Monday, September 01, 2008


Mark A. LeVine, History News Network - Lost in the international uproar over Russia's Olympic-eve invasion and occupation of Georgia and now the political and meteorological storms sweeping across the United States is a seismic shift in the dynamics of another conflict, one which offers a similarly vexing challenge to the core policy goals of the United States, Europe and many Middle Eastern governments to that posed by a newly belligerent Russia.

Largely unreported in the American and Western media, on August 10, two days after the start of both the Russian invasion and the Olympics, Palestinian lead negotiator Ahmed Qurie declared that if the peace process did not advance towards a final settlement soon, Palestinians would stop pursuing a two-state solution and demand the establishment of a bi-national state with Israel.

As Qurie, better known as Abu Alaa', explained it, "The Palestinian leadership has been working on establishing a Palestinian state within the '67 borders... If Israel continues to oppose making this a reality, then the Palestinian demand for the Palestinian people and its leadership (would be) one state, a bi-national state."

Less than two weeks earlier, PA President Mahmoud Abbas similarly argued that he might dissolve the PA and demand a bi-national state if progress was not made soon. . .

Today the mere possibility of a bi-national solution so frightens Israel's leaders that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert equated it with apartheid, warning that if the two-state process failed, Israel would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

The reason Israel would be "finished" is clear: Given the current state of relations between Jews and Palestinians it is difficult to envision Jews maintaining control over the territory, holy places, military, economy, and immigration of Israel/Palestine in a bi-national state, especially after the demographic balance shifts in favor of Palestinians, as many experts believe it is close to doing.

In such a situation Israel as a Jewish state would either "vanish from the pages of time," as Iranian President Ahmedinejad has infamously advocated, or an all-out civil war would erupt that would likely result in the exile of the vast majority of Palestinians from both Israel and the Occupied Territories. . .

A generation ago, Israeli geographer Meron Benvenisti argued in his 1987 West Bank Data Base Project that by the mid-1980s the Occupied Territories had become so integrated into Israel that it was no longer possible to separate them. By the time Palestinians and Israelis were ready to negotiate a "divorce" in the early 1990s it was too late to do so. . .

With Palestinians wielding bi-nationalism as a threat and Israelis imagining it as a curse, it's not surprising that the idea still has relatively few supporters. But what if a bi-national state was reimagined as a positive development, one that allows for the greatest possible realization of both Jewish and Palestinian aspirations? Indeed, the idea had this connotation for progressive Zionists such as the Brit Shalom movement during the pre-1948 period, and an increasing number of Israeli academics and activists are giving the idea a second look today.

Even Theodor Herzl, in Zionism's ur-text, Altneuland (Old-New Land), describes the future Jewish state as one where Jews and Palestinians have equal rights and responsibilities in the civic and economic life of the country.

Of course, Herzl also imagined "spiriting" Palestinians "across the border" to ensure the creation of a Jewish state. And it is precisely such paradoxical sentiments towards Palestinians - wanting to live with them as good neighbors and wanting to get rid of them in order to ensure unfettered possession of the land - that has defined the serpentine trajectory of Zionism during the last century.

Today it seems we are back to Herzl's Old-New Land, with no one sure which path will lead to a peaceful future.