies and tactics of the fight for peace took place?

We have not succeeded in connecting with the Oriental Jewish community. We have remained strangers to the Russian immigrants. We don't even have a real partnership with the Arab-Palestinian community inside Israel. We have not found the way to touch the hearts of the general public. We have not succeeded in creating a unified and efficient political force that would be able to exert an influence on the Knesset and the government. We must examine ourselves.

IT IS not enough to point out that the One State solution cannot be realized. This "solution" is also very dangerous.

  1. It diverts the efforts into a mistaken direction. We see this already happening. It both results from despair and produces despair. It causes people to desert the battlefield in Israel and creates the illusion that the real battlefield is abroad. That is escapism.
  2. It causes the loss of irreplaceable time. Tens of years, in which terrible things can happen to the Palestinians, and also to us. Anyone who is afraid of ethnic cleansing (and rightly so) must be conscious of this danger and this urgency.
  3. It divides the peace camp and deepens the gap between it and the public. It strengthens the Right, because it frightens the sane public and causes it to lose sight of a sensible solution.
  4. It pulls the rug from under the feet of those who fight against the occupation. If the whole country between the sea and the Jordan is to become one state anyhow, then the settlers can put their settlements anywhere they like.
  5. It strengthenes the argument that there is "no solution" to the conflict. If the Two State solution is wrong, and if the One State solution is not realizable, then the Right is correct in claiming that there is no solution at all - an argument that justifies every evil, from the eternal occupation to ethnic cleansing. No solution means an endless occupation.

Let us be clear: there will be no end to the occupation as long as there is no peace agreement.

AS FOR the distant future, perhaps we shall meet at unexpected places.

When we reach the station that is called peace between two states, everyone will be free to choose what his next station should be.

Somebody will want to strive for the amalgamation of the two states into one? Go ahead. Somebody will think that the Two State solution is good for ever? Why not. Somebody will think, like me, that the two states will move gradually, with mutual consent all along the way, towards a confederation or federation? Welcome.

(At our very first meeting in 1982, Yasser Arafat spoke with me about a Benelux solution, like the one that existed for some time between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) - Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and perhaps even Lebanon. He continued to talk about this until the end.)

Experience proves that the classic national state is here to stay formally, everyone under his own flag, while in practice many of its functions are being transferred to super-national structures, like the European Union.

(By the way, when the idea of uniting Europe was first aired, many people wanted to create the United States of Europe, on the American model. Charles de Gaulle warned against ignoring national feelings. He called for a "Europe des patries", a Europe based on national states. Fortunately, his view prevailed, and now life does the rest.)

Something like this, I assume, will in the end happen here, too. But for now, we must treat the immediate problem. We have before us an injured person, bleeding profusely. The bleeding has to be stopped and the wound has to be healed before we can treat the roots of the disease.

SUMMING UP, this is my opinion:

The situation is terrible (as always), but we are progressing nevertheless.

True, on the surface the situation is depressing and shocking: the settlements are getting bigger, the wall is getting longer, the occupation is causing untold injustices every day.

Perhaps it is the advantage of age: today, at the age of 83, I am able to look at things in the perspective of a much longer time span.

Because under the surface, things are moving in the opposite direction. All the polls prove that the decisive majority of the Israeli public is resigned to the existence of the Palestinian people and is resigned to the necessity of a Palestinian state. The government recognized the PLO yesterday and will recognize Hamas tomorrow. The majority has more or less accepted that Jerusalem must become the capital of the two states. In ever widening circles, there is the beginning of a recognition of the narrative of the other nation.

There is a world-wide consensus on the Two State solution, which has been reached by way of elimination: in reality, there is no other. But in order to be realized, support must come from the inside, from the Israeli public. This support we must create. That is our job.

And a word of warning: we must beware of utopias. A utopia looks like a light at the end of the tunnel. It warms the heart. But it is a deceptive light that can induce us to enter a branch of the tunnel from which there is no exit.

We have never heard answers to the two decisive questions about the One State solution: how will it come about and how will it function in practice? But without clear answers to these questions, this is not a plan but a vision, at best.

True, 120 years of conflict have created in our people a huge accumulation of hate, prejudice, suppressed guilt feelings, stereotypes, fear (most importantly, fear) and absolute mistrust of the Arabs. These we must fight, to convince the public that peace is worthwhile and good for the future of Israel. Together with a change in the international situation and a partnership with the Palestinian people, our chances of achieving peace are good.

I, anyhow, have decided to stay alive until this happens.

[Translated text of Avnery's opening remarks during the public debate in Tel-Aviv between Uri Avnery and Ilan Pappe organized by Gush Shalom - on May 8, 2000. The full transcription will be there soon. This is based on Avnery's own notes.]

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